Text: 1 John 4:16-21
Love of God and love of brother: these things go together. Peanut butter and jelly, pancakes and syrup, mashed potatoes and gravy, vanilla ice cream and root beer; these things also go together. When one part of those things is missing, we definitely notice. You can’t have a PB&J without the PB or the J; you might not want to have pancakes without syrup. Mashed potatoes without gravy is plain wrong. With these things, we recognize that two elements go together to give the complete experience. Without both things, you don’t have it. Same with love of God and love of brother.
St. John said toward the end of our text, “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.” St. John meant to teach his flock that the love of and for God is expressed not just in private devotion and prayer, but also in works of love for our fellow man. And, actually, there is a causal relationship between the two, because the faith and love of God which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit causes us to bear the good fruits of love. A good tree bears good fruit, our Lord once said. Where these fruits are lacking, where the love for neighbor is absent, there is cause for concern. For instance, we heard about the rich man and Lazarus. In our text today, we learn that the love of God, which He demonstrated for us by sending His Son, causes us also to love those around us.
Our text today from St. John’s first epistle picks up in the middle of a discussion he’s been having about love. In fact, St. John writes a lot about love; perhaps, even more than St. Paul – though we give him all the credit for 1 Corinthians 13. But, rather than talk about love from below – from our human perspective – St. John talks about love starting at the top; He starts with its source – God. After all, as he said in our text, “God is love.” What St. John means is that God in His essence is love – perfect, complete, and total love. Now, God is also other things – Scripture also calls God just, holy, righteous, and good. However, according to St. John, all love finds its source and definition in God alone.
“We have come to know and believe the love that God has for us,” he said. Not only is God love in its divine, perfect, and purest sense, but He has demonstrated that love toward us. How? By sending us His Son. St. John said earlier in our same chapter, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” St. John writes of the divine work of God, our justification. For us, and for our salvation, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to suffer and die on the cross. By this we know the love God has for us, and what our understanding of love should be.
The Biblical definition of love is love that is self-sacrificial, that gives without counting cost – even to those who are undeserving and unthankful. For, isn’t that what we are as sinners? Each and every one of us is self-centered by nature, not self-sacrificial. We do what we want, at whatever cost, it sometimes seems. If that means going against God’s Word and will, our sinful nature often says, “so be it.” Then, no sooner do we come and confess our sins – and receive forgiveness – than do we show shallow thankfulness by falling back into the same sinful patterns we were in before. We have neither deserved forgiveness, nor have we earned it – quite the opposite – yet God’s love for us was shown in this way: for us dark and depraved sinners, He sent the Light of the World to die in our place and for our forgiveness.
If God so loved us that He sent His Son to die for us cold and unthankful sinners, and even continues to forgive us when we repent and confess our sins, in the words of St. John, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” He said also in our text today, “this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” This is maybe what we can call the “meat” of today’s text. St. John wrote this because, as we have today, there were many in his time – already – who claimed the name of Christian yet lived otherwise. There were many who were glad and content to hear the Word but resisted the Spirit’s work in their lives. The evidence brought up in this Epistle, was that these people did not live in love. Their lack of love for their brother showed their lack of love for God.
Therefore, St. John encouraged his faithful flock to abide in God’s love, and so abide in Him. To abide in God’s love is to remain connected to the heavenly vine. God showed His love for us by sending His Son to die for us, and that same Son gives that love to us through His gifts of Word and Sacrament. To abide in God’s love is to continue to receive these things faithfully and regularly. But there is another aspect to abiding in God’s love, and that is St. John’s focus today – love of God and love of brother are two sides of the same coin. The rich man from our parable today found himself in Hades not primarily for his lack of love, but for his lack of faith. The fact that he did not lift a finger to help the beggar at his gate was proof that in his heart he did not believe in the mercy of God.
As God has called us to faith by the preaching of the Word and the washing of Holy Baptism, and by the Holy Sacrament, and has continued to sustain and strengthen us in the faith, He now leads and causes us to love those around us. And this love is not a human love, but a perfect love, St. John said. The love that God has given us has been poured into our hearts, and it’s a love that is self-sacrificial. It’s a love without fear, a love that does not count cost. It’s a love that gives without expecting return – even to those who do not deserve it, or who are unthankful. And, why? Because that’s how God has loved us.
Having heard these words of exhortation from St. John, though, we might realize that the love we have received from the Lord, we have not shown to others. At least, not fully, and not all the time. At times, we’ve been plain unloving. We have deemed people unworthy or undeserving of our love. When they’ve been unthankful – or not thankful enough – we’ve felt justified in removing our love from them. Though we’ve been called to love, we have not. We have sinned.
When the rich man called out to Abraham from Hades, Abraham directed him back to the Scriptures. We would do well to heed his advice, for in the Scriptures, we find that God so loved us – undeserving, and sinful as we are – that He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to redeem us from our sins. And though we continue to be sinners, He continues to forgive us by sending pastors to absolve us in His stead and by continuing His Sacraments among us. When we find ourselves to be unloving, what do the Scriptures say to do? Repent and confess our sins, be forgiven, and, by the Spirit’s aid, begin again.
Love of God and love of brother go together. Two sides of the same coin, like peanut butter and jelly, mashed potatoes and gravy, green eggs and ham. You can’t have one without the other. So that we might have both, God showed His love for us by sending His Son. By abiding in His love, we are caused to love our brother. St. John said, “We love because He first loved us.” Amen.
 1 John 4:20, English Standard Version.
 1 Jn. 4:16.
 1 Jn. 4:16.
 1 Jn. 4:9-10.
 1 Jn. 4:11.
 1 Jn. 4:21.
 1 Jn. 4:19.