Twice, the apostle John wrote the concise theological statement that “God is love.” (I John 4:8, 16) He never meant to say that love is God. God is a personal being; love is an attribute of a person. God exists as an independent being; love is possessed and expressed by one who exists. The starting point is God, not love. When we come to know God through Jesus his Son, then we come to know love.
It’s easy to tinker with a statement like, “God is love.” We ask, can we say it another way? Can we say the parts we like without saying the parts we don’t like? Can we build on it, improve it, or make it more accessible? Maybe, we think, people will relate more to love than to God. Maybe we will have more unity around love than we will around God since people’s perceptions about God are so varied. Some people don’t even believe in God, but everyone believes in love, so maybe we should talk more about love than God? How about, “Love is God?” That’s a unifying statement that everyone can grasp. Starting with love gives us something practical to do to get to God, so we think.
A.W. Tozer wrote about this tweak to theology this way: “If love is equal to God then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical. Thus, we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for God.” (1)
When we equate love with God we substitute love for God. And, contrary to our reasoning, when we substitute love for God we come to know neither God nor love.
The first law of God is, “you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) This prohibition includes the god of love. Why is this? Because to make love our god is to avoid God altogether. If love is our god then we will pursue righteousness within ourselves and in the world by our own ability to love, without God, and we will fail. We will define love by our own standard, not by God’s, and we will distort it. We will seek love in places and from people, rather than in God’s Son, and we will be disappointed.
We don’t climb the ladder of love to reach God. God, in love, has come to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. We can’t recover our lost connection to God by deeds of love. God, in love, sent Jesus to reconcile us to himself through the sin-bearing death on the cross. We won’t bring peace on earth by establishing an international day of love. God, in love, has made our peace with him and with each other through the forgiveness we are granted by faith in Jesus.
To worship the Lord only, to turn from our sin and to His Son, Jesus Christ, and to be made new by the Spirit of God who dwells in us by faith, is to come to know the God of love. In knowing the God of love, we come to know love.
This Sunday at Grace we will begin a new sermon series on the love of God. Let me suggest that you read, and perhaps memorize, 1 John 4:7-21 over the next few months. Pray with me for God to grant us a deepened knowledge of his love for us and a renewed expression of our love for him and for others.
(1) A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (HarperCollins, 1961), 97.