God is Love . . . What are You?
6th Sunday of Easter
God is Love . . . What are You?
Text: 1 John 4:7-11
I could be very cliché as a writer and a speaker and tell you that if you googled the question, “What is God?” 1,650,000,000 results pop up on the internet. Or if you type the same question and search for books at Amazon.com, 338,815 related books pop up. Needless to say, a lot of people have a lot of things to say about what God is.
I could continue this very stereotypical sermon introduction and tell you that if you then googled the question, “What is love?” interestingly 4,980,000 (3 times more) results pop up on the internet and 266,243 related books show up on Amazon.com. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about what love is, too.
Then, I could put the cherry on top of the most stereotypical sermon introduction ever and tell you that Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “God” as “the supreme or ultimate reality, the being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe.” The same dictionary defines the word “love” as “strong affection for another” or “unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.”
Yes, I could say all of those common, cliché, and stereotypical things . . . OK, so I already did. But all of it is an exercise in futility and a huge waste of time. Set your dictionary aside. Don’t bother looking at four billion websites (We Americans have been dumbed down by the internet enough, anyways). Instead open up your Bible (or your service folder today) and let God himself explain in the most simple of words. What is God? What is love? Simply put: God is Love.
If you wanted a quick, one-word summary of the entire first letter of the apostle John, love would be a good choice. Over and over again John writes to early Christians about the concept of love. The second lesson today is a good summary-synopsis of the whole letter.
He begins this section with an encouragement for all Christians: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love is from God.” It’s a tender and loving encouragement in and of itself. He calls these Christians his dear friends. He exhorts them to show love to one another. He reminds them that love is from God. He reminds them that Christians naturally show love because they are God’s children: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
It’s a warm and kind encouragement. And we love to hear these tender and softhearted words. We love to talk about love and sing about love. We love to encourage one another with love. So the obvious conclusion John makes is one we certainly agree with: “Whoever does not love does not know God.” Yes! If you are not showing love than you don’t really know God. Why? “Because God is love.”
Take a moment to soak in that most profound statement and thought: God is love. What is this God like that stitched together the universe and sprinkled the stars throughout the heavens? What is this God like that formed mountains and filled deep oceans? What is this God like that knew us even before the moment of conception and allows for so many marvelous people in the world? What is this God like that gives opportunity for smiles and happiness and joy? He is love. God is love. If you want to know who the real God is and what he is like and what he is all about, then one sentence is all you need: God is Love.
As I studied and read these most profound words over and over this last week there was one thought that continued to enter my mind: If God is Love, then what am I? If I could find one and only one word to describe who I am and what I’m like and what I’m all about, what word would I choose?
Could I say, “Phil is love”? I sure would love to. It has a certain ring to it. But there was that thing I said the other day. Yikes! That wasn’t love. And I’ve had some thoughts recently that aren’t even in the same area code as love. Please don’t ask my wife how I act when I have a really busy week. And good thing my kids aren’t quite old enough to articulate daddy’s lack of patience with misbehavior when he is stressed out. I would love to say, “Phil is love,” but it just doesn’t fit.
The more and more I thought about this sentence and thought about what word might describe me, the less and less I liked the words I was coming up with. Suddenly I found that the words I thought could accurately describe who I am and what I am all about weren’t so pleasant to hear.
So, God is Love . . . What are You? What word would you use to describe yourself? Wouldn’t it be nice to say, “I am love”? But does that word fit? Does love fill every ounce of your being every moment of your every day? Does love guide every word that slips off your tongue? Does love describe the way you talk to your coworkers? Does love describe the way you talk to your family? Do you put yourself down and set your pride aside to show love and kindness first and foremost to everyone else instead? Would you rather be torn to pieces while still showing love rather than respond to someone with anger and revenge? Does the word “love” describe who you are and what you’re like and what you’re all about?
I’ll guess that, like me, “love” doesn’t quite fit. God is Love . . . What are You? The more we think about it the less we like the words that come to mind. Liar. Cheat. Sore loser. Braggart. Gossip. Lazy. Apathetic. Vengeful. Short-tempered. Hateful. Yuck! Can we just stop this game now? I don’t want to know what words describe me anymore! God is Love. What am I? I am . . . a sinner.
What a horrible conclusion to come to! What an awful realization to finally have! God is Love. That’s who he is and what he’s like and what he’s all about. But I am a sinner. That’s who I am and what I’m like and what I’m all about. It’s no wonder that God declares that those who sin ought have nothing to do with him. What business, what right, does anyone labeled “sinner” have to be with the God who is defined as “love”? We don’t belong with the God who is love. Not now. Not ever.
Dear friends, we may be sinners, but God still is love. That has never changed. Explore then the depths of that love in how he showed it: “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.”
This is how God showed that he is love: as a world of people (including us) ignored him and disobeyed him and disrespected him and even rejected him, rather than immediately blasting sinners with incinerating fireballs from heaven to bring instantaneous death, God sent his Son to die instead. God planned and worked and guided history for thousands of years with the greatest of love so that the only innocent one ever, Jesus, his own Son, would die, and we the guilty ones would live. Yes, God is Love.
What is love? Verse 10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” When children are on extra-good behavior and have been listening to everything you ask them to do and making great choices, it’s really easy to want to buy them ice cream. When your spouse has been going out of the way to treat you with respect and give nice little displays of affection, it’s really easy to give oodles of love back. But when people disrespect you, or talk bad about you, or take advantage of you, it’s not so easy to show love.
This is why God is so amazing and is even defined as being “love” himself. It’s not that we showed such great love and obedience to God. Not at all! Just the opposite in fact! But yet despite that God loved us enough to send Jesus to take our place as the atoning, peacemaking sacrifice for our sins. The rules God set up were simple: Obey me and live. Disobey me and die. But God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son to die instead of us. That is love. God is Love.
This boundless, limitless, unconditional, unbelievable, all-inclusive, and all-forgiving love can only lead us to one possible conclusion and response. Verse 11: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” If God could love us with such great mercy and compassion, then most surely we can and will show love to one another.
There are so many hurtful things that are done to us almost every day. People say mean things to us and about us. People gossip and slander us. Our good names and reputations get ruined. People ignore us or make fun of us or make us feel like nothing. They refuse to listen to us. They give us no respect at all.
Yet still . . . how much greater are the sins that we have committed against God, but he loved and forgave us in spite of them. So then, with even just a fraction of God’s love we can love others enough to forgive their sins against us.
There is simply no comparison to the joy of knowing how much God has loved us. His love is so great and so meaningful that even little children can know and understand it. It’s as simple as the song even my little two-year-old knows: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so . . . Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
This love of God is a love that brims over to produce smiles and hugs and firm handshakes on a Sunday morning. This is a love that overflows from the heart with generous gifts and help for the needy and service to the Lord. This is a love that fills our hearts with patience and calmness and respect. This is a love that brings us to our knees in humility to others and thanks to Jesus.
Dear friends, we have a God who is so great that we can sum him up in one simple, profound sentence: God is Love. What are You? You are God’s children forgiven through the love of Jesus. That means you are love too!