So far, we have discussed the wisdom of God, the power of God and the Word of God.
In our efforts to know God, it is time to look into God’s heart.
J.I. Packer* begins his chapter on the love of God with a simple three word sentence from First John 4: 8 “God is love” from the complete scripture “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
He feels it is one of the most “tremendous utterances” in the Bible but he also says it is one of the most misunderstood. It seems simple, but it is not.
Ok, if there are false ideas about this it may take work to untangle all the meaning, but it is worth it. Receiving God’s love is one of the most amazing things that any of us can receive while we are here on earth. Packer states that “the New Testament sets forth this knowledge [God’s love], not as the privilege of a favored few, but as a normal part of ordinary Christian experience” .
Let’s take some Scripture and begin to unpeel the meaning. Paul writes in Romans 5: 5 that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Here Paul is not talking about our love for God; he is talking about God’s love for us.
Let’s begin to dissect this Scripture. First of all look at the verb and adverb “shed abroad”. Packer relates that shed abroad means “poured or dumped out” like the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, the tense of the verb is perfect tense, present perfect tense. For those among us who are not grammarians, this means that an action has begun in the past and it is continuing in the present. God has filled our hearts with love and He is filling them with love right now [like a valley once flooded remains full of water].
The last aspect of the verse is the phrase “which is given to us.” This is not an indication of an extraordinary event. This is a regular thing that God is doing for us. Especially today, we are bombarded by the extraordinary, so in a spiritual context maybe we get excited by speaking in tongues. That may be unusual enough but God giving us love is not; it is a normal, everyday activity. We may want a revival in church, expecting tongues to break out in worship. How many would pray for love to break out, filling everyone’s heart to the brimful?
Packer feels that the exploration of this gifting of God’s love for us will lead us “as deep into the mystery of God’s nature as the human mind can go, deeper than any of our previous studies have taken us.”
To begin to understand God’s love, Packer feels that two comments must proceed the study.
One, “God is love” is not the complete truth about God according to the Bible. If you have read the whole Bible, God is not the grandfatherly figure we used to see on the walls of our child’s Sunday school classroom. That God seems so warm and friendly, one would have a hard time imagining God judging the world and sending a flood, chastening His people and allowing them to be conquered, captured and exiled. In the New Testament, this is the God who will judge the world during the end times and we know it will be a “righteous judgement.”
Obviously if we are to buy into John 4: 8, we have to see God’s complete picture and the complete picture is not totally positive.
How are we to understand this? In our minds, the word love does not mean “to condemn” or “to punish.”
Obviously, we have to get at this complete truth.
Secondly “God is love” is the complete truth about God so far as the Christian is concerned.
Let’s stop. Isn’t this the exact opposite of the previous comment? It almost is, but the previous comment was “God is love” is not the complete truth according to the Bible. Now Packer writes that “God is love” is the complete truth [as far as the Christian is concerned].
As we begin to explore God’s love, as we begin to look into His heart, maybe this confusion is just the beginning of our efforts to understand the mystery of God’s love for us.
“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to Myself” [Jeremiah 31: 3].
Psalms 136: 26 “Give thanks to the God of heaven; His love endures forever.”
1 Corinthians 13: 13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” [1 John 4: 18].
With just this sampling of Scripture, we soon see that love is not the simple word we thought it was.
Maybe Packer is right; to know God’s love is to reveal His inner being. To know God’s love is “indeed heaven on earth.”
In subsequent posts, we will see…
*from his book Knowing God