INTRODUCTORY LESSON ONE – THE WRITTEN NARRATIVE
- In Your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed. In Your strength You will guide them to Your holy dwelling” (Exodus 15:13, NIV)
Our first lesson is entitled: God is Love! And, you know, I love the Bible definition of love as shared by the Apostle Paul in the book of I Corinthians, where we read:
- “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NASB).
Now, THAT is a very practical definition of love. That verse takes us out of the realm of the theoretical, or even the emotional—touchy, feely—realms of relationship and brings us into the realm of reality—how love truly behaves; and how love plays itself out in our hearts and lives each day. Now, we have another amazing statement in the Bible, shared by the Apostle John, in which he says: “God is Love.” (I John 4:8, NASB).
Now think about that for a moment. If the Apostle Paul tells us that love is all these things—patient, kind, not jealous, not arrogant, and so on—and then the Apostle John tell us that “God is love,” then, already, we know some important truths about the nature and character of God, don’t we?
Because “love is patient,” and “God is love,” we know that God is patient—and I think we can all be so thankful for God’s patience with us, I am! He has put up with so much selfishness and spiritual immaturity from me through the years. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve let God down, don’t we all; and I’ve let my family and friends down; and I’ve let myself down. But even though we let God down, God doesn’t get down on me, or you. He knows the intentions of our heart; He knows those who truly want to serve Him and please Him. And so, He’s patient us. The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Yes, God allows us the freedom to stumble along… He lets us fail, and stumble, and fall along the way; but He gives us the time and the room to grow. And, even when I think that I should be getting over myself by now, and growing beyond the selfishness and pride that all too often characterizes my life; still, I know that He knows that I have a long way to go; and I take confidence in the fact that, even when I sin and fall short of the glory of God, He still loves me, and so, He is patient with me.
Because “love is kind,” and “God is love,” we know that God is kind—and I hope that we are, each one, grateful that He deals kindly with His children; even when, for reasons we don’t always understand, He permits us to go through what seems like insurmountable hardships and incredible heartache! Still, it has been my experience, perhaps yours too, that even in the midst of the trials, and the turmoil, and deep sorrow, He is there to comfort me, to bless me, and to grant me the wherewithal to, somehow, not just suffer through it, but to even find the eternal blessing in the midst of all the sorrow and fear. Looking back on some of the things that I’ve been through in life, I have to agree that God has been so kind toward me. He has used life’s struggles and trials to strengthen me, and fashion me into who I am today… And that reassures me, as I look toward the future and the trials that, I know, still await me; knowing that He will never abandon me… He has my best interest in mind and will, ultimately, deal kindly with me.
Because “love is not jealous,” and “God is love,” we know that God is not jealous. Now, there is such thing as a godly jealousy; a holy passion that serves to protect and defend the object of one’s love. The Bible speaks of this when God gave the Ten Commandments, saying: “You shall not make for yourself [c]an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6). God is jealous over His children with a holy passion that seeks to protect them from the dangers and evils of idolatry. But that is what this description of love, found in I Corinthians 13, is talking about… Rather, the scripture is referring to the petty, selfish kind of jealousy that too often characterizes human beings when we become self-absorbed, greedy, and possessive; or when feel like someone has betrayed us, or is competing for what we think rightfully belongs to us. And, I’m so glad that God in not jealous over our successes in life the way some people are; or our relationships that we form with others throughout our lives the way a lot of people are, aren’t you? Rather, He delights in our achievements and in the meaningful connections we have with one another. He wants us to pursue our dreams and achieve our personal goals in life. He encourages us to engage in beautiful and healthy relationships with one another. He doesn’t want to clip our wings, or hold us back, or keep us down. He wants us to soar to new heights and enjoy abundant life and beautiful relationships with others in this life.
Because “love does not brag and is not arrogant,” therefore, we know that God does not brag is not arrogant. You know, we’re told in the Bible that Jesus was/is the only begotten Son of God, and that He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). Wow… so when I look at the life of Christ and am seeing the very nature of God on display; being lived out before mortal eyes. And when I read about the life and ministry of Jesus in the New Testament, I see His humility, His meekness, His sensitivity, His compassion. Jesus is a humble man. And, yes, on occasion, Jesus had to get quite rough with some people who were harming and taking advantage of others; but it was never about Him, personally. I never see Jesus publicly promoting Himself, bragging, or being arrogant towards others. Even when Jesus was falsely accused on put on trial, the Bible says: “Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Why? Because “God is love,” that’s why. And He had a mission to fulfill; a mission of love. There was no room, no place for arrogance in Jesus’ life and ministry. He could not, did not, stand up and “demand His rights!” Rather, His mission required humble obedience and submission to the will of the Heavenly Father. And so, in a garden called Gethsemane, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus, the Son of God, called out to the Heavenly Father saying: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).
Because “love does not act unbecomingly,” therefore, we know that God does not act unbecomingly—or in a foolish, silly, or inappropriate manner that belittles others; or that brings shame and reproach upon oneself and others. We see far too much of this kind of behavior in our world today, don’t we? People disagree with one another over social issues, or political issues, sometimes even religious issues, and what do they do? They become almost infantile, babyish, even savage in their attitude and conduct. They try to tear one another apart – they slander and abuse one another – sometimes even perpetrating physical violence toward one another. They mock and make fun of one another, they put one another down and try to defame and even destroy one another’s reputation. They make other people the butt of cruel jokes. It’s all about trying to gain power and control over others. But God isn’t into all that. That is NOT His game plan! He is all about elevating us, not putting us down. He is all about honoring us, not shaming us. And, even when we stumble and fall along the way, and disappoint Him by our conduct; He doesn’t reproach us, or mock us, or ridicule us, or shame us, or make cruel jokes about how stupid and inept we are. He doesn’t call us names like, “loser,” or “failure”—“what’s the matter with you, loser, how can you manage to so utterly fail Me so often?” No, God doesn’t behave that way. Rather, because “God is love,” He seeks to reach out and gently restore our dignity; while calling us to greater heights of honor and respect for ourselves and for each other.
Because “love does not seek its own,” and “God is love,” therefore we know that God does not seek His own. We need to understand that God is complete in and of Himself. It is not as if God needs us to validate His existence. But God does desire a relationship with each and every one of us. We were created in love. And, God did not create us so that He would have somebody to pick on or boss around. God is not about enslaving us to His will, He is about elevating us to life with Him. Every command in the Bible is about helping to ensure that we enjoy abundant life. He is not in it for Himself; if He were, would there ever even have been a cross? While God calls us to obey His commandments, those commandments are for our benefit. They are not about Him, they’re all about us; me and you. God is not simply seeking His own will. Like any good Father, He is, first and foremost, seeking our wellbeing because He loves us.
Because “love is not provoked,” or “easily angered,” and “God is love,” therefore we know that God is not provoked or easily angered. You know, it seems to me as if there are plenty of people walking around these days who are out to pick a fight with God. Some deny His existence. Some blaspheme His holy name, or curse His name, or carelessly take His name in vain. Some want to blame Him for every single bad thing that happens. Some even go so far as to try to harm His people in some way. And if you are a Christian, or contemplating giving your heart and live to God, surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, and becoming a Christian, then this is something you ought to understand right from the beginning… You will be persecuted in various ways – the Bible tells us that. People are going to slander the children of God. They will attack the church, which the Bible calls the beautiful bride of Christ. They mock and make fun of God and godly people. They call us bias and bigots because we choose to hold to the teachings of God’s word; rather than buying into the morally bankrupt standards of a fallen and lost contemporary culture. On and on it goes and, honestly, when I look at the rebellion and cruelty going on all around me in this world, I sometimes wonder why He doesn’t just rain down fire from heaven and consume those heathens. But, I know why He doesn’t do that. It’s because, well, He loves them—and me, and you. And so, even though we may, at times, become angry and upset, and even lash out at God, He does not allow Himself to be provoked. He doesn’t lash back out at us; He’s bigger than that. If He did, it would probably just crush us; and He doesn’t want to crush us because He loves us.
Because “love does not take into account a wrong suffered,” and “God is love,” therefore we know that God does not take into account a wrong suffered—and I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words, as He was hanging on the cross, when He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). Unlike we humans, when God forgives, He forgets—insofar as it is possible for God to forget anything—and He never brings it up again or throws it back in our face. I have had people dig up a few of my old sins from the past and try to use them against me. Have you ever had that experience? It hurts. People have a way of heaping guilt upon one another, don’t they? People often think they can make themselves look better by making someone else look, or feel, really bad. But God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t need to make Himself look better or feel better by making us look worse. Instead, He takes the “high road”; and, because God loves us, He chooses not to remember, or keep an account, of how many times we’ve failed Him. If you are forgiven, your sins are forgotten.
Because “love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth,” therefore we know that God does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. We have an enemy… the adversary, the Bible calls him; the evil one who opposes God and all that is right. And this spiritual entity uses the powers allotted him (mainly the power of evil influences and deception) to try and convince humanity that evil is good and good is evil; and, sadly, many people today, as in every age, have fallen under that deception. He wants to try to convince people that sin is not only pleasurable, but desirable; and that if you’re not partaking of iniquity or engaging in various forms of unrighteousness—sin and immorality—at least to some degree, then you’re missing out, or something is wrong with you. But, suffice it to say, sin breaks God’s heart because He knows how empty and ultimately destructive it really is. He wants so much more for us. Because God loves us, He does not want to see our lives ruined, our dreams shattered, our hearts broken, our relationships severed, our families scattered to the wind! And that’s why He hates unrighteousness – that can of live is so hurtful; but He rejoices with truth. God is made happy and smiles upon us when we turn away from unrighteousness and choose to walk in accordance with His will.
Well, the Bible says that, “love bears all things,” and so we know that God bears all things—there is no problem, no sin, no struggle, no hardship, no heartache that we cannot take to Him and that He will not help us bear because He loves us.
The Bible says, “love believes all things,” and so we know that God believes all things—that is, He extends to us His perfect trust. When we tell Him that our heart’s desire is to walk with Him, to serve Him, to please Him, He chooses to believe us. He searches our hearts looking for some evidence of the slightest sincerity and then gives us the benefit of the doubt, even when we don’t deserve it. Why does He do that? Why does He express such perfect trust in my untrustworthy heart; even after I’ve failed Him time and again? There is only one reason: He loves me, and that’s what love does.
The Bible says, “love hopes all things,” and so we know that God hopes all things—He never gives up on us; so long as we draw breath in this physical world, God will be in our corner, giving us opportunity after opportunity to do the right thing; to choose Him. He will never give up hope on us, or throw His hands up and say, “I’m done with you!” because He will never stop loving me and you.
The Bible says, “love endures all things,” and so we know that God endures all things—that is, He will go the distance; He will walk with us all along life’s treacherous pathway, through success and failure, through heartache and joys, carrying us when He needs to, disciplining us when He needs to; promising never to leave us or forsake us because love endures all things.
And finally, the Bible says, “love never fails.” Now, we can fail to love; but love, if we will love, will never fail us; and because “love never fails,” and “God is love,” we know that He cannot, will not, fail to love us.
In closing, the Bible says:
- “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” (I John 4:16-19, NASB)
How do you recognize the true children of God? Well, according to this verse, they look like their Father. They “abide in God and God abides in them” – so, they have His characteristics. That is, they love and are learning to love, like He loves. Furthermore, because they are thoroughly convinced of His love for them; and so, God’s children are not afraid of Him. This passage says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Yes, there will be a great day of judgment, it’s coming soon enough, and on that day, people will be held accountable for their sins. But the children of God have nothing to fear on that day; because they have found their peace, their comfort, and their shelter in God’s promises and in His great love for them.
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