SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
God’s Love Empowers and Motivates Us to Love Others
1 John 4:7-21
Key Verse: We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
To be genuine disciples of Jesus, we must love others. The Bible leaves us no wiggle room. No matter how severely others have hurt us, we must forgive and, having forgiven, we must love our offenders. We have no choice if we are to obey God. We must love.
The irony is that we cannot love others simply because we decide we must love. What God demands is utterly impossible without God’s help. So the first step in loving others is to admit we do not have the strength to do it on our own.
That is where the gospel comes in. God loved us first. He sent his Son to die for our sins. By allowing Jesus to die for our salvation, God showed us how much he loves us. Then God invites us to confess Jesus as the Savior of the world and invite him to live in our hearts. Learning how to love as God asks us to love begins with confessing Jesus as the Son of God.
When we open our hearts to Jesus, God begins to “abide” or “dwell” or live in us. Since God is love, we now have eternal love abiding in our hearts. Now, loving others, even those who have hurt us, becomes possible. God Himself is helping us love.
Loving others then is never something we can boast of having done since we cannot do it by ourselves. Love is the result of a partnership with God who empowers and motivates us to love as Christ loved.
Nothing in the world is more beautiful than a person out of whose life the love of Christ is flowing. That is why we marvel at the self-giving love of a David Livingstone or a Mother Teresa. While they are our spiritual heroes, we realize that their Christlike love was possible only because God Himself was abiding in their hearts.
When we are tempted to return evil for evil, or retaliate against those who offend us, we can get back on track by remembering that God loved us when we did not deserve it. We can learn to say to ourselves when revenge heats up within us, “Because God loved me in spite of my sins, I can ask him to help me love others despite their sins.”
A certain woman confided in me that she hated her father and could not forgive him for abusing her as a child. Her pain was so great that she did not even want to forgive him. I urged her to pray for deliverance from her hatred and to ask God to help her forgive her father. Over time God helped her to see that her intense hatred was like a ball and chain that bound her to her wretched past.
Finally there came the day when, in tears, she said, “I am willing to forgive him – if God will help me. God will have to give me love for my father because I have none in my heart for him.” That was all God was waiting for; He gave her the love she needed as soon as she asked for it. When she forgave her father, she was immediately set free to live a healthy life.
Usually the wisest thing we can do, when hatred is trying to consume us, is to do what that woman did: ask God to give us love, his love, for the person we feel no love for. Since God is a generous God, he will give us the love we need to love a difficult brother or sister or even someone who has hurt us deeply. After all, God is love and his supply of love is inexhaustible.
God understands that often love is difficult. Often our hurt can numb our capacity to love. We can become so weary of insults and cruelty that we simply don’t care anymore; we are ready to give up even trying to love our abusers.
That is when we need to fall on our knees and confess that we are lost without the Christ within. We admit that Jesus was talking about us when he said, “Without me you can do nothing at all.” It is at that moment that God will open the reservoir of his love and fill our hearts with his love. Then, and only then, are we able to love as Christ loved.
Read Romans 5 meditatively. Think about what Paul says. We are sinners without hope but God sends his Son. Through the death of Jesus we may find peace with God. This is justification by faith. Once reconciled to God we have access to his all-sufficient grace. We can “stand” in it! Indeed, grace is the only solid ground upon which we may stand. All other ground is “sinking sand.”
God’s grace allows us to rejoice even in our sufferings. Though we suffer, God gives us the undeserved gift of hope. We see through the pain the glory that God will eventually bring. This, indeed, is hope, the inner certainty that there is meaning in suffering because God is in control.
We may rejoice in the consistency of the Holy Scriptures. Compare, for example, Paul’s classic teaching in Romans 5:8 with today’s text from John. Paul says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” John says “We love because he first loved us.” Both verify the same truth!
I will let our dear brother John Wesley have the last word:
“When the love of God has been poured into the heart of the born again person, the necessary fruit of that love is the love of our neighbor. This means every soul whom God has made, including our enemies. We cannot exclude those who are now despitefully using and persecuting us, for the love of God is a love by which we love everyone as we love ourselves.
“Our Lord has expressed it strongly, teaching us to love one another, even as He has loved us; and while we were yet sinners, He loved us and laid down His life for us. Accordingly, this commandment is written in the hearts of all those that love God, ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’”
Amen! (Contact Walter at