Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Is Love?

A Valentine's Day Sermon

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

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 (v. 10). 

Defining "Love"

[When I preached this sermon, I looked up the word “love” with the Oxford Dictionary app on my phone and read a few of the definitions.] 

The word “love” has many different meanings. How does the Bible define “love”?

God's Love Revealed 

The apostle John writes that “love is from God” (v. 7). If we want to know what love is, we should examine how God has revealed to us his love. Verses 10 begins with the words “In this is love.” In other words, “This is real love” (NLT). John also states that “God is love” (v. 8). That’s who he is. The death of Jesus was a public demonstration of God’s love for us: “The love of God was made manifest among us” (v. 9). How was God’s love “made manifest among us”? By the cross. God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us. John emphasizes the depth of God’s love by stating that “God sent his only Son into the world” (v. 9) and that God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10).

God’s “only Son” was sent into the world “so that we might live through him” (v. 9). [1] The Greek word for “only” is monogenes. It’s found nine times in the NT. The word is used to described the widow of Nain’s “only son” (Luke 7:12; cf. 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17). Colin Kruse writes, “In each of these cases the expression is used to add poignancy to a story by highlighting that it was the person’s ‘one and only’ child who was in dire need, threatened, or had died.” [2] The word is found four times in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus, including 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:18). 

The Greek word for “propitiation” is hilasmos. In the NT, it’s found only twice—both times in 1 John (2:2; 4:10). In paganism, a propitiation was a sacrifice that appeased the wrath of a god. Christian propitiation is different. God is the one who provided the propitiation: his only Son. And God did not force his Son to die for us. Jesus willingly died: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16.)

Moved by God's Love

God showed us he loves us by sending his Son to die in order to save us. Love is the giving of oneself to help others. Love is sacrificial. It gives. It helps. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another” (v. 7). Love is not an option for a follower of Jesus. Loving others is something we know Christians should do. How can we more consistently show love to others?

We must always remember God’s love for us. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). He also states, “We love because he first loved us” (v. 19). God’s amazing love moves us to love others. 

Love is the right motivation to obey God’s command to love others. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Fear is the wrong motivation to obey. “Whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (v. 18). “Perfection in love here involves a love for God which is based upon our sense of God’s love for us, and this love relationship is what removes our fear as we face the day of judgement.” [3] “There is no fear in love, but [God’s] perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” (v. 18).

God Is Love and We Are to Be Like Him

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Sometimes when people at a charity event are asked, “Why are you here today?”, they’ll often answer, “Because it makes me feel good to help others.” Our default setting is self-centeredness. We’re naturally more concerned with how other people can help us than how we can help other people. But when we act in love, we feel better. Why? Because we have been made in God’s image, and God is love. When we act like God (i.e., when we reflect his image), we feel good—because this is how we have been made to live.

Preach to Yourself About God's Love

Did you know that every Christian should be a preacher? If you’re a Christian, you should preach daily to at least one person: yourself. We must daily preach to ourselves the gospel. When it’s difficult to give of ourselves to others, we need to remind ourselves that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son to die for us.


[1] We must keep in mind that Jesus is not the Father’s Son in the same way that Connor is my son. God is triune. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal. The Father didn’t somehow bring the Son into existence. We must not think that it was easier for the Father to give up his Son than it would be for us to give up our son.
[2] Colin Kruse, The Letters of John, 158-59.
[3] Ibid., 168-69.

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