Summary: The love of God is the best known attribute and probably the least understood. And when we grasp the love of God in part, what are we supposed to do next?
KNOWING THE GOD WHO LOVES YOU
Ask anyone what they know of God and you will receive a common answer: God is love. And when I say “ask anyone” I literally mean “anyone.” Do a survey at Portage and Main in Winnipeg and ask people what they think of God and chances are pretty good most people will say God is love.
It is the most simple and profound statement that we can make concerning God. One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Karl Barth, was asked what the greatest theological truth was he had yet discovered. Expecting a deep and lofty answer, Barth surprised everyone when he answered, “Jesus loves me.”
Unfortunately this profession of God’s love is also easily misunderstood. Many of those people on the street who say “God is love” will not be able to equate this statement with a God who hates sin or judges sinners. They cannot fathom a loving God sending his own Son to the Cross. So false ideas have grown up around this simple truth hiding its real meaning from view. To hack through this thorny undergrowth is no small thing.
For those of us who have done so we find that grasping God’s love for us is a marvelous and heavenly experience. To know this love is the common experience of the believer. To know God and to grasp just a fraction of his immense love for you and me is to know the greatest mystery of life. Such knowledge opens up incredible possibilities for you as a person.
The question that arises then is: How well do we know the God who loves us? If you are like me then you need reminding. We are continually hacking through that bush of misconceptions to discover the truth about God’s love. In this simple study of 1 John 4:7-12 let’s embrace once again the nature of his love and what it means for us. For to receive such knowledge comes with responsibilities. Or shall we say, to know God’s love truly, will change who you are.
1. Understanding the Nature of God’s love
a) “love comes from God” – To begin to understand the nature of God’s love let’s take two statements from John’s letter. The first has to do with the source of love. John says, “love comes from God” (v. 7).
The capacity to love is known among all peoples from all walks of faith and life. It is easy to see that anyone can love or show signs of loving whether they are Christian or not. This is partly explained by what we call God’s common grace. For instance, a woman with an unwanted pregnancy is often changed in heart when the child is born and she is overwhelmed with the natural urge to care for her child. Does this mean, however, that this love comes from God? Yes, in the sense of common grace that God showers on all of us.
John is speaking in this context of something else, for he says “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (v. 7). Has the young mother suddenly been born of God because she discovered the capacity to love someone else? John would say categorically “no.” What John is speaking of here is the divine love of God manifested in you and me. He is speaking to believers in this letter and so this love applies to believers only. The love that comes from God is very much His own. It is agape love; it is not a romantic love of TV; it is not a love for what you do for me; it is agape love that loves for the sake of loving. This love comes from God alone.
b) “God is love” – The second statement tells us more intently about the nature of God: God is love. God is by his very nature love. But this is where we begin to misunderstand this love if we simply examine by our own understanding.
Arthur Pink said, “There are many who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. The truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed in Scripture.”
So consider the nature of God’s love according to his Word. In Scripture we see…
God’s love is limitless: “Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies…How priceless is your unfailing love” (Ps 36:5, 7). This is but a small taste of the Psalms and how God is praised for his love.