If God is not your first love, the first One to meet your deepest longings for love, security and purpose, this will eventually become obvious in your attitude, decisions, and actions. If you are seeking love, acceptance, and significance from people, places, your work or even what you do for the Lord, these people and things will always fall short and ultimately you will end up being disappointed and empty.
People, family, and friends can bless us, but no human being is qualified to meet our deepest needs or can live up to that role; only God’s love that can satisfy our deepest longings.
Let’s look at what the apostle John said about God’s first love.
7 Beloved, let us [unselfishly] love and seek the best for one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves [others] is born of God and knows God [through personal experience].
8 The one who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love. [He is the originator of love, and it is an enduring attribute of His nature.]
9 By this the love of God was displayed in us, in that God has sent His [One and] only begotten Son [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind] into the world so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath].
11 Beloved, if God so loved us [in this incredible way], we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has seen God at any time. But if we love one another [with unselfish concern], God abides in us, and His love [the love that is His essence abides in us and] is completed and perfected in us (1 John 4:7-12 AMP).
God is love, and His love is perfect, holy, never-ending, gracious, unselfish (seeking our ultimate welfare) and very persistent. He does not extend friendship to us because it will somehow benefit Him or because He needs us.
What we see in 1 John 4:7-12
The origin of love (vv. 7-8)
The manifestation of love (vv. 9-10)
The response to love (vv. 11-12)
The Origin of Love
John wrote this Epistle to the church in Ephesus to expose the false teachings of the Gnostics and so that the saints would be convinced of the assurance of their salvation in Christ. As believers, he wanted them to be secure in the truth of God’s love for them and to continue in and abide in this truth as they ministered to each other.
This incredible, never-ending love of God was to be the source of their strength in this life and their confidence for the next.
But the only way anyone can have the capacity or ability to love themselves and others is if they receive the love that comes from God, the originator of love.
We love God because He first loved us, therefore, it is so important to make time for God, for His word, so we are continuously on the receiving end of His unconditional love.
John talks about love in three passages in this Epistle (1 John 2:7-11: 3:11-18; 4:7-11). Out of the 234 references for the word “love” found in the NT, John mentions the word 72 times in his writings. Obviously, this was a very important subject for John!
When we hear about God’s love, some may be prone to say, “Okay, another message on love, I got it, thank you. Let’s move on to something more practical. But honestly, can you really say that you know this unconditional love for yourself and experience this love each and every day?
Is God’s first love really first in our lives? Do we manifest this love to those closest to us? Is God my source of love for my family, my spouse, my friends? Even when others fail to love perfectly and even wound me, am I secure in God’s love towards me?
In the NIV, verse 7 says, “Dear Friends” [< agapetoi agapomen] which the amplified version brings out is more accurately translated, “Beloved” - those who are loved by God. John says, let us continually and unselfishly love and seek the best for each other. For this love has it source from God.
This is such a simple yet profound statement - “to those who are loved.” Often we think “I know God loved the world” but do I really understand how deeply and completely I am personally loved by God and how perfect that love is? We know that John believed this and experienced it, because he kept referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” If we really believed in and experienced the first love that originates from God every day, it would be life changing.
Verse 8 says, But anyone who does not love does not know God….
He was addressing the false teachers who claimed to know God in a secret, deeper sense, but John is saying that they did not know God at all. They were not born-again, they had no love in them. Their teaching and their behavior revealed that they were only interested in promoting themselves, not Christ.
They became like the cold, dead god they believed in. This is so contrary to the God of the scriptures because God is love.
This does not mean that “love is God“. That is what Pantheism espouses - that love defines God and that God is an impersonal principle rather than a personal Being. And just because two people “love each other” does not mean that their love is holy.
Some people make an idol out of love instead of worshipping the originator of love.
It has rightly been said that “love does not define God, but God’s Word defines what love is.”
God is love and God is light; therefore, His love is a holy love, and His holiness is expressed in love. All that God does expresses all that God is. Even His judgment, correction are measured out in love and mercy.
How was God’s perfect love manifested?
9 By this the love of God was displayed in us, in that God has sent His [One and] only begotten Son [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind] into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath] (1 John 4:9-10 AMP).
God’s Love was Manifested: Through His Son.
We see in verse 9 John says, by this the love of God was displayed in us, in that God sent His one and only begotten son into the world so that we might live through Him. God’s love was manifested through His sacrifice - He gave up His one and only son.
We see glimpses of sacrificial love in our world today. For example, a few days ago, it was written in the news about a 35-year old father who rescued two of his young children. The kids had been swept away by a wave while walking on a submerged jetty at Wrightsville Beach, NC. His wife said, “he did not hesitate to jump into the rough waters after watching two of his seven children go under, "He threw everything down — phone, keys — and ran out there," she recalled. "He got to both of them, he grabbed them."
When the life guards came to help he insisted they save the children first. She said you could not have asked for a better man. The newspaper reported that as he saved his children’s lives, he lost his own.
When we read stories about people’s sacrificial love for their children, family, or country we are touched by it.
When we think about Christ’s love, when we were drowning in our sins, He left everything in His heavenly abode, He came into this world, and took on God’s wrath for our sin on His own body. He did come off of the Cross, but died in our place so we could have eternal life.
God’s love was manifested through His grace, that is God saved us not on the basis of our merit or worthiness, but by His grace. It is one thing for someone to love us when we have treated them well and have done all that was expected of us. It is another if someone loves us even when we have doubted their character, spoke against them, disdained or rejected them.
The more we realize what we deserved because of our sin, the more amazed and overwhelmed we are by the depth of God’s amazing love towards us.
Because of our sin we were objects of God’s wrath but because we responded to His saving grace we are now the objects of His love.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6-8).
His love was manifested to us by His commitment to us. How many people are willing to walk the extra mile with you when you are wrestling with the awkward, messy, painful stuff in life? Maybe you think God has abandoned or forgotten you. Romans 8 tells us that nothing will ever separate us from His love. How did God answer those who were experiencing despondency and despair?
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me (Isaiah 49:14 -16).
In Hebrews 13:5 God says three times, “I will never, never, never abandon or forsake you.”
Tim Keller commented:
“Sometimes in history the name of the master was tattooed on a servant as a sign of devotion but never, never would the name of a servant be tattooed on a master. This would mean that a master is devoted to his servant. But what is more amazing is God used the word “engraved” not tattooed, which is done with a hammer and chisel or spike… Conjure up an image of God driving a spike or a nail into the palm of His hands. Who would do that? Centuries later Jesus appears to a fearful disciple Thomas and says, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
Stop doubting my love and commitment to you. God’s love was manifested by the fact that He did not cast away nor condemn all the people who forsook Him on that day.
Not only did Christ bear the marks of the crucifixion, He will have these scars in His hands and feet for all of eternity as a reminder of His love and commitment to us. Our names are engraved in the palm of His hands. This is first love!
Our response to such a great love
God’s love is so patient, so kind – it is a love that is not jealous or envious; that does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered or offended]. It is a love that does not hold grudges. A love so firm and uncompromising with sin, yet so forgiving, merciful, gracious, caring, compassionate, kind, and without end.
Verse 11: Beloved, if God so loved us [in this incredible way], we also ought to love one another.
As we respond to God’s first love, it will be manifested through our lives to others.
No one has seen God at any time. But if we love one another [with unselfish concern], God abides in us, and His love [the love that is His essence abides in us and] is completed and perfected in us (John 4:12 AMP).
If God is your first love, then you will have the capacity to love one another with God’s love even when you heart gets broken at times, and it will.
When we do this as a practice, we will grow up in our faith, we get up when we fail, we help others up when they fall, we will become mature, our lives and interactions will be fruitful. When a church loves like this, the world will know we are followers of Christ (John 13:35).
It is very possible to be a growing church with correct teaching, one that does everything right, but not be operating in first love.
Jesus commended the church at Ephesus (to whom John was writing) for their good deeds, for correct doctrine, and how they persevered and endured for His name’s sake but the charge He had against them was that they left their first love and He warned them to repent.
One theologian said:
Some people think the greatest manifestation of God's presence or work is power. Some people think the greatest manifestation of God's presence or work is prosperity. Some people think the greatest manifestation of God's presence or work is miracles or passionate feelings. But the greatest manifestation of God's presence and work in our lives and in the church is love.
As a Christ-centered church, this is what we want to be known for.