God Is Love
1 John 4:16-21 (ESV) 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. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
St. John writes, “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). God is love. But how do we come to know and believe this? Can we gaze at the creation and know it? Can we infer it from the miracle of life? No, the evidence of God’s love for creation is ambiguous, since along with the beauty and wonder of creation come harsh realities like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and all manner of man-made disaster. Likewise, the miracle of life is counterbalanced by the reality of death. So from these things alone, we cannot know that God is love.
Here is how God shows His love: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11).
In the Greco-Roman world into which the Epistle to the Romans was written, there were four general reasons why a person would consider dying for another: 1) conjugal love, the love between a husband and a wife; 2) shared philosophical commitment; 3) friendship; 4) family ties. But an ancient Greek or Roman would have scratched his head at Romans 5, and so do we, if we are really listening to it. We might be able to imagine giving up our life in the place of someone we consider good or righteous, our husbands or wives, fellow Christians, friends or relatives, but look at the people Jesus died in the place of: those who are powerless and ungodly (Rom 5:6), unrighteous and no good (implied in Rom 5:7), sinners (Rom 5:8), those wicked and lost in sin (implied in Rom 5:9), and here’s the clincher: He died for His enemies, those who were not at peace with God but rather violently rebelled against Him (Rom 5:10-11). Those are the people Christ died for.
The depth of the love of God is that He loved His enemies, us sinners, and He proved His love by sending His Son. And then His Son showed His love for the Father and for us by laying down His life for us. And God’s love for us removes the fear of death and damnation, since believers in Christ will be saved by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
And that also changes everything about how we live in this world toward one another. We now show our love for God by loving our neighbors as ourselves. St. John writes, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19-21).
This is a teaching that we tend to neglect. We enthusiastically receive the message of God’s love for us, but when we learn that this means that we also must love our neighbors as ourselves, or when we hear Jesus say that we must love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, well, that’s a bit unreasonable, isn’t it? But this is the love that flows from believing that God is love, and that His love has moved Him to give us all of Himself in Christ, and eternal communion with Him. St. John writes, “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.” May we always abide in the love of God in Christ!
Prayer: Glory and honor, praise and thanks be to You, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for all the mercy and faithfulness You have shown to our congregation. Your Word has not returned to You void, but You have here gathered a people that knows You and fears Your name. Give us Your Holy Spirit that we may at all times see the good things in this congregation and praise and thank You for them. Bless Your Word in times to come that it may preserve the faithful in Your grace, convert those who do not yet belong to You, and bring back the erring and straying. Gather Your people as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and shelter Your congregation with Your love; for You live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.