Monday, March 25, 2013

Fear of Judgment

I like the way the old King James puts 1st John 4:17, “Herein is our love made perfect.” “Herein” is like saying “in this,” and it refers back to the previous section of 1st John. Specifically it refers to 1st John 4:16, “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

This is review, but, our relationship with God as believers means God lives within us. And since God is love, therefore His love is in us. As a result, we can love with a semblance of the same love God has, we can love in the same way.

The result was shown in 1st John 4:12, “His love has been perfected in us.” And that same thought is now repeated in 1st John 4:17, “Love has been perfected among us.” John repeated it twice for emphasis.

Perfected, remember, means to become mature, or better, complete. We complete love as we give expression to it -as we put legs on it - as we wrap it up in flesh and blood and spread it all around the world.

This has been our ongoing topic: “God is love” has been declared in the Scriptures. “God is love” has been proven on the Cross. But “God is love” is now spread abroad by us.

This brings us to 1st John 4:17, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.”

The fact that “Love has been perfected among us” has some real world benefits. And perhaps the greatest benefit is “that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” Very few people have that, you know. What they have instead is fear, terror, dread at the thought of standing before God in judgment.

And John uses those same words in the next verse, 1st John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. “

Notice the word “fear?” What is this fear of? It’s not the fear that we as believers are supposed to have toward God, is it? Like in Proverbs 1:7, we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge?” Oh, no! It’s not that kind. That fear is a reverent fear - it is holding God in awe and respect. God deserves that from us, and we are to give it to Him as a son to a father. That kind of fear should co-exist with love.

The fear in this passage is a dread, or even a terror. But, a terror of what? Looking back at the context of the passage, 1st John 4:17 says it is fear of “the day of judgment.” This terror comes from the thought of standing before God someday and of having Him open the books of our life and having to give an account to Him.

This word for “fear” is phobia in Greek. Hydrophobia is the fear of water. Claustrophobia is the fear of closed in places. Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. But this is Krisisphobia, the fear of judgment.

Is this fear justified? Oh, yes! Hebrews 9:27 says:” It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Judgment is as sure as death and just as frightening.

But can, but should, believers live in dread, in terror to the point of torment? For some, absolutely! “Let’s just skip that part about judgment, shall we?” they think.
John talked before about our possible feelings in the face of judgment in 1st John 2:28: “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”

For those who’ve lived lives of complacency and sin, of course they will dread standing before their Heavenly Father, just as any kid in trouble won’t want to hear his father’s voice calling him.

But is fear necessary? NO! That’s the point of verse 17: Believers don’t need to fear. And one of the reasons is that love is perfected in us. 1st John 4:17, says, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” Love gives us boldness.

Now boldness doesn’t mean that we can stand brazenly in front of God shaking our fist in His face, and screaming, “You’ve got no right to tell me how to live.” But what it does mean is confidence. It means we can stand without fear or shame.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Evaluating the Church Through Christ's Eyes

I hear a lot of people say their life is their testimony. But that can only ever be partly true. A testimony has to have something to say or it’s incomplete. But no one will listen to your message unless your life backs up your message. And for a redemptive message of love like the Gospel, your life must be a life of loving.

Experience bears this out: A Salvation Army worker found a derelict woman alone on the street. She invited her to come into the chapel for help, but the woman refused to move. The worker assured her: “We love you and want to help you. God loves you. Jesus died for you.” But the woman was unmoved. She wouldn’t budge.

As if on divine impulse, the Army worker leaned over, kissed the woman on the cheek, and took her in her arms. The woman began to sob, and like a child, was led into the chapel, where she ultimately trusted Christ. She later said, “You told me that God loved me, but it wasn’t until you showed me that God loved me that I wanted to be saved.” What a tragedy when love isn’t shown.

A lady one time being witnessing to was urged to come to the Lord, but she responded, “No! I’ve done too much in my life. God couldn’t ever forgive me.”

“How do you know?” she was asked. Her response: “Because Christians can’t.”

“Well, what makes you say that?”

“Do you see the way they look at me? They won’t talk to me. They treat me like I’ve got the plague.”

How often that is true. We don’t reach out to them, don’t invite them in, because they are involved in or damaged by sin.

“Ah, but she’s not worth it,” some might answer. “She’s a fallen, broken, tainted, woman.”

How true! How right! But how universal! The truth is, not a one of us deserve God’s love – not you nor I nor any of us. Not even the great Apostle Paul who wrote in 1st Corinthians 15:9-10, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Or in Ephesians 3:8he wrote, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given.”

How can any believer look down his nose at another human being, as though we are somehow superior? To do so proves we know nothing about the grace of God. If we claim to believe in grace, than our deeds must bear out our words. Our message of God’s love must be accompanied by our own love or else our claims are a sham.

Sheldon Vanauken, in “A Severe Mercy,” wrote this:
“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their love, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive; then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”

Chang Kai-shek, former ruler of china, before his salvation came to his Christian wife, who was saved much earlier, and said:
“I can’t understand these Christians; why, they have been treated most abominably here, they have been robbed, beaten, many of them killed, they have been persecuted fearfully, and yet I never find one of them retaliating, and any time they can do anything for China, for our people, they are ready to do it; I do not understand them.”

“Well,” said his wife, “that, you see, is the very essence of Christianity. They do that because they are Christians.”

Indeed, that is true. As it says in: 1st John 4:16, “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

The church is meant to reflect God’s love to a dying world. What a tragedy if all that love is only reflected inward - If we keep it all to ourselves, and just love each other.

What lessons are there for us in the church? Perhaps when we evaluate our “success” as a church we’ll try to evaluate by God’s standards, not our own. “Well, Lord, we’re not doing too bad. We’ve got this nice building, and our music program is pretty good, and we’ve got the best pot lucks in town. Oh, what’s that, you ask, Lord? Do we love? Well, that’s hard to evaluate.

“What’s that you want to know, Lord? Are any of our people not talking to each other? Are any teens feeling left out? Do any elderly folks feel forgotten? Do any of the singles who struggle not really sensing they belong to the church? Are there any widows who need someone’s shoulder to cry on? Are there any folks who need some more food, or clothing, or help with bills?” Maybe those are some of the questions we would use as we evaluate our church.

And this: Are there any people in the community burdened with sin, needing someone to put a loving spiritual arm around them and who will tell them of a Heavenly Father’s love and how He longs for His prodigal children to come home? The needs are there, but is the love?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Gospel Accompanied by Love

God is love, but we must show people that God loves them by the way we love them. But don’t people instinctively know about God’s love? Don’t they just know that God loves them, and that God’s love has made a way of salvation for them? No! That is almost counter to our natural logic. Human logic tells us that God is angry with us and that we have to figure out how to save ourselves.

Think about it: Does the poor mother in India who throws her baby into the Ganges River to be eaten by crocs as a sacrifice for sin - does she think God is love? Does the African native bowing before his carved gods of wood or stone and living in constant fear of the fetishes - does he think God is love? How about the people in our community who never come to church, who never read the Bible? They’ll never know about God’s love unless we tell them, or, even more so, unless we show them.

God’s redemptive love is declared in the Scriptures. It was demonstrated on the cross of Calvary. It is displayed in the body of Christ – in us.

Thus, when we display love, 1st John 4:12 says, “His love has been perfected in us.” The word, “perfected,” does not mean we make love perfect, or that we love anywhere near perfectly. It means we complete it. It’s really is quite similar to the idea in John 14:12, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. “

What does that mean? Greater than his miracles? Greater than His work of redemption on the cross? NO! But this refers to Jesus’ mission in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

How can we do greater works in this mission?
It is because Jesus could only be in one place at a time while He was on earth, and He was only on earth for a limit of 3 years. But we collectively can be everywhere till Jesus comes again. Jesus provided the means of salvation by dying on the cross. We provide the method through our witness. We evangelize by proclaiming the Gospel.

But what is the Gospel? It is the message of love. John 3:16 stated, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Christ left us here with the task of seeking and saving the lost, and we do that by proclaiming His redemptive message of love. We call it the Gospel. When we do this, Christ’s love “has been perfected in us.”

But, because the Gospel message is the message of love, unless we love the lost, our witness will be in vain – it will be useless. No one will believe us. Our acts of love have to back up our message of love.

Aristotle said the three qualities of a successful communicator were these:
1. Ethos – the ethical. You will lose credibility if your integrity is questionable

2. Pathos – that’s sympathy, or empathy. Aristotle says that golden oratory without a caring heart is a big ZERO. That’s Biblical you know. 1st Corinthians 13:1 says: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” Or as Chuck Swindall has said: “People don’t care how much you we know until they know how much we care.”

3. Logia (the Logos – the word). You must have something to say.

Our message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the message is dependent on the first two, the ethos and the pathos. In other words, our lifestyle always precedes our message. Or, saying it another way, our message is built upon our life.

Do you understand this? I hear a lot of people say their life is their testimony. But that can only ever be partly true. A testimony has to have something to say –the logia - or it’s incomplete. But no one will listen to your message unless your life backs up your message. And for a redemptive message of love like the Gospel, your life must be a life of loving.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seeing the God Who Has Never Been Seen

In 1st John 4:12, when John says, “No one has seen God at any time,” it’s really a repeat of John 1:18 which says, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

That almost sounds contradictory. Isn’t Jesus God? Oh, yes! And in the Old Testament, didn’t people see God? Didn’t Adam walk with God in the Garden in the cool of the day in Genesis 3:8? And didn’t Abraham entertain God in his tent on the plains of Mamre in Genesis 18 just before He sent the angels down to Sodom to rescue Lot before destruction? And didn’t Moses meet with God in the burning bush and on Mt. Sinai during the Exodus at the giving of the Law? And both Isaiah and Daniel had visions of God sitting on His throne.

But do we ever really see God the Father? Only partially, because God is Spirit. No one ever sees God in His Spiritual essence. Men see only what God allows and what He reveals to us.

For instance, in Exodus 33:20, God said to Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” So do we ever see God here on earth in the flesh? No! Only through Jesus. In John 1:18, Jesus told us, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” And in John 14:9, Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

But how was Jesus seen? Was He seen in all the glory of God? No! He was seen veiled in human flesh; so much so that the multitudes who saw Him didn’t recognize Him as God. And now, even that view of God is gone because Jesus ascended – He went back to heaven where He is now at the right hand of the Father.

How then can people see God now? And by this, I’m talking about the masses. Some of you might be thinking the Bible. And indeed, Christ is revealed through His Word.

But most people won’t ever read the Bible. Even most so called Christians hardly ever read it. You can see this by simply answering how often you’ve read the Bible through. So, how can the masses ever see God?

Here’s the answer: They can see God only as they see God living through us. They can’t see God directly, but He can be seen in us - the ones in whom He abides.

But if that’s true, what attribute does God most want us to show? Without a doubt, I think the answer is love. The “God is love” and “Love one another” passages should make that clear. We are to show the world God’s love. But what kind of love does God want us to show? We are to show a redemptive love. That’s the emphasis of 1st John 4:14, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. “

To love people like Jesus did is to seek them out with the desire to see them saved through repentant faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Love is the Natural Consequence

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the truth of God’s nature - that, according to 1st John 4:8, “God is love.” But what are the implications of that fact; I mean specifically for us and our behavior? To answer that, we only need to look at 1st John 4:11, “ Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

That’s a familiar theme, isn’t it? And it comes in the form of a command. This is what we are supposed to do: “We also ought to love one another.” “Ought” means it’s the right thing to do.

But why? Because we’ve been granted such a great privilege: “God so loved us.” That’s the greatest benefit ever! But, that’s also a continuation of the theme of 1st John 4:10, “ In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Previously, we said that this is why John can demand our obedience to the command to love. God set the pattern by first loving us, and He proved that love by sending His Son to die for us on the cross in our place.

That’s all rolled up in that one word, propitiation, or in the modern translations, atoning sacrifice, which speak of Christ being offered up in our place as the sacrifice for our sin. Thereby, Christ satisfied God’s holy standard that demands the death penalty for sin.

But, we also talked previously about how love should flow naturally out of our relationship with God. When we are born again, the Holy Spirit dwells within us and guides us to love. In other words, there are natural consequences -real world consequences.

And this brings us into new/old territory.
1st John 4:12 says, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. “

Truly, there is a lot in that verse to digest. But can you see the theme breaking out here again? “If we love one another, God abides in us.” Once again, love is given as the proof, the proof of salvation, and the proof of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

But in reverse, love is the natural consequence of abiding in Christ. It’s an outgrowth of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit - You just can’t help but love. But why? There’s two reasons wrapped up in this verse for why Christians are supposed to love, and these twin reasons are intertwined.

The first is this: “No one has seen God at any time.” And the second is this: “His love has been perfected in us.”

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What a Love Relationship With God Can Do

The case was closed – our sin required death. But because of God’s love, He offered the sacrifice Himself by offering His own Son. What greater proof could there ever be that “God is love?” What greater demonstration of that love? And God’s love was directed at us.

But that is precisely why John has the right to make this plea in 1st John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”

When John addresses the beloved, he’s talking to believers. This plea is to you and me - to people who have been saved by grace through faith, who’ve experience personally God’s love. Only we can love like that, because the source is God – “for love is of God,” and we’ve been born of God. That’s why John can give us this test:

Remember? This epistle of John’s is a series of tests by which we can evaluate the genuineness of our salvation. Verse 7 said, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” If we claim to be born again, then we must be able to show proof, and the greatest proof of our faith is love. We will love one another.

It is a natural thing for a believer if we understand the process. The new birth brings the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit within us leads and guides us to love. It is inevitable, if the Spirit of God dwells in us because the Spirit of God will change us from the inside out.

It’s like the thieves that broke in and stole some radioactive materials and ignored the warnings. The radiation isn’t harmless. That’s why they store radioactive materials inside lead lined containers. If we aren’t protected, the radiation penetrates our bodies and changes our cellular makeup. It literally changes the way our cells are made as it is incorporated in our body.

But whereas the radiation may kill us, and probably will make us very sick, the Holy Spirit will give us life, and make us more like Christ. That means we will be more loving, since “God is love.” Christ’s essence will become our essence.

And, of course, in verse 7, it will lead us to “know God.” This word, know, has a deeper meaning than we are used to. We think that if we know someone, it means that we have been introduced before, or we that we know some facts about that person.

But the Biblical meaning is different. To “know God” isn’t simply to know some facts about God. The word was used in Scripture of a husband knowing his wife in the most intimate union of a married couple.

Obviously, then, to know God is to have a deep and an intimate relationship with Him - to have a love relationship with Him. And isn’t that the truest characteristic of a Christian? Of course, to know God’s love is to share God’s love. It’s to love like He does; to share His mission of loving this world.

Which is why John can say about those who don’t in 1st John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Let me read a paraphrase of that to you:
“The person who does not love with a divine kind of love has never entered into a personal, experiential relationship with God – What he knows is in his head, but it’s never gotten into his heart.”

Ooh! You know what that means? That person has no evidence of salvation. They do not know God, so they are not saved. What a tragedy! It’s a tragedy because God is love, and God made the way of salvation. Plus God offers salvation to anyone who will receive it. If people really believed that, they would be crowding into God’s kingdom and loving Him for it.

Instead, as we talked about earlier, people are enemies of God, and they either spend their time running from Him, or they are shaking their fist in God’s face in open rebellion against God.

But, listen to me! People never go to hell because God doesn’t love them – NEVER! They go to hell because they spurn God’s love, and they ignore the door God has opened for them through Jesus Christ. It is so totally needless.

But, where are you at spiritually today? If you are a believer, you can rejoice in the great love of God toward you. But if you are an unbeliever, I shudder in horror for you. Don’t spurn God’s love. You leave God no other choice. If you refuse to enter in by the door God has opened, the only other door is the door to hell.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bringing Life to His Enemy

We’ve addressed the character trait of God, that God is love. But how do we know that kind of love? What is God like if God is love? God has to show us. So, 1st John 4:9 says, “God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.” And Jesus would say in John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” We can learn about what God is like by looking at Jesus and how He acts, and that is the only way we can know about God’s love. Jesus reveals that love. He is the revelation of God.

But let me ask you, what is the purpose of revelation? Is it simply to satisfy our intellectual curiosity? No! 1st John 4:9 says “that we might live through Him.” That’s the purpose – that we might live. But how can we live who are born dead? John, you need to tell us the method by which we can gain life.

John does:
1st John 4:10 - In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

We’ve talked about that word before – propitiation. In some of the modern translations, it is rendered atoning sacrifice. This should cause us to think of the sacrificial lamb killed on the altar on the Day of Atonement when the blood is shed and presented to God to make atonement. It has the idea of appeasing God’s wrath over sin -of satisfying His divine requirement. And the requirement is death – the wages of sin is death.

Remember? God is love, but also, God is holy, and that puts Him in a bind. Because He’s holy, He must uphold his holy law, the law we continue to trample. And there are consequences. Our sin must be punished by death. That death penalty is upon each and every one of us. We are already condemned. Romans 3:10 says: “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:23 says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yet, because of God’s love, He wants to forgive us. He longs to save sinners.

How can God resolve this dilemma? The answer is the cross. Christ Himself bore our punishment there. Christ met the demands of God’s holy law by dying in our place. Christ died in our place so we could live. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, He could offer eternal life to us as a free gift. Romans 6:23 says, “The gift of God is eternal life.” It is offered freely, and we can claim it by faith.

Romans 5 gives us an explanation.
Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Do you see? “We have access by faith.” As someone said, “Jesus paved the Turnpike to heaven, and faith is the only toll.”

Continue reading: Romans 5:6-10
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

What a magnificent description of God’s love. Did you catch these facts? When did Christ die for us?
1st - Christ died for the ungodly (verse 6)
2nd - while we were still sinners (verse 8)
3rd - when we were enemies (verse 10)

He didn’t die for us after we got elected to the Deacon Board, or had perfect attendance in Sunday School for six straight years, or anything else like that. He didn’t wait for us to scrub up and clean out our lives, or to turn over a new leaf. He didn’t wait until we sanitized our music play list and our DVD collection and emptied the alcohol out of our refrigerators. No, He died for us while we were totally unlovely, ungodly, sinful creatures -we were heinous enemies of God.

But isn’t calling us an enemy a little strong? No! That’s a cold, hard word for enemy in the Greek language. It is defined as a hostile person who seeks to do ill to another. It is someone who is out for your demise and destruction. And that’s the way we were in relation to God. wasn’t our enemy, we were His. The Anglo Saxon word equivalent is foe. The Latin word translates as hostile. The German word translates as fiend.

In war, the enemy is someone who will kill you if they can. And for us, as unredeemed man, our enemy was God. Yet, God loved us in spite of that.

Another passage that shows this is:
Romans 8:7-8 - "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

We were hostile toward God by both nature and choice. Our sinful nature was set against Him, and we regularly chose against Him. Yet, God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, in our place.

It wasn’t because we were pleasing God. Romans 8:8 just told us, “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” It wasn’t because we were doing anything, nor could we do anything, that pleased God. We were totally incapable of pleasing God. We had no way to remedy our own condition. We were trapped and hardened in our hostility.

Remember what Romans 5:6 said? “When we were still without strength.” That’s when Jesus loved us and died for us, when we were powerless - powerless to escape sin and death, and powerless to please God in any way. The standards are simply too high. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus told us, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” That’s a standard we could never reach. Only Jesus could reach it.

Sorry this is so uncomplimentary to us, but this whole sermon is to show the un-surpassing, incredible, awesome love of God toward us. And what shows that more than that He loves us in spite of ourselves? What we’ve been discussing should overwhelm us with wonder. God loves even me.

This is the stuff fairy tales are made of. If a beggar desires to marry the lovely princess, there’s slim chance of an Aladdin’s Lamp miracle. And there is little chance of a frog turning into a prince. But both beggar and princess are the same – they are people. But God and man are not alike - God is holy, while we are sinful. How then can a man reach God? He can’t! Rather, God must reach out to man. And God did with love – the love of Calvary.

Do you see? God’s holiness demanded the cross. God had to punish sin, He had no choice. His holiness wouldn’t allow Him to open the back door and let us slip in the way we were. God couldn’t let us slip in under the cover of darkness. God can’t wink at sin – He can’t say: “That’s OK, we’ll make an exception in your case.” Nor could God allow us to offer a cheap substitute. He won’t be bribed by our feeble attempts to win His favor. The case is closed – our sin required death.

But because of God’s love, He offered the sacrifice Himself. It was no cheap substitute. It was God’s own precious Son.

Like it says in 1st Peter 1:18-19
18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

What greater proof could there ever be that God is love? What greater demonstration of that love? And God’s love was directed at us. It was poured out upon us so that we could have life.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Revelation of God's Love

One time, there was a college drama club that wanted to put on a play, but they were low on funds. As a result, they couldn’t afford a copy of the play for each actor. They thought up a way to solve the problem. They took one copy of the play and clipped out the various parts and passed them out to each actor.

Except the first practice was a disaster. The actors knew their lines, but they were all confused. They missed their cues, and they didn’t know where to stand - they didn’t know how to play their lines.

The director stopped the practice, and she took time to read the entire play to them. “Oh,” they said, “So that’s what this play is all about.” – and things went smoothly from then on. Now they had the “Big Picture.” Now they saw how their individual lines fit into the story. Now they could play their parts correctly because the actors now understood the “Big Picture.”

Similarly, as we study our way through the Scriptures verse by verse, it is too easy to get lost in the details. So now and then, we too must step back and look at the “Big Picture.”

We’ve covered the need for Christian love. We’ve looked at it as proof of our salvation in 1st John 2:10, “He who loves his brother abides in the light.” John also pointed out God’s love for us to see in 1st John 3:1, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” John even told us we have an obligation to love in 1st John 3:11, :For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”

Now, finally, we are told why: 1st John 4:8 says, “For God is love.” That completes the “Big Picture.” That fact ties it all together. That fact gives meaning to all the commands. We now know that “God is love.” Love is one of the central attributes of God. It is central to His character.

But how do we understand God’s love? It’s almost similar to a child asking, “Mother, who made God?” And the wise mother answers, “No one made God. God simply is. God always has been. God always will be.” It might be hard to understand, but it just is.

Likewise, how do you explain the love of God? How can you explain the infinite? You can’t explain the sun by a candle. You can’t explain the ocean by a drop of water. You can’t explain the forest by a leaf. And you can’t explain sorrow by a single tear.

Likewise, we can’t adequately explain God’s love by comparing it to ours – the love that we know. Love is not something God does, but what He is: “God is love.” God’s love is born out of the very essence of God’s being. Love does not define God, but God defines love.

And God’s love is holy! Remember? Leviticus 11:44, repeated in 1st Peter 1:16, declared God as demanding, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” God’s love is holy; His holiness is expressed in love.
Most of what humans call love is not holy. What modern society calls love bears no resemblance to God’s holy love. Society might say, “They were making love in the back seat of the car,” but how can immorality be anything like God’s love?

Does that dignify it to call it love? No! Human love almost always has a selfish motive. We are always looking for “What’s in it for me?” We do that in any relationship. and we confuse it with love. Someone wants sex so they’ll promise love. They want the security of a home or support and promise love to get it. Maybe they want companionship, or the prestige of a trophy wife, but the underlying motivation is “ME.” It may not be stated consciously, but it’s there, underlying everything – human selfishness

So, how can we humans understand God’s selfless love? Is there any way we can understand it? Yes there is, because God’s love has been demonstrated.

Look at 1st John 4:9:
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”

The word “manifest” in the Greek language means to come out in the open, to show. It is the opposite of hiding something. So, because God is love, His love must be shown, it must be revealed. It can never remain static or inactive, but it must be active and out in the open. And indeed, the very word for God’s love, agape, really is a love in action.

We could never know God’s love by human reason. We don’t naturally love that way. We could never discern God’s love from nature, we only discern a bloody tooth or a sharp claw. We can only know God’s love by revelation. It has to come from God as He reveals Himself. So, 1st John 4:9 says, “God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.” And Jesus would say in John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” We can learn about what God is like by looking at Jesus and how He acts, and that is the only way we can know about God’s love.