So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. – 1 John 4:16 ESV
1 John 4:7-21
In the verse above, John makes the statement that “God is love.” It is His essence, not just a characteristic of who He is. For John and the other apostles, to have experienced the love of God was to have experienced God Himself. Why? Because God expressed His love for mankind by sending His own Son to die on their behalf and in their place, in order to satisfy the judgment of God against their sins. So when they accepted that gift by believing in His Son, they experienced a love like nothing they had ever known before. They became the recipients of an other-worldly kind of love, the love of God, and through Jesus, came to know God better than they had ever known Him before. They discovered what true love really looks like and they found out what it feels like to abide in that love. And their strong belief was that, to abide in God was to abide in His love. And vice versa, to abide in His love was to abide in Him. Remember, John has said, “No one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12 ESV). But those of us who are in Christ have experienced and known His love. And when we love one another in the same way that He and His Son have loved us, we abide in that same love. We experience the love of God all over again. The love that we are commanded to share with one another is the same love we have received. But we must be careful to ensure that we do not redefine love to fit our temporal, human sentiments.
One of the dangers we face is when we wrongly conclude that if God is love, then love must be God. Notice that John did not say, “Love is God.” When we flip this around we end up with love as the supreme good, not God. And because we are human, we tend to make love all about us. We end up putting ourselves at the center of that love. And that love is best expressed in terms we define and dictate. In other words, we conclude, “I feel most love when __________________.” You fill in the blank. In other words, we make a list of things we believe will make us feel loved. If God gives me a good job that pays me good money and makes me feel fulfilled, then He loves me. If God heals my disease and gives me a long life, then I will know that He loves me. If God gives me someone to marry who is highly attractive and fun to be with, then I will feel loved by Him. But what’s the problem with all of this? The natural conclusion is that if we don’t get what we want, we feel unloved by God. We have defined love on our terms and if God doesn’t love us the way we want to be loved, then He is unloving. Frederick Buechner wrote, “To say that love is God is romantic idealism. To say that God is love is either the last straw or the ultimate truth.” Sometimes the love of God will come across as hate to us. We will not feel loved. Because God’s deepest concern for us is not for our happiness, but our holiness. There will be times when God does not give us what we desire. Because He does not love us? No, because He DOES love us, and He alone knows what is BEST for us. Paul prayed repeatedly that God would remove “the thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). But God did not answer those prayers. At least not in the terms Paul was expecting. But what was Paul’s conclusion? “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). Each time Paul had prayed for what he believed he needed, God had lovingly told him, “‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). God had something far greater He wanted to do in Paul’s life. His love is always redemptive and restorative, but with an emphasis on the future. God did not promise us our best life now. His love has an eschatological or future aspect to it. These bodies are impermanent. They will not last and were not designed to do so. He has something far better in store for us. Ultimately, God’s love is focused on who we are in Him and what we will be when His Son returns.
So what if we loved one another the way God loves us, the way Christ loved us? What if our greatest expression of love for one another was focused on God’s desire to sanctify those that are His and redeem those who are not? I am NOT suggesting that we do not meet physical or emotional needs. John has made it clear that love must be practical and tangible. But as children of God, our love must have a greater, deeper focus than the alleviation of temporal suffering. To love as God has loved us is to care deeply about one another’s spiritual well-being. It is to sacrifice all that you have in order to see another human being reconciled, made right with God. Paul reminds us, “Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV). Our love for others must ultimately be about their reconciliation to God. God’s love is always redemptive, restorative, and regenerative in nature. It is about far more than our happiness or temporal well-being. And we must remain in, abide in that kind of love – embracing it, sharing it, displaying it, and spreading it to all those around us.