Because He First Loved Us

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

This week was St. John’s vacation Bible School. The title was Camp Discovery: Jesus at Work through Us. Each day the children learned about the work of Christ through His Word and Sacraments. They learned that Jesus gives them courage and wisdom, that He saves them through faith and then leads them to share His love by serving others. The theme verse for the week and our text today is from 1 John 4, “We love because he first loved us.”[1]

This text was the Epistle reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, but it is profitable for us for it to come up again today. In 1 John 4, the apostle exhorts his beloved fellow Christians to test the spirits, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Those that confess that Jesus has come in the flesh are from God, and those that don’t are not of God. They may rage against us, but St. John assures us, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”[2] Therefore, since those who have faith in Jesus overcome the world, the apostle then exhorts us as to what sort of people we have been called to be.

I.

St. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[3] Before we can begin talking about anything, we must start with the source of our life: our Triune God. Last week on Trinity Sunday we took a few minutes to confess our faith in the One God in Three Persons. We believe from Scripture that God exists eternally as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today we learn what is the epitome, the essence of God Himself: love.

John writes that love is from God because God is love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always appear that way. That’s not because God isn’t always love, but because our sinful nature drives us to see things differently. Instead of seeing the love of God in Christ Jesus, many people only see the God of the Bible as one of hate and Law. This is due largely to the sinful condition we are all in that reacts scornfully against any attempts to curb its evil desires. But often it’s also because we as Christians abuse God’s Law. Instead of learning from Christ that He is the fulfillment of the Law and that the whole goal of the Law is love, we remake the Law in our own image. We turn the Law from a mirror that shows us all our sins and need for salvation, we take it and turn it into a set of rules that one must follow to be a good member of the church. The Law becomes a maze for human rats to follow to get cheese at the end. Thus, we fail to live in love.

Thankfully, our failure to live in love does not undo the fact that God is love. Scripture says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[4] But wait a second, I haven’t said anything about not loving God, right? But that’s exactly the point: our failure to live in love towards our neighbor is a failure to love God. Ever since the Fall our natural inclination is to love ourselves more than God and our neighbor. None of us by nature possesses the ability to truly love as love itself was created.

Our failure to love is what prompted God to send His only begotten Son. In this is love, not that we loved first, but that He first loved us and sent Christ to bear the guilt of our sin. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God bore our sins, our constant failure to love, in His body on the cross. He suffered the ultimate punishment for us. He died for you. God is love, even the perfect model of sacrificial love.

II.

St. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”[5] What he means is that, if God has loved us so much as to look past the guilt of our constant sinning by sending His only Son to die for us, thus we also ought to love one another. The Bible says that as we abide in Christ and His Word, He abides in us and His love is perfected in us. The children learned this week in VBS that the main goal of the love of Christ that dwells within us is that we serve others and share the saving work of Jesus Christ with those in need.

If you’ve ever gone to a wedding, you’ve probably heard the familiar words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Maybe you had them at your own wedding. Paul writes of perfect love saying, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[6] This is a long description of the life to which all Christians have been called. But, if we’re honest, it doesn’t sound much like us. We might be able to check off a couple of the boxes here and there, but never are we able to live perfectly in the love that Christ has shown us and has called us to. At the bottom, all our problems are the result of our sinful failure to live in Christian love.

The theme verse for VBS this year is 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” There’s two parts to that sentence: our love, and Christ’s love. We already know that more often than not, our love is poor or non-existent. We fail to serve others, we gossip and slander; we’re inactive and apathetic; instead of building others up, we puff ourselves up. But Jesus is none of those things. He is God, He is perfect love. He is patient and kind, bearing with us when we fail to love. He does not envy or boast. He is not arrogant or rude; He does not shame us when we sin. He is not irritable or resentful, but always willing to freely forgive.

Therefore, we love. We love because He first loved us. Christ knew our weaknesses and the punishment we deserve for our sinfulness. He knew that we, all too often, fail to love. And so, He loved us. He loved us even to the point of death, death on the cross. There He won for us the free forgiveness of all our sins. Now He freely gives us that forgiveness through the preaching of His Word, through the renewal of the Holy Baptism, and in the supper of His own Body and Blood. By these things we are strengthened for lives of service in love towards Him and one another. We love because He first loved us.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Jn. 4:19.

[2] 1 Jn 4:4.

[3] 1 Jn 4:7–10.

[4] 1 Jn 4:10.

[5] 1 Jn. 4:11.

[6] 1 Cor. 13:4–7.

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