Knowing God: Love

God is love – 1 John 4:7

“The God of the OT is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction:  jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Those words make my spirit cringe and wince.  I’m not angry at Richard Dawkins for saying those things, but rather I’m worried for his soul, because Jesus said, “Each man will have to give an account at Judgment for every careless word he has spoken.” 

Now while no Christian would ever subscribe to the demonically inspired rantings of Richard Dawkins on the character of God, many perhaps accidentally have a notion that the NT God is different than the OT God.  One of the great myths of the Bible is that the God of the OT is a hateful God whereas the NT God is a loving God.  There’s an idea in the heads of many that while not articulated or thought through carefully, does sort of resonate with Marcion, the ancient heretic, who thought the OT God was angry and the NT God was not.  While most would not go with Marcion into cutting the OT out of Scripture, still many sort of, kind of “feel” what he was “feeling”.  And if any of us “feel” that way we too would be dead wrong.

  • God is unchanging, or, immutable, which means God doesn’t change.  He is who He is eternally.  He doesn’t grow or improve because He is perfect.  He can be no more and no less perfect than He is.  All this means that God is who He is from the OT right on through the NT.  The angry God of the OT is also the angry God of the NT, and the loving God of the NT is also the loving God of the OT.  He doesn’t change even when the Testaments do!
  • It really is ignorance of the Bible that allows people to think this way.  Some people’s only information on the OT is that God wiped out the Canaanites – that and a cartoonish boat carrying animals in a flood and a guy getting swallowed by a whale.  But the only way to think that the God of the OT is “different” than the NT God, and that the OT is a mean and hateful and unloving God, would be to never read the OT.  As I said in a previous sermon on this point:  The God of the NT is just as angry towards evil as the OT because its the same God. And the God of the OT is just as loving as the God of the NT because its the same God.  There are 2 Testaments, but there is 1 God.  And both Testaments show us a loving God

Consider a small sampling of the OT testimony of God’s Love:

  • Turn to Exodus 33:5-6…When He showed Himself to Moses on Mt Sinai God simultaneously announced Himself to Moses and said
  • 1 Chronicles 16:34 proclaims the same words heard in numerous Psalms, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, His love endures forever”
  • Psalm 33:5 says, “The LORD loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of His unfailing love”
  • Psalm 86:5 says God “is abounding in love” and Psalm 25:6-7 prays, “Remember O LORD, your great love and mercy, for they are from old.”  That means the NT did not introduce the idea that God is a loving God.  The Psalmist’s prayer goes on in verse 6, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me for you are good, O LORD.”  Notice that God’s love means forgiveness and mercy towards us for our sins.  The OT is one long testimony of a Holy God’s love for sinners and out of that love His willingness and desire to forgive sins.
  • And in Psalm 23, probably only eclipsed by John 3:16 as the most famous or popular Bible passage, it says in verse 6, “surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.”  I love that in the Hebrew the word for “follow” means to chase, to hound, to pursue.  You could use the same word to describe the way animals hunt and chase down other animals.  Like a dog chasing a cat, or a cheetah in a high speed pursuit of a gazelle, or a lion bursting out of the grass to chase down a zebra, or a pack of wolves tirelessly on the heels of a fleeing deer.  The Psalmist is saying that God’s goodness will always be hunting you down.  His love will always be in hot pursuit of you.  You will never outrun either of them.  You will never be able to get away from the goodness and love of God. 
  • That’s the OT.  That’s just a sampling.  If you want more then go read it!

For now, we are getting on with our study of God’s attributes.  This week is God’s love.  God is loving.  As a matter of fact, the Bible says God is love (1 John 4:7).  God’s love means His goodness –  His divine, holy affection –  His omnibenevolence, His self-sacrificing will to do good to that and those which He loves.  To put it real plainly, God’s love means He wants good for us and He acts good toward us.  And He selflessly does it.  

But before we consider how God’s love is directed towards us, let us consider how God’s love is very real between the 3 Persons of the Trinity.  Remember the last two weeks we have seen in teh Bible that God is a Triune God:  1 God, 3 Persons.  They are 3 co-eternal, co-glorious, co-existing Divine Persons of the Godhead.  They are the 1 God.  And here’s the thing:  they love each other.  

  • The Son loves the Father.  Jesus said in John 14:31, “And the world must learn that I love the Father…”
  • Then there is the love the Father has for His Son, Jesus.  Remember at His baptism He spoke and said:  “You are my son, whom I love…”  And Jesus knew He was loved by His Father,  in John 15:9 He says:  “As my Father has loved me so I have loved you…” In Colossians 1:13, “For He [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.”  

I want to get hung up for a minute on the Father’s love for His Son.  How can we possibly understand this love the Father has for the Son?  There is nothing God created that He loves like He loves His eternal, uncreated Son.  To His Son He is giving all things. To His Son He will give a name higher than any other name.  To His Son He will make everything else bow down to. To His Son He carries in His heart the most powerful love in all existence:  the fullest most intense love of the most immense Being proceeding out towards that which He cherishes eternally, infinitely – His One and Only Begotten Son.  This is a love tracing all the way back into eternity past. God has been loving His Son forever.

Application:  Meditate on the intensity and immensity of God’s love for His Son.  We focus all the time today on “Gods love for us” and “sharing God’s love for people.”  Set ourselves aside a minute and ponder the love God has for His own Son – without us in the picture.  It is a marvelous mental and spiritual exercise to contemplate the extraordinary love that exists nowhere among men, and nowhere among angels.  I think in doing this 2 things will happen. First, we will understand more the way in which God loves us. Second, we will be more adequate to tell people of God’s love for them.  I dare say we really don’t know what we’re talking about when we do even now.

C.S. Lewis had a great quote here:  “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.”

Now, put that in your mind, and, grasping how much God the Father loves His Son, ask yourself this question:  “What was it that God gave up in order to save you for all eternity?”  The most famous verse in the Bible can answer that for us:  “For God so LOVED the world that He GAVE His one and only SON so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life.”  He gave up His own Son, His most precious, beloved treasure….to gain you.  

Application:  How could anyone resist the love of God in light of a sacrifice of such magnitude?  If God gave up His cherished and beloved Son for you, don’t you find your heart melted today for Christ?

Application:  Christian, what treasure will you give for Him?  What earthly gain compares? What indulgence of your flesh?  What sin do you keep? What do you hold on to and in holding on to it declare “This is more important to me than even God!”  

The love of God has been revolutionizing people’s lives since Adam & Eve.  You can be loved by parents, by friends, by your spouse, by the world, but nothing in the universe so melts a heart, so inspires absolute devotion, so lifts up the soul into intimacy with God, as the love of God.  God’s love, once tasted, once taken, once seen as it really is, leaves someone never the same again.  Romans 2 says it is that love of God expressed in His kindness that leads someone to repentance (Rom 2:4).  His love has been inspiring poetry, art, and hymns as long as men have been loved by Him

  • An overwhelmed Charles Wesley wrote:  “Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me?!”  Again in the same hymn he says, “He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace, emptied Himself of all but love…”

God’s Love in the New Testament

We could almost say “Of course the NT shows a loving God.”  And you know what?  Praise God for that.  It does.  We could turn to John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…”  Or we could turn to Revelation 3:9 where Jesus tells the church:  “I will make your enemies come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”  Or we could turn to to Ephesians 2:4 where Paul proclaims, “But because of His great love for us God who is rich in mercy made us alive in Christ…”   

Lets turn first, however, to Romans 5:6-8.  There is a contrast here.  On one hand it says that someone might say to themselves:  “I am willing to die for that guy because he is a fantastic person.  The world needs more people like him.  He is such a good and righteous person I would feel it is a noble thing to die for that guy.”  The verse says that someone somewhere might possibly think that and follow through with that kind of sacrifice.  But no one nowhere ever would die for a wretch.  No one nowhere would ever say to themselves, “That guy is a degenerate – I think I’ll take a bullet for him.”  No.  No.  Because usually – and I even heard this in the last few days from someone – usually people think that when an immoral or unethical person dies they “got what was coming to them” and “they won’t be missed.”  

BUT!  The text says that degenerate wretch is us!  We are the morally inferior sinners that the high and holy Jesus came and died for.  And that willingness of His to come down and die for us IS THE “DEMONSTRATION OF GOD’S LOVE FOR US”  

And notice it says, “while we were yet sinners”, meaning while we were going along in our sin, not turning from it, not interested in God, not making any effort to take up righteousness, powerless to save ourselves –  in other words:  “while we were yet sinners” – THAT’S WHEN CHRIST DIED FOR US.  God made that first move towards us.  God came to us with love, which is why 1 John 4 says, “We love because God first loved us.”  His love opens up our hearts to love Him.  

Second, turn to Romans 8:31-39.  A lot is going on here, but, did you see the 3 times God’s love was mentioned?  Here are 2 points to take from this passage.  First:  You are justified before God because God loves you.  In other words, the whole plan to send Jesus to die for you was the outworking of God’s love for you.  Second:  You will never be separated from God’s love.  Nothing – absolutely nothing – can cause God to stop loving you.  “If God is for us…” it says.  God is “for” us because God loves us.  Not because we’re so awesome, mind you.  But, because He loves us in Christ.

The Third passage is Ephesians 3:18-19 where Paul says, “I pray that you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge”

Fourth, and finally for today, lets turn to 1 John 4:7-18…

CONCLUSION:  a poem:  Belonged I

Belonged I, to this world

It’s god, its lusts, its vice

My heart for sin, so fertile

For all its appetites

Odious to all holy

My stench high above

Daily Him compelling

My every sin to judge

Holy God, His enemy

Satan I belonged

His evil will bent my knee

To with him make me wrong

But Holy God, and Holy Love

Looked upon my loss

His Son, left above

To that awful cross

Solely went He there

For wand’ring me to win

Me – me to spare!

My soul to gather in

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