I John 3:1,2
I have a couple of cards that I have received recently from my family. Each of these cards says “I love you.” I have received these kind of cards for years and each year, they say, “I love you.” I know that my wife, mother, children love me, but I still love to hear it each time I am told.
Today I would like to remind you again of something that you know. I want to tell you again that you are loved by God. We know that we are loved by God, but it is great to hear it once in a while. In fact, it is more than nice to hear it, it is terribly important to know and be reminded that we are loved by God.
I have heard of research which has been done on babies. It sounds like very cruel research. A group of children who, I believe, were in an orphanage were treated differently. One group was held, talked to and loved. The other was ignored. The results were startling. It was evident quickly that the children who were ignored soon despaired while the other children thrived. The research revealed just how important it is that we know that we are loved.
But we do not always feel loved. People do not always love us. Man’s inhumanity to man is legendary. All over the world people are terribly cruel to each other. We have heard of the civil wars in Congo. Apparently, in that country, you can’t trust your neighbor. If they are from another tribe, they may just as well kill you as help you. But the violent places in the world are not the only places where people don’t love each other. Even in Christian churches, there are terrible stories of people being ignored, marginalized and even hated. I have heard of one person deliberately sitting on the other side of the church from a person that they didn’t like. We can’t count on the love of people, even though we should be able to and need to learn to, something I want to talk about next week. Since we can’t count on the love of people, it is important to know that we can count on the love of God.
A few years ago we heard that a friend of ours was lost. He had gone hunting up north with his brother and a friend. They did not return when they were expected and it took a few days before the bodies of our friend and his friend were found. Only our friends brother survived. When we resigned from our last position, we had no place to go for a while. We thought that we should easily find a church, but we had to wait seven months. It was hard to wait and we didn’t understand why it took so long. Perhaps you are experiencing a difficulty in life that you find hard to face and perhaps you don’t understand why it is happening or even why God is letting you go through the difficulty. Because life sometimes obscures the evidence of God’s love, we need to be reminded that we are loved by God.
Satan is an enemy who is doing all he can to destroy faith. When intellectual challenges or physical trials or emotional defeats plague us, it is the enemy shouting into our ear - “there is no hope, all is lost, God doesn’t care about you!” Because of the attacks of the enemy, we need to be reminded that we are loved by God.
Today, I want to assure you from the bottom of my heart, with the power of God’s truth behind me and in tune with the Spirit of God that you are loved. God loves you deeply. Please look at I John 3:1,2. Are you loved? Look at what it says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!” The phrase, “how great” can be translated “of what sort” but actually means “of what country.” In other words, God loves us with a love so unearthly that we have not encountered it anywhere else. It is a love that is unknown in this world apart from God’s revelation.
That otherworldly love has been lavished on us. I will never forget the way one preacher described lavished. He brought to mind the image of a cream pie. Sometimes when you get a chocolate cream pie or a banana cream pie, they will put a dollop of whipped cream on it. On the other hand, sometimes, you get one of these pies and the whipped cream is piled on so much that it overflows the edges, is running down the sides and falling off the end. That is what lavished means and that is how God has given his love to us, not in a stingy way, but as a generous gift.
In these verses, we also are called “beloved.” Some translations have “dear friends,” but I prefer “beloved” because it once again communicates this blessed privilege that is ours - to know that we are loved. This term is used 7 times in this short book of I John.
God has a great love for us! What is the demonstration of this love?
John says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Then in the next verse we hear the same message again, “Beloved, now we are children of God.”
We have some friends who are very generous and welcoming hosts. There is a young fellow in their community who has a bit of a mental handicap. This young fellow has adopted our friends as his family. He is often at their place. He sometimes helps with work, he shows up for meals, he goes places with them and even shows up at Christmas. They welcome him and he is almost a part of their family. But there are limits. There are times when he is not welcome. There are times when it is only their children who are there, and he is not. That is what it means to be family. As much as we may belong to a group or have good friends, there is a special place for family. To be a part of a family means that you don’t have to make an appointment to come over, you are always welcome. To be a part of family means that it is assumed that when special family events happen, you will be there. To be a part of family means that we can say things to each other that would be unacceptable elsewhere. It means that we are accepted even when we do stupid things.
God’s great love for us is demonstrated in that we are His children.
We become children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. Although all people on earth are created by God and in that sense God is their Father, there is a different sense in which we are children of God. Because of the rebellion of sin, we have all become prodigal sons, but God has invited us back.
In The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird writes: I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.
When schoolmates asked, "What happened to your lip?" I'd tell them I'd fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.
There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored--Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy--a sparkling lady. Annually we had a hearing test. ... Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back--things like "The sky is blue" or "Do you have new shoes?"
I waited and heard words that God must have put into her mouth, seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, "I wish you were my little girl." God says to every person deformed by sin, "I wish you were my son" or "I wish you were my daughter." -- Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.
John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
What is it like to be children of God? I have an aunt who was single most of her life and got married when she was in her 40’s. She got married to a widower who had a family. Some of his children were married, one son was still at home. Whenever we have family gatherings, some of those children will come. We get along OK with them and they are nice people, but they are not the same as the cousins who were born into the family. We have not invited them to weddings and I don’t expect that they have wanted to be a part of these things, because they are not fully a part of the family.
There are several Greek words for children which emphasize different aspects of the relationship. The one used here stresses the natural genetic relationship. It emphasizes that we have been born of God and that God’s seed resides in us. It is not a formal relationship, it is not a legal relationship. It is a family relationship, a desired relationship, an inclusive relationship.
Bill Hybels writes, “My dad was a very busy man who traveled all over the world. In order to get him at work, you had to go through a switchboard unless you knew the private number, which rang a phone right on his desk. He gave the number to a few select business partners, but all of his children had it. I still know that number: 345-5366. We knew no matter how busy he was, we could call him any time on that direct line.
“I have the same thing. The church has graciously provided me with a private line. It rings right on my desk. A few board members and elders have it for emergency purposes. My kids have that number. In order to maximize my time, I have a car phone. Only a few people have that number, but my kids have it. They can call me any time, for anything. -- Bill Hybels, "God's Attitude Toward Prayer," Preaching Today, Tape No. 97.
To be children of God means to belong, to have the Father’s ear, to be accepted.
The wonderful thing about this passage is the strong, emphatic way in which this relationship is assured. In verse 1 it says “that we should be called children of God.” then again in this verse it assures us “and that is what we are.” Then once again in verse 2 “we are children of God.”
These words give great emphasis to the assurance of the promise that we are God’s children.
Alexander Ross, in his commentary, quotes a Scottish paraphrase of this passage:
“Behold the amazing gift of love
The Father hath bestowed
On us, the sinful sons of men,
To call us sons of God.”
But there is more evidence of his love.
We were at Carla’s sisters 40th wedding anniversary last Sunday. It was interesting to see their wedding pictures. There was a picture of her brother-in-law and it was amazing to see how much he looked like his son and grandson.
Has anyone ever told you, “you look just like your mother or father?” How does it make you feel? I know that parents love to hear this stuff. If their kids look like them, or act like them, that is great! Kids are not always so sure about it. Perhaps they don’t like the way their parents look or perhaps they don’t like the way their parents act. Kids are sometimes embarrassed by their parents. How do you feel about having a resemblance to your heavenly Father? Are you embarrassed to be like Him or does it thrill you?
If we love our parents and look up to them and their lifestyle and abilities, then it is a great complement to be told we are like them. What is God like? Graciously loving, completely holy, filled with glory, always good - there is nothing negative in who God is. What a promise of love to know that we will, as verse 2 says, “be like Him!”
When people look at our children, they often see a resemblance to us of our oldest two children, but some people have wondered where our youngest fits in. Sometimes the family resemblance isn’t there at all. Although we are children of God, at this point, we do not look like Jesus at all. When the same sins plague us day after day and we wonder if anything will ever change, looking like Jesus seems an impossibility. That is why it is such a statement of love to know that some day we will look like Him.
Right now, we are already being made to look like Him. God is in the business of transforming us. I love II Corinthians 3:18 which says, “And we, ...are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” God is in the business of transforming us. Sometimes I get discouraged over the slow progress, but I think it is wonderful to be able to pray, “God, I can’t change myself, I need you to change me.” It is even more wonderful to know that He is doing it. He is making us more and more like Him. As we obey and follow Him, He is working in us and we are being transformed.
But the love of God extends beyond the present transformation. Some day, when he comes, we will see Him just as He is and then we will be completely transformed into the image of the one who loves us. I don’t know how that will happen and I have often wondered about it. It seems an amazing thing that there will be a sudden, complete transformation. But this is God’s loving promise that we will be like Him.
What there is not as much mystery about is what we will be like. The Bible mentions some of the features of our transformation. Eph 4:24 says that we will be like him in “righteousness and holiness.” Philippians 3:21 says that we will have a body, “like His glorious body.” Matthew 13:43 says that we will “shine like the sun.” Romans 8:17 indicates that we are “heirs who will share in his glory.” And II Peter 1:4 that we will share in the “divine nature.”
When Eve was tempted in the garden, she was told by the tempter that she would be like God if she ate from the tree. The opposite happened, she became less like God. But by grace, God has changed all that so that one day, those who are his children will share a family resemblance to the eternal Father. What a privilege, what a truth of His love for us.
When the queen came to Manitoba last year, some of you went to see her and I suspect it was pretty exciting. However, you could only see her at a distance. There were, however, a few people who were permitted to attend a banquet and an even smaller number who would have had the opportunity to have a conversation with her. Can you imagine what it might have felt like to be among the few who had a private audience?
One of the great blessings given in the beatitudes is that some “will see God.” Matthew 5:8 indicates that it is the pure in heart who will see God. Seeing God is a privilege reserved for a few. Revelation 21:8 talks about those who will not see God. “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” In other words, they will not see Him except in judgment.
However, God’s love is shown to us, when it says in I John 3:2, that those who are his children, will see Him.
In some ways we see God now. We see His handiwork, we see what He was like as we come to know Jesus, but that seeing is not what we wish it was. The barrier of sin and humanity prevents us from seeing clearly. I Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” Oh what a glorious privilege of His love that one day we will see the God and creator of the universe face to face. When we see Him, it will not be like some of the pictures we sometimes take. It will not be a small face, in the distance, in a sea of faces. We will see Him face to face. His loving eyes will look right into our eyes and He will say to us, “I love you, my child.”
To us it seems too wonderful to be true. God loves me and calls me his child! Can it really be?
There are some Biblical truths that are built on one or two verses. Some of them we hold dearly, even though they are a minor theme of Scripture. Not so with the confidence we have that we are loved by God. Throughout the Scripture we are reminded of this glorious and necessary truth that God loves us. I John 4:9,10 says, “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.” Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I have not told you anything you didn’t know. This is not a message meant to stir your mind with new ideas. This is not a message meant to puzzle or impress. It is a message meant to reinforce a truth which we hold in our hearts. It is meant to comfort your broken hearts. It is meant to clear away the mist of doubt. It is meant to encourage you in your life. It is meant to call you to a love for God that arises out of gratitude for His love. Do you know how much you are loved? You are and I am “beloved children of God.”