Sunday, November 29, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Sermon on God’s Love

The God I Wish You Knew
#6—God is love

People have lots of questions about God—what is He like? And the best way to answer those is to look at Jesus. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The God I wish you knew is the God that Jesus revealed. This God is Father, He is good and generous, He is trustworthy and just. And the God I wish you knew is love. (I’m going to take some extra time on the introduction.)

“God is love.” Who said that? The apostle John. In the very back of your New Testament are three short letters from John: 1, 2, 3 John. In 1 John, he writes:

1 John 4:7–8 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.

God is love. This is a remarkable statement. John is saying that for God love is not a passing sentiment; it is who God is. Love is not something that comes and goes; it is who God is. God is love. It is His essential nature. God cannot be unloving, because He is love.

Then John applies it to us. Because God is love, we’re to love one another. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” No love = know God.

ILL: Jeff Gannon is a pastor. One day, the phone rang in his office. A young woman said, “I have just one question: may I come to your church?” Jeff was stunned. “Of course you can! Why would feel like you need to ask?”

“Let me tell you my story before you answer.”

When she was a junior in high school, she got pregnant by a young man who had no interest in her or the baby. She kept the baby and decided to get her life back on track, so she started attending the church she was raised in.

After a few months, she talked with her pastor. She thought that other girls might learn from her mistakes, and offered to talk with middle school girls about the pressures of dating and sex. The pastor told her, “I would never allow that. I am afraid that your type of person might rub off on them.” She was hurt, but still kept coming.

After her baby was born, she called the pastor to schedule a baptism service for her baby. The pastor said, “That is not going to happen in my church. I would never baptize an illegitimate baby.”

“Now that you know my story,” she said to Jeff, “can I still come to your church?”

I think Jesus might have had words with that pastor.

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

If you don’t love, you don’t know God. No love = know God.  God is love. John says it again in:

1 John 4:16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

God is love. We know and rely on the love God has for us. What kind of love does God have for us? John says:

1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

The Father lavishes His great love on us! He calls us His children—and it’s true! That’s what we are! You are God’s beloved child. Think about it: God calls you His child. Do you love your children? Crazy love! You’d do anything for your kids; you’d die for your kids. God did that for you. He loves you like a parent loves his or her children. He is absolutely committed to your wellbeing, to doing what is best for you.

Do you believe that?

1 John 4:16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

The word “rely on” translates the Greek word pisteuo, which is usually translated “believe” or “trust”. We know and believe in God’s love for us. How many of you know that God loves you as His own child? How many of you believe in God’s love for you? We say we believe in God’s love, but often we don’t act like it.

ILL: On Tuesday, I stopped by to see a friend at his office. He made an intriguing remark about God’s love—I was so curious that I called him later in the week to ask about it. Here’s his story.

My friend has been struggling with depression and has gone to a counselor. Not long ago, the counselor pointed out that although my friend knows that God loves him, he doesn’t act like it. He knows, but he doesn’t seem to believe it. He was acting like God loved him if he was good enough, if he did all the right things. And if he didn’t, well, God probably didn’t love him then. Does this sound familiar? Many of us believe the same thing: God loves us when we’re good, and rejects us when we’re not. Compare this with the gospel:

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

When did God demonstrate His love for us? While we were sinners!

The counselor pointed out that believing the truth will set us free, but it’s a battle for us. We have entrenched beliefs—mental strongholds that have to be broken down and replaced with the truth. This particular mental stronghold—that love must be earned or deserved— is pervasive. We’ve all grown up in a culture where acceptance is based on performance, so we naturally assume that God must be like that too. He’s not. God is love. He loves you not because of anything you do, but because He is love.

My friend has been working on tearing down that mental stronghold—rejecting the lie that he has to perform to be loved. And instead, he is believing that God loves him right now, just as he is. He is valued by God as His beloved child, just for who he is, not for anything that he does.

Do you want to know what he said that intrigued me? “Believing that God loves me right now has changed my life!”

Do you know and believe that God loves you right now? It will change your life. Start telling yourself the truth about God’s love, and tear down that mental stronghold of performance-based love and value.

God is love. God loves you more than you can imagine. But what does that mean? We use the word “love” to mean all kinds of things: it’s everything from romance to sex to a zero score in tennis! So let me define love for you.

Love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you.

Let’s read that together. Let’s break it down.

Love is doing. Love is not mere emotion; it’s action. We are commanded to love: love God, love your neighbor, love your spouse and kids, love your enemies! God is not commanding us to feel something—you can’t command feelings. “Like me!” Did that work? You can only command action. And love is an action. Love is doing.

Love is doing what’s best for another. To love someone is to be committed to their wellbeing, to want and do the very best for them. This is why love sometimes says “no”. This is why love doesn’t enable harmful behaviors. This is why parent’s discipline. Love does what is best for another.

Love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you. Love is costly. Love involves sacrifice, and service, and is often painful and difficult.

Love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you.

How do I know that’s the definition of love? Look again at these verses:

John 3:16 For 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.

God so loved that He gave. God’s love did something: He gave His one and only Son. Why did He do it? For our good: so that we wouldn’t perish, but would have eternal life. Was it costly? Oh yes—it cost God more than we can imagine—the life of His one and only Son.

1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

How do we know what love is? Jesus showed us by laying down His life for us. Jesus defines love—He shows us that love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you.

1 John 4:9-10 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. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

This is love: love is God sending Jesus to give His life for us. Love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you.

God is love. God loves you. God is absolutely committed to doing what is best for you. William Barclay describes God’s love as His “unconquerable goodwill” towards you. God wants what is best for you, and has gone to incredible lengths to make that happen. God loves you…right now…just as you are. God wants what is best for you.

So here’s the:

The Big Idea: The apostle John wrote that God is love. Where did he get this idea? From Jesus!

John says that God is love, and proves it by pointing to Jesus. What about Jesus says that God is love? Everything: His words, His actions, His death—everything about Jesus shows that God is love.

  1. Jesus’ words show that God is love.

I’ve listed several passages as examples—there are many more—we’ll look at just one. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:43–48 “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.

Let’s pause here. Love your enemies so that you may be children (or sons) of your Father in heaven. What does Jesus mean? The Hebrew language sometimes used the expression “son of…” with a noun where we would use an adjective. For example, Barnabas is called “a son of encouragement”, meaning he was a very encouraging guy. James and John were called “sons of thunder”, meaning they were very loud and bombastic. When you love your enemies you are sons of your Father in heaven—that is, you are acting like God. God loves everyone—good or evil, righteous or unrighteous. When you love everyone always, you are like God. That is how God loves you—He is completely committed to your good right now, whether you believe in Him or not. God’s love for you is the reason you can love others. Jesus goes on:

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

God loves everyone: evil or good, righteous or unrighteous. This doesn’t mean that God feels warm fuzzies for everyone. It means that God is doing what is best for us—even if we hate Him! When Jesus tells you to love your enemies, it doesn’t mean that you feel warm fuzzies for them; it means that you do what’s best for them. Why? Because that’s what God does. God loves everyone always.

46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

God loves everyone always. God wants the very best for the ISIS terrorist as much as He wants it for you! It’s shocking! Does God like what the terrorist does? Of course not! He doesn’t like what I do a lot of the time either, but He loves me anyway and wants the best for me. God’s love is perfect—He wants the best for everyone. God loves everyone always.

Be perfect as your Father is perfect. Be perfect in love. Love everyone always.   That’s what God does. Love everyone always. When you do that, you’ll be perfect like your Father is perfect. You were made to be like God, and God is love.

Jesus’ words show that God is love. He says it over and over in many ways. That’s where John learned it.

  1. Jesus’ actions show that God is love.

I’ve only listed one passage on your outline; I could have simply written down “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” When you read the four gospels, the story of Jesus, you’ll find Jesus doing good for people on every page. As we tell some of these stories about Jesus, remember that Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” God is like Jesus. Here’s a sample of what happens in Matthew 8.

A leper approaches Jesus and kneels before Him. “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched the man. “I am willing. Be clean!” And he was healed on the spot!   Leprosy was a living death. Lepers were forced to live apart from everyone else, and were forbidden any kind of contact. You were not only dying physically, rotting away, but you were dead socially, ostracized from all normal social contact. Most people avoided lepers at all cost. Touching a leper was double jeopardy: it made you religiously unclean, and they believed leprosy was contagious so you risked getting the disease yourself. Why did Jesus touch the leper? He loved him. Jesus loved and touched and healed this man whom others avoided.   God is love—even for lepers.

A Roman centurion—a Gentile, an officer in the occupying Roman army—comes to Jesus to ask for a favor. His much loved servant is paralyzed and suffering greatly. “Shall I come and heal him?” Jesus offers. The centurion says, “Lord, I don’t deserve to have you come to my house. Just say the word, and I know he will be healed.” Jesus marvels at his faith, unlike any He has seen among God’s chosen people, and then says, “Go. It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed. This man was not just a Gentile; he was a Roman army officer. He was the enemy! And Jesus offers to help him, to heal his servant. Why? Because Jesus loved him. Jesus loved this Roman army officer, Israel’s enemy. And Jesus loved his servant. God is love—even for our enemies.

When Jesus got to Peter’s house, He learned that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her and she got up and began helping out. Why did Jesus heal Peter’s mother-in-law? Because He loved her—Jesus loves all mothers-in-law! Jesus loves everyone always. God is love—even for mothers-in-law!

A would-be follower came to Jesus and said, “I will follow you anywhere.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but I have no place to lay my head.” What was Jesus doing? He was loving this man; He was telling him the truth. He was saying, “I want you to count the cost. I want you to follow me, and I want you to understand what it will cost you.” Another man said, “I will follow you; first let me go bury my father.” And Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury the dead; you follow me.” It sounds harsh! But Jesus loved this man too, and was telling him the truth. Jewish men felt a deep responsibility to care for their family, especially aging parents. His father may very well have been healthy and had years to live, but he didn’t feel free to leave until after his father’s death. So what he was saying to Jesus was, “I’d like to follow you, but my family comes first. I have to wait until my father dies and I’ve fulfilled my family duties.” Jesus loved him enough to tell him the truth—it’s Jesus first, not family first. Jesus loves everyone always—sometimes it’s tough love. God is love—even for would-be followers.

Jesus was ready for a break. He suggested to His followers that they sail across Lake Galilee for a little R&R. As soon as they pushed off, He was fast asleep in the stern. But a storm came crashing down on the lake—much like the one we had two weeks ago. The waves were threatening to swamp the little boat, and the terrified disciples shook Jesus awake. “Wake up! Don’t you care that we’re about to drown?” Jesus replied, “Oh you of little faith, why are you afraid?” Then with a word, He stilled the storm. Now they were really terrified! “Who is this man, that even the winds and waves obey Him?” Why did Jesus chide them for their faithless fear? He loved them—He was doing what was best for them. They had forgotten who Jesus was and that Jesus was in the boat with them, and that Jesus had said, “We’re going to the other side.” Do you ever forget that Jesus is with you? Do you ever get fearful, even though He is in your boat?   Jesus loved them in spite of their weakness and failure. He loves us that way too. Jesus loves everyone always. God is love—even for scaredy cat followers who forget that Jesus is with them.

I could go on and on—but you get the picture. Jesus loved everyone always. It wasn’t just sentimental feelings. He did what was best—He healed, and freed and taught. And most of all, He gave His life.

Jesus showed that God is love through His words, His actions, and His death.

  1. Jesus’ death shows that God is love.

Jesus’ followers came to see His death as the ultimate expression of His love. We’ve read several texts by the apostle John. Here’s the apostle Paul:

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Ephesians 5:2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

Clearly, John and Paul and the other apostles saw Jesus’ death as the ultimate expression of God’s love. Where did they get this idea? From Jesus. He spoke of His death as an act of sacrificial love.

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus said that He would His life to ransom or free us—it’s an act of sacrificial love: doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you.

Jesus memorialized this idea in the Lord’s Supper or communion.

Luke 22:19–20 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

His body was given for us; His blood was poured out for us. He gave His life as an act of sacrificial love.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

“And you are my friends,” He went on to say. The greatest love is to sacrifice one’s life for another. That’s how Jesus loved you. He gave His life so you can live. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Friends, I want you to know and believe that God loves you deeply. I want you to believe that God wants the very best for you. I want you to have an unshakeable faith in God’s unconquerable goodwill toward you.

ILL: Remember the story I told earlier about the young lady whose pastor rejected her offer of help, and refused to baptize her baby? She ended up in another church where she learned that God loved her. Her baby was baptized. She was asked to work with young people there. She went on to finish her education and eventually went into mission work. Today she and her daughter live and work as missionaries in Africa where they tell people that there is a God who loves everyone always.

God is love. This is the God I wish you knew.