1 John 4:7–21

Love—A Proof of God’s Existence

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

April 29, 2018

 

Throughout the history of the western world, philosophers and theologians alike have gone out of their way to offer proofs for God’s existence. By definition a proof is “evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement.” Thomas Aquinas, a theologian who lived almost 800 ago,[1] continues to exert his influence today by means of his five rational proofs for God’s existence —that is, proofs made apart from Scripture.

1) His first argument suggested that the fact that we see motion in the world ultimately must lead us to conclude that there must be a first Mover that is able to move things but does not itself have to be moved and “this everyone understands to be God;”

2) His second argument similarly notes that the fact that every effect needs a cause must lead us to conclude that all the causes in the world depend upon a first efficient cause that has made all other causes to be actual. I call this the Sound of Music proof. As former nun Maria and Captain von Trapp sing when they first acknowledge their attraction to one another, “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good”! Regardless, Thomas says, to this first efficient cause “everyone gives the name of God;”

3) His third argument states that nothing in the world exists of necessity but only possibly. Yet there must be some being having its own necessity of itself and not receiving it from another but instead causing in others this necessity. And this “all men speak of as God;”

4) His fourth argument addresses the matter of degrees of perfection—the fact that we can think in terms of the categories of “better” or “less than” indicates that there must be something that is the cause of all being, goodness, and every other perfection from which we make these judgments about degrees—and, you got it, “this we call God;”

5) And finally, the order we see in the world in things that lack intelligence that nonetheless perform as intended—an ear or lung, for example, or a seed that becomes a flower—indicates that some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their ends. This is an earlier version of the Intelligent Design argument some scientists are making today. And, again, Thomas concludes, “And this being we call God.”

Though I find these so-called proofs for God’s existence interesting, I’ve always felt that at best they can only point to the reasonableness of believing in the existence of God. But these proofs cannot in and of themselves lead us to knowing God personally. They cannot bring us to faith and knowledge in the God who has disclosed himself to us in Scripture and ultimately in his Son, Jesus Christ. For faith in the Triune God that is central to Christian belief and practice is made possible only by means of the Holy Spirit—a point with which Thomas would agree.

But we can certainly provide a kind of evidence, even as Thomas did, to help establish or point to God’s existence. Jesus himself did so in his Sermon on the Mount.[2] While exhorting those who were listening not to worry, he began by stating. “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” Then he rhetorically asked, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (verse 25). And by way of illustration Jesus then turned to the world of creation to make his point: “26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Then Jesus goes on to provide a second example, “And why do you worry about clothes?” And he again turns to the world of nature to make his point: “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (verse 28b–30). So Jesus, too, grounds the functioning of the natural world in a supernatural God—though in his case he personalizes God, reminding those who are listening of our heavenly Father’s provision and care for all of his created order, not least of which is us. What both Thomas and Jesus have done can be understood to be “proofs” for God’s existence in that they are “evidence or argument[s] establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement.” Though in Jesus’ case there is also special revelation, an explanation concerning the caring nature of the God to whom creation points.

Well in our passage this morning, I want to suggest that John, too, is providing a proof for God’s existence and caring nature. But his isn’t a proof based upon applying the laws of logic to the world of nature as Thomas Aquinas did. Neither is it a proof based upon considering the natural world’s sustenance and preservation that bear witness to the goodness and greatness of our heavenly Father as Jesus did in his Sermon on the Mount. Instead John, one of Jesus’ twelve inner circle of disciples, begins not with general revelation—information God has made accessible to all people about God from the created world—but with special revelation—information John has learned from Scripture and from Jesus who is God in the flesh.

The core around which John’s argument builds is this: God is love. He asserts this point twice, first in verse 8 and then again in verse 16. “God is love” is John’s thesis statement. And to say, “God is love,” as one source notes, means “that God continually gives of himself to others and seeks their benefit.”[3] So if we accept this premise, this teaching John received from Jesus and the Scriptures, then it would follow that “love comes from God,” an assertion John makes in verse 7. In essence John’s argument is:

Since God is love;

Then he is the source of love;

And it would follow that all love, and the very ability to love, therefore comes from God.

John makes his argument by indicating two ways in which God’s love is made known. First is the fact that God sent his Son. This is John’s proof, his key “evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement.” Because God sent his Son, we can know God is love and the source of love. But a second proof that God is love is that we, Christ’s followers, are able—not to mention expected—to love one another. So with this general framework in mind, let’s turn to our passage.

We read starting in verse 7, “[Beloved,[4]] let us love one another, for love comes from God.” Again, right off the bat we’re presented with the true source of love—it comes from God. Therefore an outgrowth of our having been made in the image of God, is that we are called to love each other for in so doing we reflect our Father and Maker. Further, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Again, our very ability to love points to our divine origins. Conversely, verse 8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” So if we’re not acting in a loving manner, then we betray our God-intended origins and purpose because we’re not being like him, we’re not imitating him.

Having noted that God is love and that love comes from God, John turns to his first proof of this love in verse 9: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” John knows the value of repetition, doesn’t he? He keeps returning to this theme throughout his letter. No one knows how to show love better than God who made us. Because he made us physically and spiritually, he knew how powerful and important it would be for us to be able to know him not only spiritually but also physically. Therefore in Christ God who is Spirit took on human flesh that we might be better able to understand, know, and love him. So God sent his Son to those who were spiritually dead that we might have life in and through Christ who is life itself.

But wait—there’s more! John hastens to add in verse 10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God didn’t send his Son into the world that we might simply learn from him. If our only problem as humans was that of not knowing the right thing to do, then having Jesus—or any moral teacher or leader, for that matter—teach us how we should live would be all that we would need. But our difficulty with living how we ought to live, of being who we ought to be, isn’t simply not knowing what we ought to do. Our problem is far deeper and serious for often we know the good we ought to do but are either unwilling or unable to do it.[5] This is why God chose not only to send his Son in the flesh that we might learn how he ever intended us to live but, more importantly, God chose to send his Son because apart from his taking away our sins—taking away our inability and lack of desire to know and do his will—and placing our sins upon himself and then sending his Holy Spirit to indwell us that we might be enabled to know and do his will, we would be without hope. For our very ability to know and love God is due to the work of Christ and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. So Christ’s “atoning sacrifice for our sins” by which he became a curse for us,[6] taking upon himself the punishment we deserved for having rejected God,[7] is the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever known.

And in verse 11 John applies this truth for us, “[Beloved,[8]] since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” As God in Christ has done for us, so we should do for one another. We who have God’s Spirit indwelling us have now become the means, chosen by God, of others knowing his love. So loving one another is a second important means, next to Christ’s sacrifice, of demonstrating that God exists—of demonstrating both that he is real and what he is like.

Next John states in verse 12, “No one has ever seen God.” At least no one has ever seen the fullness of our Triune God. Yet John himself not only saw but was a beloved disciple of Jesus Christ, God the Son in the flesh. And by the time of his writing this letter he had experienced Jesus sending his Holy Spirit to indwell him.[9] So John knows, he understands, that the most important thing God calls us to do is to be as God is and do as God does by loving each other. So though it is true that no one has ever seen the fullness of God, “but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Isn’t that awesome to consider? God chose to show, to complete, the fullness of his love in us, broken vessels though we may be. Using the apostle Paul’s language, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us….. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”[10] By the way we live; by the way we love, we bear witness to the goodness of our unseen but very real and loving Creator and Redeemer. Again, God is Love. And this love that comes from God is powerfully demonstrated, is powerfully made real, by his sending his Son and by our loving one another.

In verse 13 John turns to how it is that we are able to know these things. “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.” God’s Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity who helps us see—and know—and understand the love God has displayed to us in Jesus Christ. God’s Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work to our lives by setting us aside for his purposes and changing our hearts to align with his heart. It is by means of this very Spirit that John is able state in verse 14, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” John and all of Jesus’ apostles are faithful and true witnesses to Jesus and his teaching. As we considered Jesus’ teaching itself a few weeks ago,[11] Christ came into the world not to judge it but to save it.[12] Jesus is the way our heavenly Father has provided to himself. As Nicky Gumbel notes in one of the Alpha DVDs we’ve been watching in Adult Ed, Jesus is the only religious leader who points to himself as the means of gaining access to God. This is true because Jesus is God in the flesh. And here John is proclaiming this same truth starting in verse 15: “15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” Our faith in Christ results in God’s triune love being lavishly bestowed upon us by his grace for Scripture tells us of

a Father who sends his Son,

a Son who suffers, dies, and rises for those who are his,

and a Holy Spirit sent to open our eyes to these truths and to help conform us to them by means of his indwelling. By actually living in and among us, he helps us know and rely upon, depend upon, the God who loves us.

Then John repeats and returns to one of his opening themes in the latter half of verse 16: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” When you think about it, what John is disclosing here is nothing other than what Jesus himself disclosed for John is repeating and relating Jesus’ teaching on the importance of abiding in him, found in the fifteenth chapter of his Gospel. That chapter begins with Jesus saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” Among the things Jesus emphasizes are, “Remain” or abide “in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” And then again Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.” And at the end of this passage Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit—again, which had already been fulfilled in John’s life and is now fulfilled in the lives of all who believe in him—“26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

God is love—therefore he is the source of love. He demonstrated that love in sending Jesus Christ and in sending his Holy Spirit. So we are to go and do likewise. We are to demonstrate the reality of this triune God in the way that we love. Hence, verse 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.” When we are like Jesus, that is, when we love with the love of Jesus, the circle is made complete. And when we love, we needn’t fear judgment because when we love, we can be confident that we are doing what God has asked us to do. So in any given situation we don’t need to ask, “What would Jesus do?” for in looking at his life as described and disclosed to us in the Scriptures, we know what Jesus would do: he would do the loving thing—the gentle thing—the kind thing—the merciful thing—the just thing—the compassionate thing—the good thing. So John repeats in verse 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.” Pascal’s wager notwithstanding—that we should live as though God exists because if he does, we will have gained much, namely life in heaven, and avoided much, namely life in hell—fear should not be the motive for following Christ. Again, he came into the world not to condemn it but to save it.

And so John repeats himself yet again in the closing verses: First, he re-states his thesis in verse 19: “We love because he first loved us.” This is part of what the voice ensemble sang this morning—“And if you had not loved me first I would refuse you still.”[13] Since God is love, he is the source of all love. We can’t take credit for loving God for we would refuse to love him—or anyone, for that matter—apart from his having loved us first. Yet love for him and for each other is why he made us. Therefore, verse 20, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” Because God in Christ identifies so intimately with us so as to send his Holy Spirit to unite us with Christ, then however we treat a believer is how we treat him. Therefore to hate another believer is akin to hating God whereas to love another believer is akin to loving God.

And in case we missed this, God’s expectation for those who know Christ is made clear in verse 21: “And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” There’s no either/or here but a both/and. The sum of the law and the prophets isn’t either to love God or to love our neighbor. It’s to love God with all of our hearts, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.[14] There are no other choices for those who have believed in Christ and received his Holy Spirit. So dear brothers and sister, you and I are stuck with one another not only during the earthly part of our sojourn but for all eternity. So we might as well start practicing now how best to love and care for each other. Loving God and each other is the reason and purpose for our existence. And there is no way to account for genuinely loving, selfless, behavior except by the existence of our loving and merciful God. So when we aren’t loving, we’re telling the world either that God isn’t real or that God isn’t good. And though it’s difficult to love someone we cannot see, God has enabled us to see him and know his love by the way we treat each other. Therefore

Let us let our love be the “evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement” that God not only exists but that he is loving and caring.

So let us offer a proof that God exists—that he is indeed alive—by the way in which we love and care for each other.

Let us be kind to each other;

Let us grieve with each other;

Let us rejoice with each other;

Let us forgive one another;

Let us do what we can to make each other’s lives more pleasant;

Let us be like God and continually give of ourselves to others and seek their benefit.

For when we do, we can be confident that Christ will be lifted up and draw us and all who see closer to himself and our heavenly Father by his Holy Spirit who indwells us.

Let us pray.

[1] 1225–1274.

[2] Matthew 6. See also Luke 12:22–26 (ravens vs. birds of the air); 27–31 (wild flowers vs. lilies of the field).

[3] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on John 4:8.

[4] I’ll continue to alter the NIV translation from “Dear friends” to “Beloved” since the latter, in my mind, better captures the fullness of the Greek “Ἀγαπητοί” (a derivative of a Greek word for love, 

[5] This is my own understanding of what the Apostle Paul states in Romans 7:18–19 (though others view the meaning here differently):18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Paul’s solution, as is true of John, is found in God’s Son, vv. 24–25a: 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

[6] Galatians 3:13–14: 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

[7] Romans 3:21–25a: 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.; 1 Peter 2:24:  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

[8] I’ll continue to alter the NIV translation from “Dear friends” to beloved since the latter, in my mind, better captures the fullness of the Greek “Ἀγαπητοί” (a derivative of a Greek word for love, 

[9] John experienced this in a preliminary manner after Jesus’ resurrection as recorded in John 20:22: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John, along with the other disciples, experienced this in a permanent manner after the Pentecost celebration which ended up being the fulfillment of Joel 2:28–32, as recorded in Acts 2:1–4: 2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

[10] 2 Corinthians 4:7, 16–18.

[11] Sermon preached on 3/11/8, The Son Above the Clouds, John 3:14–21.

[12] John 3:17:  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

[13] End of first stanza of All I Have Is Christ, Words and Music by Jordan Kauflin.

[14] When asked what was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus provided this two-fold reply as recorded in Matthew 22:37–40: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[Deuteronomy 6:5] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[Leviticus 19:18] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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