Introduction: What If?
Thus far, in our “God Is” series we have seen that God is a personal eternal being endowed with omni attributes and infinite holiness. Could you imagine however, if God was an eternal person but not loving? He would be a capricious despot. Or if he was omni without love? He would be an all-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing indifferent cosmic dictator. Or even if he was holy without love? He would be unmerciful to anyone less holy than he. Now for God to be all of these things and not loving would be scary and the universe would be a horrible place in which to live! But thanks be to God that’s not the case. Listen to the most important three-word phrase you will ever hear. It is found in 1 John 4:16, “God is love.”
God IS Love
God’s very nature is love. Love is not a property or attribute of God but the very essence of who he is. It’s not that God loves, or has more love than everyone else. He’s not just a fun-loving guy. He is love, like the sun is hot, like water is wet, and like sand is dry. Love is who he is and his love is the source of all good, grace, mercy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness we have ever enjoyed or experienced on this planet. The first half of I John 4:16 tells us to “know and rely” on God’s love while Ephesians 3:17-19 wants us to grasp it, be rooted and established in it, and ultimately be full of it
17 So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
If we are going to flourish in God’s love we need to understand the nature of it. The main word for God’s love in the New Testament is “agape” and it has five essential characteristics:
#1 God’s Agape Is Impartial. God loves everybody the same (Romans 2:11). He loves the saints as much as he loves the sinners. He loves the rich as much he loves the poor and vice versa. He loves his enemies as much as he loves his friends. He doesn’t love you more than me or me more than you. In other words, God plays no favorites with his love. He doesn’t love us anymore when we are good and any less we are bad. Furthermore, he will never love us more than he loves us right now and he will never love us less than he loves us right now.
#2 God’s Agape Is Proactive. God doesn’t wait for us to love him before he loves us. I John 4:17 tells us that he “loved us first.” His love doesn’t kick in when we attain a certain level of goodness, piety, or obedience. Just the opposite. He takes the initiative in loving us as Romans 5:8 makes clear:
God proved his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
#3 God’s Agape Is Sacrificial. God’s love for us cost him something that he cherished the most, his Son. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son.” The word “gave” here is the language of sacrifice and we find it again in Romans 8:32,
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If love is measured by service and service is measured by sacrifice then greatest act of sacrifice is God giving us his Son and his Son dying for us.
#4 God’s Agape Is Unconditional. There is absolutely no “ifs ands, and buts” in God’s love for us. God’s love has no pre, mid, or post conditions at all. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul says we are saved by “Faith through grace and not of good works.” Grace is the expression of God’s unearned love. He doesn’t love us because we are lovable or worthy (we are not) but because of the unconditional nature of his agape.
#5 God’s Love Is Eternal. We clearly see this characteristic in Jeremiah 31:3 where God assures the Israelites
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
God has loved us in the past. God is loving us now in the present. God will love us from infinity and beyond.
Two things before we figure out what we are to do with God’s love. The first is to be thankful over the sheer irony that God loves us but hates our sin. Our sins, whatever they are, are an affront to God’s holiness and cost God his Son. Let’s never forget that, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” because it true. God could have hated the sinner along with the sin but instead he hates the sin and loves the sinner.
Secondly, let us remember that the Bible is the only “holy” book that teaches that God, as the Maximal Person, loves in the ways we just described. No other religious work, not the Bigha Veda, Book of Mormon, Upanishads, or Quran, teach that their “god” is perfect in love. If their gods love at all, they do so much in the same we mere mortals do, partially, reactively, selfishly, conditionally, and temporarily. Who wants to worship gods that love like that?
Love With God’s Love
So what are we to do with God’s love? We are to be transformed by it so that we can love others the same way God loves us. As Christ followers we are commended to love God (our first love), love our neighbors, love ourselves, love one another, love our families, love those who love us, love the unlovable, love the stranger, love the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely and, as icing on the cake, love our enemies, i.e., those who hate and persecute us. Love for enemy is the highest and hardest of all loves and proves that we are truly “born of God” (I John 4:7) and as Jesus said, “are the children of God.” Listen to how he explained it in Matthew 5:43-45
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
We are called to love everyone, including our enemies, and we are to do so with the love God loves us with. How are we going to do that? To find out, first let’s see where we are on the love ladder.
*Love Ladder Illustration*
We will only have the capacity and motivation to love all people, from easiest to hardest, if God’s agape is continually filling our hearts. And this is exactly the supernatural dynamic Paul said would happen to each Christ follower. In Romans 5:5 he tells the Corinthians
God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
The HS pours God’s impartial, proactive, sacrificial, unconditional, and eternal love into us the moment we open our hearts to him. He keeps pouring it in there until it overflows into love for others, no matter who the others are! That’s how we respond to the God who is love and loving.
We conclude our God series today to focus on Jesus, the God/Man next week. My prayer is that you trust God more because you now know that he is an eternal, omni, holy, AND loving person. Truly there is nothing or no one like him!