“In every moment of genuine love, we are dwelling in God and God in us.”
~Paul Tillich, 1954
“In every moment of genuine love, we are dwelling in God and God in us.”
~Paul Tillich, 1954
My kids tell me I’ve ripped this off from the movie “27 Dresses” which, as God is my witness, I’ve never seen. But when I’m at a wedding and the bride makes her appearance at the back of the church and begins to walk down that center aisle, I do turn my attention to the groom. I want to watch the groom as he sees his beautiful bride. Because the way that groom looks at the bride is the way our God looks at his Church.
Scripture tells us that God wants to be much more to us than just a mighty king with loyal subjects. He wants to be the groom to the bride. He wants a relationship of intimate love with us as profound and eternal as that between a husband and a wife. God calls himself the groom throughout the Old Testament.
“‘They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 31:32
Jesus calls himself the groom in the Gospels and compares the Kingdom of God to a massive wedding feast.
“How can the guests of the groom fast while he is with them?” ~Mark 2:19
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son… All things are ready! Come to the wedding banquet!” ~Matthew 22:1-4
And at the end of time, when everything is finally made right and all of our Father’s plans have culminated in the new heavens and new earth and perfectly righteous relationships with him and one another, there’s going to be a wedding feast to end all wedding feasts!
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” ~Revelation 21:2
“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” ~Revelation 19:9
This coming feast celebrates finally the intimate and permanent union of God and his people. This is how history ends. This is what God is doing.
When God uses a metaphor to help us see him better, it also helps us better understand how he sees us. God calls us his Father, he calls us his children, and then Jesus says, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more…?”
If God is our groom, then he must really love us. He must truly delight in us.
What does the bride look like when she walks down that aisle? How does her groom see her? Have you ever watched the groom?
When the groom sees her, he’s absolutely delighted. You can see the love in his eyes. You can almost feel the commitment in his heart. You can sense the complete devotion to her in the deepest part of his soul. He’ll do anything for her for the rest of his life, he’ll stop at nothing to protect her and provide for her and please her, he’ll dedicate his whole existence to loving her forever — you can see it in the way he looks at her!
How dare our Lord use a metaphor like that! How dare the Scriptures tap into this really powerful image and its accompanying emotions!
Could it be that he really loves us like that? That he really loves you that much? That God is that committed to you?
How different would your life be if you lived every day — hour by hour, moment by moment — in the awareness of God’s great love for you? He’s looking at you right now. He thinks you’re beautiful. He’s proud of you. And he loves you more than our words can describe.
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But completed love drives out fear. ” ~1 John 3:16-17
Confidence because we know that God is love. Blessed assurance about that coming day of glory. No fear because completed love drives out fear. Confidence that God’s love takes care of every single thing I might be worried about.
Everything we know about God and all the things we don’t yet know about God begin and end with his love. There’s nothing we can say about God or his character or his plans for his people without first considering his great love. Love is who God is and love is what God does. And God’s love is unrelenting. It never quits. It never slows down. It never gives up. And it never loses.
That kind of love drives out all fear.
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” ~John 3:16
When the holy Creator of Heaven and Earth loves like that — selflessly, sacrificially — there’s nothing to be afraid of. His love gives us confidence because wherever there are problems or issues, wherever things go wrong, wherever things don’t work out, God fixes it with his eternal love.
Where there is rebellion, God doesn’t reject, he accepts. Where there are broken vows, God doesn’t bring justice, he delivers mercy and grace. Where there is conflict, God doesn’t fight, he defends and protects. Where there is sin, God doesn’t condemn, he saves.
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” ~John 3:17
God is solving every problem, he’s restoring everything that’s broken, with his love.
And he wants you to know it. And experience it. He wants you to believe it and trust it.
Have you messed things up so badly and so much that you question whether or not God’s tired of loving you? Have you suffered so much pain that maybe you question whether or not you really love God? Or can trust that he really is love?
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:35-39
God’s love is undefeated, untied, and un-scored upon. God’s love conquers all. It triumphs in the end. His love is more important and more eternal than faith and hope. It stands above all the other Christian virtues. And it’s our number one tool in the toolbox for winning the world for Christ and his Kingdom. God’s love wins.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~1 John 4:7-11.
Words about love are beautiful. Love as a theory is compelling. As a concept, love is glorious and inspiring. It’s really nice.
But it’s also really safe. As an idea, love is non-threatening and non-risky. And it changes nothing. Love in the brain doesn’t do much for people or for the world.
You and I may think love, we may feel love, we may say love; but the Bible tells us that love does things. The love of God that’s been lavished on us in Christ Jesus is too powerful, it’s too full of holy potential, to be locked up like a prisoner behind our foreheads.
Love must be done — not just believed, not just admired, not just felt. It must do. Love can’t just be a noun, it must be a verb. It has to be expressed in tangible action.
This is how God showed his love among us: he thought good thoughts about us.
This is love: he felt love for us.
This is how we know what love is: God told us he loved us.
No! He sent. He gave. He sacrificed. He came here. He suffered and died. That’s love!
“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. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother or sister in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” ~1 John 3:16-18
Love will change lives, love will change our city, it’ll change the whole world; but love has to be expressed with action. Love has to do stuff. Our Lord says we are the salt of the earth. But salt unapplied is just as worthless as bad salt. You’ve got to shake it. You can’t leave it in the pantry. Jesus calls us the light of the world. But a light under a bowl doesn’t do a cryin’ thing. You’ve got to climb up on a table and shine.
That’s the call. That’s the command. Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister (1 John 4:21). Making the decision to love God necessarily means deciding to love others. And when you do, it’s a mixed bag. Showing God’s love to others opens you up to the very best and worst of people. You’re going to experience help and hurt, fun and frustration, compliments and complaints. That’s just the way people are.
But showing that love of God to others is so invigorating. It’s so life-giving. Making the decision to love all people — even people who are not easy to love — brings into sharp focus the life-changing power of God’s choice to love us, when you and I are not always so easy to love.
“We love because he first loved us.” ~1 John 4:19
You’ve heard it said that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. You want to know how a guy is going to act in the future, you just look at how he’s acted in the past. That notion goes largely unchallenged. We accept it, we don’t question it. Why? Because of our own experiences.
Maybe you’ve dated a person who does something you just can’t tolerate — some behavior, some character trait, a bad habit — and you break up. Sometimes that person will promise to change: “Take me back! I’ll change!” After a period of time — six months, maybe six minutes — you take that person back. But before you can blink that person is back to doing the exact same stuff as before.
Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Your brother-in-law is never going to pay back the money he borrowed, that department store is not going to have the advertised item, and the Cowboys are going to rip your guts out in December. How do you know? Past behavior is the best indicator. You know what’s going to happen.
Or do you?
This seeming certainty of the formula seems to change when the love of God in Christ Jesus is involved.
Look at the woman in the well in John 4. She’s the town sleaze. She’s had five husbands, she’s shacking up with a sixth guy, and nobody will talk to her. We know her future, right? She’s going to run right through this guy number six and guy number seven and number eight, maybe a dozen of them, and she’s going to keep drawing water in the heat of the sun until the day she dies all alone in her guilt and shame.
But then Jesus goes out of his way to love her. He doesn’t just feel love for her, he shows it to her. He does something. He rearranges his travel schedule to get to her. He sits down and honors her with his time and full attention and conversation. He teaches her right there at the well and the town sleaze becomes a Gospel preacher! Her whole village believes in Jesus, the Savior of the World!
What about the woman caught in adultery in John 8? She’s about to be killed. And that might be the best thing for her. That’s what the Law says. If she’s not stoned to death, she’ll keep cheating, she’ll keep lying, she’ll keep hiding, she’ll keep sinning. We know this. Past behavior is the best indicator, right? But Jesus stands up for her against the authorities. He shows her his love by defending her, by believing in her. And she leaves her life of sin. She’s given the gift of new life by the love of God in Christ.
Zacchaeus is going to keep cheating people on their taxes, he’s going to continue lining his own pockets, and padding his profits and looking out for number one. But Jesus pulls him out of a tree, he eats dinner with him at his house, and he looks him in the eye and calls him a son of Abraham. And now Zacchaeus is giving half of everything he owns to the poor! He’s going back through his books and making things right, blessing others, realizing deep inside that it’s better to give than to receive.
The demon-possessed guy in the Gerasenes in Mark 5. His community has banished him to live in the cemetery. He’s not in his right mind. He’s got no name, no family, no clothes, no peace. The devil and his demons have successfully stolen from this man everything it means to be made in the image of God. What’s going to change? They’ve tried everything with this guy. He’s going to keep being scary and keep suffering and he’s going to die in his chains.
But Jesus gets in a boat and braves a terrible storm in the middle of the night to get to this guy. Our Lord goes to him and shows him his love and his power to change everything. He lets this man know that he matters to God. And that divine love of God drives those demons to the bottom of the sea and the next thing you know this guy is clothed, he’s in his right mind, he’s got a family, and he’s got a purpose. He’s preaching in the Decapolis, proclaiming the Good News all over the Ten Cities. And all the people are astonished.
Peter is a God-cursing, Christ-denying, lying scoundrel until Jesus shows him unconditional love and gives him unlimited forgiveness and changes him into a cornerstone of his eternal Church. John is a violent, volatile hothead — “Call fire down from heaven! Blow ’em all up! But the love of Jesus immerses him and changes him. And John winds up writing the most beautiful words we have in the Bible on love.
Past behavior is not the best indicator of future behavior. The love of God in Christ means the life you’ve lived to this point today is not the only life that’s possible for you. Or for your neighbor. Or your enemy.
Your church is filled with courageous people who used to be all kinds of unholy until the love of God in Christ changed everything. Our lives have been eternally changed by the love of God, so we have faith that the love of God can change all lives. Showing that love of God to others in faith is the whole point. Galatians 5 says the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. Seeing the potential for God’s love to change everybody around you, to change our city, to change the whole world — that’s the invigorating challenge.
As John would say, we love because he first loved us.
We all know what’s happening in our world, in this country. It’s not new. It’s just amped up to eleven on the ten-point scale and it’s louder than normal and it’s all around us all the time. There is division and strife and conflict. You can’t get away from it. Black and white, left and right, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative — it’s splashed across every screen and blaring from every set of speakers. You can’t eat a Twix bar without being forced to choose left or right. And you can’t turn on a football game on Sunday afternoon to escape from it.
And we’re all experiencing this together — all of God’s children, all of Christ’s disciples, all asking the same questions.
How do we handle this? What are we supposed to do? How do Christians engage this volatile culture? What do we say? How do we act?
I think most of us wish there was a third option, a different way, a way to be above all the conflict but still engage what’s happening in ways that matter.
May I suggest love?
Completely love. Love completely. Sharing the immeasurable love of God with others lifts us above the strife.
The world is squeezing us to make a choice between two options and we get in trouble when we don’t recognize that third way, that third and very different option that takes us high above anything else being offered: Love. Committing to love as our guiding principle, as our continuous posture, actually fulfills or completes God’s purposes for the love he’s lavished on us.
The Bible says we love because he first loved us. We love completely because we are so completely loved.