When I was growing up in Brooklyn, NY my parents used to put a picture in my room that used to scare me sometimes at night. It was an expressionless picture of Jesus that looked very life like, with piercing eyes that seemed to follow you across the room. It created a picture in my mind that God was watching me to see if I was going to mess up. So at night I would often turn over so I wouldn't see His eyes staring down at me.
Everyone has grown up with different pictures of what God is like. It may not have been an actual picture hanging on your wall like me as a child, but one that was formed in your mind during your upbringing. Some people see God as an angry judge, ready to pronounce an arbitrary sentence of condemnation on you for the smallest mistake. For some, God was this big, all powerful man in the sky, but not someone you could know personally. For others, their picture of God is shaped by their parents. Maybe you are like me and your father wasn’t in the picture for awhile, so God seemed to you like an absentee father. For some He is just a force, like mother nature, and not someone you can talk to. Or maybe your picture of God is like Santa Clause, I’ll acknowledge Him as long as He gives me what I ask for. Whatever your picture of God, they are often formed when we are young and often influence how we treat other people.
The Bible paints us a very vivid picture of God. His character is described from many angles. He is Gracious, Merciful, Patient, a jealous Husband, Holy and Just. These are just some of the many words that the Bible uses to reveal to us who God is. Yet the Bible summarizes all these descriptions of His character into one word. God is love. Not that He merely has love or gives love. But He is the very embodiment of love. Love is the very essence of who God is. And love that is so much more than a feeling or a sentimental emotion, like the world wants us to believe. He is love, in that He is completely and self sacrificially other-centered.
Now you may say, awe here we go again, another preacher talking about that squishy “God is love” stuff. I’ve heard that before. Maybe to you it sounds like cliche' or a pie in the sky idea. However today in 1 John 4:7-11, the Spirit will give you two sure ways that you can know that God is love.
Three simply, yet profoundly powerful words. The apostle John says…God is love. And if you really want to know that God is love, he tells you how right here in this text.
You can know that God is love when you see His true followers loving each other.
And it’s unfortunate that I have to say His true followers, but the truth is not everyone who says they know God really does. Not everyone who says they are a Christian really is. Don’t just settle for a mere profession of Christianity or even a mere profession of love. And this can often be really frustrating for people who are sincerely seeking God.
It’s like someone who is really sick going to a nearby hospital. Because the large sign on the outside of the building says hospital, you expect somethings when you walk in. You expect to see other sick people. You expect there to be doctors and nurses in the building. You expect someone to see you, proscribe treatment or in some way help you get better. Now can you image if this person walks into the hospital and the receptionist tells them, “Sorry. We don’t serve sick people. You have to get yourself well before you come in.” Now imagine if you were that person hearing this. You’d probably say “Either do what hospitals are supposed to do or take down the “hospital sign” from off your building!” Either be a place were people can get well or stop professing that you are. And I can almost hear people saying either truly be a loving Christian or don’t use that name at all.
The Bible is telling us that love is the main thing that people who know God should be known for. It should be seen and heard. Their lives should reveal God’s love. Their testimony or story should reveal that God is love. Their teachings or doctrines should reveal a God who is love. And here is where the “rubber meets the road.” John is saying you can really know if they know God, based on how they treat one another. Because to know God is to know His love, because God is love. And loving others proves that you know God.
Now there are a lot of things that people who claim to know God are known for today. There are also a lot of professed Christians who seem to be known more for what they hate than what they love. And if you are someone today who has had a negative experience with religion or Christianity and your experience didn’t reveal to you a God who is love, then as a Christian pastor, I want to personally offer you an apology. I’m sorry. That is not what following Jesus is all about. Jesus, Himself, taught in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
You see, John is saying that those who truly know God are born of Him, meaning they are His children. This means they are to act like their Father. They are to bear His DNA. And the DNA of God is love. Therefore an unloving Christian is a contradiction.
So how do we start getting God’s love into our hearts so that we can love others like He does? It starts by spending time with Him everyday in His word. Look everyday at how His love is being revealed to you in scripture and ask Him to then pour His love into you through the Holy Spirit. And slowly, you will start to see yourself changing into His same character of love. That same love will start to overflow into how you treat people. It doesn’t mean we will always agree, but loving each other will always be the priority.