“God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins… We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10,19 CEB).
God’s absolute nature is love. So, God is love in action!
But, for love’s action to be complete, it requires not only the giving of it but also the receiving and returning of it.
If God just emanated love, He would merely be a spectator of His creation, a cosmic stalker, of sorts, of the beings He created for love!
“So the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He said, ‘Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers and has not listened to My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.’ So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua” (Judges 2:20-23, NASB).
Because of Israel’s continual disobedience to God’s covenant with them, God allowed other Canaanite people-groups whom the Israelites were supposed to destroy completely to remain in the promised land. Although God left these enemies in the land to test the Israelites (3:1-4), it was Israel who failed to drive them out as God had commanded.
The way we sometimes present the gospel would make this verse read more like this: “For we sinned so much that God gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will quit sinning.”
We make the gospel out to be about our sin rather than God’s love. We send people down the Roman Road–“all have sinned” (Romans 3:23)–instead of up the Via Dolorosa–“He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
“I have always loved you,” says the Lord” (Malachi 1:2, NLT).
Malachi wrote to the Jewish exiles that had resettled in Judah probably sometime during the reign of King Darius of Persia (521-486 BC). Malachi begins his oracle by conveying the simple truth that God has always loved Israel.
“For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died. And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, HCSB).
There are two ways to live a holy life, two versions of sanctification. These verses describe the right way sanctification should be manifested or lived out in our lives.
“He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us…But from eternity to eternity the Lord’s faithful love is toward those who fear Him, and His righteousness toward the grandchildren of those who keep His covenant, who remember to observe His precepts” (Psalm 103:10-12, 17-18, HCSB).
In a popular children’s bedtime story by Sam McBratney, father and son rabbits use ever-greater exaggerated measures to quantify how much they love each other until the baby rabbit falls asleep.
“I love you right up to the moon–and back,” the father rabbit whispers as the baby rabbit dozes off.
“So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24, HCSB).
In this verse from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronts His listeners with a really radical view about worshiping God.
In fact, His listeners probably asked themselves, what does the first have to do with the second? What does “offering your gift on the altar” have to do with “be reconciled with your brother?”
We know, of course, that in God’s Kingdom the latter has everything to do with the former. You can’t truly worship God when you’re carrying around a grudge for another person.
Loving God is all about loving people.
But even with the Sermon on the Mount to guide us, we sometimes still compartmentalize our religion.
We tend to want to practice our religion at church but not necessarily at home, at work, and certainly not in our relationships with other people–especially when they don’t like us or we don’t like them!
But Jesus said that our religion is a heart thing; therefore, we can’t put it away somewhere on Sunday evening and then take it back out the next Sunday morning.
When God’s Spirit indwells you, it’s comprehensive! The totality of your behavior in every aspect of your life should be considered an act of worshiping God.
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1, HCSB)