“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
With just those seven words, John encapsulates one of the most important and foundational truths in the Christian faith and if we are serious about being fully equipped as Jesus’ disciples, this truth must dominate our thinking, our worldview, our understanding of the gospel and our purpose in the Church. We love because He first loved us. I can only love God in the measure I receive love from God. Receiving the love of God gives me a capacity for love I did not have before. I was designed to be a lover of God. I was designed to love God with everything that I am – every part of my being. The Bible says I’m to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength. Everything about my spirit man is geared up and ready to love God completely.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone being described as being, ‘so heavily minded, they’re of no earthly good.’ Maybe you have said that of someone. Well, I have to say that’s a really stupid thing to say. It’s also a contradiction because the only way you can be of any earthly good is to be heavenly minded. If I am not heavenly minded, I am missing the whole point of life. I am to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. There’s an emotional capacity to love that must find expression in my relationship with God and that’s a lifetime journey. I never stop to grade myself – I just keep going forward. I’m just loving with all my heart and soul – but also my mind. The intellect is actually at its finest when it considers God. ‘The fool says in his heart, there is no God.’ (Psalm 14:1)
We are designed for love and first and foremost that is love for God. We were hard-wired to love God – that’s our design – but the culture around us is trying really hard to erase the whole concept of design. It’s not just sexual orientation and gender that’s under fire – it’s life itself that is being re-defined by our culture. I was born, to be loved by God and to love God in return. Now a part of that expression of my love for God must be measurable in my love for others. If I say I love God but don’t demonstrate love towards people, you have every reason to question my love for God because there’s no evidence. In other words, spiritual realities have to be measurable in the natural. Spiritual realities have to manifest or bear fruit in our day to day life on earth.
There has been a war raging now for over a hundred years to remove the concept of a creator. If there’s no creator, then there’s no design – because you can’t have design without a designer. You can’t say the beaver has teeth that were designed in such a way so it could chew through trees. You cannot say design if there’s no designer. There’s no such thing as random design. Design has to be intentional – it has to have a designer. So if I remove the key concept of a creator, a designer; if there’s no design, there’s no purpose. If there’s no purpose, there’s no destiny. If there’s no destiny, there’s no accountability.
This war in our culture is trying to undermine the absolute necessity of wisdom because giving an account of my life is at the very heart of true biblical wisdom. I will stand before God one day and give an account. So once that truth is erased from the consciousness of humanity then things become frightening. Everything is random and driven by self-absorption, self-protection and self-promotion. I have been created and designed to love God with all my heart, soul and mind. But I am also designed to love God with all my strength. This not our physical strength. I doubt it means you sing worship songs while you lift weights. This is talking about loving God with our whole body. Let me just read the first two verses of Psalm 84.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”(Psalm 84:1-2)
My heart and my flesh, that is my whole body cries out for God. We know what physical appetites are. We know what it is to be thirsty. We know what it is to hunger for food. Well it’s actually possible to spend time in the glorious presence of God where your body becomes recalibrate to hunger for what it was born for: God Himself. Every person reading this was actually designed by God – for God. That means every part of us – our mind; our emotions; our will; our physical body; our gifts and talents – everything was designed by God, for God. In our encounter of loving God and receiving love from God, the perfection of our design is revealed. When every part of me burns for God – then I am at my best. This is what the Apostle Paul was trying to explain in Ephesians 3:19 when he exhorted us, “… to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge; to know what is beyond knowing. Or to put it another way, we are to know by experience what is beyond our comprehension.
It’s tragic but true that our modern culture and lifestyle makes it impossible for us to fully embrace the love of God. We are just too busy and as I have said before, busyness is artificial significance. Busyness insulates us from being still enough to be loved. I don’t mean God doesn’t love you when you’re busy – God’s love is constant and immeasurable. But when your life is so full – crammed pack with activities – you can’t discover, experience or embrace the full dimension of God’s love. If ever there was a verse for our generation it has to be Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness is something our whole culture seems to despise. I’m not saying you can’t learn in the midst of hectic activity, all of us do. But there’s something about being still in the presence of God that takes us to a very different place. This is when people receive some of their best insights, inspirations and moments in God. For example when you’re sleeping, or just waking up – your defenses are down, anxiety hasn’t kicked in yet, your agenda hasn’t come to mind. In that place of stillness, we can often see and hear and embrace God in a way we never can in the hustle and bustle of life. Setting aside time to be still in the presence of God is so important. What is even more tragic is when our busyness is for God. This is so evident in the modern Church in the western world. Our very full agenda forGod will often insulate us fromGod. We consume so much but we fail to grow. Hebrews 12:12-14 tells us why this is the case:
“. . though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
The Word of God is divided in two categories in this passage, milk and the word of righteousness. Milk and meat. Milk is that what’s comforts and soothes and it’s meant for babies. Meat is the word of righteousness, that which provokes change and is for maturing adults. If I only searched the Scriptures to find milk, then I will live in comfort, I will live in perpetual immaturity. Because it’s the word of righteousness that provokes me and brings me into change and growth into maturity. Those who partake of this solid food have their senses exercised or trained to discern good and evil. Our physical senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste, were designed in us to recognize God. I know it sounds mystical but the writer of Hebrews basically said, having your senses trained to discern good and evil is a requirement to be a teacher. For though you ought to have been teachers by now, you don’t yet have your senses trained in the kingdom of God. Listening in God’s kingdom is the key.
I believe there’s this intensely glorious harmony and melody woven into everything that exists in the kingdom of heaven. There’s colour, there’s beauty, there’s sound, there’s light and everything has divine purpose. There are colours that have never been thought of. There are sounds there which have never been heard by a human ear. I think worship leaders, musicians and song writers more and more are going to be hearing glimpses of sounds and melodies there God has kept hidden. Sounds which only exist in God’s world but which are occasionally heard by people. I personally think Handel’s Messiah is one of those pieces. This man was very obnoxious, angry and impatient – not a godly man at all. But one day Handel was given a poem written by a young poet. The one place this angry, unpleasant man had a soft spot in his heart was for young poets.
So he took this poem and he began to read over it. As he did he began to hear sounds he had never heard before. So he began to write. He would write non stop for hours and hours. It was like he was obsessed with completing this project. The woman who cooked meals for him would come in to feed him and he would turn her away lest he lost his connection to these sounds he had never heard before. So he wrote and wrote and wrote and the result was Handel’s Messiah – an incredible piece of music – lyrics by a young unknown poet; music from a master who tapped into heavenly sounds. He penned something that is sung by millions of people around the world still today – many of them are unbelievers! Now only Jesus can pull that off. But that’s not the end of this story. When Handel was done, he was not the same man. He became the most godly, gentle, gracious, kind man you could ever imagine meeting because he had heard the sounds of heaven and captured them for all to hear for all time.
So there are things being spoken in the heavenly realm we don’t usually hear – especially when we are so busy and our lives are so full of activities and tasks. Jesus heard those things, and He spoke them and people were stunned by the words that came out of His mouth. They said, “We’ve never heard teaching like this before.” That’s because they were hearing a heavenly sound. When Jesus spoke, it recalibrated the hearts of people. All of a sudden, people began to adjust their thoughts and their lives to make sure they were in line with what God was saying.
‘My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.’I am to love God with my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength. The person who has no control over their thoughts, has little ability to love God with their mind. Our mind needs to be clear enough to love God with our intellect. If you set your mind on heavenly things, not earthly things, then you can capture God’s heartbeat, you can behold the wonder of His excellence, His majesty and His amazing grace. The more I can embrace that reality, the more it becomes part of my expression of love. But if I get filled with fear, worry, and anxiety, then I will became disengaged from my capacity for love.
Sometimes, I will sit in my office and take a moment to put every concern, every responsibility, every worry about anything aside, and just sit there and just say, “Father, I’m here to be loved by you.” I don’t become anxious over what I’m seeing or discerning or feeling now. I am not here to make anything happen – just to receive. God doesn’t need my cooperation at this point – just my silence. So I sit there with nothing to do, nothing to say except, “God. I know you love me. So I’m going to sit here and just receive your love.” In five minutes I get up and I know something is happening in my heart. I know I am engaging with God at a level of intimacy I could never create myself. I believe the Lord is wanting to teach us how to be free in our affection for Him. This is what being still and knowing He is God looks like. It’s an intentional focus on our part and the more we do this, the more we learn. We will think better and clearer. Our courage will be greater. Our faith will be stronger. Our affection for Him will rise more each day. The Scriptures come alive as we embrace the truth of God’s Word. Here’s another one for your fridge door:
It’s not true because it’s in the Bible. It’s in the Bible, because it’s true.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”(Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
This word of God is not given to us as mere commandments. We are privileged to have the whole revelation of God. We have the New Testament. We live this side of the cross of Christ. So the main difference between the Old and New Testament as I see it is simply this: in the Old Testament we are commanded to do things; in the New Testament we are empowered to do what we’ve been commanded to do. Law requires – grace enables. The law is holy but the law can never make you holy. Only God can do that, in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament we are commanded to love God with our whole being. That could never happen until one man, Jesus Christ, fulfilled that command perfectly, as a man, and then gifted us that perfect performance by His grace. Jesus scored 100% in all areas of His life as a human being and then He wrote our name on His report card and handed it to the Father and said, “It is finished.” So now, because of His great love which is poured out upon us, we too can love Him.
Now we end where we began with John’s foundational truth, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). You can only love God in the measure you receive love from God. Receiving the love of God gives you a capacity for love you did not have before. You were designed to be a lover of God. You were designed to love God with everything that you are – every part of your being. The Bible says you are to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. When God delivered you from the kingdom of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you were born again and your spirit was regenerated by the Holy Spirit so that everything about you from God’s perspective is already geared up to love God completely.
Can you remember the words on the home page of our Church Website? They appear in large white block type across the horizon of Gunnedah as the home page loads. They are:
Touching heaven, changing earth, in Christ, through Christ, for Christ.
I am sure we are all in agreement that our earthly world is in serious need of change. Our cities, our nation and the whole world is crying out for healing, for restoration, for reconciliation, for harmony, for peace, for faith, hope and love. All of that and more is possible when the people of God get serious about touching heaven, changing earth, in Christ, through Christ, for Christ. That all begins as we open up to the love of God and allow Him to transform us into the image of His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. All of heaven is waiting for you and me to make that choice each moment of each day. When that happens, all heaven will break lose and the Church Jesus promised to build will be equipped to fulfill the mission of Christ, by His grace and for His glory. Amen.