On June 25, 1967, new technology made possible the first ever live, worldwide television broadcast. Carried by satellite to the far corners of the globe, “Our World” was a sharing of creativity as different countries were allowed a portion of time to present some meaningful aspect of their culture to the watching world, giving people from all 24 time zones the opportunity to see a tiny bit of what life was like in radically different parts of this small planet. For their contribution to the production, England asked The Beatles to present a song—and seeing the occasion as an opportunity to make an important statement, John Lennon crafted “All You Need is Love.”
More than 50 years later, people are still asserting the importance of love as a vital, yet often missing, ingredient in today’s world. And this is true within the life of the church as well—which calls us to consider afresh one of the great challenges of John’s first letter. In 1 John 4:7–12, we read:
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
It is well-known that there are several different Greek words that are translated with the word love. What is of importance here is that the love called for in John’s letter is the word agape, which speaks of the highest form of love there is. This form of love is characterized by self-sacrifice and is the kind of love that God displayed for us by Christ’s sacrifice (John 3:16). The kind of love that causes John to address his friends as agapetoi—beloved, or, “divinely loved ones”.
In other words, John is reminding us that the love that we have been given by God is the love that we are to give to one another. That is precisely the point of v.11:
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Perhaps the key word here is the little word so. The extent to which God has displayed his love for us sets the standard of what agape looks like—and that bar has been presented for us to aspire to as well. In The New Bible Commentary, L. L. Harris writes:
The mainspring of our love for other people is the divine love shown to us in Christ’s atoning work. Christians should love, not because all those they meet are attractive people, but because the love of God has transformed them and made them loving people. They should love now not because attractiveness in other people compels their love, but because, as Christians, it is their nature to love.
This is radical, and, as Harris affirmed, speaks to the radical transformation God wants to perform in our lives. Apart from Christ, we are essentially self-oriented, self-protective, self-centered, and self-consumed. That is the fallen nature of human beings broken by sin. To take such cracked vessels of self and turn them into dispensers of God’s self-sacrificial love is a divine act. It can never be the product of human effort—it can only be the result of having our hearts changed by his love.
I have heard it said that we are never more like God than when we forgive. That may be true, but it seems that John is saying is that we are never more like God than when we love sacrificially. More specifically, we are never more reflective of the heart of God than when we allow God to love through us. Since it so violently goes against our self-oriented natures to love sacrificially, it is only possible as God changes our hearts, minds, and natures to be more like the Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2).
This then is the target. It is the objective. In Romans 8:29 we see that God’s ultimate goal in our redemption is not a heavenly eternity (that’s a wonderful bonus), rather it is:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
“Conformed to the image of his Son” says it all. As we are shaped into Christlikeness, our hearts will reflect his heart so that our love will be an expression of his love. Remember, we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). In fact, we are able to love because he first loved us. His love is both the example and the fuel for how we love one another. In response to this, pastor and Bible teacher Warren W. Wiersbe wrote:
Love, therefore, is a valid test of true Christian faith. Since God is love, and we have claimed a personal relationship with God, we must of necessity reveal His love in how we live. A child of God has been “born of God,” and therefore he shares God’s divine nature. Since “God is love,” Christians ought to love one another.
After all, “all you need is love.”