Full Text for CTM We Love Because He Loved Us First 23-12 (Text)

Concoll()ia Theological Monthly D.ECEMBER • 1952 ConcolZ()io Theological Monthly Published by The Lutheran Church -Missouri Synod EDITED BY THE FACULTY OF CONCORDIA SEMINAllY ST. LOUIS, Mo. Address all communications to the Editorial Committee in carB of the Managing Editor,P.E.Mayer,BOl De Mu" Ave., St.Louis 5, Mo. EDITORIAL COMMlTIEE VICTOR BARTLING, PAUL M. BRETSCHER, RICHARD R. CAEMMERER, THEODORE HoYER, FREDERICK E. MAYER, WALTER R. ROEHRS, LOUIS J. SIECK CONTENTS FOR DECEMBER 1952 PAGB PRESIDENT LOUIS J. SIECK, D. D. Richard R. Caemmerer 865 "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED Us FIRST." Victor Bwu Eanv. The very exhortation of John is an act of the agape which is of God. John has never ceased reclining at the breast of Agape Incarnate, and to his dying breath he invites his beloved children to join him at this Fountain of love and life and joy. "Let us be constantly loving one another; for love is of God" -not in the sense in which "every good and perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father" (James 1:17), but in the sense that "love is an expression of the very nature of God and, if we have it, it flows from Him and that in such a way that its connection with the source remains unbroken" (Westcott, The Epistles of John, p. 147). The love which John inculcates is not ordinary human love: not eros, the love of desire, not storge, the love of family affection, not philia, the sharing love of friendship, not philanthropia, a sentimental humanitarianism -all of which may be nourished from contaminated sources. Agape is grounded in God Himself, and where it is found in man, it is a sign of regeneration. "Love is of God, and everyone who loves [who prac­tices agape} has been born of God and remains His child [for so we may express the exact force of the perfect YEYEVVTj"WL} and, by the practice of love, gets to know God more and more [yLVCbaxEL, a progressive present}." Conversely (v. 8): "He who does not love 872 "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" didn't ever get to know God [oux EYVo) 'tOY l1Eov), for God is Love." To be a stranger to agape is to be a stranger to God. The reason for this fact is that God is Agape. Only the child of God, who is begotten of God and in love "partakes of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), is a true "Gnostic" who really knows God. '0 l1Eo~ aycbtl1 £ (j't[V. Note the absence of the article with ay(Xnl1· The terms, therefore, are not convertible (d. Robertson, Grammar, p. 768). It is not: Love is God; but God is Love. The first would be idolatry. The second is the sum of revealed theology. As Augus­tine says: "If nothing were said in praise of love throughout the pages of this Epistle, if nothing whatever throughout the other pages of Scripture, and this one thing only were all we were told by the voice of the Spirit of God, 'for God is Love,' nothing more ought we to require." God is love. Love isn't simply a quality that He possesses, but love embraces all that He is. I cannot resist quoting Luther's comment: "What more can one add to this? If one talks at length to the effect that love is a high and noble quality of the soul and the most precious and perfect virtue, as we find it stated in the disquisitions of philosophers -that is as nothing compared with what John pours forth from his lips as he says: 'God Himself is Love, His essence is nothing but pure love.' Hence, if we should desire to paint a picture or carve an image to repre­sent God, it would have to be a picture of pure love, to bring out the fact that the divine nature is, as it were, a furnace aglow with love that fills heaven and earth. Again, if one could paint a picture or carve a representation of love, true love, it would have to be a representation not of man and his working, nor even of angels and heaven, but a representation of God Himself. Behold, thus John depicts God that he makes of God and love one thing. His aim with this entrancing and artistic picture is to inspire and entice us to strive after true love toward one another." (St. Louis Edition, IX: 1682 f.) If, then, God is Love, who can know God except one who loves? Like is discerned by like. A theologian may spout forth much that is true about God, but if he lacks love, in spite of all his knowledge about God, he doesn't know God. This knowledge involves prac­tical sympathy and results in increasing assimilation to its Divine Object (d. 2:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" 873 John's great statement "God is Love" is not the conclusion of metaphysical speculation, nor does it rise from an unambiguous reading of God's nature in His created works or in His providence; it is based on a special act of God in the sphere of human history. Vv. 9,10: "In this was manifested among us the love of God, that His Son, the Only-Begotten, God has commissioned into the world that we might find life through Him. In this is love, not that we have come to love God, but that He loved us and commissioned His Son as the Propitiation for our sins." The Love which "was" eternally was made known in time -in the Incarnation. Indeed, the entire Heilsgeschichte reveals this love, but it bursts into fullest bloom in the coming of Him who is the only-begotten Son. Here is the supreme audio-visual education (see 1: 1-3; 4: 14) on the nature of God and the essence of His love. As John writes of this love, he reaches his sublimest height. Vv. 9 and 10 are gold pure and unadorned, enshrining the very heart of Christianity. Already in the previous chapter (3:16) the golden trumpet has announced this theme: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He [Christ} laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (d. 2: 2 ). In the present verses this theme is carried out in words that are the summit of all revelation. Every syllable is charged with meaning. V. 9 emphasizes the fact that God is Love and exhibits the proof of it; v. 10 lays stress on the nature of love itself, so manifested, viz., as being absolutely spon­taneous and self-determined. We may take both verses together and see five factors that contribute to the full conception of Divine Agape. In this analysis we follow the lead of Robert Law in his brilliant study of the theology of John's First Epistle, The Tests of Life, a book that can hardly be recommended too highly to the student of John, the substance of which is reproduced in Law's two articles in the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia ("Johannine Theology" and "John, the First Epistle"). First, the magnitude of God's Gift of Love is set forth: ,OV ULOV au,ou ,ov (.LOVOYEV~, "His Son, the Only-Begotten." The essence of the manifestation of God's love "among us" (taking EV ~(.Li:v with the verb E eyes of the mind and to behold the beauty, the imperishable, inconceivable beauty of the Good. For you will see it when you cannot say anything about it. For the knowledge of it is divine silence and annihilation of all senses. . .. Irradiating the whole mind, it shines upon the soul and draws it up from the body and changes it all into divine essence." Though this passage was written later than John, such ideas must have been current .in his days, and they are still current in modern theosophical systems. You will grant without envy that such gnosis is beyond your reach. With bold strokes John, the anti-Gnostic, drives home the truth that there is indeed the possibility of union with God, a union which is not absorption into God's being, but a fellowship of the personal God with us human persons. This fellowship is potentially established in the propitiation achieved by Agape and is actualized through knowledge of, and belief in, the love which God has mani­fested in Christ (v. 16 a). John indicates three tests of the reality of such union: love toward the brethren (vv.ll, 12), the gift of the Holy Spirit (v. 13), and faith in the Incarnation (vv. 14, 15). It must be noted that love and faith go together, like Siamese twins: if you have the one, you have the other; or better, like a mother and daughter who are inseparable. Faith in the love that God has toward us -because it is faith in love -necessarily begets love 878 "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" in the children of God. Faith is the channel by which God's love takes its abode in. the heart and activates love in those in whom it resides. We understand, therefore, how the Apostle can say in vv. 15 and 16, first, that "God abides in him and he in God" who confesses Jesus as God's Son"; then that "he abides in God, and God in him," who "abides in love." Hence, too, the remarkable conjunction of faith and love in the one "commandment" of 3: 23: "And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, even as He gave us commandment." We now want to look a little closer at vv. 11 and 12, which resume the initial exhortation of v. 7, on the basis of the reminder of the ineffable love of God manifested in the Incarnation and Atonement: "Beloved, if so [that is, both in such manner and to such high degree} God did love us, we also are bound [by sheer moral necessity} to love." Love begets love. But ,ve must notice the surprising statement with regard to the object of our love. John does not say, as we expect: "We are bound to love God"; he says: "We are bound to love one another." This is at once explained in v. 12: "God -no man has ever beheld Him; if we practice love toward one another, God abides in us, and His love is consummated in us." God is invisible, "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto" (1 Tim. 6:16). We cannot directly do Him any good. We can make no sacrifice for His immediate benefit. He who "giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17: 25) has no need of our help. We cannot give to Him, but can only receive from Him. We cannot, in short, love God after the same fashion in which He has loved us. Some theologians seem inclined to rule out an immediate love to God. They abstract a definition of agape from God's love to us, correctly defining His agape as uncaused and spontaneous. But then they ask, "How could our love to God possibly be uncaused and spontaneous?" Some go so far as cava­lierly to .criticize John for making God the immediate Object of man's love. He certainly does that (d. 4: 10 a; 5: 3 ). And so does Paul (d. Rom.8:28; 1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3). God Himself has com­manded us to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might (Deut. 6: 5 ). But now this love "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" 879 to God, in the very nature of the case, can be only that we let God be God; that as hwnble, contrite beggars we let God fill our hands; that we praise His holy name; and that we obey His will, even as John says in the next chapter (5: 3): "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." But though we cannot love God in the same way in which He has loved us, yet if we are "begotten of God," we have in us the same nature of love that He has manifested toward us in Christ. This is the precise point made from verse 7 on. And ample provision has been made by which this nature may be manifested and exercised in us. "Beloved, let us practice love toward one another" (v. 7 ). "Beloved, if God so did love us, we also are bound to love one another" (v. 11). Children partake of the nature of the father. God's children partake of His agape nature. God's children will love not merely the lovable, but will actively seek to help men irrespective of their merit or demerit, their attractiveness or their ugliness, will seek to lead them to the God of love, will bear the other's burden, dry the other's tears, forgive injuries, overcome evil with good, help those in need of help and hope for nothing in return; will, if needs be, like Christ, lay down life itself for the brethren (3: 16). "But whoso hath this world's goods and seeth his brother have need and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (3 : 1 7. ) "Beloved, let us practice love to one another," knowing this (v. 12): "God -no one has ever beheld Him. If we love one another, God [the Unseen] has His home in our heart [Ev Yjf!LV f!EVEL} , and His love is conswnmated in us [Yj uyanYl ulrrov L£'tEAELCll[J-EVYI EV ~f!LV Eonv]." There has been much discussion about the nature of the genitive in Yj uyanYl ulrrov (v. 12). Is it (and I think it is) the subjective genitive: God's love to us? Is it the objective genitive: our love to God? Is it the ablative genitive: the love which is from God or is bestowed by God? A plausible case may be made for any of the three. One may also argue that no distinction is to be made, that all three are meant. As Paul says (Rom. 5 : 5 ), "God's love to us is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost, who has been given to us," so the Agape-God Himself through the Spirit dwells in our hearts, working through us and at the same time inspiring true hwnan agape acts in us. I say "true human agape 880 "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" acts",· for does it not come close to pantheism to make God the exclusive Subject of our activity in love? That was the position of the Scholastic Peter of Lombard. Peter has had many successors to this day (see Viktor Warnach's recent study on Agape, Duesseldorf, 1951, p. 201). Is it the fear of the stigma of synergism that leads them to this position, or is it a basic pantheism, an idea of God like Hegel's God, who becomes conscious of Himself in man? However, in this debate on the nature of this particular genitive, we feel that the whole tenor of the passage suggests that it is a subjective geni­tive. "If we love one another, God has His home in our heart, and His Agape is consummated in us." The A. V. renders, "His Love is perfected in us." Accepting this rendering and understand­ing "perfected" in the usual meaning of "made perfect," some interpreters insist that the «,,.roil must be an objective genitive. So, for example, Plummer in his useful commentary on the Epistles of John says: "'His love to us' can hardly be meant: in what sense would our loving one another perfect that? . . . Our love to God is developed and perfected by our loving one another. We practice and strengthen our love of the Unseen by showing love to the seen." However, if we accept the genitive as subjective and understand John to be speaking of God's love to us, we need not interpret it like Plummer as suggesting that God's love is imperfect until made perfect by our love to the brethren, taking "perfect" in its ordinary meaning. The idea here is not that of qualitative perfection, but of effective perfection. Therefore we have rendered the word "consummated." Better still would be to trans­late: "His love has reached its goal." Compare the following pas­sages for this force of the verb: 2 Cor. 12:9 and Luke 13:32. That is 1.'E1.'EAELOlI-lEVOV which has reached its 'l:EAO;, which has run its full course. So the 1.'EAO; of God's love toward us is attained in our loving one another. The seed has its 'l:EAO; in the fruit. So the love of God has its fulfillment in reproducing itself in the character and conduct of His children. We may think of a triangle whose points are God, self, and the brother. Agape proceeds from God to us, from us to our brother, and through our brother back to God. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (Matt. 25 :40). Love's circuit is thus complete. "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" 881 III THE ACTIVITY OF LOVE (Vv. 19-21) The activity of agape is here presented in its working upon those who respond to it -first, as it operates negatively by casting out fear (vv. 17, 18), then as it works positively by fostering love in man to man ("lV. 19,21). The first part will be only translated. The two verses require a separate study, best undertaken by gather­ing together the entire teaching of the Epistle on the subject of assurance (naQQljaLa). The last three verses need but little dis­cussion, since they in typical Johannine fashion re-emphasize truths already stated. Vv. 17, 18: "In this 'agape' has reached its goal in our case [on this meaning of !lE'ta. see the passages cited in Preuschen-Bauer, 2d ed., 800], that [not final, but definitive tva] we possess boldness with respect to [on this use of EV see ibid., 405] the Day of Judg­ment; for as He [the Christ] is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in 'agape,' but the perfect 'agape' casts out fear; because fear has [within itself] punishment, but he that fears has not been made perfect in 'agape.''' The connection between this passage on fearless confidence toward God and the closing verses of the chapter has been well stated by C. H. Dodd (op. cit., p. 123): "The grounds of confidence on [translated above "with respect to"} Judgment Day have been so stated that they might seem to place too great a burden on the conscience of the diffident Christian, who asks himself, 'But do I love God enough to put fear aside?' To correct any such impres­sion the writer repeats what he said in v. 10. The love of which he speaks is essentially the love of God for us, and our love is only derivative.' 'We love because He loved us first.' . . . Thus, in facing the expectation of judgment to come, we find our real ground of assurance not in our love for God, but in His love for us -in the sending of His Son to be the expiation for our sins (v. 10) ; though it would be paradoxical if, being so persuaded of His love, we did not return it in a love for Him which excludes fear." "As for us/' says John in v. 19, "we love because He loved us first." The ayanW!lEv we take as indicative in contrast to 0 <po~ov­!lEVO~ in v. 19, and we follow the best texts in taking the indicative absolutely without any expressed object. If we have Agape, it has 882 "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" its source in God, and it will in its own way copy God's agape. We learn from Him to love with heart and mind, with soul and strength, to pour ourselves out in affection and service upon others. With the old servile fear of God cast out from the heart (v. 18), the old pride and self-seeking, too, must go. The initiative lies in the atoning love of God. There our agape begins. I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; It was not I that found, 0 Savior True, No, I was found of Thee. I find, I walk, I love; but, oh, the whole Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee; For Thou wast long aforehand with my soul, Always Thou lovest me. From this primal source a fresh stream of life and love flows into our shrunken veins; and if they threaten to shrink again, we must return to the living Spring. In the great indicatives aorist and perfect for the historical mani­festation of God's love in its abiding meaning for us lies the indicative present of our love, ayuJtWj.lEV. And that is our new life in Christ. The indicative of Christian dogmatics becomes the imperative and hortatory subjunctive of Christian ethics, bidding and exhorting us to apply the Heaven-bestowed agape in all our social relations, particularly in the Christian brotherhood. The social relations are, so to speak, the arteries through which the new life of love shall flow. That John in our Epistle confines our agape to the "brethren" is due to his polemic against the arrogant intel­lectualism of the Gnostics. Lovelessness and separatism lay in the very nature of the system. To counter any such tendencies in the Christian congregations under his Apostolic supervision, John drives home the lesson that "charity begins at home." Here, in the first place, the test must be made of the genuineness of the agape which Christians profess. It has often been pointed out that it seems easier to rouse our people to lend their aid and support to outsiders and to distant pagans than to their needy brethren right before their eyes, so that we, too, need John's reminder: "Charity begins at home." "WE LOVE BECAUSE HE LOVED US FIRST" 883 The case has never been put more vigorously than by John in v. 20, which repeats the argument of v. 12 with terrific force: "If anyone says, 'I love God' and hates his brother [and for John not to love means to hate], he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother whom he has before his eyes [Ec.OQ