Fifty years ago, this past December, a tragic love story became a runaway success that stirred the world and everyone in the show business trade. It was a romantic movie called Love Story, starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. Based on an Erich Segal novel, the film is considered a honest to goodness tear jerker that includes the death of a twenty-five year-old girl. The film got mixed reviews from the critics, but the American Film Institute considered it one of the most romantic productions ever. It also became a highly profitable Hollywood venture, grossing millions. Attendance figures even surpassed Gone with the Wind. A famous line is Ali McGraw’s definition of love: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” When I read that in the review, I realized that the greatest love story of all time is not to be discovered in the entertainment industry but in God’s Word. With your Bible opened, read I John 4:7-21. After reading it you will instantly see how it echoes the golden text of all Scripture, John 3:16. It is the greatest love story ever told because:
- It began in Heaven, not in us. I John 4:10 NRV reads: “True love is God’s love for us, not our love for God. He sent his Son as the way to take away our sins.” Love began with God. The Old Testament book of Genesis opens with: “In the beginning, God…” The New Testament book of John commences with: “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God.” Christianity is unique among other world religions. The concept of one true God in three persons differs from what most other faiths teach. No other religion has the concept of mercy and redemption compared to Christianity which is based on the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In contrast, most other faiths are commonly centered on man’s good works. While Christianity alone is founded on heavenly love, it would be safe to say that the kingdoms of this world rest largely on greed, power, force, and politics.
- It brought Heaven’s best to us. Bible scholar, Warren Wiersbe, explains: “The sending of Christ into the world and His death on the cross, were not prompted by man’s love for God. They were prompted by His love for man. The world’s attitude toward God is anything but love!” I agree in the words of Dottie Rambo’s song:
He left the splendor of heaven, knowing His destiny.
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha, there to lay down His life for me.
And if that isn’t love, then the ocean is dry.
There’s no stars in the sky, and the sparrows can’t fly.
Yeah, if that isn’t love, then heaven’s a myth, there’s no feeling like this,
If that isn’t love.
Wiersbe clarifies that word, “propitiation” in verse 10 and also in I John 2:2. He explains that this does not mean that man has to do something to satisfy God. Because God is love, He wants to forgive and save lost sinners. And the only way He could do that and maintain His holy nature is through the cross! Jesus suffered the punishment for sin, and at Calvary God demonstrated His love and opened the door for humankind to be saved by faith. Beloved, God gave up His best in Heaven. He gave us the best revelation of Himself (Hebrews 1:5-13 NKJV). He gave us the best leader and lawgiver, the best sacrifice for sin, and the best High Priest and Intercessor (I Timothy 2:5).
- It prepared us for Heaven. I especially appreciate I John 4:15-18 MSG: “Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God, forGod is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.” God’s love for us moves us to love Him in return. When we open our hearts to His love, we open to Him, for God is love!
- It is preparing Heaven for us. John 14:1-3 is a favorite passage I use in funeral services. Jesus calmed His troubled disciples by assuring them that in the Father’s house were many rooms, and He was going to prepare a place there for them. He promised to return and personally escort them to Heaven. He told them that He would be with them. Another passage used to guarantee us of the coming resurrection is II Corinthians 5:1-8 where Jesus compares our earthly body to a tent that at death we will exchange for a permanent house in Heaven. Christians, don’t you anxiously long for your Heavenly Home?
The most important Greek word for ‘love” here is not eros, physical love, nor phileo, brotherly love. It is agape love, a totally sacrificial love, a love that is not what we can get, but rather what we can give. It is identified with God’s love for us and our love for Him. One of my favorite hymns is “The Love of God,” written by Frank Lehman. He wrote the first two stanzas, but the third stanza, written by a Jewish poet, was discovered penciled on the wall of an insane asylum long after the patient had died. May these lyrics draw your heart closer to God’s great love!
Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made;
were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill, and ev’ryone a scribe by trade;
to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—the saints’ and angels’ song.