Why should I love other people? It’s a good question, and a question that all of us have asked from time to time as we’ve been challenged in our relationships. If that’s an important issue for you right now, this fourth chapter of 1 John is especially good to consider carefully. One answer John gives is that we should love others because it is the visible sign of our love for the invisible God. Look at the following verses: “We love, because he first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:19–20). Our love for each other is evidence of our love for God. Loving the visible person is a sign of loving the invisible God.
These are amazing verses! We love because He first loved us. God has loved us in Christ. Christ is the appearance of the invisible God, in His teaching, and in His living. We love because He first loved us. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” Jesus said. “Not my will, but Yours be done,” said Jesus as He laid down His life in love for those who had rejected Him.
Do you see how important fellowship is for you to be tested and to grow? It is your loving not the church universal, nor Christians everywhere, but a particular congregation and even a particular Christian that tests our big claims. We must consider carefully what John says here. We should love others because it is the visible sign of your love for the invisible God.
In 1 John 4:21, we also find that we should love others because we must obey the God we claim to love: “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. John here repeats the command to love your brother. If he began this section by saying “Love because we can! We are now born from above! From God! So we can now love like He loves!” (which is what he’s saying up in 4:7). Here John says, “Love because we must.” We are commanded to it! We’ve been taught it, shown it, equipped for it; now we must do it. We must love our brother. Even the most misleading of false teachers would have a hard time ignoring the clarity of this command.
Is love an optional part of your religion? It’s not in Christianity. Love is at the very heart of our religion. We are to love each other and our neighbors, and so we Christians should be a blessing to any community in which we live. We are to follow the pattern of Christ, the obedient Son, who loved to the point of laying down His life for the sake of the beloved.
My Christian friend, I hope you see that you have no option here. There is no such thing as “loveless Christianity,” with Christian doctrines and Christian morals, simply lacking the difficult work of love. Such a religion — and it is all too common — is no true Christianity. That is what John is telling us here. For “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” (5:1–2).
And note, too, love is something to be commanded. Too often we think of love as something more like an irresistible, attractive force of nature — like magnetism or gravity. But such choice-less love is not the Christian picture of love. The love the Bible calls us to have is a love that can be commanded and obeyed — like it is here.
Do you know this kind of love? Do you give it? What does it look like for you to love? My Christian friend, beware of the cheap counterfeits of this true love — the kind of love that costs nothing and is worth nothing, the kind of love that is without thought beforehand, or reflection afterwards, that you give out as carelessly as a millionaire drops a penny. This kind of “love” may be what you call “natural,” but it is hardly as worthwhile — or as Christian — as the love that plans and plots and hopes and prays and gives. Do you see some of the countless opportunities to express this kind of love?
In our church, we are committed to teaching the deliberateness of love. Sometimes that means helping another person with the loss of a loved one, even if we don’t think we know what to say. It may mean just telling them we love them and are praying for them.
Simply remembering each other regularly in intercession is good. Perhaps this student needs some money, or that widow needs some affection. Perhaps this older one needs a ride, and this younger one needs a role model. Have you thought of how you could love your ministers, the other officers of the church, elders, and deacons? Every person is an opportunity for deliberate, Christ-like love. Love others because you must obey the God you claim to love.
We love, as John said here in 4:19, because God first loved us. If you don’t know and believe in that love, no other love in this life will finally make sense. Any truly Christian religion will involve love for God and love for others, especially for other Christians.