Today’s reading 1 John 4:7-21, I Chronicles 5.
I am sometimes involved in interviewing teachers to work at the Christian School my kids attend. As part of the interview process we ask them about their faith and we ask “What is God like?”.
For the bible believing Christian’s we interview there are often a common set of words we hear in response to the question. God is sovereign, all-powerful, faithful, eternal, holy, perfect .. and so on. However there are two character traits of God that top the list – both in the interviews and in the bible – and they both feature in the two readings this morning.
God is loving and just.
God is Love.
I don’t know about you but when I read passages like 1 John 4 I feel like I am at the foot of a very high mountain with no idea how to climb it to understand the depths, discover the hidden valleys, and enjoy the spectacular vista from the top!
So as I struggle to clamber over the rocks in the foothills this morning there are just a couple of simple things in this sublime passage that stick out to me.
“God is love”. 1 John 4:15
Sure, God is loving. Yes, God loves the world (John 3:16). But the statement “God is love” takes the relationship between God and love to a whole new level. Love so describes God’s character that God is personified as being love. It is who he is. When God loves he is expressing himself. He is the author, inventor, sustainer and giver of love. We don’t know what love is until we have been loved by God. Indeed you cannot talk about “true love” without talking about God. God is love.
What is love ?
We need to be careful here. In our modern culture the meaning of the term “love” is hazy at best. On TV love can be defined as anything from infatuation to lust, from “like” to enjoyable. We “love” chocolate. I “love” Lise’s cooking (really!). Screen stars “love” their co-star within 15 minutes of meeting them. My 14 year old daughter Rachel “loves” Ben King (the rider coming dead last in the Tour of France at the moment!) .
This is not the type of love on display in 1 John 4.
John makes clear that God removed all ambiguity about true love, and about his own Love nature by demonstrating love in action – by sending His Son to walk on the planet and love us as only God can love – undeservedly, unconditionally.
“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. 10 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.
How should we respond to this love?
Interestingly, wonderfully, we are the recipients of love that God initiates. We didn’t ask for it. We don’t deserve it. We don’t even understand it! Yet, God took the initiative, and loves us anyway.
That’s true love – love God’s away. Unmerited, unending, unimaginable! Amazing. Our job – show God’s love to others by loving them the same way
“let us love one another, for love comes from God” 1 John 4:7
God is Just
In contrast to 1 John 4 we have 1 Chronicles 5:1. After reading 1 John I feel like I have descended from the mountain top (OK, from the foothills) and am wallowing around in the marshy swamp below. From sublime splendour to depraved gutter-dwelling. From extraordinary poetry and word-play, to mundane lists of names.
Nonetheless, 1 Chronicles also gives us insight into God’s character.
The first verse of 1 Chronicles 5 tells a terrible story, as a side-note, about the depravity of Jacob’s eldest son in sleeping with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah, and the consequences for his terrible sin – the loss of His birth-right.
“he (Reuben) was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright” 1 Chron 5:1
The incident is a one-liner in Gen 35:22. Rueben, of course was not the only first to lose his birthright as Esau threw his away (Gen 25), and in a way Adam also threw away his birthright as the firstborn of God, with Jesus becoming God’s heir (Hebrews 1:2).
And there it is – God is just! God will not let sin go unpunished. God will see wrongs dealt with. God is Holy, perfect, and must punish sin. Those who sin will find themselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath. Ruben was punished, Esau was punished, Adam and his kin were cursed …. Sin must be dealt with – God is just.
Does God’s wrath undo or somehow contradict his love-nature? Not at all. Because God is love he sent His Son Jesus to pay the cost and take the punishment we justly deserve.
“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
Thank you God that you are loving and just. God, teach us how to love – not the superficial love of the movies or TV, but the divine selfless, undeserved, faithful love that you have demonstrated to us in the person of your Son Jesus.