The Origins of Our Love


1 John 4:7–11
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Back in the day (about 45 years ago!) we used to sing a song around the campfire that was a direct recitation of these verses. I cannot read these words without hearing that tune in my head and I’ve included a link so that you can hear it too! In fact, if you listen to this track just a few times, you’ll have 1 John 4:7&8 memorized and that is a great bonus. Teach the song to the children in your life and they’ll own these verses for life – a way to share the bonus!


As John discusses our ability to love others he acknowledges that this comes from the fact that God loved us first. He alone can enable true love for others. And with that acknowledgment comes the reason for God’s love. His Only Son, Jesus Christ is the “propitiation for our sins.” Without Jesus, there is no reason for God to share His love with us for we stand as guilty sinners before Him, unworthy of His love. But that word “propitiation” is huge.

Propitiation = means of forgiveness, an atoning sacrifice, expiation, propitiation, the remedy for defilement: expiation focuses on the means for the forgiveness of the sin, propitiation would focus on God’s view of satisfaction or favorable disposing.
Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

This word doesn’t get much play in the Bible but the few times that it is used are enormous in their impact. One of those times is in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

Luke 18:9-14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Only in Luke do we find this brilliant parable told by Jesus toward the end of His journey to Jerusalem. Again, the Pharisees are held up to their own standards of self-righteousness and compared to what true faith looks like; they come up wanting. This is another parable where a mental image comes quickly to mind as we witness the scene described by Jesus. Two men enter the temple during the time of prayer.

Implicit in the account is also a possible time framework, since Jesus tells us that the purpose of their going up was for prayer. Public prayer was permitted in the temple in the morning and the evening during the atonement sacrifice, which was made at 9 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. Private prayer could occur at any time. It is possible that the two men came to the temple at one of the two times set aside for corporate prayer, during which time it was customary for people to offer their own private prayers, specifically at the offering of incense after the morning or evening atonement sacrifices. Thus, these two figures may have come to the temple, the locale of God’s presence, precisely at the time of the atonement sacrifice, and atonement was the reason for the temple’s existence. This context would point to the promise of the sacrifice of the lamb, who would take away the sins of the people once and for all.
Just, A. A., Jr. (1997). Luke 9:51–24:53 (pp. 681–682). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

One man stands in the front for all to see. His prayer is not a conversation between himself and God. It is description of his self-declared worthiness to be called righteous. He begins from the negative. He is grateful not to even be a sinner and has the temerity to compare himself to another worshiper who has placed himself in the back. Then the Pharisee lists his righteous accomplishments. Note that in his two-sentence prayer, he uses the word “I” five times. This prayer isn’t about God or seeking righteousness. He already possesses righteousness as far as he’s concerned. He’s just there in the temple to announce that fact to the people around him. The Pharisee gives thanks to God for himself and not for the gifts God has given him. He petitions God for nothing since he needs nothing. He believes he is already perfect.

Now we come to the eloquently simple prayer of the tax collector. This man stands in the back of the room, out of the eyesight of everyone else. He is there for one reason and that is to offer up his acknowledged need for a Savior. His brief prayer (only 5 words in the Greek) expresses humility and repentance. He clearly sees himself and God in proper perspective. His physicality must also be noticed. He stands with eyes cast down and beats on his heart. Absolutely everything about this prayer is penitential and reverent. The tax collector and the Pharisee are at polar opposites of the spiritual spectrum.

The tax collector uses the word that jumps off the page in the Greek. The word that he chooses for “merciful” is huge but rare. It is our word for propitiation. It is found on only three other verses in the New Testament.

Hebrews 2:16–17
16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

1 John 4:10–11 (today's verses)
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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Romans 3:23–25
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

The noun is used in Romans 3:25, Hebrews 9:5, and 1 John 2:2; 4:10 clearly refers to the atonement sacrifice. Expiation and propitiation as English words must be combined with cleansing and reconciliation to give the meaning of the Hebrew kaffar, which lies behind the Greek hilaskomai. The tax collector is not offering a generalized prayer for God’s mercy. He specifically yearns for the benefits of an atonement” (that God be propitiated by the sacrifice).
Kenneth Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, 154

The tax collector is our model here because his heart is right with God. He knows his own sin and knows where to look for redemption. It is not to his own worth or efforts. It is to Jesus Christ that we all must look. Now John uses this word again here in 1 John 4 and it stands as our power source when it comes to loving others. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we have been purchased away from our sinful selves and are free to love God and others. While the concept seems fairly simple, it is huge in its impact on the way we live.

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