The Love of God

The Attributes of God

Scripture Readings

  • Hosea 11:1-11
  • 1John 4:7-21


My dear fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Over the last few weeks we studied from the Word of God some of the attributes of God.  There was his sovereignty, his glory, and then his holiness.  Next week we will hear about his faithfulness.  Today we hear about his love.

When speaking about the attributes of God we need to understand that God never changes – there is an attribute of Him referred to as his immutability, which means He cannot change (immutability has something of mutation in it).

What we therefore need to understand is that God is all He is all the time.  Our Westminster Confession of Faith speaks about God as the

“… one only, living, and true God,  who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin,  and who will by no means clear the guilty.”

God is all of these things all the time.  It is important to know this, because when we speak about the love of God we need to understand that his love is not separate from his holiness, his justice, his righteousness, his judgements, or his hatred of sin.  God is never or under certain circumstances more loving than He is just.  His love and his faithfulness are restrained by his righteousness, but his righteousness is always lavished on us by his love and faithfulness, because He is just and because He never changes.

This is enormously comforting for God’s people, because God will always be what He is.  As He revealed Himself in Scripture so He will be into all eternity.  There never any time that God will surprise us be being more just and more holy, or more righteous, or more filled with hatred over sin than He was in the time of Noah, or Sodom and Gomorrah, or in the time of David, or when He gave his only Son to be crucified.  When He will send Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead, those who stand before his throne will know Him as He revealed Himself at the first time to Adam.  No surprises.

But this truth is most discomforting to those who, especially in our day, emphasise the attribute of the love of God over and against all his other attributes.  There are those who argue that a loving God will never send anyone to hell.  If this is the way you look at God, of course the cross of Jesus Christ will indeed be something you have not come to understand.  As a matter of fact, the Gospel is still hidden to your eyes.

I am the last to want to make people of wrongful sexual habit the only sin one can talk about today – there are other sins mentioned in the same breath by the apostle: thieves, greedy people, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers who together with homosexuals and adulterers will not inherit the Kingdom of heaven, but the argument that God loves everyone, even the homosexual who does not repent from his ways is just not Biblical.

God’s love is never to be separated from his holiness, judgement and his righteousness.  In fact, without keeping this in mind, preaching the Gospel becomes extremely difficult.

What else do we have to proclaim other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  If He was not crucified, we would have no Gospel.  Therefore we need to talk about why He was crucified.  Further we need to tell why He was crucified. We need to tell what difference it makes for those who believe in Him, whom God raised from the dead after He paid the penalty of our sin.

What better person to go to hear about this than John – he who was first called with his brother, James, Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17).  They were probably people with a certain amount of volatility and disruptiveness.  John once asked the Lord when the people of Samaria did not want to receive them and Jesus:

“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54, NIV)

Somewhere along the line in his walk with Jesus, John became known as the apostle of love – just read his epistles and you will understand.  So, let’s go to the chapter we read earlier on.

God is love

John speaks of God’s love and our love towards one another 43 times in this letter, of which 32 times between 4:7 and 5:3.

John states:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, NIV)

The next verse:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8, NIV)

God is the source of love, because just as He is holy, powerful just, faithful and righteous, so He is love.  This has nothing to do with a sentimental expression of being lovely.

The very definition of what love is, is impossible without God.  Platonic affection or worldly kindness has no reference point to describe love, just as today’s reference point to justice, or ethics, or right or wrong, is futile and meaningless if it not based on some external know to man; we just do not have the capacity to define these things based on our own standards.  It is the standard of God and his Law, or the meaning of all these thing is open for subjective interpretation.  It is exactly because of this dilemma of man that he finds himself in a bind, and therefore calls out for toleration,  an admission that without God there is just not absolutes.

No one other than God knows love, because He is love.  He loves; we can at it noblest point only be kind and considerate to one another, but in doing so we still need God’s standard.  Hitler though he was kind to the German people be killing off 6 million Jews.  Dr Philip Nitschke is of the mind that it is kind to administer euthanasia to certain people, while other so-called atheists of our day think it is kind to certain parents who cannot afford more children to administer abortion even in partial birth.

But John states, “God is love.”  He defines love, demonstrates what love is, and makes it possible to love one another. Who is born of God, and John knows about this birth by the Spirit – just remember how he records the conversation between our Lord and Nicodemus – understands what love is.  Without this birth we cannot even see, or perceive, or understand the kingdom of God and what it is about.  But by being born of God, we understand what love is: it should therefore not surprise the world if Christians really love one another – in fact, not loving one another is a sign that we do not know God.

God’s love demonstrated

In Jesus Christ

Before God’s grace in Christ, our old nature understands nothing but selfish ambition, because we are born with a heart which ultimately only seeks our own desires, while we hate God and one another.

John puts our sinful condition in these words:

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 4:10, NIV)

In verse 19 he says:

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)

What does this tell us?  We did not have any love for God for Him to love us back!  Our love is a result of his love.  Paul puts it like this:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

So, how did we come to know what the love of God is.  Paul’s words tell it like it is: we were by nature deserving of wrath.

John tells us how god demonstrated his love to us, and he uses something of the same thought of Paul.  Listen,

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 4:10, NIV)

God sent his Son,

…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, NIV)

Why would God such a thing?  We will never know, because there is no one one earth who will ever understand why God loved us.  But sending his Son was necessary, because we could not and cannot save ourselves.

If God did not do it, because we were deserving of wrath, we would only live to one day die forever – not in a state of unconsciousness, but in a state of damnation.  The Bible calls it hell, a place of torment.

Now, and this is the Gospel: Jesus, the Son of God, because his Father loved undeserving sinners became an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Another translation of verse 10 goes like this:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ESV)

Propitiation is what Jesus did in our place:  He took the punishment of sin upon Him be becoming what we were in the eyes of God:  deserving of wrath.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians:

For our sake He [God] made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

This is love demonstrated, love in action.  Born of God by the Spirit of God, we now know God, who is love.  We now understand love, and we must apply love to one another.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:11, ESV)

Through the Holy Spirit

Through love, demonstrated in Jesus Christ, we understand love because God lives in us, and we live in Him.  How do we know this?

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13, ESV)

What the Spirit has done for us is to open our eyes that we can see or perceive and understand something of the Kingdom of God and our place in it as his children.  Therefore John writes:

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 4:14, ESV)

This is the remarkable thing the Holy Spirit gives us:  Hew makes us understand that Jesus is the Son of God, that God lives in us and we live in Him, and also this:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16, ESV)

God’s love drives out fear.  First we lived under God’s wrath.  We know that if we do not put our trust in Christ Jesus for salvation, we will stand condemned in judgment to eternal punishment of hell.  But with the Holy Spirit working in us to look to Jesus Christ for salvation, we understand God’s love, and we understand that He is love.  Just then, as the Spirit reveals this to us and we believe and know that the wrath of God on sin was taken away from us and placed on Christ, we understand that we do not need to fear anymore.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18, ESV)

Paul writes:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:15–16, ESV)

What God’s love demands from us

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19–21, ESV)


What we have heard this morning is all exhibited to us in the Lord’s Table. Here we take bread and think about his death who took God’s wrath away as He became sin for us; here we take the wine and think about his words that it is the new testament in his blood:  new, the old has passed away and the new is come because we are reconciled to God.

But here we also here the need to reconciled with one another by loving one another as Christ loved us.

Let us pray.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3rd March 2013

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