It’s a command to obey. A long, protracted, extensively argued, command to obey. And honestly, the more you chew on 1John 4:7-21, the less wiggle room there is to let yourself off the hook and just “mostly obey.”
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. . . .
And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(1John 4:7, 21 ESV)
It’s first given as a command to love one another. But by the time John’s done, it’s a command to love your brother. Begins as a general exhortation, winds up getting pretty specific.
While you might be able to imagine a faceless crowd who are the one another and feel good that, in the collective sense, you’re being obedient, when it comes to that brother-– the one who has wronged you, or offended you, or hurt you–you can’t help but look into that brother’s eyes and admit you’re asking yourself, “Him too? Really?”
Yeah, says John. Him too. Really.
‘Cause that’s what the love of God is about. Loving him too.
John says loving that brother, and not just some generic one another, is the evidence that God lives in us. Proof that we are abiding in Him, and He in us. That the supernatural, grace-abounding, ocean-overflowing love of God which has enveloped us is able to flow through us. Even to that brother.
I think that’s why John is moved by the Spirit to remind us of the love of God. Manifest among us by sending His Son into the world, so that we might live through Him (4:9). A reminder that Jesus died so that we might live. Died for us even when we were still weak in ungodliness, rebellious in sin, and enemies in opposition to the things of God (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10). Even when we were that brother to Him, He loved us. And loved us unto death, even death on a cross.
Reminding us that God “loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (4:10). An acknowledgement that transgression gets in the way of loving. But if the sin has been atoned for, if the wrong has already been judged and paid for, then the path is cleared to love. A reminder that not only has my sin been dealt with, but that the sin of that brother has been dealt with, too.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1John 4:11 ESV)
But who can really love like that? I know God can. After all, God is love (4:8). But me? Me love that brother like God loved me?
Yup! ‘Cause that’s what abiding is about.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
(1John 4:15-16 ESV)
Not only does John remind us the penalty has been paid so we can love that brother, but that the power has also been provided to love that brother. God has given us His Spirit so that we can abide in Him and He in us (4:13). So the power’s there. His love not only shown to us, but perfected in us (4:17). We’re not just the recipients of divine love but we’re commanded to be reflectors of it as well.
We love because He first loved us. (1John 4:19 ESV)
And we love not just some generic one another. But we love that brother — the one we find hard to love.
If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. And if we are going to obey the command, we must also love that brother. No wiggle room.
By God’s grace. For God’s glory.