TEXT: 1 John 4:7-10
Well, 5 days from now, is Valentine’s Day! I hope none of you husbands or boyfriends forgot about it. I asked Lei what she wanted for Valentine’s Day earlier this week. She said, “Nothing.” I guess I’ll find out on the 14th if she was telling the truth.
I wonder how many of you remember the story behind the origins of Valentine’s Day. You know, it is called Saint Valentine’s Day for a reason.
Illustration: (Origin of Valentine’s Celebration)
Approximately 250 years after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was a priest by the name of Valentine. He lived in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius, who was committed to rebuilding the once-great Roman army. However, he believed it was important for men to volunteer for armed service, rather than drafting men into service against their will. But, given a choice, most young men in the Roman Empire refused to serve. They’d rather stay at home with their wives and children that go off into battle.
Claudius came to believe that only single men would volunteer for service, so he issued a royal edict that banned all further marriages. He actually outlawed weddings in the Roman Empire, earning himself the nick-name Claudius the Cruel.
Valentine thought it was ridiculous! One of his favorite duties as a priest was to marry people. So after Emperor Claudius passed his law, Valentine secretly continued performing marriage ceremonies. He would whisper the words of the ceremony, while listening for soldiers on the steps outside.
One night, Valentine did hear footsteps at his door. The couple he was marrying escaped, but he was caught. He was thrown in jail and sentenced to death. Valentine tried to stay cheerful. Many of the young couples he had married came to visit him in jail. They threw flowers and notes up to his window. They wanted him to know that they, too, believed in love.
One day, he received a visit from the daughter of one of the prison guards. Her father allowed her to visit him in his cell and they often sat and talked for hours. She believed he did the right thing by ignoring the Emperor and performing weddings. On the day Valentine was to die, he left her a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. He signed it, “Love from your Valentine.” That note started the custom of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day. It was written on the day he died, February 14, 269 A.D.—a day that was set aside in honor of a man who gave his life for God and for love. Now, every year on the 14th of February, people remember Saint Valentine, but most importantly, they think about love.
There’s an old song that says, “Love is a many-splendored thing.” The very concept of love is one of the most permeating themes in the world today. The Beatles sang about in the sixties. Their message to a hurt and frightened world was, “love is all you need.”
- According to Amazon.com, there are at least 32,507 books currently in print with the word “love” in the title (over 145,000 that deal with the subject of love) and
- over 11,000 popular albums/CDs with “love” in the title.
- If you were to do a google-search on the internet, you’d discover at least 121,000,000 web-sites that that use the word “love” as one of their key words.
Everyone loves love! We want to be loved and we want to give love. It’s undeniable, how important love is to our culture—to any culture really. But with all this information available, love has become a very confusing subject. When I watch TV, check the internet, or scan magazines, it’s clear that our society has a very poor understanding of love.
The problem is—our love is lacking just like we are. It’s often conditional upon our own mood or our loved one’s actions, appearance or attitude. When it comes to love, all of us fall a little short, don’t we? Some of us are as confused about love as little five-year-old Kari who told her teacher, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.”
But is that really love? With humanity so confused about love, who is to say what love is? The answer is—GOD!
One of the simplest and yet most profound definitions of love is found in 1 John 4:8. John, who by the way was known as the apostle of love, wrote, “God is love.” Those three little words ought to fill our hearts with warmth and hope. If those words are true, it makes all the difference in the world! But we need to understand this rightly. “God is love” does not mean that “love is God.” In other words, love does not define God; rather, GOD defines love. Much of what we call “love” in the modern society bears no resemblance or relationship to the holy, spiritual love of God. So it is important that we dig a little deeper into this passage to discover what God’s love really is.
In this chapter, John indicates four characteristics of God’s amazing love for you and me, the first of which is that God’s love is:
1. A PERSONAL LOVE
John begins this section of Scripture by saying, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8 NLT).
I think the overriding impression of these two verses is that the love of GOD IS PERSONAL. God’s love causes us to know Him, and Him to know us. I think that A.W. Tozer said it best: “The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men.”
One of the most powerful messages that we can take to people today is that God loves them. Every individual person is important to God, and He loves each one. G.K. Chesterton understood this truth when he said, “All people matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.”
When teaching His disciples, Jesus said, “Aren’t five sparrows sold for two cents? God doesn’t forget any of them. Even every hair on your head has been counted. Don’t be afraid! You are worth more than many sparrows. I can guarantee that the Son of Man will acknowledge in front of God’s angels every person who acknowledges him in front of others” (Luke 12:6-7 GWT). Isn’t that amazing!? There is not a single bird that falls from the sky without God’s notice; and how much more important are we than a few birds? So much more important that God even knows every hair on your head.
While some of us may have a few more hairs than others, the message the same: GOD LOVES YOU AND HE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU. God’s love for us is personal. Jesus illustrated this again when He said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15 NLT). The image of shepherding is lost on many people today, but when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, shepherding was as common as farming is in this part of the country. One of the outstanding characteristics of good shepherds was that they knew each one of their sheep by sight and often by name. And so Jesus says, “I know My own.”
When Jesus was about to leave this world in His ascension, He knew that the time he had left with his disciples was short. And he wanted to spend that time showing them the full extent of his love. “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Live within my love” (vs. 9 TLB). “I love you,” he told them! And the same is being extended to each and everyone of us today…He loves you too.
I once heard a preacher say, “Everything I ever needed to know about theology, I learned from just one song: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”
Do you know the origin of that song? It first appeared in the form of a poem in a children’s novel written by Anna Warner in 1859. One of the characters in the story comforts a dying child with the words, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
A couple of year later William Bradbury stumbled across it, wrote his own tune and added a chorus. Within months the melody spread across North America like wildfire. A simple poem from an obscure novel became the most well-known hymn in the world. It’s been translated into more languages than any other song. It’s often used by missionaries as a teaching aid, because they favor its simple and easy-to-learn chorus.
Why has this simple song become so universally known and loved? Because it expresses the single most significant and profound truth known to humanity in three simple words—Jesus love me!
Three years of seminary and a Master’s of Divinity won’t teach you anything more significant than this one song sung in Sunday-School classrooms all over the world.
Receiving the love of Jesus and living in his love everyday, is the first and most essential step in having a love worth giving.
God’s love is UNIVERSAL, but it is also INDIVIDUAL. As Augustine put it, “He loves each one of us, as if there were only one of us.”
Knowing that God’s love is personal this would mean that he personally knows our needs. He’s not some distant God who is wondering how are you or how have you been…He is a hands-on God in all the aspects of your life.
There’s a wonderful poem written by William Cowper, from Cowper’s Poems; that I would like to share with you:
Should not Elijah’s cake and cruse
Convince us at this day,
A gracious God will not refuse
Provisions by the way’
His saints and servants shall be fed,
The promise is secure;
“Bread shall be given them,” as He said,
“Their water shall be sure.”
To Jesus then your trouble bring,
Nor murmur at your lot;
While you are poor and He is King,
You shall not be forgotten.
But also, God’s love is a proven love.
2. A PROVEN LOVE
In the next couple verses John says, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:9-10 NLT).
God’s love for us was “manifested” (NKJV), or proven to us, through the life and death of Jesus. You see, love is a verb; it requires actions, it’s demonstrated through behavior—and the love of God is no exception. The Bible says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Have you ever heard the parable of the pit? There are a few variations of it, but someone once put it this way:
A traveler fell into a deep pit and couldn’t get out. Several people came along and saw him struggling in the pit. The sensitive person said, “I feel for you down there.” The reflective person said, “It’s logical that someone would fall into the pit.” The interior designer said, “I can give you ideas on how to decorate your pit.” The judgmental person said, “Only bad people fall into pits.” The curious person said, “Tell me how you fell into the pit.” The legalist said, “I believe you deserve your pit.” The IRS agent said, “Are you paying taxes on this pit?” The self-pitying person said, “You should have seen my pit.” The Zen Buddhist said, “Just relax and don’t think about the pit.” The optimist said, “Cheer up! Things could be worse.” The pessimist said, “Be prepared! Things will get worse.” Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the miserable pit.
The point is—it doesn’t do any good to talk about love and compassion without demonstrating it. God demonstrates His love. He’s proven His love for us.
There is an old story about a man by the name of John Griffith, who lived in Oklahoma in 1929 and lost all he had in the stock market. He moved to Mississippi where he took a job as bridge tender for a railroad trestle. In 1937 he was involved in a horrific accident. One day his 8 year-old son, Greg, spent the day with his Dad at work. He poked around the bridge-tender office and asked a myriad of questions. Then a ship came through and John opened up the draw bridge. After a moment or two he realized his son wasn’t in the office and as he looked around, to his shock, he saw his son climbing around on the gears of the draw bridge. He hurried outside to rescue his son but just then he heard what he knew was a fast approaching passenger train, the Memphis Express, filled with over 400 people. He yelled to his son, but the noise of the now clearing ship and the oncoming train made it impossible for the boy to hear him. And all of a sudden John Griffith realized his horrible dilemma. If he took the time to rescue his son the train would crash killing all aboard, but if he closed the bridge, he would crush his son within the gears. He made the awful decision, pulled the lever and closed the bridge. It’s said that as the train went by, John could see the faces of the passengers—some reading, some even waving, all oblivious to the sacrifice that had just been made on their behalf.
So many of us do the same thing to God. We wave as we pass Him by, never give a second thought to the sacrifice He made on our behalf. Like John Griffith, God allowed the jaws of death to close in on His Son. And thousands go by oblivious and indifferent. But there is one tremendous difference between the two. Unlike the Memphis Express that caught John Griffith by surprise, the sending of Jesus was not a panic move; it wasn’t a spontaneous decision. IT WAS PLANNED. Jesus’ death was not the result of jealous Jews or hard hearted Romans. It was the result of a loving God, who in His wisdom, said there was no other way. Jesus chose the nails, to demonstrate just how far he was willing to go to win your heart.
3. A PERFECTING LOVE
The Apostle of Love goes on to say, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us” (1 John 4:12 NCV).
Since God’s love is already perfect, the phrase “His love is made perfect in us” actually has to do with perfecting us. Another translation says, “But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (NLT). The word translated perfect actually means maturity or completion. In other words, God’s love completes us; it makes us whole, and gives significance to our lives. Without the love of God, we would never be complete. There would always be something missing. God’s love—as with all true love—is meant to foster the personal growth and development of the one He loves. That also tells us that God’s love is not selfish; He is genuinely looking out for our best interests.
One of the most powerful and hope-filled promises of the Bible comes from Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). GOD WANTS GOOD THINGS FOR US. Everything that God does in your life and mine is for our own good. That’s what agape love is all about—wanting and doing what is best for another person. And remember, God’s goal for your life is to make you like Jesus, to give you a heart like His, and transform you into the best possible version of yourself. And that’s what God’s love does when we let it into our lives—it changes us from the inside and makes us better than we ever could have ever imagined.
I’m not fond with love story or romantic movies, but one in particular film that I watched on DVD was a romantic movie of 1996, Jerry Maguire, which became famous for one particular line at the end of the movie, where Tom Cruise makes this impassioned plea to Renée Zellweger. Finally, he tells her what she’d been waiting the whole movie to hear: “You complete me.”
It’s one of my favorite scenes from that movie. It gets me every time; but, it’s misleading. In reality there is no other relationship we can have on earth that will truly make us complete; none other than the LOVE OF GOD.
George Matheson knew all about that. He was only fifteen when he was told that he was losing what little eyesight he had. Not to be denied, Matheson immediately continued with his plans to enroll in the University of Glasgow, and his determination lead to his graduation at age nineteen. But as he pursued graduate studies in theology for Christian ministry he did become completely blind. His sisters joined ranks beside him, learning Greek and Hebrew to assist him in his studies. He met a beautiful girl and asked her to marry him. He pressed faithfully and optimistically.
But his spirit collapsed when his fiancée, unwilling to be “chained” to a blind man for the rest of her life, broke their engagement and returned his ring. He never married, and the pain of that rejection never totally left him. Years later, as a well-loved preacher in Scotland, his sister came to him announcing her engagement. He was happy for her, but his mind drifted back to his own heartache. He comforted himself by thinking of God’s love which is never limited, never conditional, never withdrawn, and never uncertain. In that moment he wrote the hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.
O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths it flow
May richer, fuller be.
Truly, God’s love never lets go. It gently lifts us out of the muck and mire of sin, to reach unimaginable spiritual heights.
4. A PRESERVING LOVE
Finally, John announces: “And furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now tell all the world that God sent his Son to be their Savior” (1 John 4:14 TLB).
God did not send His Son to die on the cross just to prove that He loves us, but to SAVE US. God’s love for us is one that wants to preserve us—to save us and give us life – life eternal…Jesus, driven by his limitless love, came into this world to become our Savior!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). Because of God’s love (and only because of God’s love), our lives can be preserved for all eternity.
S.L. Bastian once wrote about a certain kind of spider that builds its nest in the branch of a small tree or bush. Within this delicate enclosure the baby spiders are hatched. If the nest is disturbed in any way, the little spiders will rush out in fright. Immediately, the mother goes to their side, but she is alerted to their potential danger in a most unique way. Each of the young ones has a thin silky strand attached to it, and all of these strands are joined to the body of the mother. When the babies are threatened by an enemy, they naturally scurry off, giving their lines a sharp tug. This is instantly felt by the adult spider, and within seconds, she pulls them back to the nest where they are protected from harm.
Long ago, the prophet Hosea said that we are linked to God with cords of love, cords that cannot be broken (Hosea 11:4). The gentle cords of His eternal love bind all our hearts and hurts to Him. When we are ready to flee from the dangers of sin and Satan, our God, our Father, will be right there, ready to save us from death and give the gift of eternal life.
With so many different concepts of love—so many different takes on this powerful four letter word—it is comforting to know that Christians need not be confused: “God is love.” God’s love is personal, proven, perfecting, and preserving.
If something’s been missing in your life, or you sometimes feel unloved, Jesus invites you to experience the soul-changing love of God. It is only by the love of God that this life takes on real meaning, and we can find purpose in living. So wherever you are in life, know that God’s love is available to you.
- Ptr. Scott Bayles (Sermon collections) First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL, for the outline, insights and explanations,
- Illustrations from Bible.Org and Sermoncentral
- Olney Hymns, William Cowper’s Poem Collections