The Essence of Christianity
God is love
(1 John 4:16)
There is something Jesus said that I want you to think about. Jesus said to those who followed Him: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
This verse of Scripture is tremendously important at this hour in American history. In another part of the Bible we find the same thing stated by John: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:7-10).
The Bible declares that we who follow Jesus Christ should be just as much in love with each other as God was in love with us when He sent His Son to die on the cross. I want you to see what it means to love as God loves, because the Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:16).
The basic attribute of God is holiness, but love is another basic attribute of God. It is a part of God’s nature to love, and all who know Jesus Christ as Savior also have this supernatural love instilled within their hearts by the Holy Spirit. The greatest demonstration of the fact that we are Christians is that we love one another.
In 1 Corinthians 13, we have first a description of a man who does not possess love. The Apostle Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” 1 Corinthians 13:1.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy and if I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn't love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 1 Corinthians 13:1-8
In other words, suppose I could speak with the oratory of James Earl Jones. Suppose I could speak with cryptic language like George Orwell’s. Suppose I could speak with the power of President Roosevelt, in which he used to sway an entire nation. Suppose I could sing opera like Luciano Pavarotti. Suppose I had a thousand tongues that could speak a thousand languages at the same time. The Bible says all that is nothing, and I am nothing, unless I have this divine, supernatural love that God gives.
I might be a man of great faith. The Bible says that I might have faith so that I could move mountains, but if I have not love, it is nothing. Suppose I could stand here today and say to that mountain, “Move into the sea,” and it would move! You would say, “Well, Billy Graham is certainly a man of tremendous faith to pray a mountain into the sea.” The Bible says that is absolutely nothing unless my faith is tempered with love. I could be a man of great charity. The Bible says, “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor … it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3) unless I have this divine love that God gives. I could give everything I have to charity, but if the motive were not divine love, it means nothing in the sight of almighty God.
What a powerful thing love must be, that God is willing to invest so much stock into it! This love in Classical Greek: ἀγάπη, agape is the highest form of love that comes from God’s Holy Spirit… for God is Love. (1 John 4:8) God does not merely love; He is love itself. Everything God does flows from His love.
The type of love that characterizes God is not a sappy, sentimental feeling such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve to be loved or because of any excellence we possess, but because it is His nature to love and He must be true to His nature.
Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5). We did not deserve such a sacrifice, “but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s agape love is unmerited, gracious, and constantly seeking the benefit of the ones He loves. The Bible says we are the undeserving recipients of His lavish agape love (1 John 3:1). God’s demonstration of agape love led to the sacrifice of the Son of God for those He loves.
We are to love others with agape love, whether they are fellow believers (John 13:34) or bitter enemies (Matthew 5:44). Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us. Agape love as modeled by Christ is not based on a feeling; rather, it is a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.
Agape love does not come naturally to us. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love—that agape—can only come from its Source. This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5, Galatians 5:22). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Because of God’s love toward us, we are able to love one another.
A clear example of what is not God’s love is being displayed by the Westboro Baptist Church, commonly known for their battle cry “God hates fags.” The most disturbing is the way Westboro Baptist Church claims to represent God to the world. Does God hate everybody who does not believe exactly as they do and who does not act as they do? As proclaimed by the late Fred Phelps Pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Members are seen gathering and picketing places and events they see as supporting either homosexuality or Jews and the funerals of soldiers who fought in a war they say was caused by America’s tolerance for homosexuality. On their website: GodHatesAmerica.com Their message of hatred is clearly seen… “Our message to this evil world is that God hates you, and you better prepare for the return of Christ in power and glory. Jesus came the first time to save; and Jesus will come the second time in vengeance, because you do not obey the Gospel. It will be soon, and you will experience the wrath of the Lamb, face to face.”
A proper understanding of God’s love as seen in both Old and New Testament Scriptures will keep individuals in balanced. In Psalms the psalmist declares “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). Jesus said God causes “his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). Barnabas and Paul would later say the same thing: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17).
In addition to His compassion, goodness, and kindness, God also shows His patience to both the elect and the non-elect. While God’s patience for His own is undoubtedly different from His patience with those whom He has not chosen, God still exercises “longsuffering” toward those whom He has not chosen (Nahum 1:3). Every breath that the wicked man takes is an example of the mercy of our holy God.
Even when God told the prophet Jeremiah not to pray for the deliverance of Israel from the Babylonians (Jeremiah 7:16), He still gave the promise that Israel would be restored (Jeremiah 51). God will separate Himself from those who choose to reject Him, but His message is one of hope and reconciliation, not violent dismissal. And those who choose to receive Christ… His love will cover a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
God’s love is Essential to Christianity!