Dr. Richard L. Strauss
December 16, 1979
One of our greatest needs as human beings is the need to be loved. We all have it. We need to know that we are important to somebody, that somebody truly cares about us and accepts us unconditionally. When we doubt that anybody loves us, we often develop unacceptable behavior patterns to compensate for it.
We may act irresponsibly to get attention (demanding, overbearing, boastful). Attention is a poor substitute for love, but it's better than nothing at all. We may develop physical symptoms that bring us sympathy and care of others. The symptoms cause us genuine pain, but it is still more bearable than the pain of admitting that nobody cares. We may angrily lash out at those who should care, or we may try to run away and hide from them, but in either case we are trying to protect ourselves from the hurt they are causing us. We need to know that somebody loves us.
The good news from God's Word is that Somebody does! And to know Him is to find release from the crippling effects of feeling unloved. Twice the Apostle John categorically stated that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
Love is one of the warmest words in the English language, and that God is love is one of the most sublime, uplifting, and reassuring truths known to mankind. Love is His nature. It is the essence of His being. He is always going to act toward us in love, because He cannot do otherwise. That's the way He is.
No one attribute is any more important than any other, and all of God's attributes are expressed in conjunction with each other. Yet I think that most Bible students would say that love could well be the most powerful motivating force in all of God's being. It deeply affects everything else that He does.
It would be rather presumptuous to assume that we can exhaust the subject of God's love in one brief message. In fact, I've really struggled to try to convey God's love as the Bible reveals it in this one sermon. But let's try to scratch the surface and begin to explore this fathomless truth that God is love. There are eight observations we will make.
1. God's Love Is Self-Giving
Love involves action. It is expressed in the giving of oneself for the good of another. So it demands an object. Whenever we talk about love we are suggesting that there is more than one person involved: the one who loves and the one who is loved.
How then did God demonstrate His love before He created angels or men? Jesus told us that there was a love relationship between the three Persons of the triune Godhead from eternity past, before the foundation of the world (see John 17:24).
We have learned that God is self-sufficient and complete in and of Himself. He has no needs which must be met by others outside of Himself. He didn't need to create other beings in order to express His love.
Yet He did create. Why?
He wanted so much to manifest His love that He created the angelic hosts and later the human race so that He might communicate Himself to them, give of Himself to them, and bestow His very best on them for their benefit and blessing. That's what His love led Him to do.
Because God is love, He loves to give. Jesus said He gives good things to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). James went so far as to say that every single good gift finds its source in Him (James 1:17). Since God is love, we can expect Him to give of Himself. God's love is self-giving.
2. God's Love Is Sacrificial
Not only does God's love motivate Him to give, but it motivates Him to give when it costs Him dearly to do so. In fact, it cost Him the very best that He had: His only Son. God's love is sacrificial. That is the message of the greatest love text in the Bible. How could we ever talk about God's love and overlook John 3:16?
"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).
Giving of His Son meant more than merely allowing Him to leave heaven's glory and enter earth's history. It meant giving Him to die in our place and pay the awful debt of our sins.
"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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).
This is sacrificial love.
It was no less of a sacrifice for God the Son that it was for God the Father. His willingness to offer Himself was the summit of sacrificial love.
Oh, how the apostle Paul appreciated this. He called Jesus the "Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). And when Paul outlined God's principles for harmonious marital relationships, he said:
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25).
It was God the Son of whom the Apostle John spoke when he said:
"We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16a, NSRB).
Jesus Christ made the supreme sacrifice for us when He died in our place. He was falsely accused, beaten, spit on, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, and left to die the most excruciating death known to man. The curse of sin's penalty—the Father's just punishment for the whole world's sin—was laid on Him as he hung on that cross. And though He possessed the power to walk away from it unscathed, He stayed on that cross and bore that suffering for us because He loves us.
Shortly before He went to that cross, Jesus said this:
"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).
Whenever we are tempted to think that nobody loves us, we need to think of the cross. That explodes the whole notion that nobody loves us—God loves us. Jesus bore that shame and suffering because He loves us. He values us so much that He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to secure us for Himself eternally. That is the epitome of love.
3. God's Love Is Unconditional
One of the most amazing things about God's love is that it is extended to us when we do not deserve it, and that it continues steadfast and strong even when we do not respond to it. In other words, His love is unconditional.
That certainly is different from our love. We have a tendency to show more love to the people who obviously love us, and less to the ones who don't. We express our love to our spouses when they perform to our expectation and withhold it when they displease us. We show affection on the lovable children and avoid the belligerent ones who look like they might want to kick us in the shins. Our sin nature causes our love to be conditional.
Not God! His love is universal and unconditional. "For God so loved the world"—the whole world. That doesn't refer to the materials of which our planet is constructed, but to the world of people. And it does not just mean the whole mass of humanity generally. It refers to each individual, not just to the elect. It refers to the whole world of individual people.
"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Every sinful person is categorized in the Bible as God's enemy (see Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21). God even loves His enemies—all of them.
There isn't one good thing in any of us that merits God's love (Romans 7:18). He doesn't love us because we are so lovable or because we are worthy of His love. We are totally unworthy. Yet He prizes us highly and desires us for Himself. It is His love for us that gives us our worth as persons.
He does finds great delight and receives great glory when we respond to His love, enter His fellowship, and do His will. In fact, He made us for that purpose. But whether or not we ever return His love, He keeps on extending it to us.
There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more, and nothing we ever do will cause Him to love us less. He loves us perfectly and completely regardless of how we perform. His love is unconditional.
There is a great Biblical illustration of that in His love for the nation Israel:
"The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you" (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a).
Do you see the implication of what He is saying? There isn't any human reason for His love for Israel. They were a rebellious, stiff-necked people. He loves them simply because He loves them. And that's the way it is with you and me. He loves us just because He loves us. Nothing we ever did made Him love us so nothing we ever do will make Him stop loving us.
He loves us when we're grouchy as much as when we're glad. He loves us just as He loves us when we open our big mouths and stick our feet in them. He loves us when our wives or husbands aren't treating us as if they do. (Does that ever happen in your house? It happens in most houses.) He loves us when we're feeling like nobody in the whole world loves us. He loves us when we don't even love ourselves. He never stops loving us.
Go back and read the first part of Deuteronomy 7:8 again. Why did the Lord love Israel? Because He loved them. It doesn't make very good logic, but He loves them "because." The Lord set His affection on you and me...because the Lord loves you and me. That's the way He is.
4. God's Love Is Eternal
This message also was given originally to the nation Israel, but its application is very much for every true child of God:
"The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness'" (Jeremiah 31:3).
That everlasting love reaches into eternity past. God knew us and loved us before He ever made us, when we were still but a thought in His mind. And He will love us for eternity to come, for nothing shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
If anybody ever deserved to forfeit the love of Christ, it was His earthly disciples. They were men of inestimable spiritual privileges, yet they displayed an amazingly small degree of spiritual insight. Witness their behavior at the time of the last Passover. The impending ordeal of bearing the world's sins was weighing heavily on the Lord's heart, and He longed for their prayerful support. But Luke informs us that rather than supporting Him in prayer, they were more interested in arguing about which one of them was the greatest when Jesus was about to go to the cross to die and pay for their sins (Luke 22:24). The whole thing is incredible.
None of them had even extended the common social courtesy of the day by washing the others' feet when they entered the upper room for dinner. They were probably too busy jockeying for the seats of honor at the head of the table or next to the Lord. When they left the room, some of them fell asleep when they were supposed to be praying, and they all deserted the Lord when He was taken captive. One of them denied Him; another one later doubted Him. These are the people we are talking about, folks, when we read how this whole upper-room episode began.
"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1).
Boy, that's beautiful. He loved them to the end.
To the end of what? Who can really say? He will love us to the end of our waywardness and wanderings. He will love us to the end of our deepest need. He will love to the end of our lives, to the end of time, to the farthest extremity of eternity. He will love us forever. His love is eternal. And that leads us to the next thought.
5. God's Love Is Infinite
How can we ever exhaust the love of God? If God is infinite and God is love, then His love in an infinite love. Paul agreed. He called it a love that "passes knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19). It is far great than our finite minds can grasp. He also called it a "great love."
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (Ephesians 2:4-5, NASB).
He refers to its breadth, its length, its depth and its height (Ephesians 3:18), but it is obvious that he is speaking of dimensions that defy measurement—a breadth and length which encompass the whole world, a depth that reaches to the lowest sinner, and a height which exalts us to the loftiest heaven. God's love has no limit. It is described like this in F.M. Lehman's familiar gospel song:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Tho' stretched from sky to sky.
Did you know that the words of that stanza were found penciled on the wall of a narrow room in an asylum by a man who was supposedly demented? They were discovered after his death. He wasn't demented at all. He had learned one of the most precious truths of all time: that God's love is infinite. We can no more exhaust it than we can empty the ocean with a bucket.
6. God's Love Is Holy
Now when some folks hear that God's love is self-giving, sacrificial, unconditional, eternal, and infinite, they get the idea that it is merely soft, sloppy sentimentality, that God is an indulgent Father who gives us everything we want and playfully turns His head the other way when we sin. Not on your life!
Everything God does is done in the totality of His being, so His love must always be consistent with all His other attributes. Packer suggests that "it expresses holiness in the lover and seeks holiness for the beloved" (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, page 110).
The evidence is overwhelming. For example, in the same context in which Paul explains that we in love were predestinated to the adoption of sons, he states God's purpose for choosing us: "that we should be holy and without blame before Him" (Ephesians 1:4, KJV).
Why did God love us? So that we would be holy. Love seeks holiness in the beloved.
Love and obedience go together consistently in the Bible. For example, read 1 John 5:3 (see also John 14:15; 15:10).
"In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
God will use every loving means at His disposal to encourage our obedience. He does that because He loves us.
"And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son'" (Hebrews 12:5-6).
What kind of loving parent would you be if you let your child do anything he pleased—anything. Put his hand in the fire. Ride his tricycle on the freeway. Play Superman on the roof of the house. Would that be loving? The authorities would properly declare you to be an unfit parent. Your love constrains you to inflict minor pain, if necessary, in order to ensure the kind of behavior that will bring your child future happiness. And that is exactly what our loving heavenly Father does.
God doesn't enjoy inflicting pain any more than we do. Before my father ever spanked me as a child, he used to say, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." I never understood that until I became a parent myself. Then it became all too clear. (There were times when it hurt me physically, and I had black and blue marks on my fingers! But it hurt more in my soul.) Did you know that God says the same thing? Concerning His people Israel we read, "In all their affliction He was afflicted" (Isaiah 63:9, KJV).
He feels our pain because He loves us. Don't chafe under His disciplinary hand. He knows best what we need, and He always administers it in love for our best interests. His love is holy.
7. God's Love Is Comforting
Some children would give everything they have for someone who loves them, who cares enough for them, to set limits and administer discipline. That would mean more to them than all the material things in the world, because true love brings security and comfort.
When we know someone loves us, we know he is going to do everything in his power to take care of us and help us. That is real security, and it brings us genuine comfort.
When we grasp the reality of God's love, we will no longer seek our security in the usual places. Not in a job. Not in a bank account or in investments. Not in a house. We won't seek security in a husband or a wife, in good friends, or in health. We will rest in the Lord, free from all fear, secure in the assurance that He is going to take care of us. Everything He allows to touch our lives is part of His infinite love.
Listen to the Apostle John again.
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18, NASB).
God never punishes His children. He laid all the punishment for our sins on His Son. He disciplines us, but that's different. He disciplines us in love for our benefit, but even that is nothing to be afraid of. Understanding God's love eliminates all fear—fear of God's discipline, fear of what tomorrow holds, fear of losing a loved one, fear of losing a job, fear of natural catastrophes, fear of global war, fear of suffering, fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of rejection. God loves you, dear Christian. There is nothing to fear.
8. God's Love Is Life-Changing
Now look at the next verse. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19, NASB). God's love is life-changing. Most of us long to be loving people, don't we? I assume you do. We want to be able to give love to our spouses, our children, our fellow believers, our unsaved friends and acquaintances, and most of all to the Lord Himself. But we find it so difficult. It is nearly impossible for us to love others unless we are genuinely convinced that we ourselves are loved. Some of us professing Christians are so hard and calloused and insensitive and unloving because we are not convinced we are really loved, including by God. We are saying unconsciously, "Why should I be so loving when nobody shows me any love?" But it really is true. God loves you. Jesus said it Himself: "For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father" (John 16:27, NASB). We must come to know and believe the love that He has for us (see 1 John 4:16). We can never fully grasp it with our human understanding alone, but God is ready to make it real to us if our hearts are open to His Word. Then, secure in His love, we shall be able to reach out in love to others, unselfishly, sacrificially, unconditionally, inexhaustibly. And it will profoundly influence our relationship with those around us. A world-renowned theologian (Dr. Karl Barth) was asked by a student what he considered to the be the most significant truth he ever learned. His answer was, "Jesus loves me. This I know; for the Bible tells me so." Believe it, dear Christian: God loves you. Oh Christian, believe it, understand it, enjoy it. Live in the light of it. Let it fill you with joy to such an extent that love spills over into the lives of others around you.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
If you've never come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin, don't miss the message of John 3:16.
"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).
God Is Love
And we have come to know and have believed that love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1 John 4:16 NASB
Continue to AT-13: The God of All Grace