By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXVII) 08/05/22

4:19We love because God first loved us.

Lias goes on the say that two opposite mistakes have emerged on this point. On one side, salvation has been regarded as a person’s reward for work achieved with God’s help; on the other; it is a single act of faith that at once and forever decides a person’s future. The first error has resulted in the most painful efforts, the most rigid and cruel self-tortures, and the most wearing anxiety and uncertainty. The other imagines that since the works under the Law do not attain salvation; therefore, any effort to fulfill God’s will in that manner is dangerous and deadly, like teaching people to trust in themselves for their salvation.

The truth stands, as usual, between the two. Our salvation does not consist in the fulfillment of a covenant of works but in the reborn spirit transmitted to us from on high. That born anew spirit will lead us to crucify the flesh, encourage us to make every effort necessary to stay obedient to God’s Word, and finally bring our hearts into union with God. The whole work is His but accomplished in us. The first impulse comes from Him; every subsequent struggle of the regenerate person’s will against the works of the flesh is His work. The final result is not absorption but a perfect union with Him. And He is agápē. If He is in us, His agápē must be in us. Thus, it comes to pass that our love is but the stream of which He is the source. “We love because He loved us first.”[1]

American Episcopal Bishop Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) states that God first made it possible for us to do everything we do. Everywhere God is first, and humanity, coming afterward, enters into Him and finds in God the setting and the background of life. There is no part of life in which this is not true. Humankind was never sent into the world as a microscopic organism and charged for evolving on its own in the conditions in which it found itself to advance into a higher form. Always something is before; always, there is a landscape in which humans, such as Adam, became conscious of his existence. The material is the background for the spiritual – the earth, then all its features. So, likewise, the body, before it became a living soul.[2] The same is true of a believer. First, flesh gives birth to the flesh before the Spirit gives birth to the spirit.[3] [4]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) states that for the first time, the Apostle John ventures to mention our love. Until now, he has been absorbed with the more remarkable, nobler, divine love. Up to this point, all had turned on God’s agápē, manifested by Him, known and believed by us, communicated to us, present with us, and made perfect in our compliance, compassion, and confidence. Now he ventures to speak of our echo to God’s anthem, our reflection of God’s light, and our response to God’s agápē. “We love,” not Him, but we come to love, “because He loved us first.” He loved us not only before we loved Him but when we were still hateful and hating. His agápē came to us and fathered love for His children, all humanity, and even His and our enemies.

It is essential to see that John does not say we should love God. On the contrary, love is never once demanded of us toward Him in the Final Covenant. Love is a gift to us, and the fruit of this agápē is that we can offer His agápē to others. It is the first breathing into our souls of heaven’s sweetest affection. God first breathed life into Adam, and then Adam breathed out into the air. So he first pours His agápē into us, and then we pour out His agápē, which is now our own, into others.[5]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) surmises that if we narrow the Apostle John’s statement that “we love Him because He loved us first,” we limit the scope of this to mean our love is in gratitude for His agápē. The term “first” is an important word and means much more. (1) Our love owes its very origin to God’s agápē, from which it springs. (2) Love is paralyzed by fear when it is doubtful it will ever be returned. Our love has no such monitoring, for it knows that God’s agápē is eternal and unconditional. After all, our Master said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”[6] [7]

Professor William Wallace (1843-1897) tells us that the religious idea of love is essentially not an individualist perception, not a single fact that stands separate and self-evident, but an organic and organizing principle, which binds believer to believer, and of which the Church is the embodiment and evidence. The Apostle John asks, “How can someone love God they can’t see if they don’t love a fellow believer they can see?” To this, it may be added, how can one see and realize God unless they see and realize the community and solidarity of humankind? Christianity depends on the consistency and coincidence of these two aspects. When it is not alive, it makes everything one-sided, for you feel it cannot be true for you unless it is true for others.[8]

James B. Morgan (1850-1942) urges us to ask ourselves, “Do we truly love God.” Think about the question Jesus asked His disciple Peter, “Do you have agápē for Me?”[9] The best Peter could come up with was, “You know Lord, I have phileō [10] for you.”[11]  And to every one of us, God asks the same. The evidence of love for Him is distinct, and we must consider whether we can give it to Him. Is God in all our thoughts? Are our prayers earnest and sincere, and do we act in harmony with “Blessed be Your Name?”[12] Do we act on the command of the Anointed One – “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven?”[13] Do we desire to practice self-denial on behalf of those we love? Do we deny ourselves that we may promote the cause and honor of God? Is it our great aim to come at last into the presence of God because “Now we see God as if we are looking at a reflection in a mirror? But then, we will see Him right before our eyes in the future?”[14] Do we long for the time when “we shall be like Him, for we will see Him as He is?”[15] Then may we say – “We love Him because He loved us first.”[16]

Congregational minister and author John Ossian Davies (1851-1916) says the top two aspects of love are out of fear and out of faith. We all agreed that love is the mightiest lever in the universe, but there is the possibility that we are not all of one mind as to the use of uneasiness in religion. And has it any legitimate use? Our answer is decidedly in the affirmative.

The Bible speaks of two kinds of fear, says Davies – the brotherly and obligatory. First, we reverence God and dismiss the devil, or second, practicing loving others as a mandatory Christian duty in escaping punishment. The first attracts us to God, but the second drives us away from Him. So, terror thunders, unless followed by love’s enrapturing melodies, and has a devastating influence upon the human soul. Here are some points to consider:

For one, panic tends to produce a Moral Obligation Policy unless accompanied by Love. The terrified soul strives to be virtuous, not from any love for virtue per se, but fear of sin’s punishment. We must strive to hate sin as sin, and love virtue as virtue, regardless of any discipline or reward.

Another is Incessant Appeals. Fear has an exhausting influence on a person’s moral nature. Anxiety paralyzes the soul, deprives it of its moral vigor, and positively hinders effort. Despair weakens the physical frame and paves the way for any disease hovering around. And is not this true of the intellect? Dismay may drive the soul out of Egypt, but we need a more gracious power to lead it into the promised land.

Then we have Continuous Pleas for Mercy. Fear tends to promote unbelief. A dreaded God will eventually become a God despised, hated, and denied.

Now comes Ceaseless Petitions for Patience. Lack of confidence tends to make spiritual worship impossible. Love delights to commune with its object, but a scary thing will end all pleasurable communion. We cannot be heartily and devoutly worshipped a God we fear. You can no more love Him than you can caress a volcano!

And finally, we have Endless Calls for Understanding. Insecurity may lead to forced obedience, which is practically worthless. An old poetic saying goes this way: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Pharaoh forgot all his promises as soon as God removed the plagues. Forced obedience, generated by uneasiness, is little better than disobedience.

Someone may still be tempted to ask, “What role does fear have in religion? Has it any use at all?” We reply that apprehensiveness must be used to pave the way for something better than itself; in itself, it must be the herald and forerunner of love. Sinai must be the precursor of Calvary. It is so in the Bible, it is so in God’s Providence, and it must be so in the spiritual history of every believer.[17]

Arno C. Gäbelein (1861-1945) exclaims, how wonderful are the words: “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”[18]  Can there be anything more excellent and exciting than dwelling in God and God in us? And this is true of every believer. If we confess that Jesus the Anointed One is the Son of God, if we rest in His finished work as well, knowing the Father sent Him to be the Savior, and our Savior, therefore, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and as a result, God dwelleth in us and we in God. There can be no question about it, for God says so.

[1] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 344-345

[2] Genesis 2:7

[3] John 3:6

[4] Brooks, Phillip: The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., 1 John 4, p. 151

[5] Cameron, Robert: First Epistle of John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] John 15:16

[7] Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 153

[8] Professor William Wallace (1843-1897), Gifford Lectures, pp. 47, 48

[9] John 21:15

[10] Phileō is used for friendship. In other words, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with God’s love, and Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know we are good friends.”

[11] John 21:16

[12] Matthew 6:9

[13] Ibid. 5:16

[14] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[15] 1 John 3:2

[16] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XXXVII, p. 374

[17] Davies, John Ossian, Old Yet Ever New, 1904, p. 179

[18] 1 John 4:16

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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