The Gift of Love: 1 John 4:7-21 (Sermon)




The first time I told my wife Katie that I loved her, I was somewhere in Mexico. She was in Minnesota. I had met her a month or two back. She had moved to town, and we hit it off right away. We spent loads of time together, talking and getting to know each other. It was a whirlwind of young love. I had been working with the youth group at my church for over a year. I was on a mission trip. Being apart from Katie that summer was torture. 

One day, I had a break from the youth team and a calling card in my pocket. That was back when you had to use a prepaid calling card—Raise your hand if you remember those days—I wandered down the dirt road until I found a phone and privacy. I entered the 1-800 number and the super-digit passcode. Then, it asked me to dial the phone number of the person I wanted to call. Carefully, I dialed her number.

I only had so much time. Thankfully, she answered. We talked about life. I am sure we discussed activities, weather, and food. Then, I got interrupted. A woman’s robotic voice said something like, “You have one minute remaining.” Time was running out. How do I say goodbye? Do I tell her I love her? I wanted to mean it when I said it for the first time. My heart was racing like NASCAR. My throat dried up like the Rio Grande. The clock was ticking. This would have to be a buzzer-beater. Thirty seconds. She was in the middle of saying something. Do I interrupt her? How do I start? Ten seconds. Okay, I am going to do it. Here I go. I am ready. “Katie, I lo.” Dial tone. There were no more minutes on that card! I put down the phone. Walking back to our team, I wondered, “What did she hear? Did she know I love her?” Katie and I laugh about the conversation these decades later. “I lo.”


As we move closer to Christmas, we remember the themes of Advent: joy, peace, hope, and love. God brings all those together through the birth of Jesus. This morning, I want to share how Jesus’s birth brings love to earth. God communicated his love to us through his Son flawlessly. He was not cut off, interrupted, or stopped. Jesus was and is truly the greatest gift ever. Through him, we experience God’s love.  


If you have your Bible, turn to 1 John chapter 4. We will be reading verses 7 through 12. I have asked A. and K. Z. to read for us. Please stand with me if you are able. 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7–12)


Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, we need you. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, open our ears to hear what you want us to hear, and open our minds to know what you want us to know. You are great and worthy of our attention and affection. We love you. Help us, in Jesus’s name, to know your love, amen. You may be seated. 


Today, we will be more topical in the preaching. However, the passage we read shapes our understanding of the topic of love. 


Tradition and scholars believe 1 John is one of three letters written by the last remaining apostle. He wrote the biography of Jesus, called John, and the book of Revelation. If we total his words in the New Testament, he wrote about 20% of them. He was the third most prolific author behind Paul and Luke. The themes of his letters are love, truth, eternal life, and abiding in Jesus. From the Bible and early historians, we know that John and his brother, James, were sons of Zebedee. Jesus nicknamed them the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17). His other nickname was beloved. They were part of a fishing company with their dad, disciples Peter, and his brother, Andrew. Peter, James, and John were the closest to Jesus. John was likely the youngest of the disciples. He eventually became a pastor in Ephesus.

Legend states that opponents threw him into a boiling pot of oil to kill him. Miraculously, he survived. His persecutors were not finished. They decided to ship him off to work the mines on the Island of Patmos. However, he could not be silenced. There, he wrote Revelation. Eventually, the officials granted his release, and he returned to what we know today as Turkey. Not too long afterward, he died of natural causes. He was the only apostle to die of natural causes. ( Accessed by Robert J. Nash on 12/4/2022)


John wrote so people would experience God’s love and love one another. He wanted them to know that Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus was not a ghost or an angel, or an alien. He wanted the church to persevere in the Christian faith. 


In our passage today, we see a simple structure.

Vs. 7–8 The Call and Reason to Love 

Vs. 9–10 The Definition of Love

Vs. 11–12 The Call and Reason to Love and its Result 


These verses point to John's heart for the church to love each other. If we read closely, John's point is clear. However, why should we love? Look at verse 11. It answers the reverse. 

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

We love because we have been loved. 


One can ask, “What does John mean by the word love?” I have been leading a Bible study at the Senior Center for a year. A few of you have joined me. We have a friend who constantly refers to definitions, particularly love. What do we mean by love? What does John mean? God answered that question in verse 8. Look back at verses 7 and 8, say? 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7–8)

What is love? God is love. That is fascinating to me. Notice how John phrased that. Not everything that we call love is God. The verse doesn’t say love is God. Instead, it says God is love. In addition, it also doesn’t say God is only loving. If we search the Scriptures, the Bible says God is Spirit, jealous, Holy, and good. He is strong, wise, and kind. So what does it mean that God is love? 

Love is more than an emotion. We can go to other verses to find out more clarity about love. Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)


These characteristics show that love is active and exists within relationships. You can’t love in solitary confinement or on an island. That being the case, how did God love before creation? Did he love before time began? Did he love before time began? Whom did he love? If love was and is his essential identity, how was he loving? The answer is a bit philosophical. God existed in a Trinitarian community. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were and are loving because they could and did express that love within themselves eternally. God is categorically, definitionally love. He always has been and always will be.  


That raises another question: “How did God express his love toward us?" Verse 9 answers that. We will move backward in this passage. 

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world” (1 John 4:9).  

God loved us by sending Jesus. This echoes the Gospel of John, chapter 3: 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 

God loved the world and still loves the world. He loves people from every continent, language, color, and shape. He loves women and men, young and old, rich and poor. God made us in his image, and he loves us. How? First John tells us he expressed his love by sending us his Son, Jesus. What is the big deal about that? God didn’t have to send Jesus. He doesn’t need us. He is not incomplete. He was never less than or lacking in anything. He was and still is perfect. He could have let humanity die the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against his command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We could ask, “Could he have sent someone else?” No. “Could he have sent an angel?” No. An angel does not fit his promises in the Old Testament. In addition, an angel would be a poor substitute. You wouldn’t have a teacher take a leave of absence and put a mannequin in his or her place. You would want a well-vetted, trained substitute. So, an angel would not cut it. What about another son or daughter? Read the entire Bible cover to cover, and you will not find one. Jesus is the only Son of God. The Greek word for this is Monogenes. It means the only child. It is used only a handful of times in the Bible. When John used it, he exclusively referred to Jesus. A person may reply, “Pastor, aren’t all of us believers children of God?” Yes. However, only by adoption through faith. Faith in Jesus being sent for us makes us children of God. Being a child of God is not based on ancestry or our ability. If we wanted to get to God on our own, we would have to be perfect. God tells us that no one can see him and live. He is holy. He is like the sun. If we look at it too long, we go blind. It takes less than 100 seconds for there to be damage to your eyes from staring at the sun. God is much more unapproachable. Friends, the Bible tells us that God lives in unapproachable light. Only the righteous to come can come to him. God told Moses in Exodus 33:20 that no one could see his face and live. The truth is none of us are righteous (Romans 3:23). If we were, we could make the exchange for one person, but not for the whole world. Jesus alone is the only one. He can pay for the world’s imperfection if they repent and believe. How could Jesus accomplish that? Because he was and is both God and man. He can bear the infinite offense because he is infinite and perfect. So, God showed his love by giving his only Son, Jesus. Jesus’s birth brings love to the earth. 


First John 4:9 goes on to tell us how this love gets expressed.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). 

Jesus said during his ministry that he was life (John 14:6). The world runs the other way. We, or at least I am tempted to run after food, clothes, video games, gadgets, relationships, promotions, vacations, and achievements. The gifts of God can all seem to offer life; however, they are poor substitutes for Jesus. Only he can deliver forever. Another way Jesus phrased his purpose was that he came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). 


Buried in the human heart is a yearning for eternity and a longing for love, acceptance, insight, understanding, justice, power, control, pleasure, peace, comfort, rest, and relationship. Those can all be good gifts. But if we pursue them to the exclusion of God or in place of God, they will destroy us. There resides within us draw to the dark. We, like moths drawn to flames, face temptation. We are a mixture of right and wrong, good and evil, the rebel and saint. Our sinful nature is an inheritance that leaves a residue of guilt and shame. The end of which is death. We can’t remove that stain of sin through churchy practices or rigor. Adam and Eve tried and failed. They hid in the Garden from God and put on some clothes, but that didn’t work. God knows all and sees all. If God were to put on the screen our lives like documentaries, with subtitles of thoughts, pictures of actions, and sound for what was said, I think we would want to be shrunk to the size of stink bugs and squashed. That being the case, God loves us despite knowing our future and past failures. Read yourself into 1 John. Hear God’s love for you.  

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that… [I] might live through him” (1 John 4:9). 

God loves you. Let that sink in. Jesus’s birth is an expression of God’s love on the earth to you. He wants you to have an abundant life, a full life, one of peace and joy that is firm and true in the storms of life.  


Too often, people try to sidestep. They do destructive things to attempt to fix their situations. They don’t even realize it. God alone is what we need. He loves us and offers us life unlike anything else. When we embrace Jesus as our Savior and decide to follow him, we can find a life that is far more saturated with joy, peace, and hope, than trying to pick our path. Unfortunately, we still face battles, persecution, temptation, and struggles. However, God’s Word is true, and his love is real in the good and bad. 


The life that God offers goes beyond this one. Jesus offers eternal life. The Bible contrasts this with eternal death. Some will be with God forever, and others not. Some will live in increasing bliss, and others will continually taste a form of conscious sorrow, pain, and death. The Bible teaches that God desires that none experience this coming judgment. And through the Son, we find an escape. 


Look at verse 10.  

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”  (1 John 4:10). 

“In this is love, not that [you]... have loved God but that he loved [you]... and sent his Son to be the propitiation for [your]... sins”  (1 John 4:10). 

Propitiation is a big word. If we need to define love, we certainly need to define propitiation. What does John mean? Propitiation means God takes our sins. He paid for our sins with his blood.  

JOHN 3:16

John 3:16 goes on to state:


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17)

Out of God’s nature, he expressed his love to you by sending his only Son, Jesus. He did that to take your sins. He did that to save you and give you eternal life. 


From other Scripture, we learn that Jesus removes our sins and gives us his blameless track record. God considers us right with Him through faith in Jesus and what he has done. We no longer have to fear the wrath of God. Satan can do all his accusing. But Jesus paid for every sin we have committed, are committing, and will commit. What a fantastic gift. It wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have Christmas. Romans 5:8 says, 

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

That is good news. His love was not cut off, interrupted, or disconnected. It won’t run dry, and he won’t run out on us. There are no strings attached. He won’t change his mind or forget. He is not abusive. Nor is God a tyrant, a demon, or a dictator. He is not manipulative or stingy. Instead, he is generous, patient, kind, humble, and persistent. His love is greater than earthly examples. His love has more power than a blizzard or a tornado. He suffered hell and back to win us over.  


Jesus told the story of a prodigal son who insulted his dad by asking for his inheritance. He forsook all his family’s values and moved away. When the money ran out, he lived in the pits. He was a tramp, a living rebuke of his dad and people. If word got back to his father, what would he do? We know. Every day the father looked out his window for his son to return. He waited and waited and waited. Finally, one day, his son hit rock bottom. He had had enough of living in a dump. He thought his dad could get him a job. He hoped his dad might show mercy. So, the son picked up his things and hiked home. What did his dad do when we woke and saw out his window that his son was on the horizon? He gathered up his robe and went running to him. When they met, the son could not spit out his prepared speech soon enough.

The dad jumped in and said something like, “Here, take my robe. Let’s get you my ring. You aren’t going to be an employee. No, you are my son. So let’s kill the fatted calf and throw a big party to celebrate your homecoming. The lost had been found. My son is home. I picture him looking him straight in the eye with tears streaming down his face and saying I love you. I have been waiting for this day.


Friends, I don’t care what you have done. God looks out the window like that father of the prodigal. He is waiting for you to turn from sin to him in faith and repentance. He wants all to follow him. He wishes none to perish. He loves you. 

Perhaps you have longed for that. But, you don’t feel worthy. Here is a secret. Don’t take this the wrong way. You and I aren’t worthy. But we have someone who is. He came as a baby. He sustains the universe by the word of his power. He chose this for you. His name is Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, 

“For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Do you believe that? Let Christ be your peace, hope, and joy this Christmas. Receive this gift of love. God brought love to earth through Jesus’s birth.


Some of us, many of us, know the truth. This is an old story we retell every year. But we need to hear it again because we fall into the trap that things are based on how good we are. We begin to depend on performance. Or, we get depressed by our lack of change and maturity. That is not how God works. Our standing is based on what God has done, not the other way around. He is the initiator. He loved first. He died for us, knowing we would consciously and unconsciously reject him. First John 1 verses 8 and 9 are helpful reminders.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8–9)

Let us confess our sins to God and know his grace and mercy anew. 


If we know this gift of love, what ought we do? Let us not keep this to ourselves. Let us obey 1 John’s call to love one another. Jesus said, 

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

How? Obeying this command can be challenging with different personalities, perspectives, and opinions. Loving can be hard when we sin against each other. Obedience to this command requires, Paul wrote,  

“For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14) 

As we near Christmas, let us remember God’s gift of love  so that we can give the gift of love to one another. 1 John 4:12, 

“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).

May the world see God through the love God is perfecting in us. 

Benediction: Ephesians 3:+ 

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