It makes a big difference when you know how much someone loves you. In 2015 a Korean man went to HUGE lengths to show his girlfriend how much he loved her. While the couple sat in a restaurant across the street, friends and work colleagues stuck thousands of post it notes on the full length windows on three floors of a neighbouring building. They spelled out a wedding proposal inside a love heart. That’s a big gesture. I’m sure she’s in no doubt how much he loves her.
But it’s NOTHING compared to the big gesture God’s given US. He’s loved us from before the creation of the world. And he wants us to KNOW how much he loves us. But not just so we feel loved. He wants it to change HOW WE ACT.
So that’s what we’re going to do today. Answer the two questions: How do I KNOW God loves me? And how should I live in RESPONSE to that love?
How do I know God loves me? Because he’s DEMONSTRATED it. He wants us to KNOW it. (Just like that Korean man wanted his fiancé to know he loved her.) He’s made a grand gesture, far greater than thousands of post it notes. He’s given us his Son. Romans 5:8 says God DEMONSTRATES his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
That’s LOVE! And it was a gift that COST EVERYTHING. Life itself! That’s LOVE! A gift given to those who were undeserving and ignorant and rebellious. Which makes the love even GREATER!
And because we were helpless – stuck in our sin- it was a gift WE DESPERATELY NEEDED. A gift that means we can go from SINNERS to SAINTS. From ENEMIES to FRIENDS. A costly, generous gift that demonstrates love.
And 1 John 4:9 says something similar This is how God SHOWED his love among us: He SENT HIS ONE AND ONLY SON INTO THE WORLD that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins
God’s love language is gifts. And acts of service. He’s shown love to his children by sending Jesus, his ONLY SON, to die in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. So we can LIVE.
It’s an act that DEFINES love. “THIS is love”. Love begins with God. His initiative. It’s not a reaction to our love for him. True love INITIATES action, rather than simply RESPONDS to it.
In LOVE, he graciously chose us, then sent His Son to die in our place. Then, in LOVE he called us and saved us.
A love story
In fact, one way of thinking about the story of the Bible is that it’s A LOVE STORY. Between God and humanity. The bridegroom and the bride. The story begins with God making us to be his image bearers in his world. In rebellion we ran away. From that point on, God works to entice and woo his unfaithful bride. To win her back. He makes covenants with her, being her God and making her his people.
In the book of Isaiah God describes his historical relationship with Israel like that of a husband and his adulterous wife. In chapter 54 v5, he says
For your Maker is your husband- the LORD Almighty is his name… 6 The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit… 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt, he makes a covenant commitment to them, to be their God. But they won’t commit to him. They keep loving other gods. And so God sends them into exile. And then, IN LOVE, he brings them back. But they still aren’t faithful.
But God’s got a better reconciliation planned. A greater intimacy and faithfulness. In the fullness of time, Jesus comes. And brings the separation to an end. And God joins us to him, in faith. The two become ONE. Ephesians 5 uses the image of husband and wife to describe Christ and the church. (Even the marriage idea of two being united, and becoming one flesh). And a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is to be modelled on Christ’s love for his bride, the church.
And, finally, at the end of the Bible. At the end of this world. Revelation describes eternity beginning with a wedding feast. Between Jesus, the Lamb, and his bride, the church. Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’
And that joy and unity and intimacy will continue FOREVER in the new heavens and new earth.
The story of the Bible is A LOVE STORY. The story of God’s love DEMONSTRATED. Most clearly in the giving of his Son.
And because he’s demonstrated it, it means he wants us to RECOGNISE and APPRECIATE it. It’s not enough for us to just GAIN THE BENEFITS of his love. He wants us to SEE it and UNDERSTAND it. That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:17-19. He prays that you, being ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to GRASP HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST, 19and to KNOW this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
The context is about how God’s Spirit lives in us. We EXPERIENCE God’s love because Christ is dwelling in our hearts through faith. That’s what it means to be rooted and established in love. God’s love is the soil our roots grow into. And his love is the foundation our lives are built on.
And Paul’s prayer is that we have the power to UNDERSTAND it. We’ve already gained the BENEFITS of his love. (We’re FORGIVEN and ADOPTED. We know what it MEANS to be loved.) But God wants us to BUILD on that experience.
He wants us to know how WIDE his love is. How all inclusive and encompassing. There are no extremes of behaviour or acceptability that are beyond Christ’s love. And there’s NO ONE beyond the boundary of his love. Jew and Gentile. Rich and poor. Red and yellow, black and white – ALL are precious in his sight. And there’s no situation where his love won’t hold you. No danger, no enemy, no power. Nothing can separate you from his love. (His love is WIDE).
And God wants us to have power to understand how LONG his love is. It’s no teenage infatuation, that lasts a lunch time, and then, tomorrow has moved on. It’s love that began before the creation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 says For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. IN LOVE 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (He’s loved us for longer than the Universe has existed!)
And it’s LONG love in the sense that it’s infinitely PATIENT and long-suffering. There’s no limit to the amount of unlovely behaviour on our part that he’ll overlook. It’s not like HUMAN love – that’s FICKLE and TRANSITORY. That stays as long as the object of the love remains LOVEABLE. God’s love has stickability. His love is LONG. In Exodus 34:6-7 God describes himself THIS way. The LORD , the LORD , the compassionate and gracious God, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE and faithfulness, (His love is LONG)
And God wants us to have power to understand how HIGH Christ’s love is. Perhaps the idea is that it’s love that boosts and promotes us. It’s ACTIVE and PURPOSEFUL. It doesn’t leave us where we were. Christ’s love LIFTS US UP, makes us new creatures, with a new purpose and nature and future. It moves us from ONE kingdom into ANOTHER. Ephesians 2:6 says And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his KINDNESS to us in Christ Jesus.
And, finally, God wants us to have power to understand how DEEP Christ’s love is. It’s not superficial or mild. There’s an INTENSITY to his love. He gave EVERYTHING. The depth of his physical and spiritual suffering reflects his DEEP love.
And God doesn’t just want us to UNDERSTAND it, or COMPREHEND it. But to KNOW it (v19). To EXPERIENCE it. To know it from THE INSIDE – from being THE BELOVED.
And that’s a task you’ll never completely achieve. We can only BEGIN to know it. That’s what the phrase means in Ephesians 3:19 “to know this love THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE.” Which sounds like a contradiction, but I think he means we know SOMETHING of it, but we’ll NEVER FULLY ARRIVE. We’ll spend our lives experiencing MORE of what it means to be loved by God. It’s an assignment worth committing your life to.
We know his love more as we read and re-read all God’s PROMISES found through the Bible. And MEDITATE on them, and PUT THEM TO THE TEST. We know it more as we read the gospels – the descriptions of Jesus’ earthly life and teaching and character. How he treated people.
We know it more as Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. As we TRUST him, and OBEY him. And find him faithful, and generous, and wise and good. We EXPERIENCE his love day by day.
And it’s an assignment you can’t do on your own. Did notice that it’s a GROUP TASK? Paul prays (v18) that we’d have power, TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS, to understand the love of Christ. As we SPEAK to each other, and SING to one another, of what we’re learning and experiencing of God’s love, OTHERS will know it more. And as we LOVE each other more, both LOVER and BELOVED grow in their EXPERIENCE of our FATHER’S love.
Love responded to
So that’s the FIRST two sections. Love DEMONSTRATED, and love RECOGNISED.
And God’s PURPOSE in that is that we’d RESPOND to it. You SHOW you’ve recognised it by the way you RESPOND.
- Love one another
And that was the point of the Bible reading from 1 John. The main purpose of the letter is to help the readers identify FALSE teachers from TRUE ones. And one of the three tests for a TRUE teacher was whether they LOVE OTHER CHRISTIANS. The true response to God loving you is to love his CHILDREN. See there in v7? Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
A person who DOESN’T LOVE THE BROTHERS shows that they DON’T KNOW THE LOVE OF GOD.
God has SHOWN us what love looks like. It’s costly and undeserved and sacrificial and other person centred. V9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
SOME people feel that God loves them because they see a pretty sunset. Or have a feeling of peace as they meditate by the ocean. Or because they got a new job. Or had a baby. Or they’re healthy and wealthy. But those things come, and DON’T come, to EVERYONE. (To God’s children, and those who AREN’T his children ALIKE). And they’re no SIGN of God’s special love for his children. But what IS a clear communication of his love is the GIVING of his only Son to save UNDESERVING SINNERS by dying in their place. And then to FORGIVE their sin. So they can trust, and obey, and love. THAT’S love! THAT’S the God who loves you. And the WAY he loves you.
And here’s the appropriate response to that love. V11 Dear friends, since God so loved US, we ALSO ought to love ONE ANOTHER.
That’s why it’s so important to KNOW God’s love. (To FEEL it). Because it’s the fuel for our love for OTHERS. We love the way the MOON gives light. The moon doesn’t PRODUCE light, it REFLECTS the light from the Sun. And TRUE love doesn’t COME from us. It shines from God ONTO us, and then we KNOW it and TRUST it, and we REFLECT IT ON. That’s what v10 is getting at This is love: NOT THAT WE LOVED GOD, but that he loved us
He’s not saying we can’t love AT ALL. I think what he means is that TRUE love doesn’t BEGIN with US. We didn’t love God FIRST. We can only love OTHERS TRULY (in the way GOD loves) when we’re LOVED BY GOD. When we KNOW it, and RECEIVE it. And when we’re JOINED to the God who is love. THEN we can love others with God’s love.
If you don’t KNOW sacrificial, undeserving love TO YOU/ then you can’t GIVE it. You can only give a pale imitation of it. A poor reflection of it. If you haven’t received the undeserved, forgiving, giving-everything love from God. If you haven’t recognised your complete UNWORTHINESS to be forgiven. Then you can’t truly love undeserving people. You’ll only love CONDITIONALLY. You’ll only love when they love you BACK, or when they DESERVE it. Or when you FEEL like it.
How well does our reflected love to others point people to the love God has for us? Is our love costly, and undeserved, and sacrificial? Or is it conditional, calculating, and self-protective? Does it point people to Jesus? Or does it turn people OFF him?
- Don’t fear
The SECOND way we respond to God’s love is NOT TO FEAR. To be confident. In ANY situation. Romans 8:35 gives these amazing promises. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us
Whatever happens to us, there’s nothing to FEAR, because nothing can SEPARATE you from God’s protective, powerful, saving LOVE.
- Accept discipline
THIRD. Not only can we be CONFIDENT in the face of bad things. We can ACCEPT THEM GRATEFULLY as DISCIPLINE. Hebrews 12 encourages us My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.
Bad things aren’t just things to be endured with COURAGE. They’re TRAINING from the hand of your LOVING heavenly Father.
And, just like PHYSICAL training, NO PAIN NO GAIN. A few verses further on there’s this application. V10 God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees
Let life’s difficulties train your SPIRITUAL muscles because your LOVING Father is GROWING YOU STRONG. James 1:2 even encourages us to REJOICE in them, because they develop perseverance and maturity.
- Compelled by love
One final response to God’s love. Let it COMPEL you. Inspire you. Control you. In 2 Corinthians 5.14 Paul gives a hint to what DRIVES or MOTIVATES him. He talks about his life’s work of trying to persuade people with the gospel (v11). And that God’s given him the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador, imploring people to be reconciled to God (v20). But in v14 we get this insight into his motivation. For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore ALL DIED. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again
Christ’s love COMPELS us. FUELS, INSPIRES and MOTIVATES us. He DIED for us. And so, we die. We die to our plans and ambitions. We belong to another. We’re, no longer, to live for ourselves. But to live for HIM who died for us and was raised again.
Let me finish with this quote from Jim Packer’s fantastic book, Knowing God. Great questions for us to contemplate about whether the truth of God’s love has reached beyond our HEADS to our HEARTS.
Is it true that God is love to me as a Christian?… If so, certain questions arise. Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me? Why am I ever distrustful, fearful or depressed? Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal and half-hearted in the service of the God who loves me so? Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?” J.I. Packer, “The Love of God”, Knowing God.