Anyone observing young children soon realizes how much they imitate their parents when they play. This is especially noticeable when little girls play “house.” From the time they are old enough to have a doll, most girls begin carrying it everywhere, caring for the doll by feeding it and putting it to bed — all in preparation for the day when they will be mothers with children.
If such imitation is essential to a child’s growth to maturity, it is not surprising that it is also essential to spiritual growth, since we bear God’s image (Gen. 1:27). In fact, we can summarize the process of sanctification with the imperative “imitate God” (see Eph. 5:1). Today’s passage supports this thesis by stating “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11; see also 3:16).
In telling us we ought to do this, John is clearly arguing there can be no substitute for loving one another. God, by His Spirit, dwells in all Christians (3:24b) and works in us to “will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). If He is love (1 John 4:8), He is necessarily working in us to make us reflect His own loving character. If we really know God, we will really love one another.
In John’s day many claimed to have seen God (perhaps in visions) without loving their brethren. Such claims are also made today. But verse 12 tells us this is impossible. In the first place, no one has ever seen God. True, God has revealed Himself partly in theophanies, and Moses even saw His “back” (Ex. 33:12–23). However, no one has ever seen God as He is in Himself — as He is in His own being.
While no one has seen God, His presence is discernible among us when we love one another. By loving others it is clear God abides in us, and, moreover, His love is perfected in us (1 John 4:12). This means that as we love one another, God’s love reaches its full effect in and among our lives; it does not suggest that He is perfected or that His love is lacking. His love efficaciously operates in the lives of all believers, for He dwells in us. However, we demonstrate this love is operative by submitting ourselves to it, seeking to love one another as we work out our sanctification (Phil. 2:12–13).
That we can help make God’s love reach its full effect by endeavoring to love one another is just another way the New Testament stresses our role in sanctification. Though we do not play a role in our regeneration, we are called to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification. Are you doing what you can to love others or do you ignore this command? Work at perfecting God’s love in your life today by doing a favor for another Christian.