God is Love
|The First Sunday after Trinity| Rolf D. Preus| June 14, 2020| 1 John 4:16-21|
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. 1 John 4:16-21
God is love. The heart of the Christian religion is love. Love is the greatest virtue. Without love virtue becomes vice. Think of some excellent virtues such as courage, faithfulness, honesty, loyalty, and truthfulness. Love holds them all together. Without love courage is recklessness. Without love faithfulness is bullheadedness. Without love honesty is cruel. Without love loyalty is devotion to evil. Without love the truth is a weapon of destruction, not the word that sets us free. Take away love and you have no virtue at all. Everything stinks.
St. Paul writes, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Love is greater than faith or hope because love is eternal, even as God is eternal. Faith and hope are only for this world. In heaven faith and hope will give way to sight. Love lasts forever. From the eternal past the Father loved his only begotten Son. “Of the Father’s love begotten, e’er the worlds began to be.” In the eternal future, love will prevail. Heaven is heaven because in heaven love has fully and finally triumphed over hatred.
God is love. God tells us what love is and what love does. He defines love for us. God teaches us two teachings in the Bible: the law and the gospel. Both the law and the gospel are words from God to us. Both the law and the gospel teach us about love. In the law God teaches us about the love that we owe to him and to our neighbor. In the gospel God teaches us about the love he has for us. The gospel is the good news about Jesus who reveals God’s love. “God so loved he world that he gave his only begotten Son.” We cannot find God’s love apart from Jesus. The Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Jesus. He keeps us in that faith.
Faith receives God’s love in Christ and gives birth to true Christian love. We love him because he first loved us. Faith receives the gospel. It receives God’s love. God’s love tells us that he sent his Son into this world to rescue us from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. God’s love tells us that God forgives us all our sins for Christ’s sake. God’s love for us tells us that we are righteous because Jesus took our place under God’s law and obeyed it. God’s love gives us the credit for his obedience. God’s love tells us that God is not angry with us. He poured out his anger for our sins upon his innocent Son who took that anger away. God’s love tells us that we have no reason to be afraid of God’s punishment. We don’t need to be afraid of Judgment Day. God’s love tells us that Jesus is our true shepherd and Savior who brings us to heaven.
We do not earn God’s love. It’s a gift. Our hearts would refuse this gift without the Holy Spirit. By nature we don’t trust in God. We trust in ourselves and in the idols we make for ourselves. In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us God’s love. He enables us to receive God’s love through faith. The Holy Spirit elicits faith from us. The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts. With this love we love one another.
Faith and love are not the same. Faith receives. Love gives. Faith is passive. Love is active. We must distinguish between faith and love, but we may not separate them. Faith without love is not faith. It is dead knowledge void of trust. It’s like believing in gravity or supply and demand. Faith without love is as dead as a doornail.
Love without faith is not love. It is passion, desire, lust, sentiment – it is many things – but not love. This is because faith and faith alone receives God’s love. Faith is God’s love perfected in us. God’s love is perfected in us Christians. It meets its goal in us. The goal of God’s love is true faith. True faith holds onto God’s love. That love removes all fear. We are not afraid of God. We are bold before him. We know he is coming to judge this world and we are not afraid. As he is so are we in this world. He joins himself to us in love. His love washes away our sin.
The Bible talks about God washing away sin in a number of ways, all of which are in agreement. The Bible says that Jesus’ blood washes away our sin. St. John writes, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The Bible says that baptism washes away sin. Ananias said to Paul in Acts 22:16, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” God’s love is located in the blood of Jesus. God’s love is bestowed in the washing of baptism. God’s love is received through faith alone. God’s love takes away our fear of judgment.
The Bible teaches us to fear God. We read in Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” God requires us to fear, love and trust in him above all things. This is not the fear of God’s enemy who tries to run away from him and escape his judgment. It is the fear of God’s child who reveres God’s name, and regards him as worthy of true devotion, worship, and praise. One reason for the collapse of civility, respect, and decency in our country today is that there is no fear of God. In Romans 3 the Apostle Paul provides a long list of sins that demonstrate the universal sinfulness of humanity. He concludes by writing, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18)
The fear of God that a child of God has is joined to love and trust. It is good. In our text, John writes about another kind of fear of God that lives in the hearts of those who don’t know Christ and so don’t know God’s love and so are not able to trust in God as their dear Father. If you think that God is standing in judgment of you, you will not be able to trust in him. You won’t love him. You’ll want to run away from him.
God judges sinners, so it’s understandable that sinners try to run away from him. But his judgment is right. What does his law require? Love! There’s nothing wrong with that! His law requires pure love. It exposes hatred, whether hatred of God or hatred of others. God’s law of love punishes hatred. God punished hatred when he laid all the hatred of all the haters on his beloved Son. Jesus, in love, confronted our hatred and destroyed it with his love. God’s love is located where Jesus shed his blood for us. It cannot be found anywhere else.
Sinners who run away from God in fear of his judgment are also running away from his love. Irony of ironies! They flee from their own rescue. They know in their conscience that they are sinners. Instead of running to him who forgives unworthy sinners they take it upon themselves to deal with their sins. They redefine sin. Idolatry isn’t a sin. It’s freedom of religion. Misusing God’s name isn’t a sin. It’s freedom of speech. Skipping church isn’t a sin. It is worshipping God in one’s own personal way. Defying parental authority isn’t a sin. It’s self-expression. Killing people isn’t a sin if they’re a real nuisance or worth more dead than alive. Having sexual relations with someone to whom you are not married isn’t sin. It’s an expression of love. Stealing from the rich isn’t a sin. They probably stole it from someone else. Repeating harmful gossip isn’t a sin. You never know; it might be true! Coveting your neighbor’s goods isn’t a sin. You need it more than he does.
The church must respond to these lies. Love is what God says love is. It’s not what this fallen world says it is. When people sanctify sin by using the word “love” to describe it, we must speak out. Love is what God says love is. Only when we receive his love are we capable of genuine love. “We love him because he first loved us.” And if we love him we will love our brother.
To love a brother is not to approve of his sin. True love calls sin sin. Only in repentance can faith be born. Without repentance there is no true faith. Without faith no one can love God. Without love for God there is no love for others. To say that you love God when you hate your brother is a pretense. God sees through it. John writes:
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
We don’t call sin sin to destroy the sinner. We do so in love to lead sinners to repentance and faith. When a brother sins, consider his sin as if it were your own. Bear his sins even as Jesus bore yours. Consider him and you. His soul is as precious as yours. God’s love for him is as deep as it is for you. The love we receive we receive not just for ourselves, but to give away to our brothers and sisters. When we give it away we still have it. What we lose is the malice, the vengeance, the judgmental spirit, and the hatred that lies within. Good riddance!