“God Is Love”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
Love is the most important concept in the Bible. If I had to pick a one-word summary of the Bible, it would be chesed, the Hebrew word that is translated in our Old Testaments as “lovingkindness”, “steadfast love”, or “faithful love”. If we do not understand love, we do not understand Christianity, and we cannot inherit eternal life.
It is not surprising, then, that of all the concepts in the Bible, love is the one that is most abused and distorted. Satan knows that if he can confuse people about love, he can keep them from following Christ. Thus, in our day, we see the word “love” applied to all sorts of sins. “Love is love,” people say, but what they really mean by that is, “This thing that I want to call loving is the same as the love that the Bible celebrates, so it’s just as righteous as Biblical love.”
This amounts, of course, to nothing more than rewriting the Bible to justify what we think is right. Rather than imposing our views on the word of God, we ought instead to be imposing the views of the word of God on ourselves. With this in mind, let’s consider what the Scriptures mean when they say, “God is love”.
Our text comes from 1 John 4, and it begins with THE COMMANDMENT TO LOVE. Look at 1 John 4:7-8. Notice that the confusion we talked about earlier reasonably can continue through most of these two verses. There are plenty of people who would take “Love one another” and reinterpret it to mean, “Accept the wickedness of others because I have applied the label of love to it.”
However, this reinterpretation comes to a screeching halt when we get to the last three words of v. 8, “God is love.” We don’t get to define love. God does. In fact, God is the definition of love. Once we accept this, love stops being this vague, nebulous concept and becomes something that we know a whole lot about because we know a whole lot about God.
We begin to learn about God through the physical creation. Our world has been marred by sin, but even in its flawed state, it still proclaims the love of God. Every time we look up at the stars or a majestic mountain range, we see the love of God. Every time we spend an evening laughing with family and friends, we feel the love of God. Every time we sit down to a good meal, we taste the love of God. God didn’t have to give us any of these experiences of beauty and joy, but He did because He is love, and love expresses itself in blessing others.
We learn still more about love by considering God in His word. His love is evident not only in the blessings He offers to the faithful, but in His hatred for sin. Sometimes people ask, “How could a loving God send sinners to hell?” Well, how could He not? Sin is selfish and evil. It is the very opposite of everything that God is, and it inflicts incalculable injury on others, whom God loves. If God does not punish sin, He must be indifferent to its nature and consequences, which is the very thing that a loving God cannot be.
However, punishment is not the only way that God addresses sin, which we see in THE EXAMPLE OF LOVE that He offers. Let’s continue reading in 1 John 4:9-10. Yes, a loving God will send sinners to hell, but He does not only send sinners to hell. Notice that John says that we don’t know love by our love for God, but rather by His love for us.
In other words, God loves us even when we don’t love Him. We are selfish. We are evil. We do nothing to deserve His love. Nonetheless, He loves us anyway.
Here, I think we find the answer to the biggest problem we have with love. It’s easy to love when others love us and treat us as we think they should. It’s much harder when they don’t. How do we love when our spouse is a jerk to us? How do we love when brethren slander and mistreat us? How do we love our enemies when they are, well, being our enemies? We continue to love in all these situations because we have learned from God’s example.
This love is revealed in two main ways. First, He sent Jesus to live among us to show us what a perfectly loving human being looks like. Notice that Jesus’ version of love doesn’t look like the world’s version either. He spent a whole lot of time harshly condemning sin and sinners. He talked more about hell than any other figure in the Bible. Those things came from His great love just as much as His healing the sick did.
Second, Jesus didn’t merely live among us. He died among us, not because He deserved to die, but because we did. Jesus surrendered His life, and God surrendered His Son. This shows the lengths to which love is willing to go. Love doesn’t merely serve others when serving is costless. Love is willing to serve even at the cost of tremendous self-sacrifice. If we aren’t giving ourselves up for others and for God, we aren’t loving.
Finally, John urges us toward THE PERFECTION OF LOVE. Consider 1 John 4:11-13. John is very precise with his words here. He doesn’t merely say, “If God loved us”. He says, “If God so loved us”. In other words, if God loved us in this way, we need to love one another in the same way.
God doesn’t only define what love is. He defines how we ought to be loving. This includes not only the parts of God that we find palatable—His kindness and concern for others—but also the parts of Him that we don’t appreciate—His self-sacrifice and hatred for sin.
This is challenging for any of us, but when we succeed, we do something amazing. We reveal that God abides in us and that His love is perfected in us. Because God loves us, His highest goal is to teach us to love like Him. When you get right down to it, isn’t that what every Christian parent wants for their children, for them to learn to love like God does? When we embrace His love ourselves, we truly become His children.
That’s the goal, but it’s easy to get off track. There are millions who believe that they are walking in the love of God who are not. That’s a disastrous delusion, and we must avoid it.
John tells us that we can know that God and His love abide in us because He has given us His Spirit. Sadly, some mistake their intuition for the prompting of the Spirit. I know a brother whose wife left him because she believed the Spirit was leading her to run off with another man. She was being led, all right, but it didn’t have anything to do with God!
Instead, we allow the Spirit to lead us when we seek guidance from the inspired word of God. Then, the Spirit transforms us by the renewing of our minds so that we become different people. With enough study, we train our conscience and no longer need a Bible with us to know what the Spirit wants us to do. If we need to, we always can return to the word and check to make sure that we still are walking in love.