Phil Cox

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Sacrificial love

2nd February 2013

Let's take a brief look at 1 John 4v7-11. It starts with:

1 John 4v7-8
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Isn’t this claim rather outrageous? “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God.” So Christians love but non-Christians don’t? Really? You’d understand if a non-Christian got pretty offended by this. But it’s in the text, so it’s true.

To understand this, we need to know that John was using a particular definition of a particular Greek word when he wrote this. There are several Greek words that could be translated as "love", but they all have different meanings, and every reference to “love” in this passage is a translation of either the verb or noun form of the Greek word agape. A better translation of agape would be “sacrificial love” but the New Testament seems to give agape a special meaning, which we could perhaps describe as “divine love”. And with that definition of agape, what John wrote is true, because he’s saying that no human can give divine love unless he has a relationship with the divine. A non-Christian might still be outraged, but what John is saying makes sense, doesn’t it?

There is, then, a kind of love that’s only possible for Christians because, in John’s phrase, only a Christian “has been born of God and knows God”. This love is sacrificial love, but it’s more than that; it's the same love that God has for us:

1 John 4v9-10
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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

We know that God loves us sacrificially, because He's shown us. He sent His only son, Jesus, to die on the cross so that we might live forever. The ultimate expression of agape, divine, sacrificial love was that God gave Jesus to be sacrificed to atone for our sin. And He did this when we were still covered in our own filth. As Paul wrote in Romans 5v7-8, "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

And if we know that, and we’ve been born of God, and we’ve received His Holy Spirit, and if we have Jesus’s example, then we should show divine, sacrificial love to those around us.

1 John 4v11
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

The life of God in us, His people, is so much more visible, so much more fruitful, so much more real when we love each other sacrifically. Then our neighbours will see God in us.

Imagine our Bible translators had chosen to translate “agape” as “sacrificial love”. Then our passage would read like this. May I ask to to read it slowly:

Dear friends, let us love one another sacrificially, for sacrificial love comes from God. Everyone who loves sacrificially has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love sacrificially does not know God, because God is sacrificial love.
This is how God showed his sacrificial love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is sacrificial love: not that we loved God sacrificially, but that he loved us sacrificially and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Dear friends, since God so loved us sacrificially, we also ought to love one another sacrificially. No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another sacrificially, God lives in us and his sacrificial love is made complete in us.

Isn’t that clearer and more powerful? And isn’t it more challenging? And if we don’t love each other sacrificially, how can we call ourselves Christians?