Imagine John, the last of the apostles, now an old man in his 80s, and close to death. He has not lost the wonder of God’s undeserved love; it still fills him with amazement. He says: ‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us…’ (1 John 3:1).
It is years since John walked in Galilee and Jerusalem with God the Son, and stood at the cross and saw the empty tomb. Nevertheless, he is still overcome with wonder as he thinks about God’s love.
Christians are loved by God
This love is a divine gift
The Father bestows it on us. He loves the undeserving. We merit hell; he gives us heaven. We cannot buy or earn this love.
This love is an amazing gift
‘Behold what manner of love’. The Amplified Bible translates the word ‘manner’ as ‘an incredible quality of love’. It is indeed amazing that the holy God loves unworthy sinners.
Paul prays that the Ephesians will understand ‘what is the width and length and depth and height’ of ‘the love of Christ, which passes knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:18-19). We know something of this love now, but there are depths beyond our comprehension.
This love is a generous gift
‘What great love the Father has lavished on us’ (NIV). It is like a waterfall that keeps flowing and flowing.
God’s love is greater than our sin. He will forgive every penitent sinner who comes to him; no sinner is too wicked for him to forgive. His pardon of contrite David is an example of his lavish love (Psalm 51). ‘God delights in mercy’ is a theme that runs through the Bible (e.g. Micah 7:18-20).
This love is an eternal gift
It is clear from Romans 8:28-39 and Ephesians 1:3-6 that God loved us before time. He will love us in time and beyond time. He will love us forever. The Amplified Bible expands the word ‘foreknew’ in Romans 8:29 as ‘of whom he was aware and loved beforehand’.
The purpose of God’s choice was that those he loved ‘should be holy and blameless’ (Ephesians 1:4). He chose us not because of foreseen merit.
The evidence of election is holy living. We live to please God rather than ourselves. We love him who first loved us (1 John 4:19).
This love is displayed at the cross
This is clear from the famous John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’.
John echoes these words in: ‘In this was the love of God manifested [displayed] toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:9-10).
The word ‘begotten’ indicates the uniqueness of his eternal Son. He could give no greater gift. ‘Propitiation’ signifies that God’s wrath fell on Christ when he bore our sins on the cross. No wonder the apostle exclaims, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us’.
Christians are children of God
It is because of God’s love that we are ‘called children of God’ (1 John 3:1). John Calvin comments, ‘It is God who with his own mouth declares us to be his sons’. The holy and almighty God calls us his children! This means that he will never disown his children, even when they are sinful. Though they aim not to sin, there is an Advocate in heaven when they do (1 John 2:1).
The fact that we are God’s children also means that he will own us on Judgment Day. To quote Isaac Watts, ‘Then will he own my worthless name before his Father’s face’.
Furthermore, ‘Now we are children of God’ (1 John 2:2). We are to remember this in trials and temptations. We have God’s love and approval now; we already enjoy all the rights and privileges of being his children.
To know that we are God’s children results in assurance. The aged John wrote his letter for this very purpose: ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God’ (1 John 5:13).
To believe — trusting in Christ for salvation — issues in our love for God and awareness of God’s love for us. The verb ‘continue’ reminds us that perseverance is the outcome and evidence of genuine faith in, and love for, Christ.
Unbelievers cannot fathom this special relationship that Christians have with God; ‘the world does not know us’ (verse 1). It treats us with ridicule and contempt. It does not grasp the nature of the relationship between God and his children.
Many non-Christians assume that everyone is a child of God and, therefore, all will enter heaven. People did not understand Christ; ‘it knew him not’. They did not realise that he was God in human flesh, who came into this world to die for sinners. Therefore, it is not surprising that they do not understand his followers!
Are you a child of God? Then you will want to talk to the Lord, love him, trust him, obey him and tell others about him. If you are a sincere child of God, you will share John’s sentiment, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us’.
Christians will see God
One day Christ will be revealed. Then ‘we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2). To be ‘like him’ will be the fulfilment of Romans 8:29, ‘predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son’.
‘We shall see him’. Our finite minds cannot perceive what it will mean to see God. When Moses desired to see God, he saw only his back (Exodus 33:18-23); we will see his face (Revelation 22:4). We will live forever with God, with sinless souls in glorified bodies. But, even in heaven, God will always be far greater than we can ever understand.
The opening verses of 1 John 3 are so wonderful that we could easily overlook two words in verse 2: ‘we know’. How do we know? Because God, who never lies, has spoken in his Word, and we believe what he says!
We ought often to read Scriptures like: 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12; Revelation 4-5 and 7:9-17. Reading such passages will stimulate a desire for the Saviour’s coming.
They encourage believers that God has planned a wonderful future for us. But they will fill unbelievers with terror, since eternal separation from God is an awful prospect.
So 1 John 3:1 tells us that we are God’s children; 1 John 3:2 tells us that we shall be like God, and 1 John 3:3 tells what we should do now. We are to keep ourselves clean in a dirty world. Knowing that Christ is coming, we purify ourselves, so that we are ready when he comes.
John MacArthur explains ‘hope’ (verse 3) this way: ‘Hope [is like] turning on a blazing light in a dark place. It immediately illuminates one’s outlook, uplifts the soul and produces joy in the heart. Hope introduces life and happiness into this sin-stained and death-filled world’.
The greatest wonder
‘If ever I reach heaven I expect to find three wonders: first, to meet some I had not thought to be there; second, to miss some I had thought to meet there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there’ (John Newton). In heaven we will echo the apostle John’s words, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us’. Eternity will be too short to praise God for his matchless love!
Stan K. Evers served for many years a pastor of Potton Baptist Church, and also as editor of Grace Magazine.