The Person Who Knows God's Love

May 7, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
First John 4:7-21

Knowing God

1. About four hundred and sixty years ago, Calvin the religious reformer wrote "The Catechism Of The Geneva Church." His main purpose was the religious education of the children. The first question in it is a very impressive question, [which goes] like this, "What is the main purpose of a person's life?" It asks the children the purpose of human life. It confronts [a person] from childhood with a most important question. Since [the catechism] is [in] a question[-response format], it does have an answer. The text says, "Answer: We are to know God." Whenever the children are asked that and they answer, they will know it most likely. Why am I in church now? Why am I receiving an education in the faith? It's for a most important purpose in human life. It's for coming face to face honestly with matters of utmost importance. It's the same with regards to us here right now. Right here, we are directly facing matters of utmost importance in our lives.

2. But, what does it mean "to know God?" It is a very vague statement. Do we know that God exists? Do we know God in our experiences through some kind of supernatural [activity]? Today's message that was in John's epistle has been important on this. "God is love," (4:16). If I put the words in John's mouth, knowing God would be to know God as love. With an overflowing joy John is stating that "We knew and believed God's love for us," (verse sixteen).

3. [He's] known "God's love for us, and the love by which God embraces us." And [he] still knows it. No, [he] hasn't just known it. He has believed it. He can believe love. He can live as he believes in love. He hasn't just been living it but to believe in love means that he is also able to die as he believes in love. It is so blessed to know God's love and to be able to believe in it. That's what it means to know God. It's about knowing God as love.

4. But, how did John know God's love? Where did he see God's love? There are also people in the world who give thanks that "God is love" because they have been miraculously healed from an illness. However, it is evident that a healing from an illness is not a basis upon which to state that "God is love" because the final illness in one's life will not be healed. There may also be some who claim that "God is love" because of lots and lots of good fortune that they have experienced. But, whenever they are visited upon by a misfortune, they may make an about-face and curse God. To begin, it is evident that the statement of "God is love" simply doesn't come out of temporal experiences because this old world is loaded with absurd things that happen in it. Where in the world then was John looking?

5. With that then, I would like for us to incline our ears to the words from John. At the end of verse ten John says that "Here is where love is." To where is he pointing the tip of his finger? I'll read all of verse ten to you. "We have not loved God, rather God has loved us and has sent his son as a redemptive sacrifice for our sins. Here is where love is," (4:10). Are you seeing it? His finger is pointing to the crucified Christ. And, if he were at a place of worship, he might point right at the bread and the wine of the Lord's Supper and he might have said, "Here is where love is." Here is where the redemptive sacrifice for our sin is. [Here is where] the atonement of sin, which God himself has prepared for us, is.

Here Is Where Love Is

6. There is "The Story Of The Garden Of Eden" among the biblical tales which everybody knows. The story hardly needs telling. The tale goes that Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree. Then, it's the picture after that that's impressive. The scripture says, "That day, about when the wind blew, the sound where the Lord God was walking in the garden had been audible. Adam and his woman avoided the face of the Lord God and as they hid among the garden trees, the Lord God called Adam. 'Where are you?' He answered, 'Upon hearing the sound of your feet in the garden, I became afraid, I hid. Because I'm naked.'," (Genesis 3:8-10).

7. A screen image of that seems easy enough to see. Amid the balmy breeze blowing, amid the flowers in the field and birds in the air, all that was created was alive and enjoying God and enjoying the life that God has given to them, Adam and Eve hid in the melancholy shadows of a tree. They were avoiding God's face! They could no longer live directly facing God. As a result, they lived all the while wrapped in fear and ill at ease. What wretched figures they were! But, this is not some ancient tale from the past. It is the very figures of our own selves as people still no different now.

8. Though we're doing that, we avoid God's face and live hiding among the trees, but God has pursued us. Just like he called out, "Adam, where are you?" And God himself provided the sacrifice for the redemption of sin and then slew it. That's what it means when he crucified Jesus Christ.

9. What does that signify [to us]? It tells [us] that God is ever and always reaching out with [his] hand of love. "The redemptive sacrifice was slain. Your sins are forgiven. So, you're all right now. You don't have to hide among the trees. You shouldn't have to live in avoidance of my face and wrapped up in fear and ill at ease. You should live lifting up your faces and turning your faces straight towards me." Said another way, it would be the divine declaration of intent, that "You are sinners. But, even so I still love you." He said that and kept reaching out his hands of love. That's [how] God himself prepared the redemptive sacrifice for sin. That's the cross of Christ. Therefore, John says, "Here is where love is."

Perfect Love Keeps Out Fear

10. [We] accept this love and with thanksgiving we live believing this love. John expressed this as "abiding in love." That indeed is to live with God [as] love, and if we say anything more, [that indeed] is to become one with God [as we] live. It is just as the scripture says, "God is love. Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God also abides in that person."

11. Thus, it is important that we abide in love. God is certainly love. Love comes from God. But the love of God is not complete in one direction. God's love is whole when we accept love and we live believing [his] love. And something astonishing is further written in the text there. "Thus, as love is made whole in us, we can have confidence on judgment day. Because in this world we are like Jesus," (verse seventeen).

12. Where it says "like Jesus" actually says "like him," but like The New Interconfessional Version we ought to take the contents of it as speaking of Jesus. If we do, then what? Can you all claim that "In this world I am like Jesus?" Are you thinking, "Such a thing is totally impossible?" But, if we were to "abide in love" we could make such a claim. We could claim, "In this world I am like Jesus." In what sense [c]ould that be [true]? It would be just on one point; namely this, it would be in [our] relationship with God the Father. In [our] relationship with God we could make the claim that "I am like Jesus."

13. Can you imagine Jesus avoiding the face of God and hiding? That would be impossible. Why is it [impossible]? Because he is sinless. Therefore, Jesus always turned directly to God the Father and called out to him as "father." And we too are permitted to live like Jesus the way [he did]. Why [are we]? As I already related, it's because the lamb of God that takes away sin, the sacrifice that pays for sin had been slain. Therefore, there is no need to say like Adam did, "Upon hearing the sound of your feet, I became afraid, I hid." As we're in this world, lifting our faces, too, we can call out "father." That's right, just like Jesus. Thus, as John says, even the final day of judgment will not ever become the target of our fears.

14. Therefore, he goes on to add, "There is no fear in love. Perfect love keeps out fear; because fear includes punishment and love is not made whole in the one who is afraid," (verse nineteen). As it is clear from the flow so far, "the perfect love," the love that is being spoken of here is the love of God in which [God] has given us his son as the redemptive sacrifice. "God is love." -- This very love drives out fear. Here the scripture says that "fear includes punishment," [and so] there are not a few Bibles that translate it like that, taking it with the nuance, that "fear and punishment are related." Of course there are plenty of different kinds of fear, but the worst of all fears must be to be punished by God. Even Adam meant that, "I became afraid, I hid." Certainly then, "Fear and punishment are related."

15. Thus, nothing except God's love will keep out that fear. God's love drives out and keeps out the most basic fears of humanity. "Because love will not be made whole in a person who fears," said John. The main thing is that we are not always trying to frantically preserve our own skin and try with all our might to take away the sources that cause fear. "One is made whole within love," (literal translation). We accept the love of God as revealed in Christ, we live believing in God's love, and we will come to live [so that we] are placing ourselves into God's love completely and fully.

Becoming [His] Beloved

16. Then, finally let's remember another point. The scripture starting in verse nineteen says, "We love because God first loved us. Though a person may claim, 'I love God,' but if he hates his brothers, that one is a deceiver. Whoever does not love his brothers who are visible to his eyes cannot love God who is invisible to his eyes. Whoever loves God ought to love his brothers. This is a commandment we have received from God," (verses nineteen through twenty-one).

17. "Knowing God" originally had that for a starting point, but actually about the time this epistle was written, it seems like "knowing God" used to be one of the hot topics. We see that also from how the term "know" appears repeatedly in this epistle. Some thought that "to know God" you were to obtain "secretive knowledge" which only special persons could accept. In Greek the term for that knowledge was "gnosis." So, later these persons would come to be called "gnostics." If I may mention what kinds of things had been happening after that as a result of it, the people who thought they were spiritual persons who had obtained the special knowledge started to look down on the others. Division and disharmony began to erupt in the churches. The message of "Though a person may claim, 'I love God,' but if he hates his brothers, that one is a deceiver" was spoken with these kinds of people in mind.

18. As is clear from what we've already seen, "knowing God" is different from the pursuing of any kind of individual, spiritual, [or] mystical union with God. If "knowing God" is combined with being arrogant, looking down on others, or hating [somebody], then something is wrong. "Knowing God" is to know God as love. God first loved us. To know the love of such a God ought to lead us to love somebody some time or another. John said, "We love because God first loved us." In a true sense this very [statement] is the statement of a person who knows God. So that we might be able to speak in the same way, that we might know God in the same way, we are assembled only under the cross, and here is where we are right now.