In the first epistle of John, much like his gospel account of our Lord’s life and ministry, the apostle of love rightly earns this familiar title through his expositions on the love of God. In many respects, several of these verses have become the most recognizable, most recited verses on the love of God in all of Scripture. Surely a testimony to their simplicity, but moreso to the truths behind them.
One such passage is found in 1 John 4:10
“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.”
In order for us to comprehend and feel the weight of a passage like this one, concerning the love of God for us in Christ, we need to first understand the love of God for His Son. If we are to properly appreciate the love that God has for His adopted children, and similarly the love that Christ has for those for whom He died, and subsequently avoid a man-centered understanding of these truths, then we must begin with the love between the Father and the Son.
When we consider the love that the Father has for the Son, we have only limited, imperfect examples from which to draw upon. For instance, the Father’s love for His Son far exceeds the love that a husband has for his bride. A husband may care for his bride, love and cherish her, protect her, but this is an incomplete, finite love when compared to God the Father’s love for God the Son. Additionally, the love that a parent has for a child, closer in relationship, but again inadequate. God the Father’s love for His Son far exceeds both that of a husband for his bride and a parent for their child. In fact, if you consider anything in this world that you love, so much that you would die for it, you have but a pale shadow in comparison to the love that the Father has for the Son. It is an infinite, everlasting, and eternal love. It knows neither beginning or end. It cannot be exhausted nor measured. Our language fails to properly describe it, though we may begin with the word, perfect. The love of God, this intra-trinitarian love, infinitely exceeds any example of love that we could possibly imagine.
To draw our minds to even an initial comprehension of the love that the Father has for the Son, Puritan John Flavel offers the following
How this gift of Christ was the highest, and fullest manifestation of the love of God, that ever the world saw: and this will be evidenced by the following particulars:
(1.) If you consider how near and dear Jesus Christ was to the Father; he was his Son, “his only Son,” saith the text; the Son of his love, the darling of his Soul: His other Self, yea, one with himself; the express image of his person; the brightness of his Father’s Glory: In parting with him, he parted with his own heart, with his very bowels, as I may say. “Yet to us a Son is given,” Isa. ix. 6. and such a Son as he calls “his dear Son,” Col. i. 13. A late writer tells us, that he hath been informed, that in the famine in Germany, a poor family being ready to perish with famine, the husband made a motion to the wife, to sell one of the children for bread, to relieve themselves and the rest: The wife at last consents that it should be so; but then they began to think which of the four should be sold; and when the eldest was named, they both refused to part with that, being their first-born, and the beginning of their strength. Well, then they came to the second, but could not yield that he should be sold, being the very picture and lively image of his father. The third was named, but that also was a child that best resembled the mother. And when the youngest was thought on, that was the Benjamin, the child of their old age; and so were content rather to perish altogether in the famine, than to part with a child for relief And you know how tenderly Jacob took it, when his Joseph and Benjamin were rent from him. What is a child, but a piece of the parent wrapt up another skin? And yet our dearest children are but as strangers to us, in comparison of the unspeakable dearness that was betwixt the Father and Christ.——Now, that he should ever be content to part with a Son, and such an only One, is such a manifestation of love, as will be admired to all eternity.
Now, considering this love that the Father has for the Son, consider that He gave, out of love, His son to be the propitiation, literally the wrath-absorbing-atoning sacrifice, for us, disgusting and vile sinners. Stained not only with the guilt of sin, but filled to the core with rebellion against this same God that loves His Son without measure. Consider that this same God, loving His Son as He did, freely offered Him up for sinful man. As we are told in the passage above, this free offering of His Son was because God loved us. This is the manifestation of the love of God, in Christ, for sinners (1 John 4:9; Romans 5:8). This is what it means that God so loved the world (John 3:16). When the Apostle writes, God is love, this is the starting point towards untangling the complexity of this divine attribute (1 John 4:8).
In comparison with both the love of God for Christ and the love of God, in Christ, for us sinners, how weak and feeble are our own declarations of love for our Heavenly Father. It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us (1 John 4:10). Yet despite this, one of the very evidences of the love that God has for us in Christ, which we share in and experience upon being born again, is that we love one another, “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12) An evidence of the indwelling nature of God’s Spirit within us is love, for one another. This outward, horizontal expression of love can only come from a heart that is oriented vertically with love from God and love for God. As the Apostle exhorts,
“19 We love because he first loved us. 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. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Therefore, dear readers, come often to the fount of God’s love and consider, meditate, draw upon the love that God has for His own Son. Allow this to frame your understanding of the love that God has for you, in giving His only Son to die in your place. If after contemplating the magnificent reality of God’s love, your heart is not drawn to love Him more, hardly moved closer to Him by increased affections, then perhaps the love of God does not abide in you. Perhaps you have not come to either be born of God or know God. In that case, repent of your sins, turn to Christ for forgiveness with a genuine desire to love God and be loved by Him.