This is a resurrection text. It may not seem like it on the face of the words, but the whole idea of love, faith, and obedience to the commandments of God discussed in these eight verses are consequent upon the facticity of the resurrection. It begins with the love of God the Father sending forth the Son to redeem His beloved people and then, as a radical implication of the accomplishment of redemption, putting His love in them through their own personal resurrection in the waters of Baptism (Romans 6:3-7). Consequently, preaching the Law as the antithesis to the Gospel is well-staged here, but even more so the pure Gospel itself and, as an upshot of the implications of the gospel accomplished and applied, the Third Use of the Law.

In English, there are not a great variety of words for love, as there is so in Greek. First, there is storge — nurturing love. C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves (1960), called this, “...all in a squawking, nuzzling heap together, purring, licking, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.” Then there is eros — erotic, passionate, head-over-heels falling in love. It is sexual and romantic. It is the love described in the Song of Solomon. The third kind of love is philos – the love of friendship. Hence, Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love. Think of David and Jonathan. And finally, there is Agape. This is the word for love in both 1 John 5 and John 15. “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.” Now, we are talking about sacrificial love, laying down one’s life for and because of love for another. This love, as it pertains to divine qualities, is an unconditional love, love to the loveless and unlovable, divine love. God is agape. God is love.

Storge, eros, philos – those all happen naturally. But Agape does not “just happen” for us, only for God. It must be created, given, bestowed. In other words, such love is sheer gift. Such love is begotten of grace.

But Agape does not “just happen” for us, only for God. It must be created, given, bestowed. In other words, such love is sheer gift.

This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Or, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the Triune God created the world out of love so that God, who is love, might have more creatures to share His love with. Lewis also once said, “God’s love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father and gives Himself to the world and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father.”[1]

Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 13. Agape is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Agape bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, patiently endures all things.

We may object: “But I can’t love that way.” True, we cannot. There is only One who has. Jesus loves us in this manner. His love never fails. And where this is the divine standard, a standard of perfect love that condemns us, Christ fulfills it on our behalf and then puts His love in us in the resurrection of our spirits in Baptism. That is why Jesus says, “Abide in My love.” To abide in Jesus’ love is, above all, to be on the receiving end of His love.

We may claim to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind and that we love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27), but we are not fooling anyone, least of all God. But God is love and, so, our love can never be God, only an idol, a star-crossed love doomed to a tragic death.

Thankfully, our infatuation with sin and selfish love is not the greatest love there is.

For greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). That is Jesus’ love for sinners. Preach this to sinners. The Vine dies to give life to the branches. Jesus lays down His life for His enemies that He may call them friends. Jesus takes all which is unlovable and makes it lovable in His cross. The love sinners need is the love Christ provides. Once we have that love, all the others are thrown in as a consequence of resurrection life and love.

How will the preacher’s auditors know Jesus loves them? By the preacher directing them to the font to recall the Word and action of God when He washed their sin and guilt away in love. The preacher will direct their gaze to the chalice of Christ’s blood given and shed for them in love. The preacher will directly apply the Word of the Gospel to his auditors so the love of God in Christ may be established as the state of affairs, as an abiding reality.

Jesus takes all which is unlovable and makes it lovable in His cross. The love sinners need is the love Christ provides.

“As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Abide in My love,” Jesus says (John 15:9). How? By keeping His commandments. What does that mean? “If you keep, cling to, hold fast to My teaching and Word, you will abide in My love.” In other words, abide in your Baptism, receive forgiveness, hear Jesus’ Word, eat and drink His saving Body and Blood. How does one abide in Jesus then? One abides by faith in the One who loves.

These are not commands to make God love us but means by which we abide in His love. For the love Jesus commands is the love He gives to you. It is like parents and their children. We do not give our children rules for them to earn our love. Rather, we give them instruction and rules because we love them, so that they abide in love with one another.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Turn it around and it is clear. “As I loved you, so love one another.” As I have laid down My life for you, lay down your life for your neighbor. Everything begins and ends with Jesus’ love and can be accomplished in our horizontal relationships by His resurrection life, love, and Spirit put within His baptized people.

We are chosen in love and for love. We abide in Jesus’ love and Jesus’ love abides in us for the neighbor. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit,” Jesus says.

Christ bears good fruit in you through your vocations, fruit which will not rot. It is found in the household, the congregation, places of work, and in our lives as citizens. There is no expiration date. These good works are ongoing and, often, ordinary.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 1 John 5:1-8.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 John 5:1-8.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through 1 John 5:1-8.