“God’s perfect love begins in himself, is demonstrated most clearly in the Gospel, and find its perfection (completion) in our loving one another.”
1 John 4:7-21
We have devised all kinds of ways of measuring things. Having just returned from Europe, I’m not only aware of miles but of kilometers; Fahrenheit but also Centigrade. Then there are inches and feet, centimeters and meters, handbreadths, talents, height, depth, length and weight… (go to www.Listverse.com to find a whole list of interesting units of measure)
A most interesting standard of measure that was completely unfamiliar to me was the Smoot…a unit of length equal to 5’7” Oliver Smoot who in 1958 was a faternity pledge at Harvard and agreed to be used to measure the 2,000 ft. long Harvard Bridge which connects Boston to Cambridge. After lying down repeatedly and having his position marked with chalk, it was determined that the bridge was 364.4 smoots (and an ear) long. By the way, Google offers the option of measuring anything in smoots. So I asked how many smoots in one mile= 945.671642 smoots! (Alexa confirmed it.)
A few days ago I was meditating on Ephesians 3:18, 19 where Paul prayed that the church might “comprehend what is the breadth, length, height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” In other words, Paul prayed that we might be able to measure the unmeasurable and to know the unknowable! That is what we are going to explore this morning as we look at an attribute or characteristic of God; that God is Love. It’s a vast topic, as vast as God Himself. However, in his sermon last week, Pastor Will laid out for us that while God is truly incomprehensible, He is also knowable because He has made Himself known. And so we are going to look at what we know about the Love of God that will provide an understanding of what He thinks of us and how we should think about Him and others.
Main Point: God’s perfect love begins in Himself, is demonstrated most clearly in the Gospel, and finds it perfection (completion) in our loving one another. Our text is 1 John 4:7-12, 19-21 (ESV)… Speaking to believers “into whose hearts God has poured out his love through his Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5) – Read the text…
God is the source of Love itself. v1. Love is from God, v16. God is Love.
This passage, as well as 1 Cor. 13, is often read at weddings, which sometimes makes me cringe because the word love is so broadly applied. CS Lewis in his fine book “The Four Loves” describes from the Greek language a far more definitive understanding of love because there are specific words that describe three kinds of human love and distinguishes them from the word used for divine love. The human loves are eros, the love of attraction, philia, the love of friendship, and stergo, the natural love that parents have for their children. The word for divine love is agape, and that is the word used in our text as well as 1 Cor. 13.
Lewis ( and our text) makes the point that agape (divine love) finds its source in the very nature of God Himself. The other forms of love are but shadows of the divine character manifested in his creation. However, all of these human loves can be abused because of our sinful nature; eros can easily become lust, philia can become manipulated and co-dependant, and family love can become abusive and destructive. Only agape is a perfect love that cannot be abused even by sinful humanity and that is why it is the only love which defines the very character of God.
Lewis goes on to define God’s Love as a gift-love which differentiates itself from all human loves which are based upon need. Agape is a love which finds its source in the lover and not in any quality of the object loved. Such can be pictured by an arrow coming from the lover the object loved. However, in all human love, the arrow proceeds from the object to the lover. In other words, the object is loved because it possesses some quality that the lover needs; something that makes it loveable or worthy of the lover’s love. Human love says, “I love you because you’re so kind, so beautiful, so attractive, so rich, or because you’re my child.”
But God’s love is a gift; an in spite of not a because of kind of love. This is why in the KJV of the Bible when you read 1Cor 13, the word love is replaced by the word charity. This might strike us as odd, but it totally consistent with the nature of God’s love; such love originates in the heart of the giver and moves to the desperate condition of the object loved, which has nothing to give in return. God does not need to love us, but He chooses to do so with a love that is ceaseless and never-ending.
In summary, God’s love is willful, intentional, initiating and ceaseless. It flows from his nature to us for reasons known only to him and is not based upon any worthiness or attractiveness in us, either known or foreknown. “Isn’t it odd, that a Being like God, who sees the façade, still loves the clod he made out of sod. Yes, isn’t it odd!”
God’s Perfect Love is most clearly demonstrated in the Gospel. v. 9 “In this the love of God was manifested…that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” v. 10 “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins.”
When I awake in the morning, I do not have to wonder if God loves me. There is no uncertainty as to what God thinks of me because I didn’t earn His love by my performance in the first place. All I have to do is to ask myself, “Do I believe the gospel?” “Do I believe that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son died on the cross for my sins and rose again from the dead?” Well then, it’s settled for the scripture says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” It also says, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet in our sins, Christ died for us.” It also says, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The basis of our assurance does not rest in how I feel, but in what I believe – the gospel.
God chose to love us, continues to loves us, and has proven that love by sending Christ to die for us, not because we were so loveable, but even while we were still in our sins, ungodly, and enemies of God. How can you measure such love?
And such a certainty of God’s love can give us hope in the midst of our dark times. An old hymn says, “Though darkness hides his lovely face, I trust in his unfailing grace.” In Lamentations 3, right in the middle of the darkness of Jeremiah’s suffering and persecution, the prophet says that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness!” And Paul adds in Romans 8, where he talks about persecution and being led as lambs to the slaughter, that “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
James Boice told the story of when Napoleon’s armies opened a prison that had been used by the Spanish Inquisition and they found the remains of a prisoner who had been tortured for his faith in an underground dungeon. The body had long since decayed, a chain was still fastened around the ankles of the skeleton. “But this prisoner, long since dead, had left a witness. On the wall of his small dismal cell this faithful soldier of Jesus Christ had scratched a rough cross with four words surrounding it. Above the cross was the Spanish word for height; below it was the word for depth; to the left the word for width and to the right the word length. Clearly this prisoner wanted to testify to the surpassing greatness of God’s love in Christ, perceived even in his suffering.”
God’s Love is not perfected (completed) unless and until we love one another. v. 7 “Beloved, let us love one another.” v. 19 “We love, because He first loved us.” v. 20 “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ and yet hate his brother, he is a liar.” v. 21 “And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God must love his brother also.”
You get the real sense here that it is not only the very nature of God to love, but it is the very nature of God’s love to be given away to others. And if we are to love others the way we have been loved then this perfect love must be completed by proceeding from us to others who perhaps have not earned it and have no loveliness in themselves- a gift love. In fact in 1 John 3:17, we read “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Maybe this is a brother or sister in financial need or some other kind of need; maybe it’s our wife or husband, child or parent at some needy point in their lives, when they have no loveliness to us or cannot give us anything in return. Do we extend to them the same perfect charity that God extended to us while still in our sin, or do we close our hearts to them? This is the kind of love that holds marriages and families together- that keeps fathers from running away from responsibility when things get tough and keeps mothers seeking fulfillment in someone else when their needs are not being met.
It’s a completely different kind of love than most people think about when they hear the love-word at a wedding. Do you realize that we take our marriage vows not to express the love or feelings we have for each other at the moment of marriage, which could be nothing more than strong attraction or lust or my ticket to get away from my family, or I better grab this catch now because I’m getting older and time is slipping away if I want to have a family. It could mean anyone of these things hidden beneath the non-descript word love. Instead, our vows are meant to express the commitment (not a feeling) that we promise to have in a future-yet-to-be-experienced– “to have and to hold from this day forward, to love and to cherish for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Little can we imagine what such love means when we are young and we have all of life to live; before those annoying habits, before cancer, before financial upheaval or the loss of a child or the loss of a job or the changes that come with old age, etc. This is when this deeper kind of love (agape) must kick in or else we’ll run the danger of bailing out!
Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing….It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling….And in fact, whatever people say, the state of being in love usually does not last…. [But] Love in this second [deeper] sense – love as distinct from “being in love” – is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced in Christian marriages by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments which they do not like each other…. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this deeper love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: “being in love” was the explosion that started it. (Mere Christianity, ch 6, “On Christian Marriage”)
There is one more aspect of extending God’s perfect love to others and that is found in v. 12, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected (completed) in us.”
Whenever I see this verse I think of an electric circuit.
In your mind, draw a light bulb at the end in each line: When the switch is open (when God’s love stops with us), then no electricity flows (God’s love) and the bulb does not light (no one can see God). But when the switch is closed (when we love others), then we pass on the love of God and God is made visible (the light bulb lights). [Let me demonstrate this with a more hands on illustration… a light stick I bought at Hobby Lobby.]
I’ll never forget the time my church in MA ran a soup kitchen for the homeless. I was giving a devotional on the love of God just before we served dinner to our 20 or so guests. I was sitting at one of the tables with 2 of our volunteers and several guests, among whom was a man who was a bit drunk and kept his head on the table the whole time, and a woman who was very argumentative and kept interrupting me as I was talking. “God doesn’t love us, he doesn’t care about us, in fact I don’t even think God exists, if he did he’s do a better job…” Suddenly the man with his head on the table look up and said to her, “Shut up! You wanna’ see God? There’s God and he pointed to me, and there’s God and there’s God” as he pointed to the two other volunteers at the table and there’s God as he pointed around to the others from our church who were serving.” Then he stopped as abruptly as he started, put his head down on the table and said no more. In the silence that followed, I quickly prayed so we could eat. What an incredible theological truth! We made God visible by the love we demonstrated to these homeless guests who did nothing to earn our love. We were the switches completing the circuit of God’s love– from Him, to us, to others, and back to Him by making Him visible.
Can we really measure the love of God? In one sense, it is unmeasurable since it would be like measuring the very character of God Himself. In another sense, however, it can be measured not in smoots, but by the dimensions of the cross and by how much it makes God visible when it passes through us to others.
Chosen not for good in me,
Wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in my Savior’s side
By thy Spirit, sanctified;
Help me Lord on earth to show
By my love how much I owe. (Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1813-1843)