1 Jn. 4:7–16

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Love is defined here as being initiated by God, not by us. In this way, the apostle points us to God’s love as the paragon to teach us what genuine love is: In addition to being a sacrifice (because God sent His only Son to save us, giving Him up without reservation), it acts first. Love does not wait to be asked before it acts; rather, it lavishes good on the one loved without being requested.

This is the example of genuine charity that is before us. We are not to withhold love and grant it only when others have fulfilled some conditions we have made; rather, we are to take the initiative to show love to others—especially to those who have sinned against us, even if they have not apologized to us. Do we have that kind of charity, or do we wallow in anger and hold a grudge, stubbornly withholding forgiveness until they make amends in some way? If we do the latter, we are in violation of God’s command and actually do more harm to ourselves than our debtors have inflicted on us. Remember the unmerciful servant! His king reversed his earlier debt forgiveness on account of the servant’s stubborn refusal to forgive one of his own debtors (Matthew 18:21–35). And let’s not forget that important sentence in the Lord’s Prayer:

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Mt. 6:12)

Notice the connection between divine forgiveness and our forgiveness of others. The two cannot be separated. Divine forgiveness of our sins is dependent on our forgiveness of others. Our forgiveness of others is the condition for being forgiven ourselves, as the Lord made clear just after He taught the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples:

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mt. 6:14–15)

It is not surprising, then, that the apostle John in our passage tells us that “we also ought to love one another.” We are not permitted to delay forgiveness or to withhold it completely; those options are not open to us. We must take the initiative by loving the offender first, just as God first loved us, and doing so in a self-sacrificial manner—not just giving a friendly greeting (though that is commendable, as our Lord taught us in Mt. 5:47) but even more. Perhaps we could pray for the offending individual the same way we pray for our loved ones and friends, asking God to be longsuffering to them; not to hold their sins against them; to bless them with grace, salvation, prosperity, spiritual and physical health; and more. Doing this puts us in a forgiving frame of mind, and as long as we have that mind-set of love and compassion for that person, those cruel tyrants, hatred and bitterness, are overthrown and cannot control us, for it is impossible for love and hatred toward a person to exist together at the same time.

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us even when we did not deserve it and were not even looking for your love. We thank you and praise you for lavishing on us “such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:3). Help us to put that same kind of love into action toward all people. We ask this in your name, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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About the Author

The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.