First John 4:7-12
Here Is Love
Do You Know God?
1. We read The Epistle Of First John last week. When I read this epistle, I notice right away that the words "know" and "understand" appear in this text with some frequency (in the original text both words are the same). Most of them are used in the context of "knowing God." We see that "knowing God" used to be a hot subject in the church back then, which is the background to this epistle.
2. Do I know God? Or else [maybe] I don't know God? [Which is it?] What does it even mean to know God in the first place? How can I know God? -- These surely must be very relevant questions even for us today. To some people, "knowing God" might mean having knowledge about the Bible, theological knowledge. On the other hand, others may say, "Head knowledge alone of the scriptures is nothing. Experiencing God is what matters." Furthermore, others may define "a person who knows God" as someone who has supernatural, divine powers. It's already ten years ago, but when the sanctuary was built, an elderly woman from a new cult religion [in Japan] who used to live nearby, asked me a question. She asked, "Can you make it rain?" I was dumbfounded; I forget what I answered her, but getting to the point, no matter how much we claimed to be pastors, I and my peers couldn't make it rain one drop, so as seen from her eyes, it was a fact: we didn't know God.
3. Even for this church back when this epistle was written, it seems there used to be those who claimed "I know God" but with a certain particular nuance to [their claim]. They were claiming that they had special knowledge about God (gnosis) given to only a limited [few], and that they were given a special relationship with God. They also used to claim that this relationship was spiritual and could never be hindered by anything belonging to the physical realm. In other words, no matter what they did with their bodies, it would have no effect on their spiritual relationship with God. Seen from their perspective, Christians, who took issue with ethical situations in the day to day ways of living in this world, were either one or two levels lower.
4. But, John spoke something totally different to the church of that day when the doctrines of these people were taking off and taking over. Please look at verse seven. "Beloved ones, let us love one another. Since love comes from God, everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God. For, God is love," (verses seven and eight).
5. When it says "to love" it is a word that has to do with every day concrete living done in this physical world. It is a word that has to do with how [you] actually live with your neighbors who are present around you. When you fall short in living and loving in this concrete manner with [your neighbors], John says a person like that does not know God, even if you've had some unique mystical experience with God or if you have special knowledge, or if you claim you have a spiritual relationship with God. Why is that? "Because God is love," he says.
God Is Love
6. "God is love" is a statement that we often hear in the church. I think it is a good statement. But, giving it some real thought, I don't think how we understand this is as simple as just that. Is God really love? Upon what basis does John state that "God is love," I just wonder?
7. Having been miraculously healed of an illness some are thankful that "God is love." But, it is obvious that the healing of an illness is not the basis upon which one [can] state that "God is love." For, they will not be healed of the final sickness [in] life. Some say "God is love" because of the lots of good times that they have been experiencing. But, those people, when hit up by bad times, might curse God with the [same] tongue that had said "God is love."
8. It is obvious that the statement of "God is love" doesn't simply come from the experiences in this world. That's because the illogical things that happen that fill this world up so much, and the absurdities in this world that we so often experience, and the sadness and the anger from it which have no where to vent all this out go sharply against the statement "God is love." Will we make simple cross references of the statement "God is love" with each sad piece of news that we see in the newspaper that arrived this morning? I don't think we will.
9. But yet though, did John write this statement after he had lived a life filled with peace and happiness, [a life] unrelated to sadness and pain? It certainly wasn't that way [for him]. I say that because unreasonable suffering and sadness was much rather the familiar and regular experience for the church that was under persecution. In addition, above all, John saw the most unreasonable and illogical of things that happened. That is, he knew how Jesus was murdered in the most miserable manner as could be.
10. Just a while back, the movie named "The Passion" came out. It had a lot of continuous scenes that were so cruel I wanted to cover my eyes. But, I don't think that cruelty was deliberately highlighted in that movie. I think that what actually happened must have been even more cruel. Do we make a direct connection of the statement "God is love" with the scene in which the Christ was dragged on the stone pavement that was colored totally red from his flesh and blood that splattered out as he was beaten with the whips? I don't think we do. That's how it seems to me, and with loads of agreement behind him, John was writing that what happens in this world is truly these [cruel] kinds of things. Therefore, the statement that "God is love" isn't found simply among normal experiences in this world [of John's].
11. So, on what basis does John claim that "God is love?" In fact, the statement starts in verse nine as "The love of God is shown here in this." In Japanese the order is in reverse. "God is love." -- It says, "here is where" love truly is; it has appeared in this very place "here." Where might the "here" be of which John is speaking? Where is John looking? He says, [Here it is:] "God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live!"
12. He says some more. "Here is where love is." Where is that? John spoke as follows: "We did not love God, but God loved us and sent his son as a sacrificial victim to atone for our sins." This indeed is the very focal point at which John was fixing his gaze.
13. The important thing here is the statement "a sacrificial victim to atone for our sins." This statement has its background in the Old Testament. This statement takes for granted the fact that "we are in need of forgiveness of sin." John is thinking about his own sin and the sins of the whole world. He is also looking at the impassable abyss, which separates sinful humankind from a holy God.
14. If a person has never come face to face with his or her own sins in a serious way, then he or she might think that he or she can approach God on any count. Whenever a person feels like approaching [God], the person thinks he or she can. Some think they can approach God, touch him, or become one with him at any time even, whether through human effort, through training, by piling up good deeds, or by meditation, or by some mystical experience. In order to obtain such an experience of becoming one with God, some people have resorted to the use of alcohol and drugs since ancient times.
15. But, if we wake up from our fantasies and get real about it, and if we look at ourselves and we look at this world, our sins will become a problem every time. The abyss that separates people from God will become a problem. How a span can be made to cross that abyss will become an issue for us. Then at least one thing will be clear, that no bridges are laid from the human side. There is this gap on account of human sin. Therefore, the span across it will only come into being through God's pardoning our sins. Unless God forgives us, a relationship with God cannot be established. Therefore, and I do mean therefore, God himself must lay the bridge. It is as the scripture says: "We did not love God, but God loved us and sent his son as a sacrificial victim to atone for our sins. Here is where love is."
Love One Another
16. It was while John kept looking at what happened at the cross of Christ that he stated that "God is love." "Knowing God" then is but the same thing as knowing the God who showed his love at the cross. It is one and the same as knowing that the relationship with God given to us is due one hundred per cent to God's love. In brief, it's like we have a debt to God. Thus, we worship and pray to God out of obligation to him, and we owe God back a tremendous debt for his love.
17. "God is love." When you know God as Love, understandably then, your whole life ought to become one of paying back God in love to him. It is not a debt you can pay back in full. At best [we should spend] our entire lives [trying] to pay him back [in love] for his favors. Yet, as we try to pay God back in love, God says to us, "Whenever you give me love back, don't give it to me, but give it to your brothers [in Christ] and give it to your neighbors." John expresses this in the following words: "Dearly beloved, because God has loved us this way, we ought to love each other as well," (verse eleven).
18. A literal translation of the statement "We ought to love each other" could be "to be in debt to loving [others]." It means to say that we have a responsibility, a bill. The one to whom we are indebted is God, but it is to our neighbors that we pay it. It just might mean that as God himself has laid the great bridge for us, we too are to lay little bridges [unto others]. In that case, when we love someone else it means we are laying a bridge beginning from us because when God laid a bridge with his forgiveness beginning from him, it was God's love. Who is that person for whom you must lay a bridge beginning with you?
19. In all cases then, knowing God inevitably takes [some] form of our loving one another. That's why the following is written in the scriptures; I will close by reading once more the words that I read to you earlier. "Beloved ones, let us love one another. Since love comes from God, everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God. For, God is love."