‘God loves you unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually.’ These were the words of the late Alex Buchanan, described as a pastor to the pastors. He was partially blind and suffered a stroke that affected one side of his face. I remember hearing him speak about God’s love and he kept repeating the words, ‘God loves you unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually.’
When he finished his talk he came up to me and said, ‘Do you believe that God approves of you?’ I said, ‘Actually, I really struggle with that because I know things about myself that mean I find it difficult to believe that God approves of me.’ He replied, ‘We all struggle with that. But God wants you to know that he approves of you. He wants you to know he loves you unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually.’
If I were asked to summarise what I thought the Bible was all about in one word – apart from the word ‘Jesus’ – I would choose the word ‘love’. Twice in today’s New Testament passage John writes, ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8,16). The word ‘love’ is used widely in our society. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, ‘Love is God’. In other words, it is God who defines what love is rather than the other way around. God is love.
This is the message you need to understand yourself, meditate on constantly and speak about to the world: ‘God is love’.
Here is the answer to the greatest longing of the world today. People are looking for love. Their hearts are searching. When you really know God’s love for you, your life is transformed. As we will see in the New Testament passage for today, God’s love is at the heart of each of the four keys to overcoming unhealthy fear in your life: ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear’
1. Thank God for his love
‘Thank you! Everything in me says “Thank you!”’, writes the psalmist, ‘Thank you for your love, thank you for your faithfulness’ (vv.1–2, MSG).
God is loving and faithful in answering our prayers: ‘When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted’ (v.3).
In this life we face many ‘troubles’ (v.7b) – sickness, opposition, temptation, exhaustion, trials and attacks. God, in his love and faithfulness, preserves us. ‘Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life’ (v.7a).
I think verse 8 is one of the most encouraging verses in the entire Bible: ‘The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me’ (v.8a). God, in his love and faithfulness, has a purpose for your life and he will fulfil that purpose.
Human love can be fleeting, but ‘your love, O Lord, endures forever’ (v.8b). As God’s love and faithfulness go hand in hand, so should our love for one another – in marriage, and in all our other relationships.
Lord, thank you so much for your amazing love and faithfulness towards me. Thank you that you promise to fulfil your purpose for me. Help me to live a life of love and faithfulness.
2. Live in the love of God
1 John 4:7–21
‘God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us’ (v.17, MSG).
The words ‘love’, ‘loves’ and ‘loved’ appear twenty-seven times in this short passage. Here is the heart of the New Testament. Here is the heart of the Bible. Here is God’s heart.
Love is the antidote to fear: ‘Perfect love drives out fear’ (v.18). Or, ‘perfect love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror’ (v.18, AMP). Love is the opposite of fear. They are like oil and water. Love is something everyone wants. Fear is something everybody wants to get rid of. We see in this passage four keys to overcome unhealthy fear in your life.
Understand God’s Love
‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins… so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment… there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love’ (vv.10,17–18).
Unhealthy fear entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned. They hid from God. When God asked, ‘Where are you?’ Adam replied, ‘I was afraid… so I hid’ (Genesis 3:10). Adam was afraid that God would punish him.
The deepest root of fear is condemnation – the feeling that God is cross with you. But God ‘sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:10). Jesus took your condemnation. God wants you to have confidence before him.
Experience God’s Love
‘We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his spirit… we know and rely on the love God has for us’ (vv.13,16).
You truly start living when you know you are unconditionally loved by God. The Holy Spirit gives us the experience of God’s love for us. When Pippa was a little girl, whenever she was frightened, her father would pick her up in his arms and sing, ‘Daddy’s got you now’. This is the work of the Holy Spirit – God picks us up in his arms and reassures us of his love for us.
Believe God’s Love
‘We know and rely on the love God has for us’ (v.16). The Greek word used for ‘rely’ is the same word as for believe. Even when we know and have experienced God’s love, we need to keep on believing.
Object permanence is an expression used by psychologists of a child’s ability to understand that objects still exist even if they are no longer visible.
Up to about four months old, babies don’t have the capacity to believe something exists if they can’t see it. If you hide a toy it no longer exists as far as they are concerned. They reach a stage where if you hide a toy, they will keep on looking for it. They realise that objects exist even when you don’t see them.
This is a sign of Christian maturity: when we continue to believe in God’s love even when we don’t see it or feel it. We remember and recall. As we believe in the sun even when it is not shining, we continue to believe in God’s love even in times of darkness when we don’t feel his love.
Perfect God’s Love
‘No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us’ (v.12). ‘Perfect love drives out all fear’ (v.18).
The more you love him and demonstrate that reality by loving one another – the less you are prey to fear. Develop a culture of love – giving and receiving love. This is the opposite of competition and gossip. The more love you give to others – the more fear disappears.
Lord, thank you that you love me unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually. Thank you that perfect love casts out all fear.
3. Stand firm in the love of God
People who know their God (v.32) are people of love. Love is not weak. The people who really know God resist evil leaders. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who knew God and firmly resisted Adolf Hitler whilst praying, ‘Give me such love for God and men, as will blot out all hatred and bitterness.’ Over the centuries many people who have known their God have stood firm and resisted evil.
Once again this prophecy has different levels of fulfilment. The immediate historical fulfilment concerns the various kings and rulers who reigned between 530–150 bc, many of whom were evil and ungodly in their actions.
However, there is also a long-term fulfilment. As we saw yesterday, Jesus referred to the abomination that causes destruction (9:27; 11:31; Matthew 24:15). He was probably referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70, which was a foreshadowing of the end times.
In the midst of all this evil ‘the people who know their God will firmly resist [the evil one]’ (Daniel 11:32b). As the RSV puts it, they will ‘stand firm and take action’. Or as The Message puts it, ‘those who stay courageously loyal to their God will take a strong stand’ (v.32b). It goes on, ‘those who keep their heads on straight will teach the crowds right from wrong by their example… The testing will refine, cleanse, and purify those who keep their heads on straight and stay true’ (vv.33,35, MSG).
Today, thank God for his love, live in the love of God, overcome your fears, stand firm and resist evil.
Lord, help us to be a people of love who know their God and stand firm, overcome our fears, resist evil and take action.