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God is Love
1 John 4:7-12
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
The Beatles sang, “All you need is love, love, love is all you need.” Back in August 1967, that was the number one hit song in the USA.
Amazon.com currently (as of 02/17/05) lists 54,923 books with the word "love" in the title. I did a search on Google for the word “love,” I got back 166 million responses. Obviously, love is very important to our culture, but equally obviously our culture has a poor understanding of love. Watch TV, check the internet, scan through magazines, and you realize that by and large most people do not know what love is.
Love is about relationships, and to really understand love, we need to think about the greatest possible relationship for a human being, a relationship with God.
Our world is a world of contracts and conditions. Contracts basically say, “I will do this, if you do that.” They are conditional commitments. If any of the conditions are not met, the commitment is off. That is the way most people think about relationships. But that is not the kind of relationship God has with us. God’s relationship with us is unconditional love.
God sets no limits on his love; God does not love by rule or statue; God does not love piecemeal or conditionally; God loves totally and completely, and that total love opens God up to be hurt or rejected. C.S. Lewis says, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” [C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 169]. But God loves each of us with an infinite and perfect love. Can you imagine then how it breaks his heart when we refuse him or fail to walk his way.
We see the anguish of God in the words of Jesus when he sees Jerusalem for the last time. He say, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (MT 23:37).
God took an incredible risk in creating us with the freedom to accept or reject his offer of relationship. God is so wildly in love with us that he was willing to risk rejection rather than attempt to coerce us into loving and obeying him. God did not program us to love him without question. God created us with the freedom to say, “no.” God created us with free will so that we would have the possibility of a genuine, loving relationship with him. If we were forced to obey God, forced to go to heaven or hell, we would just be robots. We would be worse than slaves because a slave can at least think his own thoughts. But God does not want robots or slaves, God wants a free people freely worshipping him. God wants real relationships, relaltionships not based on coercion and manipulation, but based on mutual love and respect.
And that means that God must face the real possibility of rejection. There is an old song written Allan Roberts & Doris Fisher and first recorded, I think, by The Mills Brothers in 1944 that says,
You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can't recall.
That is the “downside” of love. You can get hurt. You are vulnerable. We see the extent of the vulnerability of God’s love in Jesus dying for us on the cross. Jesus opened up himself in love, and suffered horrible for his openness. He knew what the cross would mean for him. He knew he faced pain and agony and death, and yet he considered the value of his own life as nothing compared to the risk of losing us.
But we should not fall into error here. To say that "God is love" does not mean that "love is God." Love does not define God, God defines love. The verses we have today from I John indicate three aspects of God’s love.
First, the love of God is personal.
God's love is the motive behind creation. Ps. 119:64 says “The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love.” The psalmist saw God's love in the meadows, the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the flowers, the birds. He saw God's love everywhere. Why is there a universe? Why are all things here? God created out of love, because of love.
God’s love is the great universal law, but this universal law is a personal, intimate thing for you and me. The universal law is that God loves us. That means that everyone of us is important to God. This means every person matters. You matter, I matter. A philosopher might say that it makes no sense to suppose that you and I matter to the creative power of the universe. This is where I part company with philosophy. I thank God for the revelation of Scripture that God loves us.
In Luke 12: 6-7, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus is teaching us about how much God cares for us. If God notices and cares for every bird, how much more does God notice and care for us. God loves us so much that God knows every hair on our heads.
Now, I know that some of us have a few more hairs that others, but the message remains the same: God loves you so much that he knows everything about you. God’s love for us is personal. Jesus reminded us of this when he said, in John 10:14-15, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus’ illustration here loses something for us because modern American seldom see either sheep or shepherds. But in Jesus time everyone knew about shepherding, and one of the outstanding characteristics of good shepherds was that they knew each one of their sheep by sight and by name. And so Jesus says, "I know My own." God knows you and loves you. That is great news.
The second aspect of God’s love is that it preserves us. It keeps us safe. In this God’s love is like that of a mother. Speaking through the prophet Hosea (11:4) God says, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” That is a great and gentle picture of God’s motherly love.
In Isaiah 49:15, God says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” A human mother may sometimes forget her child, but God will never forget. God will never forget you.
George Matheson was only fifteen when he was told that he was losing what little eyesight he had. Matheson immediately enrolled in the University of Glasgow, and graduated at age nineteen. But as he pursued graduate studies in theology for the Christian ministry he completely lost his sight. His sister assisted him in his studies.
But his fiancée, unwilling to be married to a blind man, broke their engagement. He never married, and the pain of that rejection never totally left him. Years later, when he was a well-known preacher in Scotland, his sister married. George Matheson rejoiced with her and her husband, but his mind went back to his own heartache. He consoled himself in thinking of God’s love that is never limited, never conditional, never withdrawn, and never uncertain. Out of this experience he wrote the hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” (The Hymnbook, #400).
O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths it flow
May richer, fuller be.
God’s love is truly a love in which we can rest our weary souls. Ps. 36:7-9 says: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
The third aspect of God’s love is that it is proved. God’s love for us was revealed through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Love is not about entirely about how we feel. Love is what we do. Love requires actions; Love is demonstrated through behavior.
A traveler fell into a deep pit and could not get out. Several persons came along and saw him struggling in the pit. The sensitive person said, "I feel for you down there." The philosopher said, "It is logical that given that the pit was there, someone would fall into the pit." The judgmental person said, "Only bad people fall into the pit." The curious person said, "Tell me how you fell into the pit." The perfectionist said, "You deserve to be in the pit." The self-pitying person said, "My pit is deeper than yours." The optimist said, "Cheer up! Things could be worse." The pessimist said, "Things will get worse." But, Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the miserable pit.
I do not know the source for that story, but the point is that Jesus proved the love of God.
It does not do any good to talk about love and compassion without demonstrating it. God has demonstrated his love.
That leads us to the conclusion that God calls us to prove our love. God calls us to demonstrate our love in our actions.
V12 tells us how to prove our love for God. It says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” How is God’s love perfected in us? By loving one another. Not by saying we love one another, but by our actions of love.
Father Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Priest who was arrested by the Nazis during World War II for harboring Jewish refugees and distributing anti-Nazi publications. On 28 May 1941 he was transferred to Auschwitz. His calm dedication to the faith brought him the worst jobs available, and more beatings than anyone else. On one occasion, he was beaten up so badly, he was left for dead. The prisoners managed to smuggle him into the camp hospital where he spent his recovery time hearing confessions. When he returned to the camp, Maximilian ministered to other prisoners, including conducting Mass and delivering communion using smuggled bread and wine. In July 1941, there was an escape from the camp. The Nazis decreed that ten prisoners would be executed for every prisoner that escaped. Francis Gajowniczek, a married man with young children, was chosen as one of those designed for execution. Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place. At first, the Nazis tried to starve him to death, but when that took too long, they gave him an injection and killed him. Pope John Paul II canonized Maximilian Kolbe as a saint of the Roman Catholic church and a "martyr of charity" in 1982.
I have wondered what he was thinking when he volunteered to take a condemned man’s place. Why did he do it? Because God lived in Maximilian Kolbe. Saint Maximilian demonstrated that by his actions. He gave his life for Francis Gajowniczek. But more than that. Many times in Auschwitz, he proved his love for others. Indeed, he was in Auschwitz in the first place because the love of God was perfected in him.
Now I fervently hope that none of us will ever be in a concentration camp. But we are all still called to be demonstrators of God’s love. We have received God’s love; therefore, we have God’s love to give. When we love others, we prove that we have God’s love to give. We show that we belong to God. Where God is, love is. If God dwells in us, love dwells in us. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 5/17/05