I came across my son reading this poem the other day. It's called 'Ten Things Mums Never Say To Their Children', by Steve Turner:
Keep your mouth open when you eat, then you'll be able to talk at the same time. Jump down the stairs. It's quicker than walking. Don't eat all your vegetables. You won't have enough room for your sweets. It's too early for bed. Stay up and watch more television. Be rude to your teachers. It would be dishonest to be polite. By all means walk on the furniture. It's already badly scratched. Don't brush your teeth. They'll only get dirty again. It's not your fault that your pocket money only lasts for a day. Wipe your feet on the sofas. That's what they're there for. I was far worse behaved than you when I was young.
Why do most mums never say such things? Because most mothers love their children. A fact which is recognised in a rather over the top way on some Mothering Sunday cards in such quotations as: "There is no friendship, no love, like that of the mother for the child" (Henry Ward Beecher); "Mother means selfless devotion, limitless sacrifice and love that passes understanding"; "Mother is love; she is warmth" (Erich Fromm).
Humanly speaking our mothers may have been or may be very loving and warm. My mum did make many sacrifices in terms of not spending money on herself for my brother, sister and I and it's amazing how some mums can cope and keep on loving in the midst of children playing, screaming and demanding attention. As someone has said: "Any mother could perform the job of several air traffic controllers with ease"!
And it's good that we do say thank you in return and honour our mothers. But we learn from v.8-10 of our Bible passage that actually "God is love" and that the love of God is far deeper, greater, more amazing and more sacrificial, for God's love is seen in the cross of Christ. For John, the writer of this letter, the cross of Jesus Christ – where Jesus died for us - supremely reveals the love of God for sinful humanity. So
First, GOD IS LOVE (v8)
If I was to ask you to complete the phrase God is…what would you say? It's possible that some of us here this morning would not use the word love. A number of you might be thinking can we really talk meaningfully about God loving us individually in a world of billions of people? Or we might ask when we look at the world with all its evil and suffering, so many damaged and broken lives, how can there be a God who really loves? Perhaps we know of some married couples who would love to have children – they would love to become the happy mother and father of children but can't and therefore are asking questions about God and whether he really is love.
Yet John insists God is love. He states it twice in v.8 and v.16. God is love. It is true. And this is the very nature of God. God is not too great to be bothered with our tiny lives. No – he is so great that he can be bothered with each of us individually. He knows every hair on our head. (Mt. 10:30) Not even our mothers know that. To go back to married couples who are unable to have children. One Christian couple who went through the pain of that wrote this:
"But how about all the couples who pray but no baby comes? It cannot be understood; the mysteries about God are all unfathomable…and yet one simple miraculous truth is certain: that he loves us. Any way he chooses to deal with us is in the light of his perfect love. But it takes a tough decision of the will for each of us to believe it, for when suffering comes we can rarely see how or why it can possibly be his best for us."
God is love. This fact doesn't just mean that God loves but that he is love. Love is not a quality that God possesses, but the essence of God himself. It's not a minor attribute that characterises God on occasions but the very heart of God. It's not a component part of God, but his very nature. So to imagine that God does not love us is to deny his true nature. It is to distort the free grace or undeserved favour of God into something much less worthy, into a conditional love – a love if or a love because of – a love that humans often show – a love which depends on the attractiveness or worthiness of the object for it to be exercised. God's love is utterly different to that. It cannot be earned; it cannot be deserved. God loves us because that is his nature.
"In his love he created the world and brought people into being so that he might enjoy friendship with them. In his love he redeemed the world and re-creates people so that he may renew fellowship with them and restore the relationship severed by our sin." (Tidball)
John wrote in his Gospel, 3:16:
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Do you believe and trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? If you do then you will know God and the love of God, you will know that loves comes from God and the love that comes from God and you will love other Christians in a godly way, even though that won't always be easy. Look at v7&12:
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
The love which is the proof of a true relationship with God is a love which is shown in actions for the benefit of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice. V21:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother (in Christ).
If you don't believe and trust in Jesus then you won't know God and his love and you won't love God's people in that godly way. Look at v.8:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
So why not believe and trust in Jesus this morning? Then God will pour out his love into your hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he will have given you (Ro 5:5&cf 1 John 4:13). You will be born of God, you will know him and his love and love him and his people. You will not perish but have eternal life.
So as we've been seeing God's love differs from natural human love as "real fresh fruit differs from artificial fruit flavours". God's love is 'agape' love – love of an extraordinary kind, which gives itself in service to others to an unreasonable degree – even to the ultimate sacrifice. Human love is often 'eros' love. It loves those who are worthy, lovable and those able to love in return. It is characterised by desire, often a desire to possess. (Morris) In contrast agape love loves the unworthy and does so freely. The love of God therefore is not the human attitude we know as natural love. It is new and we shall never truly understand it if we simply imagine human love, even a mother's love, only magnified. Do we know it?
Before we move on it must be stated that to say God is love is not to say that love is God. Yes God is love, but not all love is therefore God. Much love falls far short of God's love and God is much more than love. He is holy love, perfect love and redeeming love. He is light (1:5) and he is just. He hates sin. But how do we know all this about God? Is this all made up wishful thinking? What evidence is there that God is love? The answer is supremely in the cross of Christ, which is my next point:
Secondly, THIS IS HOW GOD SHOWED HIS LOVE AMONG US (v9)
As one writer puts it:
"Without the cross, our understanding of love would be deficient, for it is the cross that defines what love is. We might think of love as a nice warm feeling, as an emotion, or even as a commitment of the will. But the cross defines love as self giving."
As John puts it earlier in this letter, in his other famous 3:16 verse:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
And look at v.9 of chapter 4:
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.
God didn't love us just by feeling compassion towards us, or by just saying that he loved us. His love was demonstrated in action: he sent his one and only, precious Son to live among us and to give himself for us on the cross so that we might live through him – through faith in Christ.
It was a tangible love. We aren't left to discover it through some process of subjective illumination, as John's opponents were evidently teaching, but we are shown it objectively on the cross. (Siefrid) On a day in history, on that first Good Friday, on a hill outside Jerusalem, the Son of God was crucified for us: to pay the price for our sin; to die in our place; so that we might live, so that we might not perish but have eternal life, through faith in him. What greater love could there be than this? As the well known hymn puts it:
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood;
When the Prince of Life, my ransom,
Shed for me his precious blood. (Rees&Edwards)
The coming of Christ is a concrete, historical revelation of God's love, for agape love is self-sacrifice and a greater self giving than God's gift of his Son there has never been, nor could be. (Stott) As Romans 6:23 states:
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Have we accepted God's gift? That leads us on to the next point because John's teaching now becomes more personal. So
Thirdly, THIS IS LOVE… (v10)
It's not only that 'God is love', or even that 'God showed his love among us' but v10 that 'he loved us'. Look at v10:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
And he loved us and sent his Son in the full knowledge of our sinful, rebellious, fallen humanity. In his grace he didn't wait for us to make the first move towards him. Instead, he made the first move by seeking us and making his love known to us. Another part of the Bible, Romans 5, makes a similar point. God came seeking us in his saving love 'when we were still powerless', when we were 'ungodly', while 'we were still sinners', and 'when we were God's enemies'. The initiative lay entirely with God. Roman 5:6-8 says this:
You see just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
What amazing love! How can we not respond by receiving, thanking and worshipping? God used those verses from Romans to speak to me and to draw me to Christ. After realising that he loved me and sent his Son to die for me I knew I had to accept God's Son Jesus as my Saviour and Lord in order to be put right with God. Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus said,
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me". (John 14:6)
So I admitted my sinfulness and need of Christ and the forgiveness only his death has made possible, I believed and trusted in Jesus and committed my life to him. And if you've not already done so you can do the same. God has been speaking to you too. Well in a moment I'm going to say a prayer which you can use to do what I did in response to his love. Look at v14-17 of 1 John 4:
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us…we will have confidence on the day of judgement.
Jesus is coming again as Judge – will we be ready? – will we be in Christ? We can't earn a place in heaven by good works, by being the best mother. We are saved only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Before we come to that prayer two more brief but key points. First, v 10 again –
he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Sometimes our view of love degenerates into sentimentalism and we can take God's love for granted. But God's love is not a sentimental love. His forgiveness is not cheap grace. He doesn't love us by ignoring what ruptured our relationship with him in the first place, by sweeping it under the carpet and pretending that it never happened.
No – he loves us by dealing with the cause of our rift. God's love is a holy love that deals with sin and atones for wrongdoing. The cross of Christ does more than influence sinners like you and me to return to him by winning us over as we see how much he gave himself for us. It removes the barrier between himself and us, as we heard in the Family Service last Sunday, and, in perfect justice, settles the problem of sin. In the first two chapters of this letter John writes, that
the blood of Jesus purifies those who walk in the light from all sin…
he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Only the blood of Christ, our substitute, can take away our sin, because he alone was the perfect sacrifice since he alone lived a perfect life. The means by which the love of a holy God is made available to sinful human beings is through the cross of Christ. It's precisely because God loves us that he doesn't ignore our sin, but rather confronts the reality of it, and offers his own Son as the answer to it.
Howard Marshall writes: "The depth of God's love is to be seen precisely in the way in which it bears the wounds inflicted on it by mankind and offers a full and free pardon.
In his love God provides for us, through Jesus, what we are unable to provide ourselves: the solution to our sinfulness. In a gracious way God's anger fell on Jesus instead of on us. We fully, finally, truly know that God loves us only because Christ died for our sins. And whoever believes in him can be saved. Secondly, God's love is seen in how Christians love one another. Look at v11&12:
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No-one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Christians are to love one another. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. "To have received the love of God in our own lives and then to refuse to share it with others is to turn God's free flowing grace into a stagnant pool. "(Tidball)
And God can be seen in us, in the love believers show when we actively serve others. I know I saw something very different in the way the Christians I first met related to one another. I was intrigued and wanted to know more and began to want what or who these people had. We are to show that love to one another in our marriages and as parents and our children will see the love of God.
One child who saw the love of Christ in his mother was the son of Richard Wurmbrand the Romanian pastor who died recently. When Richard and his wife were thrown into prison by Communists their 9 year old son was hauled off to a government school to be indoctrinated in Marxism and atheism. Some years later, as a method of psychological torture for his parents, the boy was brought to see his mother. The purpose of the visit was the denouncing of Christianity to her face. He studied the marks of suffering written on his mother's face together with the joy and love evident in his mother's spirit. The son suddenly declared, 'Mother, if Christ means this much to you, then I want him too'.
Do we want Christ too? Do we want to know the love of God? Do we want to know him and his forgiveness? If so I'm going to say a prayer which you can echo in your own heart.
Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. Please forgive me. I now turn from everything which I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Thank you Lord Jesus. Amen.