In previous meditations we looked at what John says in 4:7 – 21 about the significance of the command ‘love one another’ and how God demonstrated his love to us. John’s commands and his clear expectations that Christians will ‘love one another’ are written in the context of the truth about God’s love. The command to ‘love one another’ is not just another rule that we have to follow, but arises from the grand and reassuring reality of God’s love.

John says a lot about the command to love one another. In doing so he has told us:

God is love – 4:8, 16.
Love comes from God – 4:7.
God has demonstrated his love in sending his Son to save us – 4:9, 10, 14.

All of this makes it clear that God’s love came first.

He loved us before we loved him.

His love was not motivated by any love in us, or any loveliness in us, or any lovability in us.

He who is love, took the initiative, and proactively, in love, reached out to us.

Nor is it that God took one little step towards us, one little reaching out of his hand towards us, then waited for us to take a small reciprocal step towards him. What God did, before any response on our part, was total: he came all the way to us.

All the way in incarnation – all the way into our human flesh.

All the way in substitution – all the way to die our human death.

All of this, without us doing anything to cause his love and without us doing anything in response. All of this while we were still rejecting him.

‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ – 1John 4:10.

‘We love because he first loved us’ – 1John 4:19.

This prior love of God for us is not something new, but is affirmed by both the Old and New Testaments:

In Deuteronomy 7:7, 8a God told the Israelites that he did not choose them because of anything good or great about them, but simply because he loved them.

In Ezekiel 16:1 – 6 God explains his uncaused love for the Israelites by likening them to an unwanted, new-born baby, cast out and left to die. Then he came along and picked them up, showering his love upon them.

In Romans 5:6, 8, 10 Paul states that it was when we were powerless, when we were ungodly, when we were sinners, when we were his enemies, that God loved us even then, and sent his Son to die for us.

Our default position was enmity towards God, not love for God. While we were still in this position of enmity and alienation God loved us and sent his Son to be our Saviour. We did not make the first move. God did.

Because God’s love came first, when we were still sinners alienated from him, two important truths follow:

[1] That his love is a deliberate action of his will, not caused by anything in us. We did nothing to merit or deserve his love. It is his unconditional choice, a choice made before we even existed (Ephesians 1:4, 5).

[2] That because he chose to love us, without our doing anything to qualify ourselves for his love, his love for us is secure. Just as nothing in us caused his love, so nothing in us can bring his love to an end.

Because God’s love came first, it is absolutely certain. It is available to all unconditionally, but not everyone actually receives it. It is not a love that wears out. It is not a love that diminishes. If ever it seems to be diminished the change is not in God’s love but in us ... perhaps we have become so used to it that it fails to amaze us ... perhaps we have come to feel that we somehow deserve it.

Not so the apostle John. Even when he wrote his letters, close to the end of his life, he was still amazed and overwhelmed by the love of God - ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us ...!’ – 1John 3:1.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022