First John 4:7-12
God's Love On The Cross
1. People gather in church entertaining all kinds of thoughts. When they do come knocking on the door to the church purposefully or not, it might seem that anyway they come is acceptable [as long as they get to the church to encounter the gospel, which is God's higher purpose]. I heard a story about a person who long ago didn't have much and so he passed through a church's doorway to rob some shoes. He had been passing by the church by some chance, but then he became a christian. The ways people start out are all different, but that's the way it is. But then, the [various] purposes we have will soon have to converge at one point, which is on "knowing God." The first question in the Geneva Faith Catechism that Calvin authored asks the following question, "What is the main purpose of a person's life? - It is to know God." In this sense, the church is a place that is heading towards the true purpose of a human life. We, thus, want to be a people who yearn to know God above all else.
2. But yet, the words "to know God" seem somewhat vague. For some people it might mean having knowledge about the Bible or having theological knowledge. Someone else might say it is about having mystical experiences or having experiences of being at one with God. Or there may even be some who claim that they themselves are becoming like a god and are obtaining special divine like powers.
3. Today we read from the epistle of John. Shortly after this epistle was written there had been a set of ideas called Gnosticism which had flourished tremendously in the second century A.D. The people who had first gotten caught up in it were in the time period in which this epistle was written and its ideas had penetrated into the church as well. In Greek "Gnosis" means "knowledge." For a follower of Gnosticism, "knowing God" was nothing other than to acquire hidden knowledge (gnosis) which only a special person could receive and be initiated into.
4. But, John addresses the church as follows, "O beloved*, let us love one another; for, as love comes from God, all the beloved are born of God and know God. The person who does not love* does not know God because God is love," (4:7-8). As far as knowing God goes, [the Gnostics believed that] unless you acquire a special key to knowledge which only the religious elite can obtain, you will not come to have regular mystical experiences with God, acquire super powers and become a god. But, that's wrong, "knowing God" is one and the same as "being [God's] beloved." Thus, even though someone might claim to have special knowledge about God, [John] declares that "those who do not love do not know God." Why is that? He says this, "Because God is love," (verse eight).
5. What we in the church should truly be seeking after is "to know God." I might add if I could that this matter of knowing God is about knowing a God whose essence is love*, a lovely God so to speak. And to know a God whose essence is love means that we become beloved persons too. So then, what does it really mean that "God is love" and to know God as Love?
Knowing God As Love
6. John continues on speaking. Please look at verse nine. "God sent his only son into the world, so that through him we might live. In this the love of God is shown in us. It is not that we have loved God, but that God loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. This is where love is," (verses nine and ten).
7. Where is the love of a loving God known? Some exclaim "God is love" as long as things go well for them. But, those same people begin denying God's love when they experience misfortune. The Bible says that the love of God has been revealed definitively in Jesus Christ. So, in a certain sense in order for us to know God as love we must put our eyes on Jesus Christ. John says, in particular that "God loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice to atone for our sins." By saying, "sacrifice" and "offering up a substitute victim," the image that he is presenting with that is of the Christ who died upon the cross. The love of God has been revealed in that event on this earth when Christ was crucified and when he died on the cross. John is pointing with his finger to the Christ of the cross and exclaims that "This is where love is."
8. But, when you really give it some thought, this seems to be
a strange thing in the world. Use your imagination with me.
The penalty of the cross was a cruel death penalty in this world, in which
they would nail one's hands and feet and they would just wait for you to
die by crucifixion. This scene could be not be anything but grotesque
to see it actually happening. If you stood before a person dying
on a cross, would you say "God is love" and here we have it? No matter
how you think about it, one would not expect that this scene could be related
to God's love. Therefore, we had better think twice about what God's
9. Getting back to the basics, what is "love?" This thing of "love" is a beautiful sounding word. But, at the same time we know that this thing of "love" is deeply related to the real world where complications are unavoidable. It is simple and easy to say, "Let's love one another." But, in practice, it's not that easy to do, it is complicated. It's a cinch to love someone who loves us. But, in the real way things are done, you know we don't live surrounded by folks who always hold good will towards us. It goes the same for whether we're at home or on the job or at school. Thus, if we would try to live loving others under such circumstances as I've described so far, we won't be able to pass on by and avoid suffering.
10. When we give some thought to the definition of love, there is a famous passage of scripture that immediately comes to mind. It is chapter thirteen of The First Epistle To The Corinthians. It is frequently read at weddings. "Love is long-suffering. Love is compassionate. It does not envy. Love does not boast, nor does it lift itself high. It does not lose its thankfulness, nor does it seek after its own benefit. It does not get irritated, nor does it hold a grudge. It does not please sin, but rejoices in the truth. It endures all things, believes all things, hopes for all things, and puts up with everything, "(First Corinthians thirteen, four through seven). When people hear these words in a wedding, many are deeply moved. The bride and the groom are probably [deeply moved] the most of all. Recently grooms cry regularly at weddings. But, after a month of being married, they will soon notice that feelings like they had at the wedding alone are not enough to stay married. It's easy to say you are to be patient, compassionate ... [you are to have a love that] "endures all things, believes all things, hopes for all things, and puts up with everything." But, in practice, in this department almost everybody will have a hard time muddling through. Sometimes things can get painful, sometimes things can get messy. If things don't, then "the love" that is spoken about here in this text is not really going on. I'll never forget one thing a preacher said. "If you don't want to get hurt, don't love anybody." I'm sure that when we are loving others we will take in a lot of hurts and pains.
11. You know that even though [love] is something that God has given us, the fact that [we will hurt and have pains from loving others still stands]. That's the kind of love that the scriptures are telling us to have. God has not loved [just] the people who love him. God doesn't just love us because we have loved him. Let's go back to John's letter. Read again with me if you would from chapter four and verse ten. "It is not that we have loved God, but that God loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice to atone for our sins." We didn't used to love God. A human being is a look-out for number one kind of creature. People are like that even when it comes to God. At times men and women only see God as someone to use. At times they ignore God, make fun of him, make light of him, or even curse him. The true nature of good for nothing but himself or herself humanity has not changed in history. And that's the kind of people we are, but God loves us just as we are. When God tries to forgive, love and accept us the way we are, it never comes out to just a bunch of lip service. God himself puts on some work clothes and takes in some pain. In fact, God gets loaded up with wounds.
12. That is exactly what John sees on the cross. Of course, he probably didn't understand it perfectly at that time. But, later, when he would reminisce upon that scene the figure which was depicted before his very eyes was truly the figure of God the Son who had reveal true love as he was loaded up with wounds and and worn down to nothing. [He saw] the figure of God the Son when he became a sacrifice to atone for sin. Furthermore, [he saw] the figure of the love of God the Father agonizing behind the scenes. His struggling and agonizing was for the purpose of pardoning us good for nothing sinners, and to love and accept us. That's what he did in the cross. [John] saw that love and so he pointed to the cross and exclaimed, "This is where love is!"
13. To know God we are to know this kind of divine love. I am so happy that I have encountered such a loving God. And I want to know this love more and more. I truly do. What about you? Aren't you yearning to know the love of God as revealed on the cross more deeply?
14. And so we cannot separate our loving one another from that either. John says, "Beloved, because God has so loved us, we too ought to love one another. There is no one who has ever yet seen God. Whenever we love one another God abides in us and God's love is perfected in us," (verses eleven and twelve). We see that the exhortation of "Let us love one another," which we first read at the beginning, comes from this. It is not a light weight call given out to us. Only by coming to know the love of God as revealed on the cross of Christ does [real love] first find embodiment in us and through us and beyond us.
*It is hard to show the syntactical relationship of these words. The Japanese is much more clear and powerful.