The God of Connection
September 19, 2021 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Connected: a series about how to connect with others
Passage: 1 John 4:7–4:12, John 17:20–17:26
You were made to be loved by God, love God, and love like God.
If you had a day to do whatever you wanted, what would you do? If I had my choice, I’d probably play ultimate frisbee or board games or go see a movie at the theatre. But I would want to do those things with people I enjoy. Doing them alone or with strangers just wouldn’t be the same as experiencing it with people I love. My college roommates and I try to get together once a year and basically we spend a weekend playing board games together, playing a few sports together, and sharing about how we are doing in life. This year after it was done, I was asking myself, “Do I really have to wait a year to do this again?”
Maybe another way to ask this question is: When do you feel most fully alive? When do you feel like, “This is what life is all about. This is what I was made for.” These are the times when we breathe deep and just soak it in. We typically live for those moments. And if you had a day to do whatever you wanted, that is probably the thing you would do. Whatever you choose to do, that is most likely what you think will make you feel good.
Commercials often try to show us these moments. They try to show us, “This is what life is all about. This is what you were made for.” Included in that picture of what life is all about is their product or service. Perhaps the product is what the people are enjoying together, perhaps the product made this moment possible.
Today we are continuing a seven-week sermon series on relationships called “Connected”. It’s about how to have better relationships by learning to connect - learning to connect with your spouse, your kids, your family and friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, and anyone else in your life.
In these first two messages, we are laying a foundation. Last week we asked the question: if we were created to connect with God and others, why do we experience so much disconnection in our lives? The answer is found in our origin story in Genesis 3. We learned that horizontal disconnection is the fruit of vertical disconnection. Disconnection with others is the result of disconnection with God.
Last week focused on where disconnection comes from; this week we are going to look at where our desire to connect comes from in the first place. We are asking the question: “What were we made for? What is life all about?” We need to go back even further into our origin story. We need to go back further than Genesis 3 and even further back than Genesis 1 and 2. We need to go back even before the creation of the universe. We need to ask: what was God doing before he created the universe? Have you ever thought about that question? What was God doing before anything else existed? It’s a little like asking, “What were your parents doing before you were born?” When you tell the story of your life, you probably don’t start with what your parents were doing before you were born. You tell things from your point of view.
You’ve probably never asked that question: when nothing else existed, what was God doing? Maybe you react to that question with curiosity and want to know the answer or maybe you don’t really care what the answer is because it doesn’t seem like it matters. Well, this question is far more important than just being an interesting head-scratcher and it actually matters a lot because it is very relevant to our lives.
There are a number of passages that tell us what God was doing before he created the world we now live in. We are going to use 1 John 4:7-12 as our main passage and launch point to look at two of those passages that say what God was doing before he created the universe.
1 John 4:7-8
Let’s read verses 7 and 8 of 1 John chapter 4.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
What I want to focus on for now is the last three words: God is love. Not just God is loving, but God is love. Love is fundamental to what it means to be God. And if we want to know what love is, we should look at God because God is love. In verse 7, John writes that love is from God. So God is love and all love is from God. God is both the source of all love and the pattern of what love is to look like.
This tells us that before anything else was created, God is love. But here’s the question: if God is love, who was he loving before he created the universe? Love requires an “other” - someone other than yourself. You cannot love if you are alone, unless we say that God was loving himself. But this would be a selfish love and that is not how this passage or the rest of the Bible describes God’s love. God’s love is directed outward. Love cannot be given if there is no one to receive it. To be a lover, there needs to be a beloved.
Perhaps we would then say that this is why God created the universe and why God created us. God needed something to love. What kind of God does this describe? This describes a needy God - a God who needs us. This is a God who is dependent on his own creation to be himself. This is a God who cannot be love without creating us. God needed something to be the object of his love and so he created us. This is a God who created out of a deep inner need and longing that he wanted fulfilled and satisfied. This would mean that God is not essentially and eternally loving because before we existed, this God had no one to love so he was not loving. This God is not essentially and eternally loving but essentially and eternally needing someone else. Since God is love and since love requires an “other”, then God needed to create in order to be himself. In order for God to be God, God had to create the universe.
Perhaps you think, “What’s wrong with that?” Imagine the problems that occur when parents need their child to be happy and whole. The parent is asking the child to provide something that the child wasn’t made to provide. There’s an insecurity and an instability in the parent. There’s an inappropriate and unhealthy clinginess. “I’m only ok if I can love you or if you will let me love you.” This is a parent who gets their identity - their sense of who they are - from their child.
The Bible clearly teaches that God does not need us. Acts 17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). We are not a necessity to God. God does not need us in order to be himself or to complete himself.
So if God is love, if love is fundamental to who God is, if love is part of his very being, if God has essentially and eternally been a loving God and he doesn’t need us in order to be love, who was God loving before he created the universe? To answer this question, we will turn to another passage written by the apostle John: John 17:20-26.
While 1 John is a letter written to a church, The Gospel According to John is John’s retelling of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. John was one of Jesus’ earliest and closest followers and in John chapter 17, he records a prayer which he heard Jesus pray in person.
This prayer is what Jesus prayed not only for his followers who were with him at the time when he prayed it but Jesus says he is praying it for all of his future followers as well. In other words, if you are a follower of Jesus, Jesus prayed this for you and I’d say is continuing to pray it for you. So what was so important that Jesus prayed it would be true for every person who would ever believe in him?
Let’s read John 17:20-26:
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)
You see throughout this prayer a desire for oneness. There is oneness between Jesus and God and Jesus desires there to be a oneness amongst his followers that is patterned after Jesus’ oneness with God. But not only that, Jesus desires that his followers would be one with himself and God. There is a desire for interconnectedness, unity, and harmony.
And Jesus has done things to make this oneness possible. He says that the glory God has given to him, he has given to his followers (17:22). Jesus also has and will continue to make God’s name known. “The glory of God” and “the name of God” are close to the same thing. They both are referring to who God is - his character, his nature. Jesus says anyone who has seen him as seen the Father - God the Father. Jesus has made God known. Look at him, and you know what God is like.
Then Jesus also talks about love. In verse 23 Jesus says that God loves those who believe in Jesus with the same love that God has for Jesus. In verse 24, Jesus says to God, “You loved me before the foundation of the world.” Hold onto that thought. Then he prays in verse 26 that the love with which God has loved him may be in his disciples. So what do we see here? God loves Jesus. God loves Jesus’ followers the same way he loves Jesus. Jesus’ followers are to love Jesus like the Father loves Jesus.
Let’s go back to Jesus’ statement in verse 24 that God has loved him before the foundation of the world. This means that Jesus existed before the universe was created and in fact, this isn’t a surprising statement if we have read The Gospel According to John from the beginning. The first three verses in chapter 1 say:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
The Word refers to Jesus. So in the beginning, before anything else was created, Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. Jesus was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Jesus and without Jesus was not any thing made that was made.
Okay, so in the beginning before anything else was created, what were God and Jesus doing? Well according to chapter 17 verse 24, God was loving Jesus. We can get more specific. Jesus begins the prayer in chapter 17 by addressing God as “Father” and he refers to himself as “the Son”. So Jesus is saying that in the beginning, God the Father was loving him, God the Son. What was God doing before the creation of the universe? The Father was loving the Son.
The Son did not come into existence 2,000 years ago when the virgin Mary became pregnant. No, the Son has eternally existed. The Son has been eternally loved by the Father. What happened 2,000 years ago is that God sent his Son (Jn 3:17) who took on flesh (Jn 1:14) as John 1:14 says. Two thousand years ago, the Son took on flesh as a human being in the person of Jesus. And God declared at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:3:22). And then on the Mount of Transfiguration, God declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Lk 9:35). The Son of God’s existence did not begin when he was conceived 2,000 years ago and the Father’s love for the Son did not begin when the Son became flesh 2,000 years ago. The Father has eternally loved the Son from before the creation of the universe. And then the Father sent his already-existing Son into the world, into the creation (Jn 1:14, Jn 3:17, Gal 4:4, Heb 1:1, 1 Jn 1:1-4, 1 Jn 4:10, 1 Jn 4:14) and gave him for our salvation (Jn 3:16).
This is why God is love. This is why God doesn’t need us to be himself. God is love because God the Father has always loved God the Son. For all eternity, the Father has been loving the Son. Article 1 of our Statement of Faith says: We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (emphasis mine). One God, eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. God is love and has always been love because the one true God, our God, is not a lonely God. Love is what it means to be God because God has always existed as a loving unity of three equally divine persons. Before the creation of the world, the Father was loving the Son.
In Jesus’ prayer, he describes it as oneness. There is a deep connection between Jesus and his Father. Imagine a relationship where there are no barriers between you and the other person, where neither has sinned against the other, neither has mistreated the other, there’s no loss of or lack of trust, each person has always perfectly loved the other one. No wounds from past hurts. No resentment or bitterness because there has never been a reason to be bitter or resentful. Never having to forgive because there is nothing to forgive. There has been nothing to create disconnection and distance. Always perfectly and fully connected.
If you are around a newly engaged or newly married couple, you might be able to just sense, see, and feel the love between them. A couple that has been happily married for 50 years can give you an even deeper and mature sense of this love. They know each other inside and out. They’ve been together for 50 years, going through life, learning how to give love to the other person, and learning to receive love from the other person. After eating dinner with them, you might say, “There was a real spirit of love between them.” We might add to this a spirit of joy and peace between them. There is a sense of oneness. After all, the Bible says that the man and the woman in marriage will become one flesh.
If we can sense that between two human beings who have been married for 50 years, what about between God the Father and God the Son who have eternally known and loved each other without any stain or pain of sin? What kind of spirit of love, joy, and peace might we sense and feel between them? This is a bond where there is perfect love, joy, and peace. They perfectly love each other, always and fully enjoy each other, and there is always peace between them. That’s the spirit between them: a spirit of love, joy, and peace. This is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the living love, the living bond between them.
This love between Father and Son is the source and pattern of all other love. And we are brought into that love by the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, the Father and Son make their home in us. The Holy Spirit is the seal of God’s love on us. The Holy Spirit is who makes us cry out, “Abba, Father” because through him we are attached to God so that we know we are his children and that he is our Father.
This is what Jesus is praying we would be brought into. Jesus’ mission was to bring us back into the love of God for which we were created. Jesus’ mission and desire is to bring us back into God’s love.
What were Father and Son doing before they created everything else? According to Jesus’ prayer, the Father was loving the Son. But they were also planning the inclusion of others into this family of love. Ephesians 1 says:
In love, 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4b-6)
"The Beloved” is Jesus and it is through Jesus Christ that we enter this family. In love, the Father chose us for adoption into his family - to be loved by the Father in the same way he loves the Son.
So what was God doing before the creation of the universe? God the Father was loving God the Son and in love, the Father was planning our inclusion in that love through the Son by the Spirit. Jesus was sent to make this possible and the Spirit is the one who brings us in to stand under the waterfall of God’s love for us.
1 John 4:7-12
Now go back to 1 John 4:7-12. What does God’s love look like? What kind of love is this? What is the love he brings us into? First John 4:9-10 says this:
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
It’s giving, it’s self-giving, it’s life-giving. God gives himself. That is love. That’s what love is: giving yourself for another, laying down your life for another, giving yourself that they may have life. And that’s what God does. God gives himself. God’s love is put on display in the Son dying for our sins, taking the penalty we deserve. God’s love is a generous, giving, gracious love. It is a love that lays itself down for you. It’s a love that shares and gives and lavishes and pours out. It’s a love that pays for wrongs he didn’t commit. It’s a love that takes the penalty in our place - that’s what a propitiation for our sins is.
Now we can have that same relationship that Jesus has with the Father. A relationship where there is no bitterness or resentment. A relationship where there are no barriers or walls. A relationship where there is no distance or disconnection. Yes, we bring sin and neglect and lack of love into this relationship, but God doesn’t. And God has given himself to clear out all those barriers we bring into the relationship. The Father so loved us that he gave his Son and the Son loved us and gave himself for us and by the Holy Spirit we are sealed with the love of God (Eph 1:13) and God’s love is poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5). We become beloved children of the Father, loved like Jesus, the Son, and bonded to God by the Holy Spirit of love, joy, and peace.
So what were we made for? What is life all about? Here’s the big idea: You were made to be loved by God, to love God, and to love like God. In that order. You were made to be loved by God. Then to give that love to others. David Benner in his book Surrender to Love says, “Giving and receiving love is at the heart of being human” (Surrender to Love, 14). I want to ask: Why is that? Because giving and receiving love is at the heart of being God and we are made in his image. Before the creation of the world, God the Father was loving the Son with a Spirit of love, joy, and peace. God created in order to give and share that love. God saves us in order to give and share that love once again. In love, God chose Israel to be his special people, to set his affection on them, to make them the object of his love. In love, God chose us for inclusion in that love. We were created in love, by love, and for love. We are saved in love, by love, and for love.
We were made to live from God’s love, not for it. We are made to live from connection with God, not for it. The two greatest commandments - to love God and love others - are given to people already loved by God. Think “be” before “do”. Before loving God and loving others, we need to learn to be loved - to be the beloved of God. The most important thing for you to learn is not learning how to be loving but learning how to be loved. John says in 1 John 4:7-12 that anyone who does not love does not know God.
Looking at pictures of Niagara Falls or reading websites or books about it is much different than actually going there. You are going to feel the thunderous roar down in your gut. You are going to see the gallons of water pouring over that cliff. You are going to get wet with the mist coming off of it.
If you have had an experience with God, you will not leave unchanged. There’s a difference between knowing about God’s love and personally knowing God’s love. If you do not love, you don't know God. Why? Because God is love. His love will get on you and in you and it will come out through you.
If we don’t live from God’s love, we will live for it. We will try to prove we deserve his love by how well we love him and love others. If we live for God without his love, we will be living to earn his love from him by living for him. But it’s supposed to be the other way around. We love because he first loved us. You were made to be loved by God, to love God, and to love like God. We were made to be loved by God which ignites in us a love for God and overflows in love for others. God’s love frees us from our self-directed love.
We are primarily loving beings not thinking beings, meaning we are most transformed not by what we think or believe but by what we love and by who loves us. We are transformed by being loved.
This is the path back to connection. If we want to have connection with others, we need to be reconnected with the God of connection. Disconnection exists because we are disconnected from the source of connection. The reason you have such a hard time loving others is because you have not experienced being loved by God. You don’t have a personal knowledge of God’s love. God cannot only be the pattern, model, or example of love for us. We cannot simply say, “I am supposed to love like God and so I am going to try my best to do that.” No, the only way to love like God is to be loved by God. Then God not only becomes the model of our love for others but God becomes the source of our love for others. We were made to be like a sponge, soaking up God’s love for us and then squeezing it out on others. But we have such a hard time loving others because we are so often dry sponges trying to give to others something we have not received ourselves. We perhaps have something in us from other people loving us which we can give out to others, but that human love was always supposed to be a reflection of God’s love to us and now we do it so imperfectly. We were made to be loved by God. Like a car is made to run on gas, we were made to run on God’s love.
To be loved by God is what we were made for. This is what life is all about. Love is what we were made for. Love is what we were saved for. But how can you receive God’s love for you? How can you personally know and experience God’s love for us instead of just knowing about God’s love for you? I want to share with you the advice from a book called Surrender to Love:
“But if an encounter with divine love is really so transformational, how is it that so many of us have survived such encounters relatively unchanged? It seems that the experience of love - even God’s love - does not always have transforming consequences. It is important to understand why this is the case if we are to allow ourselves to meet divine love in ways that lead to genuine change” (Surrender to Love, 73)
“Genuine transformation requires vulnerability. It is not the fact of being loved unconditionally that is life-changing. It is the risky experience of allowing myself to be loved unconditionally” (74).
“Daring to accept myself and receive love for who I am in my nakedness and vulnerability is the indispensable precondition for genuine transformation. But make no mistake about just how difficult this is. Everything within me wants to show my best ‘pretend self’ to both other people and God. This is my false-self - the self of my own making. This self can never be transformed, because it is never willing to receive love in vulnerability” (74-75). “The crux of the problem is that I cannot feel the love of God because I do not dare to accept it unconditionally. To know that I am loved, I must accept the frightening helplessness and vulnerability that is my true state” (75, emphasis mine).
The way we can personally experience and receive God’s love for us is to return to what we saw in Genesis 2: naked and not ashamed. First John 1 tells us that fellowship with God and each other only happens when we come out of hiding, when we come out of darkness and into the light, and we tell the truth about ourselves to God and to others (who know God’s love because then they can give it to you).
This is actually how Jesus says the world will know we are his disciples. Not by our right beliefs. Not by how much of the Bible we know. Not by how righteous we are. No, it’s by our love for one another - that we love like Jesus has loved us.