The Key to Love's Riches (I John 4:11-15)
Passage: 1 John 4:11–4:15
I. Intro: The Key is So Key
Picture this. What if you found out that you had a long lost relative, that is, a relative you never knew? But what if also learned that this lost relative had just recently passed away? But on top of this revelation, what if you also learned that you were the sole beneficiary listed in his will? And if this wasn’t enough, what if you were told that this relative’s estate was worth in excess of fifty million dollars? How would you be feeling after receiving news like this?
But what if when you went to collect this inheritance, you discovered that all of his most valuable assets were kept securely in a large vault, designed by the best security expert in the world? Imagine that you proceed to meet the lawyer, you sign the papers, and the fortune is yours; fifty million dollars in cash, gold, jewels, and other priceless items.
But then, as the lawyer prepares to leave, he tells you there is one, just one slight problem.
This vault, filled with all this inherited wealth, is closed and locked. And unfortunately, only your lost relative knew where to find the key. How would you be feeling then?
Even though you had been given an incredible treasure, without this key, any claim you could make on this fortune was meaningless.
This morning I hope that all of us will see that in some sense and at some point, this is where each of us finds ourselves when it comes to the incomparable, priceless riches of God’s perfect love.
II. The Passage: “By This We Know” (4:11-15)
Take your Bible, if you would, and turn to I John 4:11-15. (Page 1023). Listen to what John writes to his first-century readers:
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 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.
There is a wealth of teaching here about the riches of God’s love. So let’s work through this together, verse by verse, to try and understand how God might instruct us this morning through the Apostle John, a man who walked and talked with Jesus Himself.
A. Context: If God So Loved Us (11)
Look back at verse 11. What we quickly realize when we consider verse 11 is that we are forced to look at what comes before this section in I John 4. We are forced to look at the context in order to understand the flow of John’s argument here.
John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” What is John talking about? If God “so loved us” how? Well look at the two verses that come right before verse 11:
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. 10 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. (I John 4:9, 10)(propitiation simply means to appease or satisfy the justice of God).
So the love that John has been talking about is the perfect love of God. And that love is not mysterious or hidden. No, it has been made manifest among us? How? In the coming of Jesus Christ. And not simply in the coming of Christ into the world; God’s love has been supremely seen in the giving of Jesus over to death on the cross for our sins.
John famously states this way in the Gospel he wrote: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Listen, there are three things we are reminded of here. Three truths we must accept:
First, each of us must accept the reality that love is a key ingredient in this thing we call life. Doesn’t every book and song and movie, doesn’t every impulse in your own heart confirm this. Everyone is looking to love and to be loved. Isn’t that one of the fundamental impulses that drives all of us?
Second, each of us must accept that love requires God. Did you hear what John said in verse 10: in this is love…in this is love. John is telling us, “Forget the dictionary, if you want to know what love is, you have to look at the cross of Jesus Christ.” For His glory, God sacrificially gave his only Son in order to meet our deepest need.
You see, trying to love and define love without God is like trying to define the alphabet without any letters. It’s like trying to learn chess without any kind of teacher or instructions. After a while, you realize all you’re doing is just moving pieces around.
Third, each of us must accept that all of us fail when it comes to love. The very fact that John needs to remind his readers of these things, to urge them to love in this way, is confirmation that we often fail to give love and receive love as we should.
You see, our default setting when it comes to love is to be focused on our own needs and honor, rather than the needs of others and the honor of God. This is what John calls the “love of the world”; what we could call ‘world-like love’ rather than ‘God-like love’. This bent toward self-love is why we so desperately need God.
And this bent to self-love and self-rule makes the riches of God’s love that much richer. That God would give that which was dearest to Him, His own Son, for people like us, who fail so miserably, is truly amazing.
B. Appraising this Wealth (12, 13)
But let’s look in verses 12 and 13 at how John continues to describe the wealth of love that God makes available to men and women. Now there are many places in Scripture that, for me at least, are “headscratch” points. You’re reading, and all of a sudden, you stop and scratch your head. “What in the world?”
I think the beginning of verse 12 is one of those places. “No one has ever seen God.” Now, he was just talking about loving each other. And if we look beyond this, he goes on to talk about loving each other. So what’s this all about? “No has ever seen God?” What does this have to do with the discussion here about love?
Well it may be that one of the reasons John is writing this letter is to challenge the false ideas of teachers who have crept into this church and are trying to lead these Christians astray. And it may have been that these teachers were making claims about visions they had received, possibly visions of God.
But John says, “no one can see God…but that doesn’t mean that he is far off, that there is no evidence of his existence.” In fact, John tells his readers that when they love each other, God, the Creator of all things, actually dwells in them.
Genuine, God-like love through us is a confirmation of the presence of God in us.
Furthermore, when we give away the love that we have received from God, this love is said to be “perfected” in us, that is, God’s love has accomplished its goal of making us more like God by making us more giving toward the needs of others.
A perfect, priceless gift of love received from a perfect, loving God, and then given through us, as we receive the privilege of becoming vessels, instruments for God’s mercy. That God would love us and that God would use us to love others is itself a priceless gift.
But how can any of this be? How can God who is perfectly good and completely powerful, this limitless God that the entire universe cannot contain, how can He dwell in us? How can we be right with him, when everything about our human experience tells us that things with God are not right?
How can we who have a default setting of self-love, who are self-grasping, how can we love according to God’s way which is self-giving or self-emptying? What is there inside of us that could bring forth this sacrificial kind of love that Jesus demonstrated so perfectly?
Well, John goes on in verse 13 to tell us that the reality of this kind of love in us confirms that we are connected to God because such a love can only come through His Spirit.
And it is through God’s Spirit dwelling in us that we are able to dwell with the living God.
So love confirms the presence of the divine Spirit, and the Spirit confirms the presence of God.
‘No one has seen God”, but it doesn’t mean that God is not working. According to John, good evidence for God is not a heavenly vision, but a heavenly love.
If we really want to love others as we should, we need to be reconnected to God, through His Spirit, and through that reconnection, become vessels of His love.
Love given to us without measure. Love given through us without limit. God dwelling in us for our good, the good of others, and His glory. Can you imagine a more priceless gift, a more valuable inheritance than this?
C. The Key Witness (vs. 14, 15)
But like our long lost and late realtive’s vault, all of this is out of our reach without the key.
Thankfully for us, like these new teachers, John also makes a claim that he has seen something supernatural, something divine. But what he has seen is no heavenly vision. Look at v. 14 again:
And we [i.e. apostles] have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.
John actually began the letter talking about this very thing, about seeing and testifying, about being an eyewitness of how God revealed himself. He writes in chapter one:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…(1:1, 2)
But what is this “word of life” that John has seen with his eyes and touched with his hands? How can you see and touch “life”? Well he also talks about this at the very beginning of the Gospel that bears his name. He writes in John chapter 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men…14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God (sound familiar?); the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
John has been speaking as a trustworthy eyewitness of an historical reality: God came in human flesh. John has seen and is testifying to the reality of Jesus Christ.
And just to be sure his readers get it, in verse 15 of I John 4, he moves from talking just about the Son and become even more specific:
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
John wants his readers to understand that his testimony is trustworthy. He wants them to believe, not simply that God sent some Son, but that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son.
John walked with Jesus. He heard His teaching. He saw Jesus perform miracles. He saw Him betrayed and crucified. He watched Him die. But then he also saw Him alive again. He saw Him risen, and he saw Him rise into heaven.
Instead of listening to strange teachers boast about heavenly visions, this community of faith should have been holding to the solid testimony it originally received through an eyewitness, through someone who was there and watched all of this unfold in real time and space, not in some vision.
Just as John so clearly described for us the reality of God’s abundant love, he is also quick to point us to the key to love’s riches. Jesus Christ is the key. He is the one who makes the priceless gift of God’s love possible.
If you’re like me, and have moved a few times in the past many years and you’ve owned several cars during that time period, then you know how easily that kind of past can leave you with a drawer or box full of old keys. Several years ago when our oldest son was still small, I took a bunch of those keys and put them on a key ring for him to play with.
But having all of those keys out on the table, I noticed that many of them were easy to identify. This one was for our old Volkswagen because it had the VW symbol on it. That one was obviously for a Honda. These other ones were clearly house keys or apartment keys.
You see identifying a key is not the final step. Listen to what John goes on to say here.
III. Confession is Good for the Soul
As we continue on in this passage, we see that John wants his readers to understand the importance of an individual response to these truths.
I think if we look again at verse 15, it seems that John would agree with the old phrase “confession is good for the soul”. He writes:
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
You can identify a key, but if you do not believe that this key is not just any key, but is THE key, the one you need to open that door or start that car, that key will do you no good. If you do not believe this key is the only one that can give you access to a priceless treasure, it will do you no good. The vault will remain sealed.
So what does it mean to “confess that Jesus is the Son of God”? Is this some kind of magical mantra, some mystical confession that if uttered will change everything. No, simply saying the words “Jesus is the Son of God” will not have any affect if those words are not combined with faith.
Today, we often use the word confession in reference to a criminal suspect. When a suspect confesses to a crime he or she is acknowledging the reality that they are responsible for the illegal activity. Confession is an acknowledgement or agreement that things are really a certain way.
But if the key to the riches of God’s love is an acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God, if it is an acceptance of this reality, then the key to this key is understanding this phrase “the Son of God”.
When we come to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, what exactly are we acknowledging? Well…
First, we are acknowledging that Jesus has a unique relationship to God. If Jesus is the Son of God, then he was not simply a mortal man. Believing that Jesus was just a good teacher or a sage is not enough. We must believe that He has a totally unique relationship to God as His Son. No one else has and no one else can make such a claim.
Second, we are acknowledging that Jesus alone can rightly reveal God to us. In ancient times, an only son or simply the firstborn son had a special relationship with his Father. This son had the ability to represent his Father, and be accorded the same respect as the father. He was an authorized ambassador for the father.
So not only does Jesus stand in a unique relationship with God, but that relationship makes him the official representative of God. John has reminded his readers, “no one has ever seen God”. But as John has reminded them in his Gospel, Jesus, who is at His Father’s side, has made God known to us.
The Supreme Being, the “higher power” the world is trying to discover, the Maker of heaven and earth, has been revealed through Jesus Christ.
Third, when we confess that Jesus is the Son of God we are acknowledging that Jesus is the Savior John has been describing. The title “Son of God” does not come to us in a vacuum. Just like John’s ancient readers, we have heard about what this Son has done. God has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. In 4:9, we learned that God sent His only Son, that through Him we might have life. In verse 10, we saw that God sent His Son to be the atoning, appeasing sacrifice for our sins.
When we agree that Jesus is the Son of God, we are agreeing that Jesus is this Savior, the one who has been officially sent by God to meet our deepest need.
Fourth and finally, when we confess that Jesus is the Son of God we are acknowledging that Jesus is God. Though we might not understand this perfectly, John was very clear in the opening lines of His Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
How do we know John is talking about Jesus here? Well, remember later in John 1, verse 14, he writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In fact, the fact that God chose to use this term “son” to describe His relationship with Jesus reminds us that like begets like. A dog cannot be the son of a cow. A boy cannot be the son of a seal. A father and a son are always the same kind of creature.
Here, the Father is God, and thus the Son is God. Not two gods, for there is only God. But two distinct persons perfectly united within this being we call God.
When we acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, we are acknowledging nothing less than the fact that Jesus is God in human flesh.
Now I know there is a lot packed into this title, “the Son of God”. Let’s see if we can sum it up. When we confess, when we acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God we are acknowledging that Jesus alone deserves the fullness of our lives since Jesus alone is able to connect us with the fullness of God. (2x)
This is a confession of humility in recognition of the One who has all power. This is confession of worship in recognition of the One who is worthy of all praise. This is a confession of love in recognition of the One who alone is worthy of our full affection.
Confession is good for the soul.
IV. Conclusion: The Key is the Key to Life
There is a vault filled with the riches of God’s love. In it you can find the love that you’ve always desired. Perfect acceptance. Perfect belonging. Perfect fulfillment. Perfect forgiveness.
In it, you will find the very love you’ve desired to give to others. You will find that passionate concern that labors without limit to see God’s best accomplished for another’s good.
In this vault you will find the presence of God himself, ready to pour His love into you and present His love through you. You will find a God who desires to abide in you, to be connected with you in a real relationship through His Spirit.
Can you imagine a more priceless and precious treasure?
But even though this unimaginable wealth is available to “anyone” or the “whoever” of verse 15, there is only one way to access its blessings.
Jesus is the Key to love’s riches.
Each and every day, all of us are tempted to believe that there is some other special thing that will connect us with the fullness of God, something that will satisfy our built-in desire for perfect love.
John’s original readers were in danger of being deceived by false teachers and false visions. We are just as vulnerable.
Jesus must be our only hope.
And when Jesus is our hope, we have an incomparable refuge when the reality of our failures wants to hold us down and drag us back. Listen to just one more verse from the Apostle John. I John 1:9… If we confess our sins [if we confess our failures, our failures to love as we should, if we confess our sins], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
How much more priceless and how much precious does this treasure seem now?
Jesus is the Key to love’s riches. And because Jesus is the key to love’s riches, He is also the Key to life, the Key to everything.