Two times the apostle John states that God is love.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8) So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)
“God is love.” This is one of the greatest statements in the Bible. And it is also one of the most misunderstood statements. Like a hedge of thorns, false ideas have grown all around this statement and have hidden its real meaning. It is difficult to cut through this tangled hedge of misunderstanding and false ideas. It needs much effort and thinking to cut through it. But you know that it is well worth the effort, when the soul of the Christian understands the true sense of these texts about God being love.
Situated in the Highlands of Scotland, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. The panaromic views from its summit are stunningly beautiful. For a climber, the climb up that mountain is difficult, but no one complains after they have reached the summit and are able to see the grand view from the top.
Just before the second “God is love” in 1 John 4:16, we read: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” People who can say that, as John did, are blessed.
To know God’s love is indeed heaven on earth.
And the New Testament presents this knowledge as something that should be a normal part of the ordinary Christian’s experience. This knowledge of God’s love is not for a few privileged people. It is not something that spiritually unhealthy or deformed believers cannot have.
The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. (Rom 5:5)
When Paul mentions “love of God,” he does not mean love for God, as Augustine misunderstood it. Paul is actually referring to the knowledge of God’s love for us.
Paul has never met the Roman Christians to whom he is writing, but he has no doubt that the statement would be as true of them as it was of him.
A Flood of Love
Let us look more closely at what Paul has said in Romans 5:5. We need to look at three points.
First, notice the verb shed abroad. It means literally poured out or dumped out.
It is the same word used to describe the outpouring of the Spirit Himself.
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on My male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:33)
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. (Acts 10:45)
Whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:6)
It suggests a free flow and a large quantity. It describes a torrent or a big flood. The NEB translation is quite accurate.
God’s love has flooded our inmost heart . . . (Rom 5:5 NEB)
Paul is not talking about a vague experience that happens every now and then. Instead, he is speaking about a deep and overwhelming experience.
Second, notice the tense of the verb ‘has flooded’. It is in the perfect tense. This shows a current settled state, after an action is completed. Imagine that a valley was flooded and then remains full of water. This verse about the knowledge of the love of God flooding our hearts is something like that. Our hearts were once flooded, and now, our hearts remain filled with the knowledge of the love of God.
Paul has a strong and lasting sense of God’s love for him, and this gives him so much joy. He assumes that all his readers enjoy such a knowledge of God’s love for them.
Third, notice Who produces and instills this knowledge in our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:5 shows that the instilling of this knowledge is described as part of the regular ministry of the Spirit to those who receive him—to all who are born again—to all who are true believers. If only this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry was appreciated more than it is. Sadly, when people talk about the ministry of the Holy Spirit today, they do not remember His general and regular ministries—what He ordinarily does in the lives of believers. Instead, they are taken up with the work that the Holy Spirit does from time to time in rare and exceptional situations. This is a wrong focus, which is pathetic and which weakens believers. We should not be more interested in the gifts of healing and tongues—gifts that Paul pointed out are not for all Christians anyway.
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1Cor 12:28-30)
As part of His ordinary work, the Holy Spirit has poured out the knowledge of God’s love into our hearts, and through this He gives us—
– hope, and
Focusing on the ordinary work of the Spirit is more important than focusing on His extraordinary work.
The Corinthians thought that ‘speaking in tongues’ was a cool gift to have. They also thought that if a person spoke in tongues, it showed that they were godly and spiritual. Paul had to point out to them that if they were not loving to one another—it meant that they were not being sanctified by the Holy Spirit—in which case their tongues-speaking was completely useless.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.(1 Cor 13:1-3)
If Paul were living today, he would rebuke some sections of Christians in our world. These are people who long for a revival, but their idea of the Spirit’s work in revival seems to stop at a kind of new Corinthianism.
On the other hand, Paul’s idea of the Spirit’s work is so different. See what the best thing he wanted for the Ephesian believers was. He wanted to continue as part of the Spirit’s Romans 5:5 ministry more and more powerfully. And so, he wanted to lead the believers deeper and deeper into the knowledge of the love of God in Christ.
I kneel in prayer to the Father. . .that. . . he may grant you strength and power through His Spirit in your inner being. . . May you be strong to grasp, with all God’s people, what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know it, though it is beyond knowledge. (Ephesians 3:14-16 NEB)
What is revival after all? What happens in a revival? God revives a dying church to life in a revival. He raises the dying church to become a church that has the ordinary New-Testament standards of Christian life and experience. In a revival, to reach this ordinary standard, God uses out-of-the-ordinary ways. This is what revival is.
It is good to long for revival, but those who long for revival should not crave for tongues. Instead, they must long for the Spirit to pour God’s love in the hearts of believers with greater power. In the end, it does not matter whether we speak in tongues or not.
Personal revival begins when the Holy Spirit pours God’s love in the person’s heart. Often, this happens after individuals have been able to think deeply about their sin and understand the sin problem. It is the Spirit’s pouring of God’s love in the hearts of believers that sustains revival in the church.
Our aim in this chapter is to show the nature of the divine love which the Spirit pours out. So, we will focus our attention on John’s great statement that God is love—that the love which God shows to humanity, and which Christians know and rejoice in, is a revelation of His own inner being.
Our theme—God’s love—will lead us as deep into the mystery of God’s nature, as deep as the human mind can go, and deeper than any of our previous studies have taken us.
– When we looked at God’s wisdom, we saw something of His mind.
– When we thought of His power, we saw something of His hand and His arm.
– When we considered His word, we learned about His mouth.
– But now, contemplating His love, we are going to look into His heart. We will be standing on holy ground when we do this study. And we need the grace of reverence, so that we do not sin as we tread this ground.
Love, Spirit, Light
Defining God’s Love