Yesterday I emphasized that if we desire to mature in our love for God we will move through phases of that relationship/love. It takes an intentional effort on our part. That intention puts us in the places where God moves us through maturity.
The first two phases, Devotion and Discipline, are heart and mind love. They are phases of developing certain character traits and practices. When we have been intentional about developing those, God brings us to a point of total surrender: Dedication. We are not able to become dedicated to God as much as God makes us able to be dedicated. But we still have to be intentional about developing our lives after that point. In particular, we have to be intentional about loving others.
Read 1 John and you find a lot of love.
In 4 chapters, love is referred to 46 times. The really interesting thing is that almost half of them are in chapter 4.
Notice that love is really the focus beginning with a definitive statement about love in 4:7-8:
1 John 4 New Living Translation (NLT)
4 Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.4 But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 5 Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. 6 But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.
7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.
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. (NASB)The nature, character, and substance of love is found in God. Love that does not begin and end in God is not really love. "Love" that is disconnected from God could be emotional attachment, manipulation, nostalgia, idolatry, or any number of other neutral to negative sources. The true essence of love is found in God.
As the chapter continues we find another defining characteristic of love: if love is not directed to one another (other persons), then God is not a part of it (4:12, 20). There is a communal nature to love. We cannot love God in isolation. We cannot love God while cutting ourselves off from others. We cannot love God fully until we make a connection with others. That connection is love.
Many of us claim to love God. We haven't seen God. We may have heard God speak to us in some form. But we have not connected with God in a physical way.
God has also commanded us (yes, there are commandments for Christians; yes they are binding; yes God expects us to follow them) to love others. Reading the Gospels we find 4 types of people we are to love (these are Jesus' commands):
John 13:34-35 [Full Chapter]
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Matthew 22:36-40 [Full Chapter]
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Luke 10:25-37 [Full Chapter]
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” ...36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do [e]the same.”
Matthew 5:43-48 [Full Chapter]Let me walk you through each of these briefly.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ...
In John's Gospel Jesus commands the disciples at the table to love one another. In essence he was commanding them to love those who were around the table, the disciples. In an interpretation application, this would be the church - those we choose to belong to in order to follow Christ.
In Matthew's Gospel 22:36-40 Jesus commands that we are to our neighbors. Then he makes a comment about the Law and Prophets. Who would get the most out of the connection to the Law and Prophets: the Jews. Jesus was, in essence, saying, "You will love those people who are like you. The ones you share common identity with."
In Luke's Gospel, it goes in a different direction. When asked who our neighbor is, Jesus replies with a story about a Jewish man left after an altercation. The only person to stop and tend to the needs of this Jew, the only one to be kind, the only one who was a neighbor, was a Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans were not peaceful to one another. They bickered and called each other names. They thought they were different kinds of people. Jesus says to us, "Love the people who are not like you."
Finally in Matthew 5:43 Jesus commands that we are to love our enemies. He basically says we are love the people who don't like us, who ridicule us, who hurt our feelings, who want to cause us harm.
In other words, God's love is known in the fullest way when we show love to our families, our friends, our co-church members, our neighbors, the people who look like us/talk like us/enjoy the things we like, the people who don't look like us/talk like us/enjoy different things, and the people who don't like us (can I also add people we don't like) or who would cause harm to us.
Did we leave anyone out?
Maturing in God's love requires us to love others.