Sermon by Pastor Ron Thomas

"The World's Greatest Lover"
Rodgers Baptist Church
801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040

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Preached 2/10/2008

"The World's Greatest Lover"

Text: I John 4:7-8. "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."

Introduction: Once proclaimed as the world's greatest lover in the 1920s, Rudolph Valentino's table manners left a little to be desired. While dining with two female movie stars on one particular evening, Valentino belched his way through five courses, ate all the leftovers from the lady's plates, drank gravy from his own, and picked his nose with his teaspoon. On another romantic evening with his lover at London's Mayfair Hotel, he discarded the cutlery to eat everything with his fingers, even the pudding and custard. He then wiped his hands and mouth on the tablecloth, and blew his nose into his napkin. How romantic! So much for the world's greatest lover!

The world is so confused about love. The world's concept of a great lover is vastly different from a biblical perspective. For example, when we hear the phrase "making love," it almost always has a sexual connotation. In the world's eyes, "making love" is in reality making sex, which is not necessarily love at all. Sex can exist outside of love. Love is all about commitment. When two people have sex outside of marriage, they are not "making love," they are making lies; they are making tears; they are making regrets! What does "making love" really look like?

The love John speaks of in our text comes from the ancient Greek word, "agape." This agape love is self-giving without demanding or expecting re-payment. Agape is the God kind of love. Making agape looks like: yielding or surrendering our rights for the good of others; sharing life; going the extra mile; letting offenses go; renewing our minds; doing things without being asked; helping out around the house; a kind word, forgiving those who hurt us; showing sympathy, understanding. Augustine, a fourth century theologian once said, "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like." There are many who could claim to be the world's greatest lover, but could they back it up? God can.

In our text, John reminds us that Real love comes from and is demonstrated by God. There is nothing we can do to merit God loving us. There is nothing we can do to keep God loving us. God's love for us is not based upon what we have done, but who we are, ...His beloved. God is the world's greatest lover. How? I John 4:7-21 provides:

Four Observations Of God As The World's Greatest Lover

Observation one: God is a lover who is willing to take risks.

Remember those elementary school playground love connections? You were terribly in love with him or her. Then came the moment when you sent your trusted friend over to her or him with a message. It might have been a spoken message or written message, but you declared your love. You boldly said, "I love you." Then came the question, "Do you love me?" You will die if he or she didn't respond "Yes," but you just have to know! It was a calculated risk, but it was a great risk none-the-less. Your heart was in his or her hands, to cherish it or crush it! Love makes us vulnerable! Loving someone involves taking risks!

Verse 8b makes the great declaration, "God is love." God is the fountainhead of love. John makes it clear that all love begins here with God. This means that God is the first cause. He took the initiative. He made the first move. Verse 19 reads, "We love Him, because He first loved us." None of us can boast about loving God. Our love for God is a mere reflection of His first move toward us!

What did God risk? God risked rejection. Love is the explanation for all that God is and all that God does. God created human kind because God is love, and love must give itself away! Man represents the height of God's creative efforts in that He created us in His own image and likeness, which includes volition or choice. God allowed Satan to enter the garden and sin to enter our lives so that we would have a choice. Love must make a choice! You can accept God's love or reject it! God risked the hurt and pain of rejection. God's greatest triumph, us. God's greatest disappointment and heartache, us.

How much did God risk? God risked it all to rescue us. Verse 14 says, "And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." In verse 9, John describes Jesus as the "only begotten Son." The phrase "only begotten" means one and only, without peer or equal. There was nothing better, nothing greater for God to give than Jesus! The greater the investment in loving someone, the greater the pain of rejection! God has made Himself vulnerable. God has initiated love. He has made the first move.

When we allow God to love others through us, we are willing to take risks. In Luke 6:32-33 Jesus said, "For if ye love them which love you, what thank (charis or evidence of God's grace) have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. 33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank (charis or evidence of God's grace) have ye? for sinners also do even the same." Jesus goes on to say that when we are willing to love those who are unlovely, those who are not easy to love, those who we were perhaps taught to look down upon or to hate, those who are our enemies, then that my friend, is risky business, that is God's grace, His love at work in us! When people see it, they will know that we are "....the children of the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil."

It is God's love in us that is willing to take the risks necessary to make commitments, not knowing the future. More and more couples are unwilling to marry. Instead, they live together outside of marriage, which is sin. In their minds they are playing it safe. But are they? In the late 1990s, sociologists who directed the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University concluded, "A careful review of the available social-science evidence suggests that living together is not a good way to prepare for marriage or to avoid divorce." Contrary to popular cultural mythology, these scholars found that those who lived together before marriage increase their risk for divorce after marriage. Nor do unmarried couples reflect the high levels of happiness and well being found in married couples. Couples who live together are three times more likely to suffer from depression than married couples. Worst of all, living together outside of marriage, increases the risk for domestic violence, especially sexual abuse, when children are present.

There are so many people these days who are afraid of making a commitment in marriage, or even to a church. They pull back, unable to risk being disappointed or being hurt. Thinking they will play it safe, they are actually robbing themselves of great experiences, fulfilment and growth!

Observation two: God is a lover who is impartial.

Verse 10a says, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us." Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 that "....while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God has sent His love message to everyone on the playground, not just to one person or a selected few! This is wide open love. God's love is not limited to the cute little blonde girl on the playground, or the freckled faced boy. God loves that one child in the classroom that everyone else shuns! God even loves those who have a severe case of cooties!

God loves the whole world! Someone said, "I love humanity, its people I hate." God showers His care on everyone. God sends the sun to shine and the rain to fall on everyone. He causes the blood to course through the arteries and veins of the innocent child and the criminal sitting on death row. God doesn't take sides. God doesn't see color or race or country or creed. God doesn't look for the American idol. God cares and provides for the bottle sucking infant, and the bottle sucking husband who abuses his wife. God loves and cares about those who are on the wrong side of the issues. God sent His Son to die for people we don't even like! God loves those who don't love Him. God loves the world! There is not a person on the earth that has breath, that is beyond the mercy, grace and love of God!

The film Amazing Grace chronicled the efforts of William Wilberforce to end the British Transatlantic slave trade in the 19th century. In one powerful scene, Wilberforce attempts to awaken the consciousness of the public to the horrible practice of the slave trade by arranging for a ship carrying members of Parliament and their wives, to stop alongside a slave ship. As Wilberforce appears, one man asks, "What's he doing up there?" Wilberforce greets them and says, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a slave ship, the Madagascar. It has just returned from the Indies, where it delivered 200 men, women, and children to Jamaica. When it left Africa, there were 600 on board. The rest died of disease and despair." By now, some people were raising handkerchiefs to their noses to block the stench. Wilberforce continues, "That smell is the smell of death, slow painful death. Breathe it in; breathe it deeply. Take those handkerchiefs away from your noses. There now, remember that smell. Remember the Madagascar. Remember that God made man equal."

Our memory is triggered by smell as much as it is by sight. This is one thing we must remember, God is no respecter of persons!

What about your circle of love? Is it ever expanding? Can you, do you, love every member of this church body? Can you, do you, see everyone you meet as a person loved by God? Can you, do you, see everyone as someone for whom Christ died?

Observation three: God is a lover who practices freeing love.

If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was and always will be yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with. If it just sits in your living room and messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money and never behaves as if you actually set it free in the first place, you either married it or gave birth to it! God's love frees us.

God's love frees us from the guilt and condemnation of sin, through forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Verses 9-10. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." The word "propitiation" has the idea of a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God. On the cross, Jesus endured the punishment our sin deserved! His death turned away the judgment we should have received!

Pastor and theologian James Montgomery Boice said, "If God had merely sent Jesus to teach us about Himself, that would have been wonderful enough. It would have been far more than we deserved. If God had sent Jesus simply to be our example, that would have been good too, and would have had some value. But the wonderful thing is that God did not stop with these, but rather sent His Son, not merely to teach us or to be our example, but to die the death of a felon, that He might save us from sin." Notice verse 17. "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment." Paul said it this way in Romans 8:33, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." As believers, we do not live our lives in fear and dread. We are forgiven and set free by the world's greatest lover!

God's love frees us from the torment of fear through acceptance in Jesus Christ. In verse 18 John says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." Once we repent of our sin and receive Jesus as our sin substitute, we are "accepted in the Beloved!" Love is the highest reason for existence. Love is the goal of human life. In the end, All that everyone really wants, is to be loved. The highest love is to experience the love of God and then to reflect that same love. We can better handle the rejection that is in this world, when we know down deep that God has accepted us!

Also, Christianity is about a love based relationship, not about fear based rule keeping! What does God want from us in return for His love? Some would say that God wants obedience, sacrifice, embracing the right doctrines, and morality. Others would answer differently. They argue that in return for His love, God wants nothing more than our own happiness and fulfilment. The truth is, God desires all of these, but they are not His primary concern. What God wants is us. God desires, Our hearts! In Isaiah 29:13 God said, "Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men." God wants more than a people who go through the motions of service and sacrifice. God wants more than a people who appease men by keeping their rules, satisfying their ideas and requirements for pleasing Him. God wants our hearts! God wants us to serve Him because we love Him!

Augustine wrote: "Love God and do as you please." On the surface, that may seem like a license for sin. It seems to say, "As long as I love God, I can do anything I want, and God's okay with whatever I do." But Augustine seemed to realize that If you genuinely love God, then you will want to do what honors Him most. Just as a married woman who loves her husband will want to make him look good, lift him up, and honor him, so also a person who loves God will want to glorify, magnify, and honor Him. If you truly love God, then His Holy Spirit will transform you to the extent, that what pleases God will become what pleases you. Which brings is to our last observation.

Observation four: God is a lover who changes us.

When we live with so little love, we will grab onto what we receive or perceive as love in a way that defines us or changes us into a certain image. It is amazing and in some cases sickening, to see what people do, the lengths to which people will go, what people will become, be loved!

A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn't. A man marries a woman expecting that she won't change, and she does. God's love defines us and changes us for the better! Notice verses 12-13. "No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit." No one can see God, because He is Spirit. He is called the "invisible God," yet John assures us that our lives can be the evidence of God's existence. How? The answer is love, God's love flowing in us and through us by the Holy Spirit! If you love God, then His love will be "perfected" in you by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you. The word "perfected" in the Greek is (tel-i-o'-o) and it speaks of being made complete or fulfilled. Isn't that amazing? There is nothing greater than to be a conduit of God's love to the world, which is to be Christ-like!

When we receive God's love, we are changed and given a new standing "in Christ." Notice verse 17. "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world." What an amazing statement, " He is (as Christ is), so are we in this world." This is the image, the person, the way to be, God has in mind for each of us! Give God's grace, God's love a chance, and it will change you! Titus 2:11-12 reads, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." The work of God's grace means that in your real life, things are dramatically changed. You no longer look at things in the same way. Your desires are new and the old things have lost their power to attract you and hold you. When you are born again, the Spirit of God begins to make changes that are very evident in your real life and thought. Ask yourself, "What difference has my salvation and sanctification made? Has my life changed?" If you will repent, turning and facing God's redeeming love, He can change your heart! When God has your heart, He can do things in your life that you never imagined!

Have you fallen in love with the world's greatest lover? Have you experienced His redeeming love? You can be sure that He is seeking your heart today.

Maybe you've come today disillusioned with worldly relationships. You're here wanting someone who will love you. God presents you with an absolutely secure relationship in Jesus Christ.

Maybe your marriage needs some changes; to be redefined by God's love. Perhaps you need to make a commitment to sexual purity.

Maybe your circle of love needs to expand, so that it looks more like God's. All of this can change when you give your heart to God, the world's greatest lover. Come!

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