We have made "love" such an elastic word. Do you love ice cream? What kind of music do you love? Do you love Fred, or Mary, or Henry, or Jane...? We really overwork it! "Love" expresses our preferences or indicates a warm fuzzy feeling about some special person. Just what is love? That all depends on what we are talking about!
Does "love" mean giving us nice things? doing enjoyable things for us and with us all the time? If a child has a splinter in their foot, what does a mother do if she truly loves her child? Supposing we have a very sore and tender part down here and we go to the doctor and he tells us we have appendicitis. If he really cares for us, what course of action will recommend? And if we have done something very wrong, will love pretend nothing has happened - or what?
Many people think that John 3.16 is the most beautiful verse in the Bible - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
In his first letter John tells us that "God is love" - not just that he loves us, but that he is love. Sometimes he is disappointed with us, but he isn't disappointment. Those who finally reject him will experience his anger, but God isn't anger. God is love.
Because God is love doesn't mean that the wrong things we do - our sins - don't matter to him. There is an old saying that "To err is human, to forgive divine" - as if God will keep on writing out little forgiveness notes for us so that we can keep on doing the wrong thing with an easy conscience! Some people think of God as a kind of jolly Santa Claus who gives good things to his children without seriously questioning their behaviour or relation to him!
No! God's love is a holy love, a love that offers a forgiveness that will lead to a new life, a life clean from the old sin and selfishness, a life centred in his love and expressing itself in love and kindness towards others.
God's love is vital and active. John 3.16 reminds us just how vital and active God's love is - "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son..."
There are many types of gift we receive for birthdays and Christmas. Some are no use at all - but they give us a lot of pleasure. Some we have managed without - but they'll come in handy. Other gifts represent an urgent practical need. There is often a difference between what we would like to have and what we really need!
When God gave his only Son Jesus he was making a gift that is exactly suited to our needs. Throughout a lifetime there are lots of things to learn about the meaning of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But we can only begin to grasp it when we know God's love was behind it all.
In the manger at Bethlehem, we see God coming to meet us, God incarnate, God with us. On the cross, we see God acting for our salvation in the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for our sins. In the resurrection we see that God has won the victory!
The coming of Jesus is God's gift suited to our need. The wrong things we do - our sins - cut us off from the God who created us, on whom we depend for our continued life and existence. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them... (2 Cor.5.19).
God's love embraces the world, and the gift of his Son and of eternal life is offered to everyone.
A gift may be given, but it has to be received. I don't know what happens at your place when someone has a birthday. At our place you come out to a meal to discover a little pile of gift-wrapped presents at your place at the table. That gives a warm and happy feeling. Usually it isn't possible to do anything about them just yet. They have to be set aside so that the meal can begin. But there is a special warmth of expectation about the meal and you know that around the table are people who really care for you and have done something to express that love. You are glad about that. So at the end of the meal you thank everybody for their love, clear the table, wash up and get on with the rest of the day... No, it's not like that at all, is it? At some point the wrappings have to be removed, the cards opened, the gifts received, the people thanked... As I said, a gift may be given, but it has to be received!
That's how it is with God's gift too! John 3.16 makes it clear that God's loving purpose reaches out to everyone, but it also states that "whoever believes in him" will have the life that is offered.
On hot days, it is amazing how many people visit the air-conditioned shopping centres - not to do their shopping, but to stay cool! It is possible to walk around the shops without buying a thing at all! We still call it window-shopping, even though we now go into the shop to do it. We can admire things without buying any of them!
Of course, if something is a gift for you, you don't have to buy it. And yet we can admire God's gift of Jesus Christ and never really receive him - never accept him as God's gift to us! Sometimes we think that our relationship with God begins when we do kind things and come to worship. We hope God will be pleased with us. But God comes to us in love and asks us to receive his gift. The only "wage" our lives can earn by themselves is death, but "the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom.6.23).
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
God's love is so great. Our need is so great. Have you ever received his Gift?
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