It was a Friday night and Deedre and I just got through enjoying a wonderful worship experience in the Howard Performing Arts Center at Andrews University. And since my wife is an audio/visual geek, she decided to go to the sound booth in the back and check out the gear they were working with. In the process she got to know some of the people working back there, one of which would become a friend. This guy made his living working in several capacities around campus, usually in the areas of sound, photography and video. It was actually his influence in video that lead my wife to change her graduate degree emphasis to Multimedia Communications. He was raised in an Adventist home and went to Andrews Academy, however we’d soon discover our friend was a professed atheist.
What was hard for me to wrap my mind around was this was the first atheist I had ever met that was raised Adventist. He never fully opened up about what lead him to this perspective. All I knew was his family wasn’t very active in church and he abruptly dropped out of Andrews Academy as a teenager. And though my wife and I loved him just the same, all I remember thinking was, “How does this happen?” How does someone who is raised Adventist Christian, works in a Christian environment where he is constantly surrounded by the best in Biblical teaching and scholarship, regularly records and hears sermons from some of the best preachers in our church, profess not to believe in God? And as some of you might be thinking, I began to wonder, “What is the most compelling evidence we can give for the reality of God and the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ?” And while I could talk about several persuasive apologetic reasons for faith in God, which I enjoy doing, I believe if you’ll take the journey with me to the book of 1st John 4:7, the Holy Spirit will reveal to your heart today, the most compelling evidence.
John is writing to a church that is experiencing some problems with false teachers and another issue that we’ll soon discover. And what he is doing is repeating the same teachings of Jesus He gave the night before His crucifixion, in the upper room, to the disciples when John was just a teenager, found in John 13-17, and he’s applying them to the situation in this local church. So let’s read what the Apostle John, who is now an old man, wrote beginning in verse 7.
Can you hear John’s voice coming through this text, begging the church not to neglect something that is of the utmost importance for the true follower of Jesus? This other problem they were having, this thing they were neglecting was so central that John said if you don’t have it, then you don’t know God! This thing is so compelling that if it is lacking, even if someone is raised in a Christian environment, like my friend, they will walk away from it all and even deny the existence of God. This is because the most compelling evidence we can give is to love one another, because you…
Know the Love of God.
This is because to know God is to know love, because God is love. This is because from eternity past God has always existed within a Divine relationship of three co-eternal, co-equal Persons that have always existed for the other. This other-centeredness defines His very nature, which defines love itself. Therefore if you do not love each other, you do not know God.
It’s like when we watch our son and how he relates to our daughter. We’re very affectionate in our home, so he loves to hug and kiss his sister, so much so that we often have to pry him off of her because he’ll just smother her. It’s like "Ok Tommy, give Eden some room to breathe!” Then my wife will look at me with a smile and say, “Does he remind you of someone?”, because I often do the same thing when she’s focused on a task. Hey, when I love someone, I love hard and apparently it’s in our DNA, because our son is the same way. Well love is the DNA of God and when we love each other we reveal that we know Him and are born of Him as His child.
Did you notice that John said for the church to love one another and not to love others in general? It’s because as we learn to love one another in the church that it begins to overflow out into the world. And it’s this same love that is so compelling to the world, as they see us loving one another, that brings their hearts to the conviction that their must be a God. And if He is like what they see in His followers, then they’ll want to know and trust Him too.
This is the powerful current that is running through the unfolding story of Scripture and the doctrines it contains. And, more importantly, this is the kind of person it is supposed to produce. Therefore to claim to love God, but not love one another in His church is a glaring contradiction! If you do not love, you do not yet know Him. Period. Many know a lot about Him, but it’s a totally different thing to actually know Him. To know Him means to know Him relationally, to have the daily experience of knowing His character, which is love.
It may come as a surprise to some of you that modern day atheism was birthed as a visceral reaction against the Christian church united with the state, under the reign of the Roman Papacy in Western Europe as it came out of the middle ages. It all came to a head in the late 1700s, when this coercive, persecuting and oppressive system painted such a dark picture of God that people just couldn’t stomach it anymore and the French revolution was the result. People began to deny God’s existence and burn Bibles in the street, because they could not see a God who is love in His professed people or their doctrinal package.
Family, if the love of God is not seen, heard, felt or taught, running as a life giving current through all we claim to believe and practice in our homes, in our marriages, among our children, school and church as a whole, then they will leave in unbelief. And those on the outside will not be drawn. But it doesn’t have to be this way. God’s love is awakened in you as you see His love for you daily through the unfolding story of the Scriptures. It is of the utmost urgent priority that we carve out the time, first thing when you wake up, to spend time with Him in prayer and reading and meditating on the Scriptures. But not just carelessly or casually reading. You’ve got to focus in on how God’s character of love is being revealed in the text and how it relates to you. As I shared in the Life In Christ Seminar, recently, you’ve got to ask yourself this question, “What did I see in God’s character of love revealed in today’s reading?” Or put another way, if you’re journaling, which I highly recommend, “Tell God what you saw in His character of love.” As you daily focus on His love, you will naturally be transformed into His image and want to love each other.
As you do this you’ll start to notice that God’s love is revealed in many different ways in Scripture. He is faithful, kind, patient, merciful, just, a defender and a deliverer to name a few. However God’s love for you, as John is about to show us in verse 9, has been revealed to you in a very powerful and specific way.