Three Levels of Love

Title: Three Levels of Love

Bible Book: 1 John 2 : 3-11

Author: J. Mike Minnix

Subject: Love; God's Love


Three Levels of Love

J. Mike Minnix

1 John 2:3-11

In the few verses before us, John uses the word “know” at least five times, and he does so with the idea of that word being presented even more often. The word “know” is used in 1 John alone over 25 times. The fact that John uses the word “know” so often tells you that God is concerned that you and I have a definite knowledge of our salvation and of Christ - the Savior. The word “know” means to experience, not just to have a set of facts in mind. The word is used, for example, of Mary when it is said of her that she was with child but had not “known” a man. This did not mean that she had no knowledge in her head of a man. Of course she knew many men in her family and community. She was even espoused to Joseph to be married. The passage meant that she had not had physical union with a man. Now I say this so you will get the picture and meaning of this word “know.” It is a powerful word in the Bible, often meaning far more in the text than in does in our common language today.

God desires that you know you are saved. He desires that you know Christ personally, not just in religious sense or having just heard about Him from others. John wrote about this in the passage before us and as he wrote John revealed something very important. He opened to us the flow or direction of God’s love in the life of true believers.

God’s love is not static. Look at Ephesians 4:16 ...

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

We are to grow in God's love. John’s concern is that we know we are saved, and that we go on in the love of God to maturity rather than sliding back into an old way of life.

Why do some people serve the Lord for many years only to fall away from service and worship later on? There must be many reasons but I believe our text today reveals that there is one root cause or element involved. To know this cause or element, is to be armed and warned regarding our own propensity to turn away from the Lord. Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). The songwriter penned,

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.”

The best of us can fall back from a faithful walk and work for God. We are warned, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)” If we are in danger of reversing our commitment, of backsliding on God, how can we avoid such a tragedy?

John points out in our text today that God’s love flows upward. Water normally flows downward, but God’s love flows from the least position of faithfulness to the greatest level of faithfulness and joy. If we would have stick-ability and tenacity in our Christian life, we must move in the flow of God’s love to the highest and holiest level.

One night a little boy fell out of bed. His father raced into the room to find the little guy crying and trying to climb back up into the bed. The father asked, “Son, what happened, why did you fall out of bed?” The little boy answered, “Daddy, I guess I went to sleep a little too close to where I got in.”

Many Christians get “into” Christ, but then they do not “go on” in Christ and progress to the place God has planned for them. Such Christians hibernate in a state of suspended animation on a spiritual and divine love level. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to say that they aren’t busy for the Lord. On the contrary, such a person may be very busy in God’s work and yet still be very far from what he or she is meant to be in regard to God's love. I mean to say that such aperson does not go on in the flow of God’s love to the deeper waters.

In Ezekiel 47 the prophet is shown a stream of water flowing that is ankle deep. Then the water grows and it is knee deep. Then it rises again till it is waist deep. At last it is deep enough to swim in. This is a good picture of the proper Christian life. If we stay near the shore in the ankle deep water we will eventually get out of the water all together. If we go on into the depths of God’s love, we will find a river in which to swim - a stream never ceasing. So let's look at John’s description of this flow of love.

I. The Obligation Level

The flow of God’s love begins with the acceptance of our obligations to obey God’s commandments. Now what does that mean? The lowest level of our relationship to Christ is the level of obligation. That is, we are going to do what He says whether we like it or not. We simply force our ego to submit to the Savior in order to be obedient. This is one of the signs that we belong to Him.

Think of an example of the lowest level of obedience. A father tells his son to cut the grass. The boy does not want to do it, but he belongs to his father, he knows the consequences will not be optimal if he does not do what he father has told him to do. So, the son obeys at the nadir point of obedience - at the lowest level of doing what one is told to do. He pouts about it, complains about it, and moans about it, but he does it. He is doing what he is obligated to do.

Everyone of us understands this feeling on a human level. In a home you have certain responsibilities which you may not like, but you do them just because you are part of the family and you realize your obligation. The lowest level of Christian service is to obey the commandments of God out of obligation. This is not altogether bad, in fact it may well be a proof that you belong to God. Your actions simply reveal that you belong to the family. But we can also say without equivocation that this is not the highest level of love. This is not the most noble reason for service.

When someone does something out of obligation, he or she is more likely to stop doing it at some point. A husband that does things for his wife out of obligation might be more easily led astray in his sexual and moral life. The same is true for a wife. There are times we don't feel like doing what we should, and devotion under those circumstances is necessary, however, when everything we do becomes obligation, we are moving toward failure. If that is where you are in your marriage, you need to stop and deal with it. The same is true in your spiritual life. If you only serve God because you feel an obligation, you are not living in the highest and best highest flow of divine love, and you are much more subject to drifting away. The proper place is to be in the deep, abiding love so that you are not simply movtivated by obligation.

That brings us to our second level in the flow of God’s love

II. The Motivation Level

Please note an obscure but important distinction in 1 John 2:5. Here John changes terms in a subtle but significant way. In verse 3 John spoke of obedience to the “commandments,” but in verse 5 he speaks of keeping the “Word” of the Lord. The term “Word” is vastly different in the Greek from the word “Command.” There is a powerful lesson here for serious Children of God. What is it?

Lets take our earlier human illustration as an example. Let us suppose that the same father in our grass-cutting story comes home one day and says to his wife, “Honey, I don’t know how I am going to get that grass cut. I have work to do this evening, and tomorrow I have that important meeting. If I wait till next week the house will look terrible. I know I don’t have time but it really needs to be done and it is really troubling me.” At that moment the teenage son is coming down the stairs from doing homework. He hears the conversation. Even though he has plans to go fishing with some friends, he quickly steps into the room and says, “Dad, don’t worry about that grass, I will cut it.” The father says, “But I thought you had plans?” The boy responds, “I did, but I can go fishing some other time; I will take care of the yard.”

Now I know that story doesn’t happen very often in most households, and that is just my point. It doesn’t happen in the household of God very often either. We usually end up begging people to take on the difficult tasks. Sometimes we have to shame people into serving, or we have to pull on their heartstrings.

Once, when we couldn't get enough workers in our church preschool care during worship, I actually brought a cute little child out in the service and made a plea for workers while holding up the baby. It worked! Simply asking for workers was not enough - we had to find a way to tug at the hearts of our members to get more workers. Can you imagine someone going to the preschool care leader and saying, "I've been thinking about you lately. I know you have a tough job. Do you by any chance need another worker during the worship services once or twice a month?" If that happened, we might have to take our preschool leader to the hospital, because she would likely faint right on the spot!

Look in the Bible at Isaiah, however, and you will see an example of a higher level of love for God. When God said, “Who can I send and who will go for us?” Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me.” God did not call Isaiah by name, rather Isaiah had just gotten close enough to the Lord to hear God's heartbeat and he was ready and willing to drop everything to do God’s will. Hallelujah! This is the second glorious level in the flow of God’s love.

We should be in such fellowship with Him that we hear His heartbeat and give ourselves to His purposes.

In Revelation 12:17 we read ...

“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring - those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”

Note that the devil went after those who obeyed His commandments and who held to the testimony (evidence that they hold to the Word) of Jesus. What am I saying? There is an enemy who will do everything to keep you from this higher level of service for Jesus. How does the devil go about keeping you from being motivated to service theLord?

  • He will seek to discourage you.
  • He will tempt you.
  • He will accuse you.
  • He will try to keep you busy with other things.
  • He will reveal that others are not doing it, and make you ask why you need to do it.

He will do all manner of things to keep you from enjoying your relationship with the Lord. Why? Because those who remain at the obligation level are much more likely to fall away from faithfulness to service and worship than those who serve the Lord through motivation. Those who move on to the motivation level are more likely to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

Marriage is no different. A husband who is motivated to love his wife will sense her needs. When a husband sees his wife pouting around the house, he will usually ask, "What's wrong?" When she replies curtly, "Nothing," you can be sure it is something, and it is likely something she wanted you to see without her having to tell you. Love in a marriage requires a closeness that recognizes the needs of the other party. It means that we care enough - that we are motivated enough - to know the need of our spouse without words be exchanged to share it. Those who love only on the level of obligation will almost always miss these cues. Keep love alive! When you do that, you maintain a motivated love-life that will result in sensing and knowing the need without being told. Husbands and wives have needs they don't like to advertise - they just want the one they love to care enough to be aware of it without being told.

I love the story of the man who was running from a bear. A man behind a fence saw it and yelled for the running man to speed up. The man yelled back, "I've got to jump and catch that high limb." The man behind the fence yelled, "You can't catch that limb." The running man jumped and missed the limb - but he caught it on the way down!"

Motivation got him higher than someone merely standing on the sidelines could imagine. It is a wonderful thing to witness love for Jesus at the motivation level rather than merely at the obligation level. When it comes to love at a higher plane, it is absolutely necessary to be fully motivated. It makes the difference in long term success.

Now let's think about the highest form in the flow of love.

III. The Demonstration Level

We come now to the highest level of service in the love of God. John says that those who claim to be His must walk as He walked. Now there is a challenge for you. Walk as Jesus walked.

  • In purity, He walked.
  • In compassion, He walked.
  • In love, He walked.
  • In sacrifice, He walked.
  • In abandonment of self, He walked.
  • In perfect submission, He walked.

He said, “I always do what pleases the Father.” He said, “Whatever the Father says, that I do.” He did not do these things out of obligation, or simply out of some forced motivation, but rather Jesus obeyed the Father in demonstration of the divine power of the Father. How do I know that? Listen to what He said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” He demonstrated the very nature of God. The fullness of the Godhead indwelt Him. He possessed the divine nature and He presented the divine nature.

Now I may be able to live in obligation. I may even be able to produce a measure of motivation. But in myself, I cannot produce the demonstration of the nature of God. Only God can do that through me. I am helpless to be like Jesus unless I get so near to Jesus that He can produce Himself through me.

John deals with this in one area, the area of brotherly love. He states clearly that we must love as Jesus loved.

How did Jesus love?

  • He loved even until death.
  • He loved those who did not understand Him.
  • He loved those who lacked faith.
  • He loved Peter when he sank in the water.
  • He loved Peter even when he denied Him on the night He was betrayed
  • He loved with a love that is from above.

To love like that we must have that love from above. It is not your love, it is His!

  • When I am living in Obligation, God is working ON me.
  • When I am living in Motivation, God is working IN me.
  • When I am living in Demonstration, God is working THROUGH me!

In order to love as we should, we must be filled with the Spirit of God. This requires a submission of self so that the Spirit can control us. When a person is filled with an earthly spirit, like alcohol, he is controlled by it. It changes his speech, his behavior, his attitude, and even his walk. That is exactly why Paul tells us not to be drunk with wine, which leads to excessive evil behavior, but to be filled with the Spirit of God. Paul was making a comparison. He wanted us to understand what it meant to be filled with the Spirit of God. It means to have God in control of our lives. Being filled with self will lead one to selfish behavior. Being filled with greed will lead one to desire earthly gain above all else. To be filled with ambition will lead one to put position above people. To be filled with lust will lead on to be filled with passions that only satisfy the body. But, to be filled with the Spirit of God will lead a person to love the way Jesus loved. Self, with all it's attending tendencies toward egotistical behavior is subjected to the will of God when the Spirit of God is in control.


Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” A church needs a love from above. We cannot succeed by living in obligation. I believe that is why many have fallen by the wayside. They never got beyond the legal level of serving God. You can serve in many positions in a church under obligation, and yet fall away. Why? Because you are not being empowered by a strength outside of yourself.

You can serve by motivation. But motivation is a tricky thing. Peter claimed one minute that he would never desert Christ - at that moment he was motivated. He claimed that he would go with Jesus to the death. The next minute he was a coward denying he that ever knew Jesus. What happened? Personal motivation failed him.

When you serve in demonstration, the power of God is at work - not just ON YOU, or IN YOU, but THROUGH YOU. At that point, you have yielded yourself to Him.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:2 ...

“Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

For us to live such a life, we must come to a point of total commitment to Him. This is not a commitment to the church, though that will be part of it. This is not a commitment to the law, though that will be a part of it. This is a commitment to HIM! To love Him. To know Him. To walk with Him. To have Him live out His life through us. This love will reveal itself in church, in the home and in every area of your life.

Paul wrote it like this ...

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

The greatest love every demonstrated was revealed in God's great gift of His Son for our salvation (John 3:16). He didn't just say He loved us, He gave the best heaven had to redeem us. Let our love be like His - or, as much like His as is humanly possible! Let's get in the flow of love by allowing the flow of His Spirit to fill us, control us and move us to demonstrate it in our everyday lives.

Someone here today has never accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. You can come to Him today because He loves you. He gave Himself for you! Turn from your sin, confess Him as your Lord and receive Him as your Savior.

There are others today who are redeemed, but you need to place self on the altar today and allow the Lord to fill and control you. Since we're very close to Valentine's Day, let me add a word for married couples. There are married couples today who need to take each other by the hand and come forward to renew your love. After years of marriage it is easy to take your partner for granted. Today is a good day to bow here and thank God for your spouse, and to renew your love before God. Ask Him to give you such an awareness of your spouses need that words will not always be necessary for a proper response to meet that need.

Extra Illustrations:

During the reign of Oliver Cromwell the British Empire ran into a shortage of currency. They desperately needed money in order to survive. Representatives were sent out to look for currency, or for silver that might be made into currency. None could be found, except in the statues of saints in the churches. When this was reported to Cromwell he said, “Let us melt down the saints and put them into circulation.” We need God's love to melt us down and put us into circulation today!


A farmer used to have a testimony that he was not making much progress but he was established. One day his wagon was stuck in the mud. A friend came by who had never been comfortable with the farmer’s testimony. The friend said, “Well, I see that you are not making much progress, but you must be happy because you are well established.”


Once a mother was having a hard time getting her son ready for school. “Nobody likes me at school,” he said, “and the teachers don’t like me and the kids don’t like me, and bus drivers don’t like me and the superintendent is threatening to kick me out.” His mother said, “You’ve got to go. You have a lot to learn. You have a lot to offer. Besides, you are 35 years old and you are the principal!”

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