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The Source of all Love
Spring Quarter: God Loves Us
Unit 1: God’s Eternal, Preserving, Renewing Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 5, 2017
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: 1 John 4:7-19
The theme of the Third Quarter is “God Loves Us.” I cannot think of a greater theme to get to the heart of God. During this spring quarter we will explore the multiple facets of God’s constant love for humanity from selected passages in both the Old and New Testament. We begin in Unit 1, which has four sessions, with “The Source of all Love,” as discovered in First John 4:7-19.
“Love, American Style,” was a comedy television series in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Each episode featured a series of short vignettes about men and women involved in flirtations and romantic situations. In reality, as one scholar suggested, the show was more engaged with superficial humor than cultural commentary. Nevertheless, the title and episodes do raise a serious question: “What is the American style of love?”
Now, the theme of so much of the popular music and movies of our time might lead us to believe that we are experts in love. But the statistics of countless broken homes point out that fallacy. At best, the American style of love seems extremely tentative.
What do way say? I love popcorn. I love the Atlanta Falcons. I love hamburgers. I love that hairstyle. All this simply points out our misunderstanding of love. Here we have love confused with enthusiasm, which is a fleeting thing.
Scholars point out that often the word “love” could be replaced in a sentence with either “really enjoy” or “really want.” In this instance, our common use of the word has become rather childish or immature. The picture is of a child, begging with his or her parents to get a pet. “I just love puppies,” the child exclaims, as though excitement is the key to ownership.
How does the parent respond? Predictably! “Yes, but who is going to feed it, take care of it and clean up after it?”
At this point, scholars inform us, we are functioning with two different definitions of love. The child thinks that loving the puppy means really wanting to have one. The parent knows that loving a pet means taking care of it. The former is more about personal enjoyment and satisfaction, while the latter is more about commitment and sacrifice.
Thus, the child’s understanding of love is immature and that’s understandable in a young child. But what happens if that child becomes an adult and never grows up? If we continue to mistake love for excitement and satisfaction and never grow up, we will ruin many relationships and disappoint many people. So our love needs to mature, and as the writer of John would add, “it needs to be perfect.”
The writer of John wants his audience to have grown-up love, not immature love. He’s mainly concerned about the believers’ life together. So, he goes into great explanation about the origin of this grown-up love and how it becomes a possibility with them.
As scholars inform us, the passage (4:12-16) is overtly Trinitarian, with references to the love of God, faith in Jesus and the indwelling of the Spirit. Thus, as we contemplate our relationships with God and others, we are rightly reminded that God is innately relational and that the essence of the divine nature is love.
John’s repeated statement that “God is love” might easily be passed over as sentiment. In truth, however, John is making an incredible claim. According to those who know, the grammatical pattern in scripture is to describe God either with adjectives (for example, just, holy, righteous, mighty) or with metaphorical nouns (for example, shepherd, king, rock, refuge). But, at this point, John steps out and makes an incredibly bold assertion, for he makes a one-to-one correlation between God and an abstract noun. Therefore, he does not merely claim that God is loving, but that God is love. More than holiness, wisdom, or might, love is God’s very essence.
Consider now how John connects the dots. His logic is that those who are “born of God” and “abide in God” become as God is (4:7, 13, 15, 17). Love increasingly becomes our nature and our lifestyle. As we abide in love, and we abide in God, and God abides in us, love is perfected.
Stating it succinctly, our human love is a response to God’s divine love (v. 19). We love because God first loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins (v. 10). Consequently, it is the sight of the love of God, which must awaken in us the desire to love God as He first loved us, and to love others as He loves them.
Jürgen Moltman states: Our capacity to love is always born out of the experience of being loved.”
Perhaps the late scholarly William Barclay helps us to understand. He said suppose a person is by himself/herself a weak person and has succumbed to temptation, made a mess of life and is fast becoming a degenerate. But suppose also that this person has a friend – a friend of strong lovely and loving nature. And suppose this friend rescues this person from his/her degraded situation.
Now, according to Barclay, there is only one way in which this weaker person can retain his/her life reformation and keep on the right track – contact must be maintained with that loving friend. If that contact is lost, the weaker person will return to his/her old immature ways.
So how can we possibly be grown-up in our love for one another? We love one another by maintaining contact with the source of love, which is God. John says, “God is love, and those who remain in love remain (abide) in God and God remains in them” (4:16).
Hear me now! We learn about love from a much better source and example than the world around us or even our parents. We learn about love from the very author of love, from the One whose very nature is love.
Without doubt, we are people of visualization! That is, we humans have always learned how to do by watching how things are done. Being an apprentice is the first step in becoming proficient in almost anything. In other words, we need to know what the process looks like, what the finished product of the process is meant to look like. Then we will be prepared to do it ourselves.
It is the same way in you and I being prepared to love. We have seen the process, and we have seen the finished product. Therefore, we are enabled to love.
“God’s love was revealed among us in this way,” John writes, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (4:9). Here we see God’s initiative of love. Essentially it is initiative without the guarantee of a favorable response. The extravagance of God’s loving initiative is there even if goes for naught in a person’s life.
John continues by saying that God “sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (4:10). The love we have seen from God is a sacrificial love. It forgives at its own expense.
Someone said that two things characterize God’s love. First, it always takes the initiative, and second, it is always for the undeserving. So we learn how to do by seeing how it is done, and we have seen how perfect love is done in the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (4:11).
Perfect Love and Fear
In interpreting John 4:17, 18, William Barclay states that “when love comes, fear goes.” He also declares that “Fear is the characteristic emotion of someone who expects to be punished.” This idea is that if we regard God primarily as Judge, the King, the Law-giver, the dominant emotion in our hearts will be fear. And in the light of this understanding of God, we can expect nothing but punishment, even annihilation. But when we take to heart that God is love, our fear will be swallowed up in that love.
To be sure, perfect love is not love that never makes a mistake, but it is a love that has ceased to be childish. It’s mature love, full grown love, and according to John, makes us like God. And in being like God, in His love, gives us confidence. Therefore, it is the confidence of perfected love that translates into fearlessness.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.
- What evidence do we have that God loves us?
- What does John mean when he refers to “perfect love”?
- What does our treatment of our human brothers and sisters reveal about our relationship with God?