And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV)
In identifying and nurturing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), love is set at its pinnacle as the crowning element of the fruit we must bear. Love is outward-looking and outward-acting, always conducting itself in the best interests of others before itself. William Barclay defines agape (love) as “unconquerable benevolence” and “undefeatable goodwill” (Flesh and Spirit, page 65). Love is the fundamental trait that moved God to give His Son to die for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). God acted in our best interest, to provide salvation for us, even when we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-8). So, it is God’s love that stirs us up to love one another as He has loved us (1 John 4:7-11). To have such love, we must begin by having this kind of love for God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Only then can you “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Love is not only a noun, it is also a verb. Love is a word of action. When we act to please God rather than ourselves, we show love for God (1 John 5:3). When we act with goodwill for others, even for our enemies, then we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:3–6, NKJV)
As this passage explains how we are assured that we know God, it provides an inspired commentary on what it means to “walk in the light” in 1 John 1:7. Many are heard to say they “know God” (that they “walk in the light”). John explains how we are assured that we know God; “if” we keep His commandments (v. 3). Knowing God in this passage equates to practicing the truth and “walking in the light” in 1 John 1:6-7. We cannot disobey God and correctly claim to understand or know God. To say we know God while disobeying Him makes us a liar. The love of God does not live in disobedience; it is perfected (matured) by keeping His word (v. 5). One may indeed feel in his heart that they know God, but that is not how the Bible defines knowing God. To know God and to live in the love of God, we must “keep His commandments.” Obeying God is not an attempt to earn your way to heaven; It is the express of your love for God. The “truth is not in” the disobedient; He does not know God. To know God, walk as Christ walked. He always obeyed the Father (John 8:29; 12:48-50).
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18, NKJV)
Context is crucial to understanding the Scriptures correctly. Today’s passage is a notable illustration of the point. John is discussing the perfecting of love in the Christian’s life so that he or she has “boldness in the day of judgment” instead of fear, which “involves torment.” Where there is mature love, there is no fear of the judgment. But, what is the mature love that “casts out fear?” John tells us in 1 John 5:2-3: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2–3). The love that has boldness rather than fear in the day of judgment is one that is willingly obedient to God’s commands. Only when love includes willing obedience of God’s commandments is it the “perfect love” that “casts out fear.”
10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… (1 John 3:10–11, NKJV)
There are obvious differences between the children of God, and the children of the devil. This passage expresses those differences negatively. The person who does not practice righteousness, and the one who does not love his brother, is “not of God.” This is entirely consistent with the apostle’s declaration in Acts 10:35, that “whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” Practicing righteousness is equivalent to practicing truth, and walking in the light (1 John 1:6-7). Christians live their profession of faith by walking in truth, otherwise, they are “not of God,” and are without God’s approval. For you see, it is sin not to practice righteousness (1 John 3:7-8; James 4:17). As we practice righteousness, we must love our brethren, even as Jesus commanded from the beginning (1 John 13:34-35). The devil’s children do not practice righteousness or brotherly love. To them, these are unnecessary for God’s acceptance. It is a great deception to say how one lives as a Christian does not impact one’s divine approval now, and eternally. May we practice righteousness, and love our brethren. By this, we know we are of God.
Let all that you do be done with love. (1 Corinthians 16:14, NKJV)
Love is known by the actions it prompts. Just as love prompted God to send His Son into the world to save us, the motive of love must undergird everything we do as followers of Jesus (1 John 4:9-10). Obeying God’s commands in faith is a full expression of loving God: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). We should not discount obedience to God and love for God – they are bound together. God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). This elevates the value of others above oneself, so that we treat them with virtuous attitudes and actions. The things we do have no spiritual benefit without the motive of love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). William Barclay called agape (love), “unconquerable benevolence, undefeatable goodwill.” Love must drive everything we do. Love keeps our hearts right with God, and it keeps us living in the truth of God.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NKJV)
Whose friend are you – God’s, or the world’s? The world is the system of evil that opposes God and His will (1 John 2:15-17). A Christian cannot join hands with the world, doing and endorsing what the world does, without becoming God’s enemy. Simple as that. James uses adultery to make the point. The world celebrates adultery. When husbands and wives commit adultery, the world calls it a “love affair,” but there is nothing loving about it. The entertainment industry (movies, television, the internet, etc.) celebrates adultery. The porn industry persuades it. But, God is very clear: The sin of adultery is not a love affair, it is a lust affair (James 4:1-3; Hebrews 13:4). Jesus said, “You are My friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). The worldly-minded do not love Jesus, because they do not obey Jesus. They are driven by selfish desires. They are God’s enemies. Do not be counted among them. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:6-7).
20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4:20–21)
There is an inseparable link between loving God and loving fellow Christians. (The “brother” in this passage is one’s fellow Christian, a fellow child of God.) We cannot love God while hating a brother. Hatred is a dark, sinister, and deceptive sin. It can masquerade as self-vindication when we have been slighted (or, think we have been slighted) by another. Left uncorrected, hated festers, convincing us we are truth-tellers when we say we love God. But, in fact, we are liars. As you concentrate on loving God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” be careful not to sabotage your effort by holding animosity in your heart against your brother. Remembering the Golden Rule helps: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).