Knowing and Loving God Through Loving Your Neighbor (Part 1)

A sermon on 1 John 4:7-21 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 1/16/2005

Which is harder: To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, or to love your neighbor as you love yourself?

As we have seen, Jesus says that all the Law and the prophets depend on, or hang on these two commands.

For the last several weeks, we’ve been examining the first of these great commands. In our first sermon, we looked at the extent of the command – we are to love God with all of our being. We then noted two implications of our love for God:

Over the following several weeks we considered further this relationship between knowing God and loving Him, looking at different ways our knowledge and love of God grow together:

This week and next week we will conclude this series by considering we fulfill the greatest commandment through fulfilling the second greatest commandment; how our knowledge and love of God grow as we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

We’ll begin today by looking at Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22:39, where He says that the second greatest commandment is like the great command. Why does Jesus say that? In what sense is the command to love your neighbor like the command to love God?

Then next week we’ll look at Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel, asking: What barriers keep us from loving our neighbor?

Along the way we’ll answer the opening question: Which is harder, the first or the second greatest commandment?

We will also see once again those two implications from first sermon: To know God is to trust Him; to love Him is to want to become like Him.

Please pray that God would use this time together to deepen our love for Him and our love for our neighbors, so that we might become what He intends us to be.

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39   

How is the Second Command Like the First?

­At first glance, the two don’t look that similar. True, both are commands to love - but there is a lot of difference between God and my neighbor! None of my neighbors is very much like God:

Furthermore, at first glance, the extent of the two commands is quite different. We are to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The second sounds less radical. God, after all, doesn’t say, “Love your neighbor with all of your being!” Indeed, had He said that, it would have contradicted the first command!

But as we think about the second command, we see that it is just as radical as the first.

We have already seen that the first command is logical, right – and impossible. How can we possibly love God with all our being every minute of every day? How can we love Him continuously above all else in this world? We can’t. Instead, this command shines a light on the depth of our sinfulness.

But so does the command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Consider:

What do you think about this restatement of the command: “However you care about your own needs and desires, care just as much about the needs and desires of your neighbor.” That’s radical.

Now, we all recognize that loving our neighbor doesn’t require that we give our neighbor whatever he might think he needs. Sometimes loving another can mean doing things that are directly contrary to what that person thinks he needs most. But this thought does not make the command any less radical. After all, you do love yourself – but you do not fulfill every desire, every whim that you have.

No. The command is radical. The command means to we care about the needs of our neighbor. Furthermore, the command means that we will meet the needs of our neighbor if we are able, and if meeting those needs is in the best interest of our neighbor.

These radical commands thus appear very dangerous. We think, “If I really love God with all my being – why, that means I love Him more than I love my own life! That means I might lose everything! I might even lose my life!”

Similarly, we think, “If I actually love my neighbors as I love myself – I’ll lose everything I have! There are so many needs, so many desires – and so many neighbors!”

So are these commands dangerous? Yes, in a sense. They are dangerous indeed – to the one who thinks his joy and happiness is found in cars and houses and careers and families and food and fame.

Three weeks ago we considered John 15:7:

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you

One of the points we made was: Abiding is rejoicing. When we see Jesus as our sustainer, as the one who meets all our needs; when we see Jesus as the one who is our greatest joy – then we will desire Him above all else, we will find joy in Him first and foremost; we will see Him as the source of all our pleasure. In other words, if we love Jesus with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength, we will not look elsewhere for joy.

So is it dangerous to love God with you whole being? Yes - dangerous to our pursuit of pseudo-pleasures. But loving God is the source of true pleasure! We do not lose genuine joy and happiness when we love God. Rather, we find such joy and happiness.

Do you see how this answers the question of whether or not the second command is dangerous?

Friends, this is the key to fulfilling the second great command. This is the key to building a Christian marriage. This is the key to God-glorifying church life. Indeed, this is the key to living the Christian life: Seek your joy in God. Be satisfied with all Jesus is for you. Then you are free to love others radically. Indeed, then you are able to love others radically.

So these two commandments are intimately linked. Jesus here didn’t pick two random commands from the 613 identified by Jewish scholars, and then say, “These two are the most important.” Instead, He picked two that are closely related to each other.

Remember, we’re answering the question: Why is the second command like the first? We have seen that both are radical, both are dangerous in a sense. But what we’ve now seen is more fundamental:

Loving God leads to loving your neighbor. Indeed, I’ve argued that we can’t love our neighbor unless we love God, unless we delight in God, unless we find our needs met in God. In other words, those who are truly heavenly-minded are the most earthly good.

Four Links Between Loving God and Loving Our Neighbor

Let’s see how John establishes four links between loving God and loving others in 1 John 4.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:7-8

In this section, John talks of loving “one another”, and thus speaks specifically about love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. He says clearly that love for our fellow believers is not independent of our relationship to God. If you know God, you will love your brothers and sisters in Christ. We can paraphrase verse 8: “If you know the One Who is Himself love, you will love.”

Furthermore, John makes clear in verse 7 that this love is supernatural. We can’t love each other as we love ourselves unless we are born of God: “Whoever loves has been born of God.”

So here is the first link: Loving others is the FRUIT of loving God.

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. 1 John 4:9-10

These verses give us the second link: All love originates with God. God started it all – we didn’t! Verse 10 tells us that He loved us first – He sent His Son to die for us, and thus to make us alive. Or, in words of verse 7, He died to enable us to be born again. At great cost to Himself, He paid the penalty for our sin so that we could become His bride.

This is the type of love God now commands us to show to each other. A love like His – confident in the riches that our ours in Him, a love that gives freely.

Third, God’s love for us creates the obligation to love others.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11

God loved us for a purpose: That purpose is fulfilled in part by our loving others.

God didn’t love me in order to make much of me. That’s what we often want to think: “Look at what God did for me! I must be very special.” And then we begin to think, “I must be better than all those others!”

John says here, “No! God’s love for you didn’t result from anything good in you! There was NOTHING in you attractive to God. As verse 10 says, you were sinful! You needed propitiation, you needed someone to turn God’s wrath away from you! Yet God loved you – and He loves your brothers and sisters, though there is nothing attractive in them either. Just so, if you are born of me, you love them too. And don’t tell me that they’re hard to love. I know that! I know it even better than you! But you love them, because I love you and them.”

Verse 12 explains further why we must love our brothers and sisters:

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

Look down at verse 17 also:

By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

Both verses say God’s love is perfected (or “completed”). And we have something to do with that perfection. Verse 12 says His love is perfected in each one of us. Our brothers and sisters don’t see God Himself – no one has seen Him in all His glory. But they do see us. And if we are believers, God abides in each one of us. So God uses us to show His love to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In that sense, His love is completed or perfected in us. We you serve your brother or sister selflessly, you become the visible manifestation of God’s love.

Verse 17 says something slightly different: God’s love perfected with us, or among us. That is, in our Christian community, in our church, we together are exhibiting God’s love. There should be a love for each other in the body of Christ that exhibits to the world the meaning of the phrase, “God is love.” The care and concern we show to each other should astound non-believers.

The last phrase of verse 17 is astounding: “As he is so also are we in this world.” We are born of Him. He is love. And so we are love. As we live together, as we corporately love one another, we display to the world what God is like. We love so the world might see what God is like.

What’s another way to say that? When we display to the world what God is like, what are we doing?

Glorifying Him! To glorify God is simply to show His character to others. So our love for one another fulfills the very purpose of the creation of mankind – to glorify God.

So this is the fourth link between loving God and loving our neighbor: If we love God, we want to glorify Him above all else. And by loving one another, we glorify God.

Thus, our obligation to love one another is part of God’s plan to fill the earth with His glory.

So 1 John 4 provides us with four links between loving God and loving our neighbor:

1)      Loving others is the fruit of knowing God;

2)      Love for others originates with God;

3)      God’s love for us creates an obligation to love others; and

4)      By loving one another we glorify God.

Loving Our Neighbor Increases Our Love for God

Thus, 1 John supports strongly our earlier point: the first commandment leads to the second; loving God implies that we love others. If we don’t love others, we don’t love God.

But I would like to suggest that there is a feedback relationship here. Not only does loving God cause us to love others, but love for others increases our love for God.

We saw this dynamic in prayer three weeks ago. Love for God prompts prayer. One request we make in prayer is, “May I abide in you! May your words abide in me!” As God answers that prayer, we love God even more – and that additional love prompt more prayer.

A similar feedback relationship exists here. We have seen that love for God leads to love for others. But the reverse holds also: Loving others increases our love for God.

How does this work? There are two mechanisms, one natural and one supernatural.

Natural: When we love others, we are showing that we know God practically and not only theoretically. We are acting out what it means to be like Him.

Think of it this way: Suppose you admire President Bush. You admire him so much that you study all you can about his life – you read biographies, you read what he has spoken and written, you study the key incidents in his life. You then write a report on what you’ve found out about his character. This process increases your appreciation of him.

But imagine that after you write your report, you get a phone call from the White House. The spokesman asks you to serve as a Presidential envoy to the victims of last week’s mudslide in California. Your job is to express his personal concern, to hand deliver letters from him, and to distribute some personal gifts to the victims.

Previously, you knew of the President’s compassion – but now you are an agent of that compassion. You get to see the response of those who benefit from that compassion.

Do you see how your appreciation of him would then grow?

Just so, when we act as agents of God’s love, when we see the impact of his love on others, when we see the hope that results from that love, when we see the joy, the freedom that others receive through Him, we respond. We know Him better, and we thus love Him more. Loving others with the love of God leads to our knowing and loving God that much more.

Supernatural: That first effect is purely natural. Our love may well increase for any person for whom we act as an agent. But there’s a supernatural feedback relationship also.

Consider: When we exhibit the love of God to others, where does that love originate?

1 John 4:7 told us: “Whoever loves has been born of God.” Similarly, Galatians 5:22 says that love is the fruit of the Spirit, the natural outgrowth of the Holy Spirit in us. Thus, when we exhibit the love of God, we are exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. When we exhibit the love of God, God is active in us, God is abiding in us. We are drawing closer and closer to God – and thus we love Him more. We delight in Him more. We see more and more clearly that our every joy is in Him.

As God’s Spirit works in us, prompting us to love with God’s love, we know Him better and love Him more.

So do you see why Jesus says that the second commandment is like the first? The two are intimately related. Each leads to the other. Indeed, these are so closely related that they are not distinct commands. We cannot truly fulfill one without fulfilling the other. There is a strong feedback relationship between the two.


So which is harder? Loving God or loving your neighbor?

Both are radical. Both are impossible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. But with the work of the Spirit, the two go side by side.

We will see this even more clearly next week as we consider the barriers to loving our neighbor, and see how these barriers are removed by our delighting in God, by our knowing and loving God.

For if we know God, we will trust Him.

If we love Him, we will want to be like Him

John Piper says:

There is a sense in which the second commandment (to love your neighbor) is the visible goal of the whole Word of God. It's not as though loving God is less important [than loving your neighbor]; rather loving God is made visible and manifest and full in our visibly, practically, sacrificially loving others.

So how will you do this? How will you make your love for God visible? How will you love your neighbor as yourself?

You won’t do this on your own power. You’ll just make a mess. But by knowing and loving God through the incarnation, through prayer, through His Word, by depending on the power of the Spirit within you, you will display the fruit of the Spirit in your life. And then you will ask, “Where, God?”

Pray those prayers.

And may we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength – and so love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 1/16/05. The John Piper quote is from his sermon of 4/30/95, which was very helpful in the preparation of this sermon. It is available at .

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