Friday, November 21, 2014

JESUS LOVES ME (1 John Chapter 3)

1 John 3:16a, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”

How are we to define love?  The word is commonly used and in various ways.  Much of what is deemed “love” in our society bears little resemblance to the love spoken of in this verse.  We tend to think of love in human terms, but there is a love which transcends all others.  “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  Love is an attribute of God (attribute=something true about God).  He doesn’t try to love, He is love.  The other “John 3:16” speaks to how God has so loved the world by sending His son.  This verse speaks to how Jesus has defined and demonstrated love in laying down His life for us.

Two terms are especially important here, “love” and “know.”  The term translated “love” in this verse is the Greek agape.  Vine’s definition of the term is especially helpful: “Agapao and the corresponding noun agape present ‘the characteristic word of Christianity, and since the Spirit of revelation has used it to express ideas previously unknown, inquiry into its use, whether in Greek literature or in the Septuagint, throws but little light upon its distinctive meaning in the NT…Love can only be known from the actions it prompts.  God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son…But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out of any excellency in its objects, Rom. 5:8.  It was an exercise of the divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself.”

Several things stand out in this definition.  First, the love defined here for us is a love demonstrated by “the divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself” (i.e. “for love is from God”; 1 John 4:7).  Secondly, the demonstration of this love was not sourced in “any excellency of its objects.”  He did not love us because we were in any measure deserving of His love (Cf. Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21).  Thirdly, God’s love is clearly demonstrated in “the gift of His Son.”  True love has been defined for us in Christ and His willing sacrifice for us.  If we wonder as to what love looks like we should direct our thoughts and attention cross-ward.

The other especially important term here is “know.”  It translates the Greek ginosko.  The basic meaning of the term is “to be taking in knowledge, to come to know, recognize, or understand” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  The term implies “appreciation as well as knowledge,” a knowledge “obtained, not by mere intellectual activity, but by operation of the Holy Spirit consequent upon acceptance of Christ” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  In this sense the verse speaks to the abiding experiential knowledge of Christ’s love possessed by the believer in Christ.  Indeed, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Cf. Romans 5:8).  Love has not just been defined for us at the cross, on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice--and our faith in Him--the love of God has filled us up to overflowing (Cf. Ephesians 3:17).  We have experienced His love!

The song, “Jesus Loves Me,” was written by an American writer, Anna Bartlett Warner, who also authored several other books and poems that were then set to music.  Anna’s family home was quite close to the United States Military Academy at West Point, in New York, in the era just before the Civil War. Each Sunday Anna taught Bible classes to the cadets. Her remains are buried in the military cemetery, and her family home is now a museum on the grounds of the United States Military Academy.  “Jesus Loves Me” came from a poem written by Anna and her sisters in the 1860s for their sentimental and best-selling novel “Say and Seal.”  In a scene that brought many people to tears in the novel, a child lays dying and is comforted as the main character in the book recites the poem: “Jesus loves me!  This I know, for the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.”  Many soldiers on the battlegrounds during the civil war sang--and found spiritual comfort in--in the words of the hymn.  The cross both defines true love and bears testimony to the extent of it.  Jesus loves me!

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