2008-10-12 (am) 1 John 4:7-21 God Is Love
The Belgic Confession, article 1 describes God in this way: “eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, good, and the overflowing source of all good.”
Now, it should be clear from all of creation, from our interactions with people who are created in God’s image, that God truly is the overflowing source of all good. That is, the very creation of the universe, the culmination of which was the creation of man and woman, is a direct result of God’s Goodness. His goodness is so good, that it overflowed into the creation of the world, so that His goodness would increase and be returned to Him from the goodness of His creation.
And this goodness, comes from God’s love.
When you hear the sentence, God is love, what do you think? What comes to mind? What kind of love, what definition of love do you employ? John says, in our passage this morning, that of all the attributes of God, his power, his justice, his grace, his mercy, the one that most completely defines him is love.
Now, when we see God’s love in creation, do we get a proper understanding of God’s love from it? And when God commands us to love him, and love one another, what does that love look like?
Mark Driscoll says a lot of Christians think of God in terms of Victorian Nicety, or Political Correctness. Indeed, one of my professors asked his Doctrine of God class to define God. One student replied, “God is nice.” The professor gave him what for. God is not nice, the professor said. Do you think the exiled Israelites would have described God as nice? Do you think a nice God would have sacrificed his own Son for a bunch of ungrateful, spiritually dead, sinners?
In some ways, we’re all guilty of misunderstanding God’s love. Some have emphasised God’s justice to the exclusion of God’s love, whereas others have emphasised God’s love to the exclusion of his justice.
Some examples. For the God is defined by his justice group, they emphasise right living, right worship, right reverence, that God deserves to be worshipped in a certain way, and that they have the answer for that way. God is portrayed as a stern task master, who can’t wait to institute corporal punishment on anyone who disobeys.
For the God is defined by his love group, they emphasise right attitude, right heart, right inner peace, that God can be worshipped in any and all ways, and that they won’t even begin to presume to define the proper way of worshipping God. God is portrayed as a loving being, which is reluctant to punish anyone, so he disciplines with nothing harsher than a wet noodle.
Now, the Reformed solution is, as always to find a healthy middle ground between these two groups. And that’s precisely what God reveals to us in this letter his servant John wrote.
God provides his own definition of his love in this passage and his definition of love includes his justice! Listen again to verses 9&10:
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This concept is demonstrated throughout the scriptures. God chose Noah, God chose Abraham, God chose the Israelites. God chose the judges, kings, prophets. God chose to send His Son. God’s Son chose His disciples. The disciples preached the truth, and God chose people to respond to His message. God chose us, that is why we’re here.
So, the first thing we learn from this passage is that God acted first. God came to those who had rejected Him. Here are two descriptions of the state of the world that are helpful. One comes from Genesis, just before the flood, and the other comes from Romans.
Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” And Romans 3:10b-18: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
That is the situation of the world. That was the condition of people. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way, “we have a natural tendency to hate God and our neighbour.”
God came down and took on human flesh to save people who didn’t love Him.
Think about that! Think about the reality of human sin, the stench, the awfulness of it all. The false religion, the false worship, the false humility.
Think about someone you really dislike. Maybe a bully at school, or someone who annoys you. Think about someone who might have really angered you, or upset you, or said something mean and derogatory. Someone whom you think is too high on themselves, or whatever. I’m sure we’ve all come into contact with someone like that. Think about that person. Then, in your mind, imagine doing what Christ did. Imagine giving up your life for them.
It is easier to imagine giving up our lives for those who appreciate it, or for those whom we like. But imagine being willing to face death for someone who is abusive towards you at your trial, who screams obscenities at you during your beatings, who mocks you while you’re being administered the death penalty. That’s a very tiny glimpse into what it was like for Christ.
And now, John’s next words are very difficult to listen to: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
John isn’t giving us some sort of propositional truth, or theological doctrine that is nice to hear, which we put onto a plaque, hang it on the wall and leave it there.
Honestly, quoting Joshua’s words, putting them on a plaque near your front door so that everyone who comes into your house is told, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Is a great thing to have, if it is true. It would be a silly thing to have if the only time you are remotely serving the Lord is when your bottom is parked on these benches.
John isn’t simply telling us a fact, a nice story, “God loved us and Jesus died for us as an atoning sacrifice, isn’t that nice?” Jesus is describing reality: Yes God loves us! Yes, Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for us! And we’re to die to ourselves, and sacrifice for each other.
This isn’t always happening. There are a few outstanding individuals in our congregation, one just went home to be with the Lord, who die to themselves and sacrifice for others. But there are some who do not do this.
There are some among us who are guilty of gossip and slander.
Gossip and slander are not something to brush aside, or sweep under the rug. If we allow ourselves to fall into the temptation to do it, and there’s a certain excitement about talking about someone behind his or her back, we’re guilty of sin. We’re not showing love to one another. We’re not showing humility.
If anyone is inclined toward gossip or slander, that person has to stop and say, “Is this communicating love toward another of God’s children?” A person hearing gossip or slander has the responsibility of stopping that person from speaking, and saying, “this sounds like gossip or slander. Have you talked to the individual in question? Have you brought this up with your elder? If your concern is with the church, have you taken it to council?
The harm of gossip or slander is this, one person, the offended person, turns to another person, not the one who offended them, and expresses righteous indignation about the situation. That’s fine, it is okay to share feelings. But rumours happen, slander happens when we start saying things about the other person to defame them. We jump to conclusions as to why they do these things. Slander happens when we paint ourselves in a better light than others, especially when we’ve been offended.
So how do we guard against slander? How do we guard against doing the wrong thing toward our neighbours? It would help us memorise and try to live out 1 Cor. 13:4-7.
In our passage, God tells us to love one another as He has loved us. Let’s use the Biblical definition of love, not the nice love, or politically correct understanding of love, in loving one another.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Not everyone here was a Aaron and Kaia’s wedding, so I’m going to repeat something of that message here.
Because God is love, we can substitute Jesus’ name where the word love appears.
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. He is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
So, those who are called to love as God loves should then be able to substitute themselves for the word love.
“Christians are patient, Christians are kind. They do not envy, they do not boast, they are not proud. They are not rude, they are not self-seeking, they are not easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs. Christians do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. They always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.”
And let’s strive for that as a congregation:
The Edson-Peers Christian Reformed Church is patient; the Edson-Peers Christian Reformed Church is kind. She does not envy, she does not boast, she is not proud. She is not rude, she is not self-seeking, she is not easily angered, she keeps no record of wrongs. The Edson-Peers Christian Reformed Church does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. She always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.