1 John 4:19 “We love, because he first loved us.”
When children get into a fight of some sort, they often defend their actions by objecting, “He started it.” Somehow, we have the idea as children that this makes our actions defensible. Of course, that way of thinking doesn’t disappear when we become adults, does it. When others treat us badly, that motivates us to respond in kind.
“We love, because he first loved us” is more than a holier and godlier version of “he started it.” God’s love for us doesn’t get us to love purely by winning our appreciation and good will. It is more than “he was nice to me, so I’ll be nice to him.”
Nor does God’s love lay it on thick with a guilt trip or a sense of obligation. God is not like Danny Kaye in the movie White Christmas. Are you familiar with my analogy? Every time Danny Kaye wanted to get Bing Crosby to do something in the movie, he would rub his arm. That was a reminder of how he once risked his life and injured himself to save Bing Crosby’s life when they were soldiers in World War II. It was a classic guilt trip. That’s not how God gets us to love. He doesn’t show us the cross, or Jesus’ wounded body, to make us feel guilty and manipulate a response.
No, God’s love works more by transformation. When we are at home in the grace and forgiveness of God, and the gospel saturates our lives, then that love begins working wonderful changes inside of us. By faith we become more loving people. God and his love actually take up residence in our hearts. They start expressing themselves through our mouths and through our hands. As the Apostle Paul told the Philippians, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (2:13). That’s the kind of love that would not be possible for us if God had not first loved us at Jesus’ manger, his cross, his empty tomb, and now his heavenly throne.
That love not only leads us to love God. It leads us to love the other members of his family. It’s not so easy to show your love directly to someone you can’t see or touch. There are only so many things we can do. God doesn’t need anything from us. After we worship him and pray to him, after he has first place in our hearts, our options for showing him our love are limited.
But there are all kinds of ways we can show love to the people he has put around us. They are the ones who really need our love. In the last verse of this chapter John urges, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” This is how God wants us to love him: by finding a person who really needs our love and taking care of what he needs. Tell him about his Savior. Help her with her bills. Volunteer for the relief efforts that will clean up their storm-ravaged neighborhood. Give them a hand with the things they can’t do for themselves.
That means the really difficult people, too. God loves the world. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If God loves difficult people like you and me (and he does), that love won’t work any differently when it is working through you and me. So long as his love is finding a place in our hearts, it will lead us to love them all.