Do you listen to popular Christian music on the radio or YouTube? I like Tauren Will’s new song, “Citizen of Heaven,” but I should warn YouTube users that the video is a bit dark, as is our world. Wills sings, “Getting caught up in the here and now, has a tendency to wear me down. Am I really free if I’m thinking ’bout, only temporary things? The world’s screaming so loud, when I’m locked to the middle of my doubt. When I’m lost in the rhythm of the crowd, I hear heaven calling me. Don’t want to be another victim, falling prey to the system, when You’ve called me the kingdom. I know I am a citizen of heaven. My identity forever is Yours.” I feel loved by these words that remind us of who we are in a world seeks to pull us into its vortex. I am impressed by popular Christian music that is especially well-written (think, “I Can Only Imagine”) and sung. I sense that the artists are giving us their best. When I stop studying and start writing, I ask myself if I am giving you my best insights from God? Since God gives me his best, in love, shouldn’t I do the same for you?
How we express our love for others matters. I am appreciative of popular Christian songwriters who express their love for God with their biblical truths or worshipful lyrics. In contrast, today, the world mostly expresses love through sex, technology, and materialism. By God’s providence, I am in a church where our pastors strongly encourage us to consider how we interact with our culture. In our pastor’s exegetical sermon on Acts 19, he spoke to us of the effect of the disciples’ restrained behavior when the Ephesians threatened to riot. The disciples quiet Christian love resembled that of Christ, who endured silently when called to his suffering. In Ephesus, the disciples’ conduct motivated the town clerk to defend them, remarking that they “are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess.” (Acts 19:37) (1) Sometimes we demonstrate our love by what we say or do; other times we love on others with our silence and restraint. Christians love is the result of God’s love, that comes first, before we know him.
Expressing truth artistically, verbally, and behaviorally from a gracious heart is fruit of our salvation. John says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21) God loves us first, and we love our Christian family because of God’s love for us. Our love for other Christians (whom we see) is evidence of our love for God (who is invisible). Finally, God has commanded us to love other Christians, and because we love God, we want to please him. I pray our meditation on this passage will result in our mutual conviction to love others as much as we say we love God.
Our relationships are a barometer of our love for Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most excellent, most profound, most extensive love, superior to all other kinds of love. Merciful forgiveness and undeserved grace reconciles us to our holy, perfect King. Our reaction to gospel love is made possible by the Spirit, and is the only possible good response to him. So says 1 John 4:20, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” “John immediately goes on to show that anyone who is attempting to separate [love for God and love for others] is a liar, for love cannot be so differentiated. John’s reasoning at this point is interesting. He argues that it is easier to love men than God; therefore, if there is no love for men, love for God is absent also, regardless of what the person professing to love God may say verbally. How many Christians really believe that it is easier to love men than God? Possibly it is a very small number, for our natural inclination is to think that it is easier to love God simply because he is worthy of our love and that it is difficult to love men because they are not lovable or lovely. Yet this passage says exactly the opposite, implying, no doubt, that unless we are really loving our Christian brothers and sisters on the horizontal level, we are deluding ourselves in regard to what we consider to be our love for God on the vertical. Unless we can love men and women, we cannot love God. Unless we actually do love them, we do not love the one who created them and in whose image they were and are created.” (2) Does my love for others prove my love for God, or does it contradict my belief that I love him wholly and sincerely? Do my relationships prove my love for God or make me question it? And not just for my close Christian friends but those who are different but kingdom dwellers—all Christian music writers, politicians (all parties), doctors, neighbors, church members, teenagers, and Christians in other church denominations? Twenty-three years ago, I had an epiphany that prepared me for working with missionaries on different missions teams over the next two decades. I realized that I have the hardest time working with Christians with varying personalities from mine—not different accents, politics, viewpoints, or other common variances—but different ways of working, different priorities, methods, and approaches. Since then, I’ve had lots of opportunities to practice loving people, and yet, I have so far to go!
We love our Christian brothers and sisters as we love God. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” “On the one hand, there are undoubtedly those who loudly profess to love God but who do not love their Christian brothers and sisters. John rightly calls such liars. But on the other hand, it is also possible that there are many who recognize that they do not really love God (at least not as much as they would like to) and who wonder how they might learn to love him better. “’I cannot see him,’ they might argue. ‘At times he seems so far away and so unreal. How can I learn to love him? How can I make progress in this that I know to be my privilege and Christian duty?’ On the basis of these verses we are justified in arguing that John might well reply to such that a Christian learns to love God by loving those he can actually see. This does not replace the revelation of God’s love at the cross of Jesus Christ, of course. It is there that we learn what love is. Nevertheless, it does supplement it practically, for it is by practicing a real and self-sacrificing love for one another that we learn to love the one who sacrificed himself for us.” (3) What is God’s lesson for you today? Are you convicted to love others as much as you love God? Or, do you need to love God as much as you love others? John says our love for other Christians (whom we see) is evidence of our love for God (who is invisible). “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (v. 21) The “must” here stings a bit, when we know we do not love our brothers and sisters as we should. What happens when if we change it to “can”— ‘whoever loves God can also love his brother?’ Same meaning, but a bit more encouraging, isn’t it? We can love others with the same love we have for God, to the same extent, for the same reason—because we have his love in us. “It is easy to say we love God when that love doesn’t cost us anything more than weekly attendance at religious services. But the real test of our love for God is how we treat the people right in front of us—our family members and fellow believers.” (4)
If God loves us first, shouldn’t we love others before they love us? How do you love your Christian family at your local church? Do you sometimes withhold your love because you are afraid of entering into yet another complicated relationship with demands on your emotions, time, and choices? Don’t we deceive ourselves, thinking that we love God more or better than we do, based on the evidence in our relationships? Are we willing to examine them to see where our love is bountiful and where it is deficient? “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18) Sometimes the old hymns say it best. “O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee. I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine oceans depths its flow. May richer fuller be.” (5)
(1) Taha, Allen, “A Christian Uproar,” Acts 19:21-41, February 23, 2020, https://www.trinityboerne.org/sermons/sermon/2020-02-23/a-christian-uproar.
(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, “An Exhortation to Love One Another,” 1 John 4:17-21, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(3) Boice, Ibid.
(4) Life Application Bible, New International Version, 1 John 4:20-21, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991.
(5) “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go,” words by George Matheson.
February 28, 2020