The Law of Love

1 John 4:13-19 ESV
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 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. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

“Things that go together should never be separated”
It’s amazing how easy it is for us to separate Biblical teachings which ought to remain unified. In a sermon preached a few years ago, Dr. Jeffrey Bingham of Dallas Theological Seminary sought to show the unified relationship between truth and love in 2 John.

His introduction was very humorous. He talked about the fact that in life there are many things that (not exact quotes) “go together, and should never be separated.” First example, poverty and home ownership: “Once I became a home owner, companies I’d never even heard of began asking for my money; therefore, poverty and home ownership always go together.”

Dr. Bingham’s second illustrative example featured (this is a more exact quote): “Chocolate chip cookies and milk. It is wickedness of the deepest darkness (!) to have a chocolate chip cookie without a cold glass . . . of milk.” Then he went on to show the necessary unity and unbreakable link that must remain between the Biblical notions of “Truth and Love.” But that’s another story. The point of this posting is that in this passage from John’s first letter, loving God and loving others are inseparable. Love for others gives credence to our claim to love God.

But I wanted to highlight this concept from 1 John 4 because John wrote that “we love (others, in this context) because [God] first loved us.”

The Logical Order of Biblical Indicatives and Biblical Imperatives
Now, to switch gears, notice the logical order: first, God loved us; second, we love others (as evidence that we love God). The logical order is vital. This is what I called “Indicative” and “Imperative” in a past posting a couple of weeks ago.  It is imperative to keep in mind that in biblical Christianity, the “indicative” always precedes the “imperative.” In other words, in biblical Christianity, the reason we work is because of what God did for us. If we have a concept of a God who loves us because of our work (placing “imperative” logically before “indicative”), then we are legalists. The book of Galatians is one of Paul’s great treatises written to distinquish biblical Christianity from legalism (Galatians 3:3). We don’t get God to do for us by doing for him, we do for him because he did for us; that’s why John wrote, “We love (God and others) because he first loved us.” This is the point John makes and this is the point of my concern that all application (the imperatives, or precepts or commands, of Scripture) should be made in preaching on the basis of the Gospel preached (The Indicative of indicatives), and not only preached as an evangelistic appeal directed toward unbelievers, but preached also to the believers as the foundation, reason and source of the particular application of each and every “practical and relevant” sermon. If application is preached as separate from the gospel, you have legalism. It’s not good enough to assume the listeners understand the foundation, it must be presented as a unified, package deal.

It is “wickedness of the deepest darkness” to preach application without explicitly basing it on the gospel.

Imperative comes from Indicative; application comes from gospel; “do” comes from “be.” Kind of like that old saying, “we sin because we are sinners.” Likewise, we walk in righteousness because we are righteous, not “we become righteous by walking in righteousness.” How did we become righteous? Righteousness was given to us by God as a free gift of his grace (Romans 1:17; 3:24).

Third Gear
John Wesley made his mark on Chrisitian theology by emphasizing that Christians ought, to weave in my own language, to perform the imperatives of Scripture, based either on the motive of fear of punishment or hope of reward. This is one of the distinctives of the Wesleyan form of Arminianism (God does his part, man does his part). In Wesley’s scheme, what do we have? Man working in order to get God to reward him and in order to keep God from punishing him. What did we call that in the earlier paragraph? Legalism! Imperative preceding Indicative. Earning salvation by my own works. What is the alternative?

Wesley was lifelong friends with fellow revivalist, George Whitefield. Now Whitefield was a Calvinist. The two agreed that while out publicly preaching they would not debate Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Naturally, they failed to maintain this bond, poor John just couldn’t help himself, but that’s beside the point. The point is, Calvinist theology (the system of doctrine the great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon called, “another name for the gospel” or “biblical theology”), in other words, the teaching of Scripture is that the proper motive for obedience is gratitude. A few scriptural phrases: “faith without works is dead” “faith works by love” “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” See? Imperative follows Indicative. We love (keep his commandments) because he first loved us. That’s why Paul wrote that grace and faith establish the Law rather than eliminate it (Romans 3:31).

And now, the real point
The reason I’m belaboring all of this is because it’s the theology that lies behind a song I wrote. I wanted to write a song about the Ten Commandments, but as I thought about it, it became my theology of Christian obedience to the Ten Commandments. “We Love God Because He First Loved Us.”

The Love Song © 2004, John Douglas Chitty
We love God because he first loved usby sending us his Son.
Jesus kept the Lord our God’s commands, by him the work was done.
Every day we break God’s Law in thought, word or in deed.
Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness we need.

How do we give thanks to him? What did the Savior say?
Jesus said, “If you love me, my commandments you’ll obey.”

We love God because he first loved us, and our love is of this kind:
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . .
and with all your soul . . .
and with all your mind.”

You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not bow down or serve carved images.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Sanctify the Sabbath day and so rest in the Lord;
in six days God made the world, and rested on one more.

That’s not all the Savior said would praise the Lord above.
Jesus said, “Your neighbor, too, needs you to show your love.”

Give honor to your father, and at your mother’s knee.
And you shall not murder, nor commit adultery.
You shall not take away your neighbor’s belongings.
Neither lie about him, nor desire to have his things.

We love God because he first loved us by sending us his Son.
Jesus kept the Lord our God’s commands, by him the work was done.
Every day we break God’s Law in thought, word or in deed.
Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness we need.

How do we give thanks to him? What did the Savior say?
Jesus said, “If you love me, my commandments you’ll obey.”

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One response

  1. […]  Are you one of those who’ve come to believe in the one and only Son of God? Then you have received the Father’s saving love in the gift of his Son who became incarnate for you, obeyed God’s Law perfectly for you, died suffering the consequences of your sin, and rose on the third day that you also might be raised up to eternal life spiritually now (regeneration), and physically upon his return (resurrection). I urge you to do what you can to reciprocate his love by Spirit-empowered love for him and your neighbor. We love because he first loved us. […]

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