1 John 4:7-21
(watch here: https://youtu.be/LsZkmIaOi_k)
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In 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. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
C.S. Lewis, the great British novelist from the 20th century, was once quoted as saying, “On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.” Indeed, God’s love was a subject that Lewis spent a great deal of time thinking about as was reflected by his writings. Aslan the lion, from his Narnia chronicles, arguably best represents the deep love God has for us. Aslan is wise and patient yet fearsome to those who threaten his beloved. He is a protector, brave and ferocious, the “king of the jungle” so to speak, eager to go to battle against anyone or anything that seek to harm those he loves. Ever since his inception, readers have likened the mighty Aslan to our mighty God. Just pick up any of the Narnia books and you, too, will see the striking similarity, at least if you’re a Christian and know the God of the Bible. Our God is a powerful God and not simply because He performs awesome feats, impossible for the rest of us to do, but because of his deep love for all of his creation. Our God is a powerfully loving God and contrary to what some might believe, there is great power in love. I would even go far as to say there is more power in love than in hate. Love produces far more than hate. Hate is very limited in what it can produce. Violence and destruction can manifest itself in only so many forms but peace and creation can result in endless varieties. Just look at the world, look at the universe…the endless varieties of form and function! All created from love…from God’s love!
Which makes Lewis’ comment all the more accurate. God’s love, as reflected by his supremely nuanced creation, is far more complex and consistent than our love could ever possibly be. I realize we’ve created some pretty amazing things during our relatively short time here in this world. And what we’ve created has for the most part reflected our love for God and God’s good gifts. Have we been good stewards of his good gifts? Arguable. But we have created out of love of God, out of love for each other, and out of love of ourselves. Our love is nowhere near the ideal as God’s love but it has compelled us to do some pretty amazing things over the years.
God’s love is not unlike our love. It compels him to do some pretty amazing things too. In reflecting on God’s love this week, I came across a story by an author named Gregory Boyle. Boyle retells the story of an incarcerated 15-year-old gang member he once knew by the name of Rigo. Rigo helped lead the worship services for other incarcerated youth in his jailhouse. As Rigo was getting ready for service one week, Boyle asked him if his father would be coming to the service. “No,” he said, “He’s a heroin addict and never been in my life. Used to always beat me.” Then something snapped inside Rigo as he recalled an image from his childhood. “I think I was in fourth grade,” he began, “I came home. Sent home in the middle of the day … . [When I got home] my dad says, ‘Why did they send you home?’ And cuz my dad always beat me, I said, ‘If I tell you, promise you won’t hit me?’ He just said, ‘I’m your father. Course I’m not gonna hit you.’ So I told him.” Rigo began to cry, and in a moment he started wailing and rocking back and forth. Boyle put his arm around him until he slowly calmed down. When Rigo could finally speak again, he spoke quietly, still in a state of shock: “He beat me with a pipe … with … a pipe.” After Rigo composed himself, Boyle asked about his mom. Rigo pointed to a small woman and said, “That’s her over there … . There’s no one like her.” Then Rigo paused and said, “I’ve been locked up for a year and half. She comes to see me every Sunday. You know how many buses she takes every Sunday [to see me]?” Rigo started sobbing with the same ferocity as before. After catching his breath, he gasped through the sobs, “Seven buses. She takes … seven … buses. Imagine.”
Boyle reflected on the love of Rigo’s mom and likened it to the love of God. You see, our God is not unlike Rigo’s mom. He is compelled by love to seek us out, to “take seven buses” if necessary, just to be with us. He is compelled by love to send his Son to us only to die for us. Love compels us do some pretty amazing things…love compels God to do some pretty amazing things! Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (2:4-5) We were dead…we are dead without the love and grace of God who gives us new life through Christ! He sent his Son to live among us, to be one with us, and to die for us. God sought us out and offered us new life. What a great and mighty love indeed!
Like C.S. Lewis, Paul must have often reflected on the love of God as witnessed by his bold statement in his letter to the Romans: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:37-39) God’s love is a sacrificial love, compelling him to do what most of us would fail to do. Who among us would sacrifice a child out of love? What a paradoxical, counterintuitive thing to do! Yet this is precisely what our God does! God loves us so much that He’s not only willing to sacrifice his Son for us but, in so doing, He himself dies for us. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) God died for us, there is no greater love than this!
In reflecting on God’s love, I invariable return to the story from the great evangelist D.L. Moody when he was preaching in Chicago. Moody recalled how a man, partially under the influence of liquor and seeing the warm lights of his church, staggered up the steps to the front door. Upon opening it, he saw no one within, but he did see the motto hanging above the pulpit: “God Is Love.” The man slammed the door, staggered down the steps, and muttered to himself, “God is love? God is not love. If God were love, He would love me, and He hates me.” He continued his uneven walk around the block, still muttering to himself. But those words began to burn images into his benumbed thinking. A power seemed to draw him back to the church. With the throngs of people that were now making their way into the church, the man soon found himself seated inside, and Mr. Moody was preaching. Once the sermon was over, Moody made his way to the door to shake hands with the people as they left. But this man didn’t leave. He continued to sit in his seat, weeping. Moody came over to him, put his arm on the man’s shoulder, and asked, “Is there something that I can do for you? What was it in my sermon that touched your heart?” “Oh, Mr. Moody, I didn’t hear a word that you spoke tonight,” the man responded. “It’s those words up there over your pulpit, ‘God Is Love.’” Moody sat down and talked with him for a while, and soon he gave his heart to God.
Nestled in our passage for this morning is this very truth: God is love. A little further along we hear, “there is no fear in love.” God’s love is a mighty and powerful thing. We gather to celebrate his love, to be awestruck by his love, just as that man in Moody’s church was. It is a sacrificial, profoundly deep love that compels God to do some pretty amazing things. As we close out this sermon series on John’s first letter, let us give thanks for the gift of God’s love. It is the reason we gather and share in fellowship. It is the reason we live at all. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.