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First John

The Nature, Example and Sight of God

1 John 4:7-12

"God is love," we are told. For many people this is the only thing they really know about God, and it seems to them sufficient. If it were, this letter would be a lot shorter.

The Nature of God

(1 John 4:7-8 NIV) Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. {8} Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

The Balance of Truth and Love

It is unfortunate that the Bible is divided into chapters and verses, for it permits those who wish to push what God says into their own envelope to develop a fine sounding argument. You must remember that Satan cannot create; he can only take what God has created and distort it. God is truth; God is love; Satan distorts both.

If you remove truth and leave love, you get what is today called liberalism. "Oh, God would never condemn something so beautiful and loving. This guilt of yours is imaginary. Just go out and practice random acts of kindness, and everything will be all right." If there is no condemnation of sin, there is no righteousness - and there is no truth.

If you remove love, however, you get that wonderful mixture of legalism and fundamentalism that condemns the sinner along with the sin. The sour persimmon version of Christianity, it's the "You're going to hell … and I am obviously quite delighted to point it out."

If we are to correctly understand these things, we must balance truth and love, or, as Paul says it, we must "speak the truth in love."

Thomas Aquinas

The greatest philosopher the church has ever known, Thomas Aquinas, told us that the essence of God is his existence - and that he is his attributes. None of us must exist; but he must, or nothing exists. Indeed, we borrow the very concept of existence from God. Since "He is," he is his attributes (his essential characteristics, without which he would not be who he is). So we find that

God is love

God is holy

Today we shall focus on the fact that God is love - and its implications for us. But let us not lose sight of how intrinsic this quality is to the Almighty.

The nature of love

The word in the Greek used here is agape, the familiar word for "unselfish love." The source of this love is God; therefore we can determine its characteristics by examining how God loves:

It is without respect to persons. God loves his enemies - even to the point of the Cross.

It is his "natural" (intrinsic) response. The greater the sin, the greater is his love, for he overcomes evil with good.

It follows, therefore, that if we are "in Him," i.e., we have his Spirit and model ourselves after his character, that we will love in the same way. This is nothing more than the concept of our bearing fruit in Christ - as we will be doing it naturally.

"Let us"

The phrase used here, "Let us love…" implies preparation. It is not a random act, nor an occasional thing - it is a planned action. The Contemporary English Version translates it, "We must love one another…"

This is an active, planned love - not an accidental happening. Nor is it passive.

It is a deliberately unconditional love. It does not depend upon our disposition but upon our will.

"Knows God"

How can one know God? If we are to succeed in becoming like him we must know him. I submit there are three ways:

Spiritually. In times of prayer, meditation and study, we examine him and meet with him, learning from him of his very nature.

Experimentally. We put into practice that which we have learned or heard, and our experience teaches us that he loves us and disciplines us - if we will keep our eyes open to see this.

Habitually. Neither of these methods will work if we don't make them a habit.

The Example of God

(1 John 4:8-9 NIV) Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. {9} This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

Here we find the supreme example of God's love: the sacrifice at the Cross.

Note that this was not in response to anything that we did. He loved us first; this is not his response to our love. He did it that we might live - and in that sense it is a response to our sin, not our love.

It was exceedingly costly to him. Jesus was sent into the world, not created into it. He gave up that which he had in glory to come to us - and then to face the Cross.

In so doing he made the propitiation of our sins. He paid the price that we might have life.

Our response

So what should we do in response? We should imitate his style, so to speak:

We should take the initiative in loving others - not waiting for them to make the first move.

If necessary, to the point of sacrifice and death. The measure of love is what it costs. ("If a man's principles don't cost him anything, they aren't worth very much" - Dad).

And by our actions bring them to reconciliation, removing the effects of their sin as we are able and bearing them otherwise. We are the ambassadors of reconciliation.


Let me give you an example. I know a man who married a woman who already had an illegitimate child. We used to call such a "child of sin;" now, of course, we use the phrase "love child." (A rose by any other name still grows in fertilizer). He loved the child, adopted it and raised it as his own. Is that not an example of one who took the initiative, bore the cost and removed the effects of sin?

We are the world's illegitimate children - the children of sin - but God has forgiven us, paid our debt at the Cross and adopted us into his kingdom. As Hosea bought back his prostitute-wife Gomer, God has repurchased us. "Go thou, and do likewise." That's what God is asking.

The Sight of God

(1 John 4:10-12 NIV) This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. {11} Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. {12} No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

How can we NOT love?

Think of it this way: God is righteous. If anyone has a right to be judgmental, condemning and throwing lightning bolts, he does. Yet he does not (yet). This should bring two things to us:

It is an example to us. If the Holy One does things this way, we should at least attempt to imitate the practice.

It brings up the question of fairness. If God treats me that way, is it not manifestly unjust for me to treat others with anything less than this love?

How could anyone see God?

To ask the question is to understand the problem. God is Spirit; God is unfathomable and unreachable. He is light. It is beyond our faculties that we could see him. It is impossible - but consider:

Have you ever seen a dinosaur? Say, a brontosaurus? Yes, and no. Not in the flesh, but certainly a great picture of one in the movie Jurassic Park. That was a very clear picture of one - I saw it move, I saw it eat, I saw a dinosaur!

That's the same way that the world - including us - can see God.

God is love.

We show that love - and we are quite easily seen.

To see that love is to see God, for God is love.

Made complete in us

The word used for complete means here to finish something, make it ideal for its task - think of wine aging to perfection in the cask. This is not perfecting the love of God, which is unchanging. Rather, it is the completion of God's love, shown through his body, the church.

It is a "working out" of what God has put in us. When God gives us something so precious as his love, we just can't let it sit there - we have to use it. There may be such a thing as the perfect screwdriver. If there is, it's in a toolbox - not in a museum.

This is another example of the concept of "the body of Christ." We are his body, his visible wrapper on earth. Therefore, if the world is to see him, it must look at us.

We're on display, the body of Christ. It's up to us to show the world what God really looks like.

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