The Revelation of God. Lesson 13. Lesson Text—I John 4:8. I John 4:8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Lesson Text—I John 4:16.
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The Revelation of God
I John 4:8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
I John 4:16And 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.
I Corinthians 13:1-21 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
I Corinthians 13:3-43 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
II Corinthians 5:14For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.
I John 4:8
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In the essence of His nature, God is love; we enjoy a love relationship with Him.
The Nature of True Love
What is true love? The world loves to talk about love, but how many people in the world understand what true love is?
One secular song I remember from my teenage days was “What the World Needs Now Is Love” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The songwriters go on to say about love, “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
Clearly, the world hungers for true love and recognizes the need for all people to experience it. Still, I wonder how many people recognize the nature of true love.
Sadly, our world often confuses many twisted, perverted activities with love. Pornography or perverted sexual practices have nothing to do with love. They do not express love at all, but many people are confused by the culture and tricked into associating perversions with some form of love.
The only true definition of love is given to us in the Scriptures: “God is love.” True love is one of the pure, unspoiled characteristics of the nature of God. As succinctly stated by Arthur W. Pink in his book The Attributes of God, “Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature.” God is love! The two are so conjoined, it is impossible to separate God and genuine love.
Like a miner settling for fool’s gold instead of the real thing, we must not be fooled by the culture into accepting imitation love in place of the genuine. Real love includes God, for He is love.
Contemplating the Topic
Love is one of the most overused words in the English language. There is a wide variation in the intended concepts proffered by the word love, and there is a difference between what the world calls love and what the Bible calls love. The world prints “I love you” on cards and personal notes and in song lyrics. The phrase rolls glibly from the tongue, often without any deep emotional stirrings.
The world’s ideas of love cheapen it with lifestyles that lack mutual commitment between individuals. Although many have devalued this expression of endearment, the true meaning of love remains. True love is a powerful, motivating force. Anger, hatred, and other works of the flesh are strong, but godly love surpasses them all.
Two hallmarks of God’s nature, His holiness and His love, dynamically affect His relationship with mankind.
He has always desired to share His love and holiness with humankind, but Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden made it impossible for them to continue experiencing communion with God. However, even though Adam and Eve’s sin imputed unrighteousness to the human race and ruined mankind’s communion with the Creator, God still loved them and promised a future redeemer (Genesis 3:15). This promise gave mankind the first hope that a Deliverer would come.
God’s plan of redemption required a blood sacrifice. The first known indication of blood sacrifice was when God sacrificed animals and used their skins to clothe Adam and Eve. Another early indication of animal sacrifice appeared in Abel’s offering to God of the firstlings of his flock (Genesis 4:4).
After God first promised to redeem mankind, He slowly worked toward the fulfillment of His plan.
Two millennia passed before He founded the Hebrew nation through Abraham, and about five hundred more years passed before He gave the law through Moses. The law served as a “schoolmaster” to eventually lead mankind to Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:24).
The law required the blood sacrifices of bulls and goats, but they only forestalled judgment; they were unable to remit sin and reconcile individuals to God.
Then in the “fulness of the time,” God manifested Himself in the Son of God, Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:4). On the cross He provided the ultimate sacrifice for sins as the true Lamb of God, offering Himself for the sins of all the world. It was the ultimate demonstration of love.
The scriptural ideal of love is quite different from the world’s contemporary idea. This is clear when comparing three Greek words that represent three concepts of love: eros, phileo, and agape.
Eros characterizes the world’s concept of sensual, lustful love, and it does not appear in Scripture. Phileo is the type of love that exists in family relationships, friendships, and the love of the world for “its own.” (See John 15:19.) Jesus also used phileo to describe the love of hypocrites for loud public prayers in the marketplace, and the love of the Pharisees for the uppermost rooms at feasts (Matthew 6:5; 23:6).
The highest form of love, however, is that represented in the Greek word agape, which is committed and selfless love that characterizes the love of God. Jesus taught His disciples to love Him, their neighbors, and even their enemies with the kind of love expressed by the word agape. This kind of love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Further, it is unselfish, sacrificial, and pure in its motives. Paul described true agape love in I Corinthians 13.
The Scriptures reveal God’s love for sinful mankind. For example, Romans 5:8 says, “But God commendeth his love [agape] toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (See also John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:4-5.) Jesus revealed that people would identify believers through their demonstrations of godly love and actions. (See John 13:35.) Only the indwelling Spirit of God enables us to manifest His love both to our fellow believers and also to all fellow humans.
It is often easy to love those who love us but more difficult to love those who despitefully use us. Nevertheless, people will recognize us as Christ’s disciples if we love Him and others and keep His commandments.
Searching the Scriptures
God Is Love
Love defines the character of God. From before the creation of the world and throughout eternity, He always has been and always will be the very essence of “love,” for He is love. His love is not reactive and is not based upon the actions of others. He loves regardless of how or whether an individual returns His love.
Further, we will never deserve His love through our own righteousness or merit it through good works. We are unworthy of His love, yet God expresses His deep and abiding love toward us by saving, restoring, feeding, helping, comforting, and enabling us. His fathomless love inspires us in turn to love Him through devotion and obedience. (See I John 4:10.) Further, our understanding of His love deepens and broadens over time. The more we know Him, the more we love Him and the more His love manifests itself through us.
“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” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
A scribe asked Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?” (Mark 12:28). Jesus replied, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment” (Mark 12:29-30).
God demands our love and will not tolerate being given secondary loyalty in our lives. What if our love is divided between Him and someone or something else?
What if we love someone or something more than we love Him? The Scriptures address such divided love and loyalties. Let us consider three examples.
1. Some people will not let go of their love of the world. Some people may decide not to follow Jesus because they want to continue to enjoy the pleasures of sin. Or, once enlightened, others may turn back to the world, being drawn by the pull of former pleasures.
The latter happened in the case of Demas. He had been a trusted fellow laborer with Paul, but when he let his love for the Lord fade, his former loves pulled him back into an ungodly lifestyle. (See II Timothy 4:10.) John said, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).
2. Some people will not let go of their love for their own life.
This is the essence of selfishness and it manifests itself in numerous ways. Jesus said if a person would not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him, he would lose his life (Matthew 16:24-25). (See also II Timothy 3:2.) The Lord both desires and demands first place in our lives. 3. Some people will not let go of their love for family. This could mean rejecting the gospel because of an upset, unbelieving family member or refusing to leave home to follow God wherever He calls.
Jesus said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). Not only does God command us to love Him, He also commands us to love our neighbor, for the two chief commands are of equal significance.
Jesus said, “The second [commandment] is like [the first] . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31). Jesus taught extensively on this principle: a person cannot say he loves God if he does not love his brother. The apostle John also underscored this truth (I John 3:10, 14; 4:21).
God loves all people, whether they are believers or unbelievers, whether they are dead “to” sin or dead “in” sins. (See Romans 6:2, 7; Ephesians 2:5.)
Because we have received His love, He expects us to love others in the same way He loves. This does not come naturally; it happens only when we become a channel of His love for others. Only then will God’s love radiate through us toward others, whether they treat us well or ill. (See John 13:34.)
True love is more than a sentiment or emotion. It is a living principle that manifests itself in our actions. We may say we love, but how deep is that love?
Have we established a line that we refuse to cross? Will we love until the level of our commitment reaches that invisible line and then we refuse to go any further? The love of God knows no limits or boundaries. One cannot calculate or measure it because it is fathomless. It goes beyond swelling words or lyrics of a song, and a person lives it out in his acts of love and kindness toward others.
Sadly, the world has taken God’s gift of the ability to love and bent it into unrecognizable shapes. Like a person’s distorted reflection in a wavy mirror, some people’s concept of love is disproportionate and sometimes perverted. For many, love is earthly and sensual. Some fall in love and out of love indiscriminately.
Others have been burned by earthly love so many times that when someone expresses genuine love for them, they immediately suspect an ulterior motive. Still, God loves all individuals because He created them in His image. He woos the world with His pure, undefiled love, and all believers are to demonstrate the same love to others.
Love Emerges as the Context of God’s Revelation and Dealings
The Spirit of God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. No man has seen God at any time (John 1:18) for God is a Spirit. Humankind’s only ability to observe God has existed by glimpses of Him through theophanies (brief, temporary manifestations) or through observing the life of Jesus Christ, God manifested in the flesh.
Further, God also revealed His love to mankind through His Word, exploits, history, and testimonials. We can know His love personally through His actions, such as forgiveness, and fellowship with Him.
The context of God’s love is His holiness. Since God’s nature is holy, His love also must be holy. Mankind’s wallowing in the filth and corruption of sin repulses God, but still with love He reaches down into the mire and draws us up to Himself.
His sacrifice on the cross reveals the depth of His love and sacrifice to reach fallen humanity, offer redemption from the curse of sin, and wash away the filthiness of sin. No wonder the songwriter penned the words, “Love lifted me! Love lifted me! When nothing else could help, love lifted me”!
The history of the Israelites displays the steadfast love and patience of God.
From the Exodus to the Babylonian captivity, Israel was stuck in a pattern of backsliding, chastisement, forgiveness, and restoration as God sought to redeem them. He sent prophets to deliver messages of judgment but also promises of forgiveness and restoration. For such a blessed people with a long history of miracles at the hand of God, it is difficult to understand their philandering ways.
How could they turn away from the only true God who loved them and run to Baal and other idols who could not see, speak, act, or love?
God’s dealings with Israel provide a tremendous example for us today. He would not forsake Israel even though the people often turned to idols and gave them worship that rightfully belonged to Jehovah.
He used the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer as a vivid illustration of how He longed for the loving relationship that He and His people once had enjoyed. Hosea’s real-life experiences conveyed God’s message to Israel, “I forgive you for leaving Me and turning to other loves. I will buy you back from slavery, heal your wounds, and care for you.” He inspired Hosea to write, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:4, NIV).
How far reaching is the love of God? One cannot compute, calculate, or measure it. His love never falters; it is constant. Further, He delights in blessing, caring for, and enabling those who love Him, and He grieves when He must mete out judgment because the sinner refuses to repent.
Love Is a Powerful Motivation
“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned” (Song of Solomon 8:7).
Adam Clarke wrote, “Neither common nor uncommon adversities, even of the most ruinous nature, can destroy love when it is pure; and pure love is such that nothing can procure it. . . . no money can purchase it, no property can [buy] it, no arts can persuade it” (Adam Clarke Commentary). The writer of the Song of Solomon marveled over the strong force of love. It can overcome any obstacle; it can survive a flood.
The love of a father compels him to sacrifice his own desires for his children. A soldier’s love for his country compels him to fight to the death if necessary. In the spiritual realm, love causes men and women to give their lives to establish new churches or go to distant continents as missionaries. It compels countless believers to witness and minister to the community, teach Sunday school, and work in various church ministries.
The Love of God
The power of God’s love caused Him to give. He gave up the splendor, wealth, majesty, and adoration of Heaven to accept the ignominy, poverty, lowliness, and rejection of humanity. He gifted mankind with mercy, grace, compassion, healing, forgiveness, and ultimately His own life. It was the most selfless, extravagant display of love the world has ever known.
No wonder John wrote, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us” (I John 3:1).
For Jesus, the greatest pain of crucifixion was not the mutilation of His body or the mocking of the gainsayers. The greatest pain was that our Lord bore in His body the sins of the whole world. He who knew no sin became sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21). He withheld nothing of the price of redemption for fallen man.
What kept Him nailed to the cross? He could have called for a host of angels, but love for us constrained Him. He could have struck back at His accusers, but He submitted to the same abuse and humiliation they heaped upon criminals. With one word He could have overpowered the soldiers who beat Him, but He chose to suffer the stripes on His back for our salvation and healing. He could not have done any more than that. He gave His all.
Christ’s death on the cross was the ultimate example of sacrificial love. He died that we might live.
The Love of God in Us
We often refer to the Day of Pentecost as the birthday of the church. In the same sense, every person’s personal Pentecost becomes his spiritual birthday. Every sinner who is born of the water and the Spirit cries out in repentance, is born of the water through water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and receives the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. John marveled over God’s loving gift of spiritual birth.
“What manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God”
(I John 3:1).
Children often exhibit the same looks, nature, characteristics, or even mannerisms and quirks as one or both of their parents. Likewise, as children of God we mirror His nature and attributes. We exemplify His love. “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (I John 4:12).
Living in His love motivates us to go, give, minister, and spend our days as living sacrifices. Like God, we should give ourselves in selfless service to others. It is the only rational response to the priceless gifts God has bestowed upon us. Paul cited his first converts in Achaia, Stephanas and his household, as an example of this: “(Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted [devoted] themselves to the ministry of the saints,)” (I Corinthians 16:15).
Love Is the Supreme Quality of Christianity
Love seeks an outlet of expression and produces a response. It is not flowery words but a living force that propels us to go beyond the sense of duty or obligation and give our all to Him. We are channels through which the Spirit of God flows to touch the lives of others.
God does not ask us to go to the cross, though many Christians have died as martyrs through the centuries. He asks us to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). Instead of hoarding to ourselves the mercy and love God has lavished on us, we give it away to others. We become His hands, feet, and mouthpiece to declare His love in word and deed to a hurting world.
As lights in a dark world, we dispel darkness, shining God’s love like a beacon in the night. Shining our light by leading others to His light is our opportunity to show God how much we appreciate the wonderful blessings of redemption. Angels cannot understand this ministry because they have not experienced redemption from sin. Until they experience the new birth, neither can unbelievers understand the zeal and fervor that compel believers.
Love causes us to display priorities and attitudes foreign to the carnal way of thinking. The world does not understand people who do not retaliate when they are abused or mistreated but who are willing to forgive others. We have an abiding joy in spite of life’s circumstances. Our lifestyle and appearance draw their attention. People notice we are not bound by enslaving habits of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. We do not talk about the same things or go to the same places they frequent for entertainment.
People who may never read the Scriptures watch our lives closely, “reading” us like a living epistle. This is not a display of arrogance or self-righteousness; instead, we are trying to please our Savior. This is the love of God on display in our lives.
The greatest example of the love of God in us is brotherly kindness and compassion for others.
The apostle Peter gave practical examples of how to exemplify the love of God, or, as he called it, “[partaking] of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4-7). W. E. Vine commented on the nature of brotherly love:
“Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered.
Love seeks the welfare of all, Romans 15:2, and works no ill to any, 13:8-10; love seeks opportunity to do good to ‘all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith,’ Galatians 6:10” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Paul approached the subject of love from a different angle by providing a more detailed list of the attributes of God’s love. (See I Corinthians 13.)
He cautioned that the exercise of spiritual gifts is meaningless unless we do it in the context of brotherly love. Loving others does not stem from a feeling; it stems from a decision. Because we love, we decide to show patience, kindness, and courtesy. We decide not to be envious or proud or concerned only about ourselves. We decide to be poor record-keepers when it comes to wrongs against us, and to curb our temper when it comes to provocation.
We decide to rejoice in truth, protect the reputation of others, trust, hope, and persevere. This is the love of God on display.
Judas betrayed Jesus because he loved what was in the money bag more than he loved Jesus. Demas left Paul because he loved this present world more than he loved Jesus.
When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” many commentators assert He questioned Peter because Peter had declared he would never leave the Lord even if all the other disciples left. (See John 21:15.) Still, Peter had denied Him under duress. Jesus was not trying to shame Peter, but to help him to understand what is necessary to help us hold firm to our commitment of love for Christ.
If we love something else more than God, it adversely affects our lifestyle, devotion, witnessing, church attendance, and giving. To manifest the love of God requires a dedicated sacrificial walk with Him. We need to examine our list of priorities and reposition them if Jesus is not first.
Jude advised, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). Keeping oneself in God’s love entails living out the aspects of love as outlined in I Corinthians 13. It means maintaining a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ and producing the fruit of His Spirit. It means walking in the ways of the Lord.
Internalizing the Message
The love of God is a powerful motivating force. Because He loved His creation, God manifested Himself in flesh as the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He lived a humble life of obscurity until He began His ministry. Then, He healed lepers, made the mute to speak, and opened deaf ears. He delivered the demon-possessed and those bound by spirits of infirmity. Because He loved, He gave mankind the opportunity to enter into His kingdom.
And because He loved, He offered Himself as a sinless sacrifice on the cross. There has never been a greater example of genuine love.
We as believers can obey the plan of salvation and have the sinless blood of the Lamb applied to our lives. The Lord washes away our sins through repentance and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. We receive the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.
We witness to others because this promise is for all who will obey the gospel. We give ourselves to God and others as living sacrifices. This is the love of God on display.