Bold Faith Loves Radically
Love. All of us hunger for it. Its power changes everything. Join Dr. Marty Baker as we look at 1 John 4:7-21 and learn how the power of a bold faith empowers us to love radically.
What does the watching world need to see in the local church? In a word: love. Note well, in his High Priestly prayer prior to His crucifixion John 17), Jesus prayed that future believers would be unified with each other. Without unity, they would be easy pickins’ for the Devil. Without unity, they’d not be a light to the dark world, but just another messed up place. Without unity, they wouldn’t lead many to Christ. Without unity, their church bodies would be in a state of constant chaos . . . just like entities in the world. Without unity, believers would be fighting each other and not the sin in their lives or in their world. Yes, our Lord prayed about the utter need for unity in His body of believers, but this leads us back to the answer in the opening question. Biblical, agape, divine love is the soil in which unity grows.
Why did the seven churches in John’s day struggle with so much chaos, division and disunity? The believers had permitted a few seemingly “spiritual” people to infiltrate them and teach doctrines contrary to those communicated by the Apostles like John. At first, those teachers were not held accountable for their divisive activities. This resulted in them forming groups of loyal followers, who, in turn, served as mouthpieces to present their erroneous teachings to more and more people. Ultimately, spiritual leaders like John were cast in a negative light so the false teachers could expand their power and control of the churches in question. The result could have been predicted: chaos ensued, and chaos in the church is most certainly of the Devil.
Enter John the maligned but godly shepherd. He had personally heard Christ’s High Priestly Prayer in the Upper Room (John 17). He knew the Lord prayed for unity among His people, above all things, and He also knew from the Lord’s teaching on that fateful evening that He commanded His followers to love each other (John 13:34-35). Knowing all of this is what motivated him to step into the warzone of these churches and call them to grow up and fulfill the Lord’s prayer for unity. How he did this is best represented by his heavy emphasis on the word love, that’s agape or divine love: love which never fails, is always ready to sacrifice, isn’t afraid to call sin what it is, is prepared to bear whatever pressures are brought against it, and is loyal no matter what . . . plus all the magnificent things Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 13.
John introduced this emphasis on brotherly Christian love in 1 John 3:10-24. Of course, this occurred in the section of 1 John 2:28-4:19 which basically answers the question:
What Does Bold Belief Look Like In Trying Times? (1 John 2:28-4:19)
The fact John circles back in 4:7-21 to talk about brotherly love again shows just how important it is to Body life and worldwide impact. His method, of course, should leave you with two burning questions: “Am I creating unity in this body of believers by loving as I am called to?” Or “Am I creating or fostering disunity for all the wrong, unfounded reasons?” As you think about your answer to these questions, I invite you to study well John’s thirteenth statement about courageous living in carnal, caustic times.
Bold Faith Loves Radically (1 John 4:7-21)
I know this is a lot of verses to cover, but since they all thematically hang together, it is difficult to separate them. To address them effectively we will move systematically through them as we click through the four evidences of radical Christian love.
Radical love follows the mandate (1 John 4:7-8). We’ve heard this all before, but it’s worth repeating for several reasons.
- One, we are hard-headed and don’t always accept the Spirit’s admonishment the first time around.
- Second, we tend to love selectively, thinking this is all right with God because He knows the kind of people who bother us or push our buttons, and He most certainly knows what they have done, or are doing, to us which is uncalled for.
- Third, we all have issues from how we were raised which makes loving, well, difficult. If you received limited affection from your parents growing up, you are used to withdrawing and restricting the expression of your feelings to others. You, therefore, in a word, are an avoider. You’ve learned not to approach people for comfort and reassurance because you could never do that with your parents. So, withdrawal is the order of the day. If you were raised in a home where the parent’s relationship was rocky, and you had to constantly step in and be the emotional support for, say, your mother, you’ve learned to be a pleaser. What you haven’t learned, conversely is how to share your emotions and love because of how you were raised. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. We are called to love, but baggage from our past might make this command challenging . . . so be patient and gracious in the growth process.
With this all in mind, let’s read John’s words about radical love.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4).
While he has used an imperative before about love, here he uses the subjunctive mood which assumes uncertainty. Translated, he was not sure if all believers would, in fact, love as they should because they have free wills and they all struggle, as Paul did, with the negative influence of the carnal man (Rom. 7).
Every saint who does follow the imperative to love Christian brothers shows they are born of God and know God. It does not mean those who don’t show love aren’t believers. Their lack of love merely shows they are not reflecting on their relationship with Jesus. Note how in verse eight John does not say, “The one who does not love God is not born of God and does not know God . . .” He knows the person is born of God, but is not, at that moment, acting like a saint. Back in 2:11, 3:10, and 3:15 he showed how Christians can actually hate each other. I’ve seen it, and I’m sure you have seen it too. When saints live like this, it looks like they don’t know God, but they do. They are, on the other hand, in need of loving other saints so that they do reflect God who is the epitome of love.
So, what about your life? Are you loving other saints? Loving doesn’t mean you accept anything they say and everything they do. Sometimes admonishment based on facts is in order. But you do even this not with an air of arrogance, but with a spirit of love and compassion. Is how you are treating another saint reflecting a hatred you have for them? Are you calling them names behind their backs? Are you saying insulting things to them or about them? Are you so upset at them you are willing to twist and taint facts so they can be put in their proverbial place? Is any confession needed right now in your life? “Yes, Lord, there is that one person I just can’t stand. Forgive me.”
Radical Christian love, on the other hand, knows the Lord’s command and seeks to live by it no matter what.
Radical love fleshes out the model (1 John 4:9-12). First, let’s read John’s words before we offer some salient points:
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
How did the God of all love reveal His kind of love to us? Answer: Out of love for us, He sent His only divine Son to die for our sins so His anger against our sins might be averted forever. Think about this. If you had three sons and sent one to die for your enemy (Rom. 5:9-11), that would be an amazing sacrifice, but it wouldn’t be a supreme one. What the Father did was off the proverbial grid. He challenged His only holy Son, Jesus, to leave the glory of heaven, and do the unimaginable thing: die for sinners (you) so they (you) would have the opportunity to live in God’s holy presence.
Think about this. The God of glory died for your sin when you lived for your evil desires (Eph. 2:3), when you had a hard heart toward spiritual things (Eph. 4:18), when you ran toward evil naturally (Rom. 3), when you willfully suppressed the reality of God’s existence (Rom. 1:18), and when you were an utter slave to sinful depravity (2 Pet. 2:19), He died for you and for me so our sin could be covered and the Father’s anger appeased by the ultimate and appropriate sacrifice.
I find all of this completely mind-boggling and humbling. When you consider the pictures taken of certain quadrants of the cosmos by the James Webb Space Telescope, when you consider the billions (not just hundreds or millions as we used to think) of galaxies out there in the vacuum of ever-expanding space, when you consider it took some 200 million years for the light from these galaxies traveling at the speed of light to actually reach the lens of the telescope, it leaves you speechless and awestruck. The great, magnificent, highly complex God who created all of this vast wonder has you on His heart and mind. He, who could be very preoccupied with the intricacies of the cosmic machine, doesn’t just know you, He loves you and that love moved Him to send His Son to die a substitutionary death so you would have a way out of your sin problem. Amazing.
I have to stop and ask you: Do you have a faith relationship with this God? The day you do is the day our sin is not only forgiven, it’s the day you inherit an eternal relationship with God. Here is how Jesus puts all of this rich spiritual truth:
36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3).
Has His radical love for you, which was evidenced on Calvary’s rugged tree, moved you to have a radical love for Him? A clean spiritual slate, followed by an eternal relationship with Him as a family member awaits you when you take this step. I pray you take that step today.
But for now, we must get back to what John is talking about more precisely.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Underscore the cause-and-effect relationship between verses 9 through 10 and verse 11: Christ’s radical love should lead to our radical love. Put differently, Christ’s radical love to fix a massive problem should lead to our radical love to fix problems.
- Is your marriage all smoke and mirrors on a Sunday morning, leaving people to conclude you must be doing marriage well when the opposite is the case in your Christian marriage?
- Have you done sinful things to another saint in this body, things which have destroyed a relationship, and you have yet to apologize and seek forgiveness?
- Have you said some untruthful, unfounded things about another saint among us which has tarnished their image and character?
- Have you, as a Christian father, been overly explosive with an edgy Christian teenage son?
- Have you, as a Christian mother, used foul language as a weapon with a Christian child because they just pushed your buttons one too many times?
If so, remember John’s words: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also out to love one other.” What does love demand? Taking action to repair, fix, and mend the issue at hand.
When you do this, what happens? John tells us:
12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us (1 John 4).
God cannot be seen with human eyes because He is an incorporeal spirit. But He is seen every time you step out and show love, not anger and animosity, toward saints sitting in these worship chairs. Will you step out? Will you do the hard thing? Will you do the right thing? When you do, the lost see God at work and are amazed. Additionally, your life of love serves as a living illustration that the living God has a sweet relationship with you and is working to bring your love to full maturity. Really, there is no greater thing we can achieve individually and corporately than to live lives of love which, in turn, reveal the living God to others.
Interesting. We spend probably too much time attempting to learn all of the apologetic approaches to give non-Christians all the viable reasons why to believe in a personal God, when showing love to each other is to be our greatest apologetic. My best friend Pat Travnicek, who is now with the Lord, lost his son, Justin, a few years before I moved here.
Justin, a Marine, came home from Iraq on a Christmas furlough with a boyhood friend he had joined the Corps with a few years before. While on Interstate 5 just north of Camp Pendleton on Christmas Eve, the two buddies had a flat. They pulled over on the shoulder in the fast lane to change it. It would not have taken long because Justin was a Marine helicopter mechanic. He never got the opportunity. Another young man heading south that evening was coming back, drunk, from an office Christmas party. He rear-ended Justin and his Christian buddy, killing them both instantly.
I remember the day Pat and his wife flew down to San Diego from Sacramento for Pat to speak at that young man’s trial, which was on ABC news. Pat, a godly man, took the stand and commenced to tell the young man how much God loved him, and how he and his wife had forgiven him of his thoughtless actions that fateful evening. The young man cried, and eventually came to know Christ. Why? He had seen the face of the loving heavenly Father and His dear Son in the actions of Pat.
Later at the San Diego airport, Pat and Karen noticed middle-aged lady weeping while she waited to board the plane. They went over to comfort her, only to discover she was the perpetrator’s mother. She replayed how she couldn’t believe what she had just seen and heard in that courtroom. It didn’t take long before she, too, entered the Lord’s family. And it all happened because two saints fixed a terrible problem by showcasing the living God through their loving words and actions.
Who will you point to Jesus through your loving actions? That, my friend, is radical love.
Radical love finds inner power (1 John 4:13-16). “But,” you ask, “how am I going to have this kind of love. I just don’t think I can do it given what has happened?” Yes, you can, is the answer, because the power to love in this radical fashion does not and will not come from you. John’s next wise words tell us this much:
13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4).
Verse 13 is so important to our discussion. It tells us the same Spirit who gives us an intimate relationship with Jesus when we are obedient to God’s commands, is the same one who empowers us to love radically, not normally. Did you get that? You might need to read it one more time. This go-round let it sink into the fertile soil of your heart and soul. When you know you have a faith relationship with Jesus, you should also know He has given you His Spirit to empower you to love beyond what you ever thought you could.
A couple in my first church in Arizona were married for many years, but then they hit a rough patch and divorced. It seemed like their issues were just too insurmountable. Years later, however, their faith grew and matured and they ran into each other again. Love blossomed as they forgave and restored each other. When I met them, they were usually arm in arm, loving on each other. What the Devil had meant for evil, God turned to good, and it all started when the Spirit of God empowered them to do the unthinkable: love each other again to the point of getting married a second time.
What will the Lord do in your unbelievably complex, trying, gut-wrenching situation? He’ll show up and empower you to love in an other-worldly fashion. How does that heavy jet fighter make it off the short deck of the aircraft carrier? The jet thrusts powerfully forward when the power of the afterburner kicks in and propels it forward to do the impossible. Think of the Spirit of God like the afterburner. Just when you didn’t think you were going to make it off the deck, when you thought you’d plunge into the tossing, turning sea, and, BAM, that extra power kicked in and sent you flying, not crashing. Such is the nature of the Spirit’s resident power in you. Walk closely and obediently with the Lord you confess, and there will be those mystical, marvelous times when He will give you the extra juice you need to do the impossible in a gnarly, messed-up situation.
Radical love finds inner perks (1 John 4:17-21). When you step out and love radically, wonderful things happen from God’s good, loving hand:
One, you have absolute confidence to stand before God on Judgment Day and give account of your Christian walk:
17 By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
We are going to individually have our love level tested when we see Jesus (1 Pet. 4:5). Are you ready? Are you confident? If not, seize the time to start loving others so your confidence level goes up a few notches.
Second, you aren’t fearful that God is going to discipline you to get you to fly right.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
If I’m loving, I’m not ducking when a thunder storm rolls through town, as it were. No, if I’m loving other saints as I should, I have joy and peace each and every day because I’m living as I should. Can you say this is true in your Christian walk right now?
Third, our love is motivated by His love.
19 We love, because He first loved us.
This is some perk. We love other saints in a magnanimous fashion because we understand the God of glory loved the like of us. The greater the love for others, the greater one grasps God’s sacrificial love showcased on the windswept, blood-stained hill called Golgotha.
Fourth, we learn how to spot immature and mature believers.
20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4).
A biblically astute lady started attending a church in San Diego years ago. Immediately she stood out, so it wasn’t long before she became a women’s adult teacher on Sunday mornings. Along the way, she developed a dislike for the great Bible teacher the church had as a pastor, so she started dropping in little negative innuendos into her Bible study lessons. When no one held her accountable, she turned up the heat and grew in her disdain for the shepherd. Within time she formed a group of followers around her, who never questioned her and who lived for her every word.
Feeling quite powerful, she waited for a business meeting to go for spiritual broke. Without being part of the agenda, she stood up, cleared her throat, and started publicly bad-mouthing the pastor. When no one challenged her, she started in on the pastor’s family, attacking even his children. Again, no one said anything. Within time she finally sat down and that went down as the most destructive meeting the church had ever witnessed.
Interesting. Had the amazing female Bible teacher had true love in her heart, she would have NEVER said what she said behind the shepherd’s back or two his face in a public setting. Had the saints in her Bible study actually been spiritually mature, they would have quickly spotted her spiritual immaturity and sin. In short order, they would have held her accountable and admonished her. This, in turn, would have resulted in unity based on love, not disunity based on hatred.
Oh, that the Lord might make each of us mature based on our true love for each other. As this occurs, love will create so much unity in this place the lost will have to sit up and take notice, and the Lord’s face will most certainly shine upon us, opening even more doors for life impact.