Last week, in 1 John 3:11-15, we saw how God’s love in Christ for His people causes hate. That is to say, the world will hate those who are loved by God, those who are born again and thus love Him. John goes all the way back to the first example of fratricide wherein Cain slew his brother Abel because Cain’s deeds were evil and Abel’s deeds were righteous. God’s love for Abel (a love that changed Abel such that he was able to walk in righteousness) caused Cain to hate and murder his own brother. And so, John says, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).
Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. The love of God in Christ not only causes hate, but it causes change, as well (1 John 3:16):
16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Notice that there are two parts to this verse – there’s an “is” and there’s an “ought.” The first half of this verse gives us the “is” (an indicative or statement of fact). Love “is” this: Christ laid down His life for us. The second half of this verse gives us the “ought” (an imperative or a command). Love “ought” this: Lay down our lives for the brethren. That’s how the love of God in Christ causes change: the “is” of God’s love, changes the “ought” of our love.
Perhaps you’ve heard that in the Greek language – the original language of the New Testament – there are several different words for “love.” C.S. Lewis explores the different kinds of love in his book The Four Loves. The first is Affection (or Storge). Affection is the natural love which is attributed to a parent’s love for his or her children. Then, there’s Eros (or Romantic Love). Eros is that love which is marked by sensual passion. There’s Friendship (or philia love). That’s like a brotherly love. And, finally, there’s Charity (or Agape Love) – the kind of love that describes God’s love for us.
So, those are C.S. Lewis’ four loves: Affection, Eros, Friendship, and Charity. This last one – Charity, or Agape Love – Lewis says is the highest of loves. And, of the four, he says that it is the least natural. And, it’s this word in the Greek (Agape), which John employs in this and the surrounding verses.
This is love – and you know this love, you have experienced it – Christ laid down His life for us. But, let’s explore this love for just a moment. What do we learn about the true nature of love when we come to a saving knowledge of God’s love for us in Christ? Well, there are many ways we could talk about this, but let me just point out four aspects of God’s love for us in Christ.
(1) Jesus’ love is sacrificial.
First, Jesus’ love is sacrificial. That should be obvious from verse 16 – “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.” Of course, most of us probably can understand – at least on a superficial level – what Jesus’ sacrifice entailed. It meant suffering excruciating agony and pain in His body. It meant having his very life forced out of Him until He breathed His last.
But, in His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, we must recognize that Jesus sacrificed His intimate fellowship with the love of God. In those final hours, He cried out – “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken Me!” (Matthew 27:46)
But, there’s more. Have you ever thought about Jesus’ forty days and forty nights of wilderness temptation in light of what He sacrificed? At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There, the devil tempted Jesus by appealing to His desire to be filled– “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3). Also, the devil tempted Jesus by appealing to His desire for protection – “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you’; and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:6). And, the devil tempted Jesus by appealing to His desire for power – “All these things [the kingdoms of the world], I will give You, if You fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9).
Jesus sacrificed His desire to be filled, His desire for bodily protection, and His desire for earthly power…for us! His life, His experience of that perfect relationship with His heavenly Father, and all those things that He could have had…for us! The Love God in Christ is, first of all, Sacrificial!
(2) Jesus’ Love is Unearned
Second, the Love of God in Christ is Unearned. By that, we mean, it is not based on the worth of the one who is loved. It is undeserved, and in fact, cannot be earned. Later in John’s letter, He reminds us, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The unearned nature of God’s love speaks to the complete and utter lack of anything which was loveable in us.
So, God’s love – Charity, or Agape Love – True Love – is sacrificial. It’s the giving up of all deserved rights and privileges for another. And, God’s love is unearned. It’s the giving of rights and privileges to another, though they be undeserved.
(3) Jesus’ Love is Freely Chosen
Third, God’s true love of Charity is Freely Chosen. Let me show you what I mean by that. Consider how Jesus speaks of the covenant or pact which He made with the Father (John 10:17-18):
17 “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
In some strange, seemingly paradoxical way, God the Father commanded His only begotten Son to sacrifice Himself; at the same time, Jesus freely chose to lay down His life. It’s almost too much to wrap our minds around how those two things could go together, but it speaks to the unique relationship between the loving Father God, and His obedient Son. And, it teaches us of how Christ’s love for us is not compelled or compulsory, but freely chosen.
(4) Jesus’ Agape Love is also Affection and Friendship Love
I find this last aspect of God’s love for us in Christ truly fascinating. When God’s Agape love – this love that is sacrificial, underserved, and freely chosen – when this love comes to a point in history in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it takes on two other forms of love – namely Affection and Friendship. Affection and Friendship don’t displace God’s Agape love, but they are added to it.
Let me explain. God still loves with the sacrificial, underserved, and freely chosen love of Agape Love. In Christ, though, we see very clearly that because we receive God’s Agape love, we are then adopted into the family of God such that now the Affectionate love of God – the Fatherly love of God for His children – now abides on us.
You know how you sometimes feel compelled to love someone even though you don’t like them. You think to yourself, “I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian” so, through gritted teeth, you say, “I love you in the Lord.” With God’s love in Christ, there is none of that. To put it colloquially, because you are in Christ (an adopted child of the Heavenly Father) God not only loves you, He actually likes you! His Affectionate, Fatherly Love is directed toward you!
And, so is the Friendship love of Jesus. Jesus Himself, said (John 15:12-14):
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 “You are My friends if you do what I command you.
When a man of great stature – say a king or a president – says to you, “I love you so much that I lay down my life for you. You are my friend” – it elevates you to a different status. But imagine this! The King of kings and Lord of lords – the Creator of the universe – says to you: “You are my friend!”
The sacrificial, underserved, and freely chosen Agape Love of God comes together with the parental Affection and the elevating love of Friendship. And, all of this, we learn in the simple words from 1 John 3:16: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.”