February 15, 2009
Text: 1 John 4:7-21
Our world today has distorted the true meaning of love. Much of its distorted meaning and expression we learned from media. We hear songs like these and call it “love songs.” “How can something so wrong feel so right all along; catch me I’m falling for you.” “Bakit ngayon ka lang? Bakit ngayon kung kelan ang aking puso’y mayro’n nang laman. Sana’y nalaman ko na darating ka; di sana’y naghintay ako.” “Sana dalawa ang puso ko; di na sana nalilito kung sino sa inyo.” “Would you be my number two; me and number one are through.”
We saw two people meeting each other for the first time and going to bed together that same night, and they call it love; God calls it lust. We hear it when Adam and Steve (as my Christian Marriage professor used to say) decided to get married and raise a family, and they call it love; God calls it homosexuality. We justify a father working hard and not having enough time for his children, and we call it love; God calls it negligence of parental duty.
All of these distortions can be traced to our lack of knowledge of God. Non-believers do not know him at all. We believers say that we know him, but we still need to know him more if we are to be more loving toward God and toward other people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must not let TV, radio or the Internet influence the way we think about love. We must let the Bible, God’s very words, shape how we think about love. And this is what our passage says twice (v. 8 and v. 16), “God is love.”
What does “God is love” mean?
Notice that I have entitled this sermon “God is love” and not “Our God is a Loving God” like what I usually do throughout the series (e.g., “Our God is a Sovereign God”). The reason is because when we talk of the love of God, it is more than just describing him as “loving.” We can call God loving; and we can also call our wives loving. But I cannot say about my wife, “Jodi is love.” This is something that is true only of God.
Another reason is because John talks this way and did not say, “God is loving,” but “God is love.” In motivating Christians to more love for one another he appealed to the truth that God is love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love… 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
What does the phrase “God is love” mean? This statement is simple enough to be understood even by those who are still children in the faith, yet profound enough to exhaust the mind of scholars and theologians. Don A. Carson wrote a book entitled The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. The answer is not that simple. It is something we cannot comprehend completely. Tozer refers to trying to understand the love of God as “trying to take the ocean in your arms, or embrace the atmosphere, or rise to the stars.” It means that “love is an essential attribute of God’s being. It means that in God is the summation of all love, so that all love comes from God.” Piper notes that “Love was a necessary part of God’s nature from all eternity, even before there were any people or angels to love.”
We will not understand what it means to love apart from God. We cannot love God or others apart from God. We cannot love our wife or children or enemies apart from God. God is love.
I don’t know what your problems are right now. Maybe you are broken-hearted. Or you are having some marital problems. Or you are finding it hard to love someone at home or at church. But whatever it is, I want you to know that God is love. God wants us to see this necessary part of his being so that we will admire him for who he is and so that we will all be like him.
God wants us to see that “God is love” in four interconnected ways. So, where can we see that “God is love”?
1. That “God is love” is seen in God loving God.
Of all the things we need to talk about love, this must be primary. And it is not even God’s love for us, but God’s love for himself. God’s love for himself is his commitment to do all things necessary to bring glory to his own name and to the other persons in the Godhead. God loves us because he loves himself so much. If God is the most lovable being in the universe, then he must love himself. Where do I see that? Look at verses 9 and 10, 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. 10In 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.
But that is talking about God’s love for us? Yes, but we need to look closely. How is the love of God made manifest among us? “That God sent his only Son into the world…he loved us and sent his Son…” Jesus is God’s only Son. He is God’s beloved. Before there is a love relationship between God and man, there already exists a love relationship between God and God and God – God the Father and God the Son (and God the Holy Spirit, too). We must never think that God created us because he needs someone to love him or someone he can express his love. No, God is so satisfied with himself because love is in his being God. God is love.
This love, although self-directed, is also other-centered. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and this from all eternity. “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:20). “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (14:31). This relationship began even before the creation of the world (John 17:24). The Father is doing everything necessary to make his Son’s name known throughout all the world. The Son is doing everything necessary to make his Father look glorious by doing all that God commanded him.
We must think about God’s love for God himself before thinking about God’s love for us. This is not natural to us. We think that it doesn’t have anything to do with us. But it does. We will appreciate more the love God has for us if we will meditate on God’s love for God. Take time to think about it even in the midst of your busy schedule. Preparing this sermon helped me think of these things. I was waiting in the Director’s Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs for my passport renewal for more than three hours when I was thinking about this sermon. There is always time to think about the Father’s love for his Son. Make sure you make that appointment with him.
If you are still figuring it out how can God’s love for his Son has anything to do with you, consider this prayer of Jesus to his Father, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Jesus is praying that the same love the Father has for the Son will be in us. Can you think about that? God loving us as he loved Jesus! And here is where we also see that “God is love” – his love for us, his children.
2. That “God is love” is seen in God loving His children.
God’s love for us, which is an overflow of his love for his own name, is his commitment to do all things necessary to give to us what is deeply and infinitely satisfying – himself. Because of God’s love for his Son, he showed his love for us. In what way?
“God is love. 9In 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. 10In 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.“
God did not only send Jesus, he gave him to us (John 3:16). When you love someone, you give him or her a gift. The more precious the gift, the deeper and greater the expression of that love. God gave the most precious gift to us. It costs him a lot. This is not cheap love. This is extravagant love. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Would the richest man in the world give his one and only son for the terrorists in Afghanistan? No. But God gave his Son for unworthy sinners like you.
Why did God gave his most precious Son to us? What makes the gift of his Son to us the summit of his love? Look first at the purpose of Jesus’ coming: “that we might live through him.” We can live and have life because Jesus became “the propitiation for our sins.” It means that he became the sacrifice to take away the wrath of God’s judgment for our sins. God is angry because of our sins. But not anymore because of Jesus who died for us. Now we have life. And what is this eternal life? “And this is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
When we received Jesus, we now know God and experienced him. That is Jesus’ purpose – to bring us to God. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Because what we need really are not the things of this world but God himself. The gospel is good news because it brings God to us. That is the love of God.
When you are asked, “What are the evidences that God loves you?” what will your answer be? Because God gave you a good family? Because God gave you a good education? Because God healed you or miraculously provided your needs? Because God has forgiven your sins and you are going to heaven? Those are really acts of love from God. But when God wants us to see that “God is love” he is telling us that the reason is because he gave us his only beloved Son. By giving us his Son, he gave us himself. Heaven is no heaven without Christ. God is love. Amazing love, indeed.
When you want an evidence of God’s love for us, you don’t need to look anywhere but the cross of Christ. When you see Jesus on the cross, you can’t say to God anymore that he does not love you. You can’t say to him that you cannot love your brother. You cannot say to him that you can’t stay committed with your wife. You cannot say that you cannot forgive those who sinned against you. You cannot say that you cannot love God.
3. That “God is love” is seen in God being loved by His children.
Our love for God, which is a heartful response to God’s love for us, is our commitment to do all things necessary to give glory to his name. When we love God, we are testifying that God is love. When we love God, we are telling the whole world how deeply satisfying he is.
The point of verse 10 (In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.) is that God’s love for us is first before our love for him. “We love because he first loved us” (v. 19). Don’t ever say that God loves you because you love him. The reason we have the capacity to love him is because of his supernatural work in our hearts, through his Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Gal. 5:22).
No unbeliever can truly love God, eventhough he might do some loving acts toward God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). But all true believers love God. There are no exceptions. If you are a true believer, you are a God-lover. “Though you have not seen him, you love him” (1 Pet. 1:8).
If there are acts that betray your love for God, you testify that God is not worthy of your love. It is heart-breaking to see Christians disobey God’s clear commandments and sing “I love you, Lord” at the same time. As your brother in Christ and your pastor, it breaks my heart. That is why I will work with all my might to help make all of you God-lovers.
This month marks the sixth year since I began preaching in this pulpit. I cannot forget that time when I preached my first sermon. It was about the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sould and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5; cf. Matt. 22:37). Because God is love, the greatest commandment is to love him with all our heart. God has given us only one heart and that heart must be for him alone. Flirting with other gods like materialism, hedonism, greed, and pride is adultery.
What is competing with your devotion to God? If it is your work, answer this question, “Does your employer love you more than God does? If it is your “lover,” does he love you more than God does? Will he die on the cross for you? Love God for God is love.
4. That “God is love” is seen in God’s children loving one another.
We come now to what the apostle John, a pastor loving his flock, wants to say to the believers: “Beloved, let us love one another…” This love came from God. This is the necessary result of our new birth. “…for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (v. 7). No Christian is called to hate other Christians. If we are commanded to love our enemies, how much more our brothers and sisters in Christ. What is this love then that is a mark of a true child of God and an evidence that “God is love”? Our love for one another, which is an overflow of God’s love for us and an expression of our love for him, is our commitment to gladly give to others what will satisfy their needs.
Love for one another is an overflow of God’s love for us. We are so consumed by God’s love that it makes it impossible not to love others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). It does not say that because they are “loveable” you must love others. The reason is God’s love. Let the love of God overflow in your hearts so that you will love others also with the love that God has for you. How can you be committed to gladly give to others what will satisfy their needs if you have not experienced and are not convinced that God satisfied yours? Has God given you a gift? Why can’t you give a gift to others? Think about what will you give to others that they really need. When you do that, you are telling them that God is love. They will be able to see it.
Love for one another is an expression of our love for God. Whenever we have hatred against another Christian, we cannot claim that we love God that much. If I can say, hatred against a brother is hatred against God. “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (vv. 20-21). How can you sing to God, “Amazing love; how can it be that you my King would die for me,” when you are not willing to give your time, money, comforts, and even your own life to others?
A mother does not want her children quarelling. Do you suppose that we are making God happy by how we talk badly about other Christians? Does it make God look glorious when His children are fighting over money? God wants us to love one another because God is love. Think of someone you felt hatred before or you have found it hard to love. It is not just enough to forgive him and forget the animosity between the two of you. You must love, that is, do what you think is necessary to give him what he needs. Maybe both of you need to talk and have lunch together. Whatever it is, give it to him. Do something that will make him feel loved, not just by you, but by God. God is love.
If we want others to know that God is love, we need to say it out loud. Not just by words, but by our efforts to help them meet their needs, whatever it is. Robert Ripley tells of a story of love “made manifest by as great an expenditure of time and effort.”
The longest-and simplest-love letter ever written was the work of a Parisan painter named Marcel de Leclure in 1875. The addressed was Magdalene de Villalore, his aristocratic light of love. The missive contained the phrase “jevous aime” “I Love You” 1,875,000 times-a thousand times the calendar years of the date. The prodigious lover did not pen the letter with his own hand. He hired a scribe. A lazy type could have instructed the secretary: “Write the amatory sentence 1,875,000 times.” But Leclure was too entranced with the sound of the three words. He dictated it word for word and had the hired man repeat it verbatim. All in all therefore the phrase was uttered orally and in writing 5,625,000 times-before it reached its destination. Never was love made manifest by as great an expenditure of time and effort.
It is true that one can do what Leclure did even without really loving the person. But we must be aware that we cannot love without spending time and effort. Love requires motivation as well as action. We cannot love just by sitting and thinking and talking about it. So brothers and sisters, go and let us all love God and one another because God is love. He wants you to see that and listen how he is saying “I love you” a trillion times each day.
Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).