The Apostle John wrote, “God is love” late in the 1st Century. (1 John 4:8) He wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was declaring God’s self-revelation. 1 John 4:19 served to confirm the basis for Christian love. It’s not that Christians are especially lovable people or people with loving hearts. The reason that Christians love one another is that God loved them first.
In declaring this truth, John revealed one of God’s attributes. God is faithful. God is sovereign. God is good. God is truth. God is love, etc. Each of God’s attributes fall under a very significant one. God is holy. (Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:8) The holiness of God is significant in that his attribute of holiness informs every other attribute.
When we study God’s attributes, we understand that each one describes 100% of God’s character. In other words, God is always faithful, sovereign, truthful, and loving. As we apply God’s holiness to each attribute, we see that God is uniquely faithful, sovereign, truthful, and loving.
As you are aware, the only attribute of God that is repeated three times in succession is his holiness. The Hebrews used repetition to emphasize a point. Strong emphasis was expressed by repeating a word twice. When holy was repeated three times, God was declaring with extreme emphasis that He is unique, perfect, self-sufficient, and transcendent.
This brief discussion of God’s attributes as impacted by his holiness is necessary when seeking to understand his love. God is love has become one of the central determining factors used by Christians and used against Christians. On one extreme, some suggest that everything is acceptable because God is love. These proponents say, “My God is a God of love. Therefore, he wouldn’t be angry or punish anyone.”
Yet because God is holy, we know that he indeed punishes evil-doers and he expresses his anger, even wrath against sin. A holy God would not “wink” at evil. Our holy God judges perfectly.
Therefore, John defined divine love. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)
Jesus told the world the source and blessing of divine love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The Father initiated love for the world. Jesus said that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) The fact that anyone exists is a testimony to the Father’s love. God chose to extend common grace to mankind even though all deserve death. (Genesis 2:16-17) Jesus went further in revealing God’s saving grace which proceeds out of his love. Those who believe in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus focused God’s intense love on those who believe in Jesus. He declared that God doesn’t love everyone the same. Some will perish. But those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life.
One of the most poignant verses of Scripture is Romans 5:8. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When we hear and read that God is love, may we understand the depth of his love in contrast to the blackness of our hearts. May this understanding be made personal and intimate by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle John called those who have been loved by God in this saving way to respond by being people of love. He called believers to love one another and obey God.
Be aware of the false teaching that states: Because he loved you so much you can then live for yourself. God’s love must be understood from our vertical relationship with him first before we can seek to live it out horizontally with others. Those who have been loved by God are continually loved by him. We know it because God continues to change us from the inside out. Every day he makes his people more and more like Christ. The believers’ position before God and his intimacy with him is all because of the Father’s initiating love.
May you know the saving love of God and respond in worship this Christmas season and beyond.
Lou Tiscione is the pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church.