Lesson 7: Grace That Goes Before

I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole of love is but my answer, Lord to thee! For thou wert long beforehand with my soul; always thou lovedst me.

– United Methodist Hymnal, #341

Devotion: Read 1 John 4:7-21. Love is only possible because God first loves us. If we understand the act of creation as a sign of God’s grace that goes before us, this is especially true. There are many actions that express love. Some come naturally to us, but Jesus offered examples of love that are difficult for most to embody: love enemies; if someone asks you to walk a mile, walk two; lay down your lives; forgive seven times seventy; etc. What are examples of love that are difficult for you to offer? What are the easiest ways for you to express love? If loving others, in simple and difficult ways, is the criteria by which the people of God are judged, how is the Church doing? What is one way we/you might express “grace that goes before” to people who worry they have not earned it?

Personal Worship Option: In response to John’s call to love one another, find a way to express care and grace to someone today that you would not normally encounter. Make a phone call, write a note, go for a visit….all the while attempting to be aware of God’s presence and leadership in the activity. Explore how the presence of the Spirit changes your encounter.

Dig A Little Deeper:

Compare this passage to 1 John 1:5-10. Do these passages say the same thing in two different ways or are there differences? What is the difference between expressing God as light and love?

4:7 John’s goal is not only to confirm and celebrate how God’s love precedes our own but to encourage us to love one another. To experience love is to be inextricably drawn to sharing that love. How is this balance of receiving and giving love similar to the call to balance faith and works?

4:8 John makes the reverse claim as well: if we do not love, then surely we have not received love. He is asserting love is the essence and character of God. God creates to be in loving relationship with the created order. This desire is fulfilled in the incarnation of Jesus.  

4:9 Both the incarnation of God in Jesus and his crucifixion are signs of God’s love. That grace is not in reaction to our actions or belief; it is the foundation on which we stand and respond. Why do so many Christians continue to feel they must earn God’s love? What in our culture promotes such a belief?

4:12 Amazing—John states the invisible God is made visible through our love.

4:13 The assurance of God’s love is found in our awareness of the Spirit. This teaching is a continuation of Jesus’ basic teaching: the realm of God is at hand. Take note of the Trinitarian nature of these verses. The entry point of the Spirit is acknowledging Jesus as God’s Son.

4:17 How are you feeling about standing before God if we are judged according to the amount of Christ-like love we share with others?

4:18 How do you respond to John’s statement, “perfect love casts out fear.” Is all fear of pain (emotional, physical, etc.) a fear of punishment? What might be other possible fears which lead to a fear of pain?  

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