Summary: The first in a series on the 7 Cardinal Virtues.
Living the Virtuous Life: Love (I John 4:7-21)
By Rev. Phil Barner
Many have heard that there are 7 deadly sins (pride, anger, envy, lust, sloth, gluttony, covetousness). Early in the life of the church they had to address the common Greek attitude toward sin. The general consensus was that sins were necessary flaws in human nature. Even the Greek “gods” all had such noticeable flaws. The early church came up with a list of 7 deadly sins from scripture that they saw as root sins for all the others.
A “Wizard of Id” comic strip showed a congregation with a great interest in a sermon on the 7 deadly sins. They wanted to make sure that they weren’t missing any. We tend to forget that there are also 7 Cardinal Virtues (love, faith, hope, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude)..
There was a popular book, “The Book of Virtues”. It even resulted in a PBS television series. Then the author was found gambling heavily. There is not as much interest in virtues because they are harder to follow. As we see with the virtue of love if we want to be more like God we need to learn to love.
I. The Example of Love (vv.7-12)
Have you ever tried to copy something? How did it turn out? What if you make a copy of a copy of a copy? I suppose it depends on how good the copies are that you’re using. It’s always wisest to check the original. What the world calls love today is a pale imitation of the real thing. Just check the titles of some of the popular songs. You can easily replace the word lust for love in most cases without any change in meaning.
The command in (v. 7) is to love one another. This is the most common “one another” command in Scripture. Why? The rest of the verse tells us that this is the evidence of our relationship with God. Part of God’s very nature is love. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the attitude of many non-Christians. I get the impression that many who avoid Christianity use the excuse that they don’t want to become closed minded bigots.
The fact of the matter is that if we don’t love we don’t really know God. We may know a valuable creed or tradition but we don’t know God. Why not? What does it mean to know God? The more we know Him, the more we become like Him.
How has God exemplified Love? (v.9) reminds us that God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus into the world that we might live through Him. He loved us first with such an overwhelming, reckless love that doesn’t even make rational sense. He loved us while we were still enemies because of our sin. God showed us a self sacrificing love and people still mock Him for it.
Why does God love us so much? What does He get out of it? In response to God’s love we need to love one another. Why? (v.12) tells us that if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. Does this mean that God’s love is somehow incomplete? The King James Version says His love is “perfected in us”. That seems worse. Some could take that to mean that God’s love is imperfect. How can that be? If love is one sided is it complete?
We need to love back.
Do we best show our love for God by removing ourselves from the world and spending all of our time in prayer and Bible study? These things are important but I almost think that they are easier than what God commands. He commands us to love each other. If we don’t than we are disobedient. John and his brother James had been known as “sons of thunder”. He was ready to call down fire on a Samaritan village when he felt slighted by them. Now he’s remembered as the disciple that Jesus loved. What made the difference? Knowing God. When he wrote this letter he was in his later years. He wanted the church to follow the loving example of Jesus Christ. If we want to be more like God, we need to learn to love.
II. The Evidence of Love (vv. 13-18)
Every church thinks that they’re loving but how many actually greet new comers and talk to them when they visit? Less than we might think. How do we know if we’re truly loving? What’s the evidence? In (v.13) we’re told that we know because He has given us of His Spirit. How is the Holy Spirit evidence of our love?
I heard of a pastor who canceled the rest of a church worship service after a woman stood up and publicly criticized him. He said that the Spirit had left. The person who told me this had gotten the impression that the Holy Spirit is easily offended. I don’t agree. Although the Spirit can be grieved He is God. He is much bigger than we often give Him credit for being.