Real Love (part 4)

There’s an old song that says, “Love is a many-splendored thing.” The very concept of love is one of the most permeating themes in the world today. The Beatles sang about in the sixties. Their message to a hurt and frightened world was, “love is all you need.” According the New York Public Library database, there are at least 35,533 books currently in print with the word “love” in the title and over 12,958 music CDs. If you Google the word love on the internet, you’ll find at least 11,160,000,000 web-sites that that use “love” as one of their key words, including, which calculates the probability of a successful relationship between two people. All you do is type in two names, click “calculate” and Dr. Love will tell you the likelihood of a lasting relationship. I couldn’t help myself, so I typed in mine and Ashley’s names and according to Dr. Love we have a 61% chance of things working out. I thought maybe that was because we have the same last name, so I tried again with Ashley’s maiden name, but then it dropped to 47%!

I think the Love Calculator is a good example of how confused our culture can be when it comes to love. When I watch TV, browse the internet, or scan magazines in the checkout lines, it’s clear that the world has a very poor understanding of real love. And we’ve talked about that the last couple of weeks. In 1 John 2, the Apostle John describes a worldly type of love that’s all about selfishness, sex and stuff. Then in contrast, in 1 John 3, he describes three characteristics of real love—sacrifice, service and security.

But in 1 John 4, John gives us the ultimate definition of love—a simple, yet profound description that knocks the walls out of any definition that would limit the scope and intensity of love. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

“God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Those three little words ought to fill our hearts with warmth and hope. If those words are true, it makes all the difference in the world! But we need to understand this rightly. “God is love” does not mean that “love is God.” In other words, love does not define God; rather, God defines love. Much of what we call “love” in modern America bears no resemblance or relationship to real love. So it is important that we dig a little deeper into this passage to discover what God’s love—what real love—is all about. In this chapter, John reveals four characteristics of God’s love.




First, God’s love is a personal love. John begins this section of Scripture by saying, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8 NLT).

I think the overriding impression of these two verses is that the love of God is personal. God’s love causes us to know Him, and Him to know us. When we’re filled with God’s love it demonstrates that we are his children. I think that A.W. Tozer said it best: “The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men.” Every individual person is important to God, and He loves each one of us. G.K. Chesterton understood this truth when he said, “All people matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.”

Jesus once put it this way: “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them… So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7 NLT). In Jesus’ day a copper coin was one of the smallest coins in circulation—a penny. And one such penny could buy you two sparrows. But two pennies could buy you five sparrows. Sparrows were so worthless that you buy four at a penny-a-pair and get a fifth sparrow for free. They were less than a-dime-a-dozen! There may be days when you feel like a fifth sparrow. Worthless. Insignificant. Unimportant. Unloved. But you’re not! You are loved by God! Even the sparrows matter to him and you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows! You’re the apple of his eye. You’re the bubble in his Pepsi. As Augustine put it, “He loves each one of us, as if there were only one of us.”

The first characteristic of God’s love is that it is personal.




But also, God’s love is a proven love. We talked last week about the fact that love is a verb—love isn’t love unless it acts. And real love means being willing to sacrifice yourself for the ones you love. God did just that.

John says, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT).

God proved his love for us through the life and death of Jesus. If you ever doubt God’s love for you all you have to do is look to Jesus; look to the cross and see what God did to win your heart. Paul said it plainly: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 RSV).

After the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, John Griffith, his wife, and their newborn baby boy, headed East in an old Ford Model A, looking for a fresh start. They made their way to the edge of the mighty Mississippi River and found a job tending one of the great railroad bridges there. Day after day, John would sit in the control room and direct the enormous gears of the immense bridge over the mighty river. He would look out wistfully as bulky barges and splendid ships glided gracefully under his elevated bridge. Then in 1937, John brought his little boy, Greg, who was now eight years old to work with him. Greg looked on in wide-eyed amazement as his Dad pressed down the huge lever that raised and lowered the vast bridge.

Before they knew it, Noon time had arrived. John had just elevated the bridge and allowed some scheduled ships to pass through. And then taking his son by the hand, they headed off towards lunch. As they ate, John told his son in vivid detail stories about the marvelous destinations of the ships that glided below them. Enveloped in a world of thought, he related story after story, his son hanging on his every word.

Then, suddenly, he and his son were startled back to reality by the shrieking whistle of a distant train. Looking at his watch in disbelief, John saw that it was already 1:07. Immediately he remembered that the bridge was still raised and that the Memphis Express would be by in just minutes. In the calmest tone he could muster he instructed his son “Stay put.” Quickly, he leaped to his feet, jumped onto the catwalk and ran at full-tilt to the control house.

Just as he was about to pull the level to lower the bridge, his eyes glanced downward and he saw something so horrifying that his heart froze in his chest. For there, below him in the massive gearbox that housed the colossal gears that moved the gigantic bridge, was his son. Apparently Greg had tried to follow his dad but had fallen off the catwalk and was wedged between the teeth of two main cogs in the gear box. Lowering the bridge would mean killing his son.

Panicked, John’s mind probed in every direction, frantically searching for solutions. His agonized mind considered the four hundred people that were moving inextricably closer and closer to the bridge. He knew in a moment there was only one thing he could do. He knew he would have to do it. And so, burying his face under his left arm, he plunged down the lever. The cries of his son were quickly drowned out by the relentless sound of the bridge as it ground slowly into position. With only seconds to spare, the Memphis Express—with its 400 passengers—roared out of the trees and across the mighty bridge.

John Griffith lifted his tear-stained face and looked into the windows of the passing train. A businessman was reading the morning newspaper. A uniformed conductor was glancing nonchalantly as his large vest pocket watch. Many of the passengers seemed to be engaged in idle conversation or careless laughter, completely unaware of the sacrifice that had been made to save their lives.

I cannot imagine the agony of sacrificing my own child to so that others could live, but that’s what God did. Unlike the Memphis Express, however, which caught John Griffith by surprise, God in His great love and according to His sovereign will and purpose, determined ahead of time to sacrifice his Son so that we might live—proving once and for all how much he loves us. First, God’s love is personal. Second, God’s love is proven. Third, God’s love is a protecting love.




In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul wrote that “Love… always protects” and that’s just what God’s love does for us. John announces: “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10 NLT).

Jesus’ death on the cross not only proves God’s love for us, but it protects us! Like John Griffith, God sacrificed his own Son to save our lives. Jesus, driven by the limitless love of God, came into this world to protect us from sin and death.

God once described his relationship with people in these words: “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love” (Hosea 11:4 NKJV). When I read this I picture a mom—walking through the zoo or a crowded mall—connected to her rambunctious three-year-old by one of those harnesses with a leash attached. Have you seen those?

I once read about a certain kind of spider with a similar system for protecting its young. The spider builds its nest in the branch of a small tree or bush. Within this delicate enclosure the baby spiders are hatched. If the nest is disturbed in any way, the little spiders will rush out in fright, but each of the young ones has a thin silky strand attached to it, and all of these strands are joined to the body of the mother. When the babies are threatened by an enemy, they naturally scurry off, giving their lines a sharp tug. This is instantly felt by the mother spider, and within seconds, she pulls them back to the nest where they are protected from harm.

That’s what God’s love does for us. It draws to Him and protects us not just for a time, but for eternity—safe and secure in the arms of Jesus. So, God’s love is personal, proven, protecting, and finally it is a perfecting love.




Put another way, God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way. He wants you to have a heart like His. John explains it this way: “No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us” (1 John 4:12 NCV).

In other words, we may not be able to see God, but when God’s love lives in our hearts it changes us and conforms us to his image so people will see God in us. His love perfects us—it makes you the best possible you!

Remember that little test we did with 1 Corinthians 13? Where we replace the word love in that chapter with our own name and see how far we can get without lying? We read those words and our hearts seem so far from his. But what if they weren’t? What if our hearts were patient and kind? What if they weren’t proud or rude or self-seeking? What if we weren’t so easily angered and stopped keeping track of all the wrongs done to us? What if we took no pleasure in evil but rejoiced with the truth? What if our love always protected, trusted, hoped, and persevered?

How would your life be different? Would people notice a difference? Your family—would they see something new? Your co-workers—would they sense a change? And how about you? What alterations would this heart transplant have on your stress levels? Your mood swings? Your temper? Would you sleep better? Would you see sunsets differently?

Adjust the lens of your imagination until you have a clear picture of perfect love leading your life, then snap the shutter and frame the picture. What you see is what God wants. The promise of God is this: “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT). The more you allow God’s love to permeate and penetrate your heart, the more your heart becomes like His.




Like the song says, “Love is a many splendored thing.” It’s a word the youngest child can write with crayon, yet so deep that only God’s stylus can engrave it on our hearts. It’s a concept as vast as the universe yet small enough to deposit in the humblest home. It’s the largest, broadest, deepest word in the world. It’s the theme of a thousand songs, the topic of a million web-sites, and the subject of countless sermons.

Yet none of those songs, sites or sermons conveys what real love is better than these three simple words: “God is love.” And it is God’s love—his personal, proven, protecting, and perfecting love—that shows us what real love is like.

Maybe your love-tank has been running low lately. Maybe you haven’t felt very loved or maybe you feel like you don’t have any more love to give. Either way, the solution is the same—let the love of God saturate your heart. God loves you. Personally. Powerfully. Passionately. He loves you with an unfailing love. And his love—if you’ll let it—can infiltrate your life and give you a heart like his!

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