We're turning in our Bibles to the book of 1 John, 1 John and chapter 4. For six weeks now we have been going through a series entitled 'Behold Your God', we have been contemplating the character and the nature of our great God - who He is, what He is like and what our God does. We're continuing in that series today, looking at a very topical subject indeed, as it is Christmas Eve, 'The Love of God'. In 1 John chapter 4 and verse 8, we read these words: "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" - verse 16 - "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him".
Then, if you turn with me to Ephesians chapter 3 - in our Bible readings we have been going through Ephesians - chapter 3 and verse 14. We find here the prayer of Paul the apostle for the church at Ephesus, and we indeed can apply to ourselves that this is Paul's prayer for us - and indeed, in that the Holy Spirit inspired it as Paul wrote it, it is the Spirit's prayer, and God's desire and God's sovereign will for every child of God. Verse 14: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God".
Let's take a moments prayer: Our Father, we thank Thee for such a vast subject as the love of God. We thank Thee before we even delve into these depths unfathomable of Thy grace and goodness to us. We want to just thank Thee that Thou art a God of love - and today, as we contemplate the gift of a Saviour, we can see it. It is self-evident in that little parcel of flesh that God loved the world and He gave Himself for it. Father help us and bless us, those who need a touch from Thyself, those that are never experienced that love of God shed abroad in their heart - that today the light of Thy great gospel may shine unto them, and that this great Saviour that was given may become theirs personally. For it is in His name we pray, Amen.
The love of God is a tremendous subject, and I don't attempt even to dabble in the waterside of this great vast subject. It is a tremendous subject, yet at the same time - the other side of the coin is: it's extremely misunderstood. Very few people, biblically speaking, really have a grasp of what the love of God entails. Repeated twice already in our reading, in 1 John chapter 4 and verse 8 and verse 16, there were these three words: 'God is love'. Many have said that to know the love of God, as a human being here on earth, is indeed heaven upon earth. Paul's prayer for his church was that every single believer under heaven would know, by the Spirit of revelation and knowledge, the great love of God towards every believer. I wonder do we know it today? As the poet said of Christmas:
'Oh vast surprise, that wondrous incarnation!
Creation's God new-born in Adam's race,
To bleed for sin and bring us free salvation.
A wonder dwarfing matter, time and space'.
God is love - isn't that a wonderful statement? God is love, not 'He is like love'. Of course, 'God is love' is not the complete truth about God, for as we have been learning in weeks gone by there are many attributes of God, there are many things that we can say of God - and it certainly doesn't mean, as some in the world interpret it, that 'Love is God, for God is love'. The thing that we call 'love', the affection or the action of the will that shows that we are concerned and have compassion upon others, some have interpreted the fact that God is love to say: 'Love is God' - so they worship love itself. That is not what the word of God means when it says 'God is love'. We could say of a man or a woman that we know who is particularly compassionate: 'He, or she, is kindness itself' - you've heard it said, haven't you? 'They are goodness', or, 'they are love itself' - but we're not saying that that man or that woman is literally, exactly love or kindness or goodness, but it describes their nature, it describes who they are. And when we say today from the word of God that 'God is love', it's not a denial of all His other attributes, or what He is as a person. It doesn't mean that God is love and everything else is excepted and excluded in His great nature. But what the word of God is saying is that this great attribute of love, is more than simply an attribute, it is a declaration of God's nature. God is love! It is a summing up of what God is to every believer, to every person who has come into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ through His death. We can say: 'To me, God is love'.
We've been learning that many of God's attributes are like an arch that cover all of His attributes, all of the things about Him. We learnt that God faithfulness is over all of His attributes, everything that God does and is is faithful. Well, we could say this week that God's love is like an arch over every other of His operations and His attributes. That the love of God is the nature that makes possible everything that He is and does and has - and because He has no beginning, it has no beginning; because He is transcendent and He is out of all limits, this love has no limits; and because He is holy, He is spotless and He is pure, this love is pure, this love is reliable, this love is perfect because He is.
It would be foolish, as we look at 'God is love', to forget that the word of God says more about God than 'God is love'. The Scriptures teach that God is Spirit, John 4:24, that is His nature, He is made up of Spirit, He doesn't have a body. 1 John 1:5 says: 'God is light' - so God is not just love, but God is Spirit and God is light. The first of the 39 articles says this: 'God is without body, without parts and without passion' - isn't that good? He is without a body, He is Spirit, you cannot contain Him. He is invisible, He is everywhere, He is Spirit - He has no parts, in other words you can't divorce His love from His faithfulness, you can't divorce His love from His justice and His wrath and His holiness. He is without parts! He is without passion, there's no fluctuation within God, there's no excesses, there's no declension in Him, He is absolutely perfect - God is Spirit. God is light, again we find that in 1 John, and John was saying to his readers: 'You've moved away from the moral life that is of the child of God'. That's what had happened, they'd slipped up and they were living in sin - that's why you find, within that little book, John continually mentioning how the child of God does not continually live in sin. And what John is saying, 'God is light', is 'God is holy, God is perfect' - he says: 'God is light and in him is no darkness at all'. Purity, holiness, perfection, impeccability!
So therefore, God is love - but don't forget this, whatever you do, that God is Spirit and God is also light. Now why do I cover that ground before we go into this great subject? Do you know why? For many in this world, as I said at the beginning, this is a tremendous subject but it is greatly misunderstood, for many folk who talk about the love of God don't know the love of God in their life. They've never experienced it, they think that the love of God is something that He pours on all humanity indiscriminately, that He blesses people regardless of whether they be His child or the child of the devil, or no matter how they're living their lives. To many in the world, and sadly in the church, the love of God is a weak, insipid, indulgent, sickly sentiment. In fact we could say that it is less of worth than many of the loves that we show one toward the other, it's something even below all of that. But the love of God is not indulgent, it's not soft, it's not divorced from morality and justice and His holiness - for God's love is a holy love, because God is a holy God. God's love is a perfect love, a spotless love, a just love, because that is our God - for our God is a God who loves righteousness and hates iniquity!
You see, like in everything in life, we have Hollywood counterfeits - don't we? The way the world perceives things. Let us not perceive the love of God the way the world does. In Romans 5 and verse 5 we find this verse, listen: 'The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us'. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts - now, not love for God, but the love of God. Now the verb there 'shed abroad' - do you know what it means? It means 'tipped up', it means 'poured in', it's the word that was used of the Spirit at Pentecost, when the Holy ghost came and baptised all of those believers - and what Paul is saying here is that love is poured in like that into the child of God. As one translation puts it: 'God's love has flooded our inmost hearts' - it is a free flow of a large quantity of God's love, it is an inundation of God's goodness towards His children.
Isn't it lovely? It's in the perfect tense, and that simply means this: that it was settled at one point in time, it's a completed action but we are in the good of it now. It's like the valley that has been filled with water one day in a great storm, but for the rest of the years it stays full. The love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts, and that's what I want us to meditate upon this Christmas Eve. The love of God! Can I ask you: has that been tipped up into your heart? Has it been infused into your being? Have you received, in your life, an inundation of the love of God, flooding into your inmost heart? Let us look at this love of God.
There are seven things that I want to leave with you. First of all: the love God is a gracious love, isn't it? That's the nature of love itself, grace, grace and mercy! If you read history you find that Greek and Roman gods were very like men, in fact many of them were eroticised by human woman, many of them fought together like men, brawling in the street - that's in mythology of course. But this God that we have, He is so above us, so beyond us that Paul the great apostle had to invent another word to describe His great love. He invented 'agape', for this is above human love, above the love of family, filial love and friendship, and all kind of sexual love between a man and a woman - this is the transcendent love of God. You see, it's a gracious love, for the objects of God's love were the objects of His wrath - that's the amazing thing! We tend to love people for who they are, if they're related to us, or what they're like, if they're good-looking, or if they're nice to us, we will show love toward them - but this is a gracious love, this is an agape love, this is a love above all loves that He shows toward us in that while we were yet sinners... what a love!
Does that not thrill you? That the wrath of God abided upon your head, but now the grace of God is being tipped up into your heart! What a love! The unlovely, the unlovable, have inherited free, unearned, unmerited grace, unqualified - nothing in you, nothing in me that could attract God to us, in fact everything in us that would repel anything holy, anything righteous, anything good - yet God, in His grace, has come to us. Paul could say: 'In my flesh, in me, dwelleth no good thing. A mass of corruption, a mass of depravity and sin and iniquity, but God has lavished His love toward us' - gracious love! Didn't He say to Israel in Deuteronomy 7: 'The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers' - it's got nothing to do with who you are, it's got nothing to do with what you have done. It's free, unmerited grace poured into the heart of a degenerate, depraved sinner. As the poet said:
'What was there in me that could merit esteem,
Or give the Creator delight?
'Twas even so Father, I ever must sing,
Because it seemed good in Thy sight'.
Hallelujah! What a gracious God, what a gracious love is this - and let me tell you, that is why he could say: 'We love him because he first loved us', and that's the order of it, don't put it round the other way! If He hadn't loved you in grace, you would have never loved Him! But He poured His grace upon you, He loved you 'ere you knew Him - and before you had one ounce of love for Him, He loved you. He can't love you more - isn't that wonderful to hear this morning? He can't love you more, you can't earn it, but all you can do is learn more and more about the love of God, that gracious love.
Secondly: it's an eternal love. You find that clearly in the Scriptures, because if God is eternal - think about it - His love must be eternal, indeed everything that He is is eternal. Jeremiah 31 verse 3: 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee' - now if that doesn't prove that it's got nothing to do with you, I don't know what will! He loved you before there was even a you! Think of that - imagine, when only God in His foreknowledge knew there would be a you, God loved you! 'According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will' - oh, so many people get so taken up with trying to explain that truth, so tangled up about what it means and how, sometimes, it doesn't make sense - do you know what? They miss the enjoyment factor! They miss how this is to be enjoyed! That God's love is an eternal love, He loved me before I was even born, His love had no beginning for me, His love will have no ending for me - there's nothing I can do, or think, or act, there's no place I can be too far away from God that His eternal love cannot love me. Does that not thrill you?
It's gracious, eternal - and thirdly: it's unlimited, for God is infinite, isn't that right? That's what the catechism says: 'God is infinite in wisdom, in power and in love'. In other words, this love is unlimited, you can't fathom it - the great depth of His love, you can never delve the depths of this love. In its height, you can never climb it or scale it, you can never measure its length or its height for it is love passing all knowledge. Isn't that what we read from Ephesians? It's beyond us! In Ephesians 2:4 he says: 'His great love wherewith he loved us', Ephesians 3:18,19: 'May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God'. God is transcendent, you know what that means, we learnt that He is above everything - and you see if God's above everything, His love's above everything to! It's beyond us, and oh, that we this morning might fathom its breadth, its length, its depth and its great height. Oh, that we would realise today that no tongue - not my tongue, not the greatest tongue of any preacher - could ever express the great love of God...that the greatest mind that there is upon the earth cannot comprehend or truly contemplate this great love. The highest mountain cannot reach its heights, the deepest ocean cannot delve its depths, the furthest crevice in space is not far enough for the love of God! It's higher than the heavens, it's deeper than the sea, you can never exhaust His love! Oh, that that would thrill you, that that would saturate your being - whether you're saved or not - that this love of God is unlimited, and no matter where you are today you have more than you need of the love of God! Faber put it like this:
'For the love of God is broader than the measure of man's mind,
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind'.
Oh, what a gracious love, what an eternal love, what an unlimited love. And as we sit today, looking tomorrow - at Christmas Day - what a saving love! Isn't it? 'Hereby', John says in chapter 3:16 of his first epistle, 'perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us' - that's the highest expression of love ever, in the whole universe. That is the way God has displayed, demonstrated His love, it is the expression of it, the representation - 2 Corinthians 5:19 '...that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself', that eternal God, that gracious God, that unlimited God, that transcendent, sovereign, eternal, powerful, holy God was in Christ! That's what the incarnation is about, and don't you miss it this Christmas whatever you do: that God was in Christ. He is God, God of God, Light of Light - and there, Romans 8:32: 'He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?'. Have you ever seen a mother nursing her baby, and she's tired as she nurses and feeds it - and the wee baby's plump and she looks gaunt and thin, but she's far from complaining. She doesn't whinge, but in fact she looks down and gazes with eyes shining with happiness and pride at the little child that all her energies, all her love is being poured into. She's laying her life down for that child - and the word of God says greater love hath no man than this is, that a man lays down his life for his friend.
Oh, my friend, have you got that thought? Come on now! Forget about all this Christmas nonsense of drapings of tinsel and trees and everything - this is where it's at! The love of God in Christ, laying His life down for you! The greatest love of all, for every good love gives to its own, and Christ gave to you. Oh, my friend, Christ gave His blood for you, Christ gave His soul for you, He poured it out an offering for sin there at Calvary! The cross is the crowning proof of God's love, John 3:16, the ten words of divine revelation right from the beginning right to the ending of all time, it couldn't be better summed up than the ten words of divine revelation: 'God loved the world, He gave His Son that whosoever believeth [should not] perish [but] have life'. Think of it, this great God loved! Who did He love? He loved the world! How did He love? He gave! Who? His Son! Why? That whosoever! What? Believeth! And here's the thing: shall have - that's a powerful word, isn't it? Have - there's no doubt about it, for this saving love is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him. This great love - if you would only, my friend, let it be tipped and poured and inundate your heart, you would realise the great love of God toward you. If you doubt the love of God, just you look at Calvary, just look at it. Look at it now and see that form of one hanging on the tree, who was a babe in a manger, who was given for that purpose, who was sent into the world to be the Saviour of the world, who in that little form of a baby, the very blood going through His veins would later be shed for the sins of the world - what a love!
Praise God, fifthly it's an unchanging love, for our God is unchanging. In John 13 verse 1 it says the Lord Jesus: '...having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end'. There's very little love like that, isn't there? Love that will love no matter what the cost, love that will love no matter what way you turn out, or no matter what you do, or no matter what you say right into the face of the one that's loving you. This One will love you unto the end - and it can't be compared to human love. It's without passion, there's no fits - He doesn't love you one day and hate you the next day, His love doesn't go down in a metre and then came up again to a peak - that's not the love of God! It has no notions, it has no fluctuations - it's not a fancy of His hope, that He wishes He could love you. The word of God says: 'His love is as strong as death', it says: 'Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it' - nothing can separate it from those who have embraced it, isn't that what Romans says? 'What shall separate us from the love of God', what will do it? We are more than conquerors in that love - death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, any other creature shall not be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah! Can you shout 'Hallelujah'? Shout it! Hallelujah for the love of God in the Lord Jesus Christ!
'Forever His, forever only His.
Who the Lord and me shall part?
With what peace, and rest, and bliss
Jesus fills the loving heart.
Heaven and earth may fade and flee,
Firstborn light in gloom decline.
But while God and I shall be,
I am His and He is mine!'
Think of it! While God is alive - and He lives for evermore - I am His and He is mine! Is He yours? Do you know that unchanging love? Come on! Do you know it? I don't mean do you know about it, I'm asking you has it been tipped into your heart? Has it been poured, have you experienced it in your life? Sixthly: it's a disciplining love. We were looking at the disciplining of children not so long ago in our Bible reading, and we saw that true love disciplines. And we find with God that those He doesn't accept, He sends to hell, and that is His punishment for rejection of Him - and even those He receives, He punishes them, He disciplines them: 'For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth'. It's not pleasant, but it's profitable, and it's to stop believers being condemned by the world - and there's times in our lives when God needs to iron out some of the wrinkles and the creases in it, isn't that right? Leeman Strauss (sp?) said that when his mother chastened him she said it would hurt her more, and she had tears in her eyes. And God is not some kind of sadistic overlord in heaven, but He knows what is best for us. So God says, Isaiah 63: 'In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old' - and we have a Great High Priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
God will not bestow happiness upon those who live outside the realms of His holiness. Let me repeat that: God will not bestow happiness upon those who live outside the realms of His holiness. So, He disciplines us, He brings us into line. 'God's love' - this is the perception some people have - 'is an antidote for all trouble', that's far from the truth, but can I ask you: perhaps what you're going through today, is it God honing you, is it God making you better and eventually you will come forth as gold? It's not maybe because you're sinning, but God is disciplining you, and He wants you one day to be conformed to the image of His Son - do we believe this? Do we believe Romans 8:28: '...that all things work together for good to them that love God'. We must go through heartache, we must go through trial, and the thing is: often it is because God loves us, and God wants us to be like Him.
Seventhly and finally: this love is a benevolent love. Benevolent - it's good! Think of a mother, and we've all seen this, the mother remains happy when the child is in danger - you've seen it - and you think: 'How can she behave like that, or talk like that, or get on like that when her wee child is so ill?'. And we begin to ask the question: 'I wonder how much she really loves them?'. This is remarkable to me: that God has bound up His own final happiness in our happiness. God is self-sufficient, that's right; God is sovereign - but the amazing thing about it all is this: He who was free and is free has chosen to bind His own heart with our happiness forever. 'Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins' - He has chosen to bind His own happiness and satisfaction to our happiness and our satisfaction! He was able to survive without us before creation, He's able to survive without us now and He always will be - but He has chosen to make us happy to make Him happy!
It is said of George Mueller that on his desk he had a little sign and it said this: 'It matters to Him about you'. Isn't that beautiful? It's a literal rendering of: 'He careth for you' in 1 Peter 5:7 - it matters to Him about you! God, in His love, brings us into a relationship where we can enjoy Him, where He can do His best, God's best for us - imagine that! God doing His best for me! He is - and the other side of the coin to that is: we ought to do our best for Him. You may disagree with me on this, but I do not believe that everyone is loved the same. I believe the word of God teaches that those who obey show a greater love for the Lord Jesus and have greater grace poured upon them - for He said this in John 14:23: 'If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him' - that's a special love. That's a love that comes in response to obedience.
As we close I want to leave with you a verse, it's 1 John 4:18, this great book of love - listen to it: 'There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love'. You know the child that gets lost in the supermarket, and it gets into a frenzy and into a panic, and it's distressed looking around, and it feels vulnerable and it feels danger - and that is the way so many people feel today. Our society is wrecked by fear and by anxiety and distress and worry, and even those who belong to the Lord are living like that! And as long as we are willing to live in the world, and to be satisfied standing, trembling, in the arms of chance and this world system - we will fear! If you want to continue to go down a carnal Christian route, if we want to continue to live in our sins without Christ, fear will come to us - and as the word of God says, fear hath torment. And how many people are tormented with fear? The word of God's right you know - clear as a bell! If you fear, you will be tormented - and the only way, my friend today, to deal with your fear is to enter into the secret place of leaning upon the arm of God, leaning upon the arm of the love of God!
Oh, isn't it wonderful? A. W. Tozer said this: 'Let a man become convinced that nothing can harm him and instantly for him all fear goes out of universe. The nervous reflex, the natural revulsion, the physical pain may be felt sometimes - but the deep torment of fear is gone forever. God is love, God is sovereign, His love disposes Him to desire our everlasting welfare and His sovereignty enables Him to secure it'. Oh, we learnt, didn't we, that what God wants to do He has the power to do. And today, you see where you sit, if God wants to deliver you from fear that brings torment, He can do it now. Why do we grumble? Why do we become discontent? Why are we resentful when God takes us down a certain path in life and we feel distrustful, fearful, depressed? Maybe our Christian life is becoming lukewarm, informal and half-hearted, and our loyalties are divided - why does that happen? Because we are not resting in the love of God!
Handley Moule was the Bishop of Durham, and there was a colliery disaster. And he went down with his Bible in his hand - as the man of God that he was - to bring some comfort to these people who had been bereaved and were mourning. And he didn't know what he was going to say, he was lost for words, and he opened his Bible - and the Lord opened the Bible - at a particular place where he had a bookmark. And you've seen these bookmarks, on the one side it says 'God is love', and on the other side there was a mass of tangled and coloured threads. And old Handley Moule lifted up that bookmark and showed them the side that was tangled coloured threads, and he said: 'This is the disaster in your life, it doesn't seem you're going to see through it, things you can't understand' - and as he turned it over, he said: 'But behind it all there is a loving God'. Isn't that true?
You know, as I was studying this I realised - as we have been contemplating God - that as we think at this Christmas time of the gift of the Lord Jesus, the supreme thing is not how much of God that I know, but to realise how much God knows me - and to realise this: that those little baby hands that were sucked in a cradle in an old cattle stall, one day at Calvary my name was graven upon them. That's how I know that I am known.
Our Father, we remember the epitaph that Thy servant Wesley had upon his grave: 'The best of all: God is with us'. And Father, at this Christmas time we remember Immanuel, God with us - the Saviour sent to save from sin - and we thank Thee for Him, and we pray Lord that someone here today would meet Him as their Saviour and would be saved. Hear us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth tape in his 'Behold Your God' series, titled "The Love Of God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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