The Greatest Love

Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →

Scripture Text

1 John 4:13–21 ESV
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The Greatest Love Comes from God

Whitney Houston’s version of the “The Greatest Love” was a hit in the 1980s. We can agree that there is some truth to the concept of accepting who we are (our looks, quirks, abilities, etc.) but after decades of positive reinforcement to love yourself in our culture, are we closer to a greatest love? If we agree with the greater culture, then we are ignoring the truth that the greatest love came from God. The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the World. Jesus, the Creator of the Universe, humbled himself to be our propitiation. He gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Before Jesus went to the cross, he described his great act of love. John 15:13
John 15:13 ESV
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
And scripture reminds us that the love of Jesus is still greater because he not only gave his life for his friends but for those who are at odds, enemies of God. Romans 5:6-8
Romans 5:6–8 ESV
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
But John reminds us that the greatest love has some additional amazing benefits. The first is that we have the privilege to have the Spirit of God in us. So what does it mean to have the Spirit of God, and what does it mean to have God abide in us?

To have the Spirit of God

In the Old Testament, only a select few had the privilege of having close proximity and knowledge of God. God loved all but only allowed a small group to have close inner access such that they were empowered, directly led, and influenced by the Holy Spirit. These were often prophets and God-fearing kings. Ultimately, God’s desire for His people is that all people would have this privilege. Joel 2:28
Joel 2:28 ESV
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
Because Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to abide in us after he left this earth, those who are in Christ receive this promise. The Holy Spirit is present to guide, convict, teach, remind, and empower us. We can truly say that we are not alone, for we are loved, and we have God’s Spirit.
Scripture reminds us that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the evidence that we belong to God. We are enabled to call God “Father” by the Holy Spirit. But some believers overemphasize an association of feelings with the Holy Spirit. While it can truly be said that we “feel” the Spirit of God, we ought not to rely on our feelings but rather depend upon what God’s word says about our salvation. Depending upon an emotional response is secondary to living by faith.

To have God abide in us

The term "abide" is a figurative way to describe having a relationship with someone. One remains in the other. This reinforces the concept of the promised presence and influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can truly say God is with me. But we need to be careful how we explain this. If I am in God and God is in me, it is not the same as saying, “I am God.” God always maintains a distinction between God and his creation. How do we receive this privilege? It is by God’s grace through faith. Because we have a Savior, we have the opportunity to respond to the love of God through faith. Part of our faith is to confess (agree and acknowledge) Jesus is the Son of God. Our restored relationship with God occurs as we believe in the love of God toward us made possible through Jesus.

Love that is perfected

If we are in Christ, we are loved by God. We are part of the family of God. But like a newborn child, we must mature spiritually. Part of the maturing process is to be perfected (bringing something to completion.) What part of love needs to be perfected? While the Bible encourages us to mature by giving up our former ways of life and thinking that were foolish and sinful, the context here is about fear concerning Day of Judgement. The Bible consistently reminds us that there will be a day of reckoning, a time when all individuals will be judged. For those who long for justice, the Day of Judgment will be a day to look forward, but it will be a fearful time for those who are guilty. Perfected love recognizes the grace of God in the Day of Judgement. Those loved by God need not fear judgement.
Think back to a time when you were “caught” doing something wrong, illegal, or foolish. How did you feel when you were confronted? Most people are fearful of the consequence and potential punishment for their actions. This is the kind of circumstance that John has in mind. Without the love of God, the grace and mercy that brings His forgiveness, the sacrifice of Christ as our propitiation, we would be filled with dread. But because of God’s love, we need not dread judgment because Christ has taken our punishment and given us forgiveness.
John reminds us that we can have confidence, an assurance, a non-fearful demeanor because we have a loving Savior. And just like He lived, we follow Him in obedience and humility. And we must remember that our confidence is not based upon our “goodness,” for we will fail, we will sin, we may give in to temptation, and ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we look at our spiritual progress and conclude that we have not matured much. We may also conclude that we have not “loved God” as we should. Guilty feelings like this should remind us of two things. First, we have more to grow in our faith. Our perfection in faith will not occur here on earth but one day in His presence. And second, because we can never achieve holiness on our own, we ought to rely on God’s love. The scriptures remind us that God loved us first. He showed the Greatest Love toward sinners. If that is the basis of our faith, then we can rest assured that we have an eternal and unshakeable foundation and relationship with God.

The Problem of Inconsistent Love

Those who experience God’s love will have the natural desire to return the love. Loving God is both a command to believers and a natural response to recognizing the great grace of God. Luke 7:42-43
Luke 7:42–43 ESV
42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
And God has summarized our life of responsive obedience as believers in two commands. Do you recall what those two commands are? The first command may be a challenge at times, but the second command may prove to be the most difficult for us. For it requires us to give the same kind of love that God gave us to another person, who may be unworthy, annoying, or irritating. But God wants us to fulfill our love for Him by extending love toward that brother or sister in Christ. God does not separate our love into separate sections so that we can have one and neglect the other. If we love the Father, then we must love those whom the Father has made to be part of the family of God. If we claim to love God but hate our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we are liars. God wants us to love Him who we can’t see and love those that are visible evidence of His saving grace.

Practical Love for the Family of God

The New Testament is full of examples of how to love others in the family of God. Let’s look at some examples to see how this command can be practiced in our lives.

Working on fixing sharp disagreements of opinion.

Acts 15:36-40
Acts 15:36–40 ESV
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
But look how things changed. 2 Timothy 4:9-11
2 Timothy 4:9–11 ESV
9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.

Being careful so that a “bad apple” does not “spoil the whole bunch”.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-8
2 Thessalonians 3:6–8 ESV
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
2 Thessalonians 3:14–15 ESV
14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

We need to help those caught in a sin.

Galatians 6:1-3
Galatians 6:1–3 ESV
1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Show no partiality

James 2:1
James 2:1 ESV
1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

Hold your mouth from speaking evil of another.

James 4:11
James 4:11 ESV
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

Remember to receive the repentant believer as a brother or sister.

Philemon 12-16
Philemon 12–16 ESV
12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more