Summary: We love because God first loved us, an introduction to 1 Corinthians 13 from 1 John 4.
God is love. It’s one of the unique claims of the Jewish / Christian tradition. Other religions have teach various truths about god. That he created, that he is just, that he is eternal. But only in the Jewish / Christian tradition do we have God is love. You look at the gods of ancient Greece, who fought battles with humans as pawns. There was a godess of love, but it was an errotic kind of love and she was just as caprious as the other Greek gods. Or there is the God of the Greek philosophers who was so far removed the our world, that he didn’t care or interact with it at all. Or Allah and his justice. In Hinduism there is shiva the destoryer and other creative gods. But the Bible is alone in claiming that God is love.
I mention these others to just remind us, what an amazing thing it is to say that God is love. Sometimes it can loose it meaning. Or we can think of it as a kind of axiom of religion. God is love. It is not. It is the greatest revelation of all time. The fact that the almighty, the one who created us and who constantly upholds the universe, keeps it going and rules it, is love. God cares for each one of us. If you remember one thing about the sermon, remember God is love.
God’s love is not opposed to his justice
But what does this mean? What do we mean when we say God is love? How does this fit with our other pictures of God? With God as just and holy. I recently saw an entitled “David didn’t love Goliath to death”. This article was talking about the necessity of military action, from a Christian point of view. But it reflects a skewed but common view of what love is about. It has a wishy washy view of love, which is about toleration of all, not speaking out against anything and live and let live with evil. It’s the kind of thinking that sees God’s justice and anger as opposed to his love, rather than an integral part of his love. In the words of Graham Kendricks the cross is where wrath and mercy meet. This is a false view of the world, where the cross is the only place where the love of God and the justice or anger of God meet. The anger and justice of God always meet the love of God, since it is from the love of God that God’s anger and justice come.
If you had a kid who was being kicked around by other children or abused by an adult. Would you not get upset? Would you not get angry? Would you not cry out for justice? Justice, anger stemming from love. Well OK, if God feels like that why does he stop it, any parent who saw his child being mistreated would step in, why doesn’t God. Well, I can’t give a complete answer here, I’ve given partial answers before and will do again. But lets consider this one idea, its not complete but it’ll give you an idea.
Let’s image you had another kid, who despite your best efforts grows up to be a bit nasty, a drug dealer. How do you react, the first time you find heroin in his bag, do you turn him over to the police, no you love him. You try to reason with him, to get him to stop. Most would even protect him from the police for a while. But then you begin to see the lives ruined, the people you see turning up desperate for a fix, the people who end up dead. Most would come to the point, where they say no more. I still love you but I can’t let you continue. But what if it goes further if he reaches the stage where he has a disagreement with his brother and sets out with a gun, to kill him. At this point if anything is stopping you calling the police it is not love.
God’s justice and anger are like this. Too often Christians have thought of God’s justice, righteousness or holiness to be like a list of arbitray rules that God drew up that we just have to learn and keep on the right side of. OK, we understand the meaning for some of them, don’t kill, but when you say law, you think list of rules. We almost see it as a kind of straight jacket for God, where there is this external standard that he must abide by and that he has to punish the most minor infraction, there is no leanience, he has to punish. This is completely at odds with the Biblical picture of a loving, forgiving God. The rules are there to guide is in love, to stop us hurting each other. God doesn’t want to punish any more than a loving parent wants to punish there kid, they want them to change. It’s God love for his creatures, for us, that means he is for justice. He hates to see people exploited, misused, ill treated, stolen from, killed. This is why God wants justice for people, because he loves them. This is why God is angry at sin, because he is angry at people he loves being badly treated. It’s not because God has drawn up a list and people step over the line that God is angry at. He’s angry because his creatures are being hurt. In the same way that you would get angry if your child was mistreated or abused. God is angry when all humans are mistreated and abused.