Studies in 1 John
Part 21 ‑ 1 John 4. 11-16
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." (vv 11-12.)
We cannot repay God for His love, there is no recompense we can make that will in any way match His infinite goodness and mercy extended toward us. The only thing we can do to express our gratitude and appreciation is to love others of our fellow men in the manner He has loved us. No man has ever seen God, has stood in His presence in the flesh, that he might there declare his love for God and his appreciation of all His benefits. His gratitude must therefore be expressed in deeds directed towards the benefit of fellow men rather than in words directed toward God.
Perhaps there is a Divine purpose in that. How easy it would have been if, immediately following our conversion, justification and consecration to God, we had been taken up into the Divine presence, away from all the vicissitudes and hardships of this workaday world. How pleasant then to stand before the heavenly throne and praise God for His great love manifested toward us in taking us away from the world of sin and death, with all its ugliness and all its misery and all its dangers, and setting us down in the light and peace of the heavenly realm. How useless we would then be so far as any future work for mankind is concerned or, indeed, any work of any kind for God.
No man has seen God, that he might express his love for him in person, at any time. There is a deep and vital truth in that brief statement. God does not want any of us round His throne until we have proved ourselves on the field of battle. There is no place for smooth-tongued sycophants in the heavenly courts. Those who can glibly say "Lord, Lord " but have no works of faith or life of endurance wherewith to support their words will never find entrance. It is in the manner that we demonstrate the sincerity of our love by our behaviour toward our fellows that we find the pathway to the golden door. Those who are ultimately received " into the presence of his glory with exceeding joy " will have been so received because the tenor of their lives here below has already demonstrated their loyalty and love in the council of heaven far more effectively than any spoken word can do.
"Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." (vs. 13-14. Here is a reminiscence of Pentecost. Why was John so sure that he was dwelling in God and God in him? "Behold" cried Solomon at the dedication of the Temple" heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built." Yet John tells us with perfect assurance that God dwells in each one of us and we each may have that assurance, and in earnest thereof we have the witness of the Spirit. Writing to the Christians at Rome nearly a quarter of a century earlier, Paul had said "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Both Paul and John were merely voicing what was at that time and had always, since Pentecost, been the fixed conviction of the Church, that God, by His Holy Spirit, was indwelling each one of His children. "Your life " says Paul again " is hid with Christ in God." Can there be any closer expression of that intimacy with the Most High into which we enter when we come unto Him through the appointed way ? It may be true, and it is true, that no man hath seen God with the natural sight at any time but we have entered into His presence, and stand in that presence, in a spiritual sense that is of far greater moment and means much more to us than any kind of visual appearance can do. There is all the difference in the world between being before the Throne and being in the Throne; between standing before God and dwelling in God. It is that to which John is leading up. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." (v.15.)
In these few verses we have the true relationship ‑ the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. We dwell in the Father, we confess the Son, and we receive the Holy Spirit. We have the love of the Father because we dwell in Him, the grace ‑ favour ‑ of the Son because we confess Him, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit because that Spirit is indwelling with us. The familiar benediction is an expression of the truth ‑ but all these things are true only because in the first place we have loved God and He has loved us.
This confessing of Jesus Christ is a matter of the heart as much as of the lips. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead" says Paul in Rom.10.9 " thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." We are very apt in our enthusiasm to give honour and credit to the one who is fluent in tongue and can readily give voice to his belief in Christ. Such an one, it is often thought, is the most effective missionary. It does not follow. Many a time the sermon of a quiet and consistent Christian life has reached into a heart that has never been moved by the spoken or the printed message. We can confess the Lord Jesus very effectively by believing in our hearts and letting that belief work out its fruits in our daily lives. When Jesus said "Whoso shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father and his holy angels", He was surely not thinking only of verbal confession. He was almost certainly particularly thinking of those whose lives give evidence that they walk "as He walked", those of whom men take note that they have been with Jesus and learned of Him. The Apostle Paul tells us in one place that we are a spectacle ‑ a theatre ‑ to angels. We are no less a spectacle to men. And what they see of us now is going to have quite an influence on the manner in which they will react to the earthly Kingdom and its laws when that Kingdom is established and those laws are put before them.
"And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (v.16). John has said all this before, several times. He writes in the spirit of the off-quoted modern saying "expression deepens impression". Our own lives' experiences testify to the need for constant repetition of these exhortations to love. We forget them so easily. Jesus impressed His disciples, before leaving them, with the truth that no more important thing could feature in their lives than the being made perfect in love. Paul declared unequivocally that without love he was as nothing despite all his other attainments and accomplishments. Love is the greatest thing, greater because more enduring than either faith or hope. Love is the end and aim of our moral progress, and is therefore clearly much more vital than doctrine, which is only a means to that end. Doctrine, like faith and hope, will vanish away when " that which is perfect is come " but love will never fail. We have appreciated and accepted the fruits of God's love to us; that is one part of John's thought in this verse. Now we who have thus accepted the Divine gift find that by that acceptance we have been brought into tune with the Divine. God dwells in us; we dwell in God. We have already been over this ground but it is characteristic of John in his Epistle that he continually works round as it were in circles, bringing us back to thoughts previously expressed, but approaching from the opposite direction. But from whatever angle John comes to his subject the centre of his thought is always the same. God is love. That great truth enshrines the philosophy of the entire Plan of salvation and the assurance that it will be carried out. We who know of this love, who are persuaded of its reality and have seen evidence of its power, know that it will accomplish all that is promised. In that confidence we rest content.
(To be continued)