16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
(1 John 4:16-18 NIV)
A brief note before we begin…
While we are focusing on verses 17-18 for today’s passage, I included verse 16 because it is needed for the context of verses 17-18. Verse 16 is the link or gateway between verses 13-15 and 17-18.
John begins verse 17 with the word “This”, referring back to verse 16. John is specifically referring to the interrelationship between God and us as His followers. The ESV states verse 16b this way:
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
(1 John 4:16b ESV)
Notice that John uses the word “abides” three times in this one thought. The word “abide” that John uses here is the same Greek word that Jesus used in John’s Gospel (chapter 15) where Jesus spoke of abiding in Him. Jesus used the analogy of a vine and its branches, where He is the vine that provides the grounding and provides life and existence for us as the branches connected to Him.
Because God’s essential nature is love, our interrelationship with God through Christ implies that we have God’s essence of love in us by our connection to Him.
If we use a strict systematic theology mindset to approach this passage, the tendency might be to deal with the “facts” of the passage and see God’s love as a “fact” (which it is). When we consider the relational implications of this passage, our universe of understanding about God expands exponentially.
First, we see that God is relational in nature, even before Creation. The Trinity was the first “community” (and, as Larry Crabb says, the only small group that gets along with one another!). God invites each of us to be part of that community through our interrelationship with Him. And as part of that community, we become more like God, including the ability to love and obey God more fully, humbly accept His love and care (and quit trying to please God or do life on our own), and to love others through the love He demonstrates to us (via a changed heart/nature and Jesus’ example).
Second, John tells us in verse 17 that as part of God’s community in this life, we have hope and assurance of our standing with God in the next life, in eternity. Because God is love, one of His unchanging character attributes, His love toward us as His followers will not change when we go from finite life on earth to eternal life. Because of our relationship to Jesus, we are being transformed into His likeness, including His ability to love others.
Third, John tells us in verse 18 that there is no fear in God’s love. We can have a healthy fear of the Lord (awe, reverence, humility) without being afraid of God. We can experience this relationship with God as we are invited each day to dance with the Trinity, to live in constant and abiding community and relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The practical implications of this are endless. To know that we are invited to God’s community, even through tough times and sad times and times of our bad choices. That God loves us unconditionally. That we can see ourselves as He sees us, not as unrighteous sinners, but as redeemed saints. That God puts in us the ability to love others as He has and does love us.
May these thoughts go deep in your heart today as you experience deep and abiding relationship with the God of the universe and through whatever circumstances may come your way.