Encountering the Love of God

Part 2 of Encountering God.

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett Asbury Free Methodist

January 21st, 2024 – 1 John 4:7-16

            Last week, we started a series titled “Encountering God.” There are so many ways that we encounter God. We can encounter him through his word, through his Spirit, and through other people. We can encounter his greatness and majesty, his strength and his glory. But today, I want to talk about encountering the Love of God.

I grew up in a Christian home. The first verse that I probably ever memorized was John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but shall have eternal life”. I am old enough that I memorized it in the King James Version. I was taught that God loved me. It was one of the first lessons in my Christian faith.

            But despite being taught it, I never really believed it. If you would have asked me if I believed it, I would have told you yes. After all, I believe the Bible and the Bible says that God loves me. But I didn’t really believe it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I believed it with my head but not with my heart.

            You see, I grew up having a poor self-image. I was a gangly teenager with no fashion sense and a big nose. Deep down inside, I knew that God had made me the way I was, and if he loved me, how could he do that? A poor self-image and really believing that God loves me are somewhat incompatible.

            I also grew up with a keen sense of spiritual sensitivity. Comparably, I was a good guy. I didn’t do drugs, I wasn’t sleeping around, I tried to be kind and good. But I knew that God didn’t judge me in comparison to other people – he judged me. And I knew my sin, and I knew that, in some ways, I was more responsible for my sin because I knew better than other people. I knew the ways of God. My sin rested heavily on me. I wondered, could God love me.

            Doubting God’s love dogged me right into ministry. I was 22 years old, and I became the solo pastor of Bruce Mines Wesleyan Church. The first year was hard. People were looking to me for spiritual guidance, and I had all sorts of self-doubts. I had all sorts of God doubts. It was tough.


            I remember it was the 2nd year of ministry at Bruce Mines. I was sitting in my office, studying the passage of Scripture that we are going to look at today.

            In that office and in that passage, I encountered the Love of God. I knew that I knew that I knew that God loved me. Let me tell you, that has made all the difference in the world. On that day, there was a quiet confidence placed in me. A deep faith was birthed in me about who God was. It is what has allowed me to walk through life, through deep waters and dark valleys. I know that I know that I know that God loves me.


            How about you? Do you know, I mean really know that God loves you. If you do, I want you to celebrate that with me today. If you don’t, my prayer is that you will encounter the love of God this morning. I pray that God will do a work spiritually so that you will know that you know that you know that God loves you.


Hear the word of the Lord. – 1 John 4:7–8 (NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

            Whenever you encounter God, you will encounter his love. This is true whether he is convicting or comforting you. It is true whether he is saying yes, no, or wait, to your prayers. This is true whether you meet him in green pastures and beside still waters or if you meet him in the dark valleys. Whenever and however you encounter God, you will encounter his love because God is love.

At the core of who God is, He is love. The foundation of everything he does is Holy love. The essence of his being is love. It is His predisposition towards people. It is who He is.

            Here is the thing. For God not to personally love you would violate his character. For God to be indifferent to you would not only be out of character it would be counter to who he is. God is love. When he looks at you, he cannot help but look with love. Because that is who he is.

            Some of you might say, but you don’t know who I am, or what I have done, or how I have sinned. You are right; I don’t know the extent of your depravity, but I do know the greatness of God. And I know that his love is bigger than your sin. I know his love is deeper than your pain. I know that his love is wider than your doubts. I know that his love is greater than anything that has happened to you or been done by you. God is love; Love comes from God. God loves you.


            Here is the thing. That love rubs off.

1 John 4:7–8 (NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

            Whenever we know God, his love rubs off on us, and we love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

            John is just echoing the words of Jesus.

John 13:34–35 (NIV)

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

            We are told that God is love. We are told that love comes from God, and we are told that we are to love one another. We are also told, if we don’t love, we don’t know God – because God is love.

            His Spirit – the Spirit of love has been put in us. He is restoring his image in you. You bear the image of a God who is love. He is transforming you and making you Christlike. Jesus embodied the love of the Father. One of the ways that we demonstrate that we are a child of God and a follower of Jesus is that we love.

            This is a big part of discipleship. Learning to bear God’s image. Learning to be Christlike and being transformed. Learning to love.


            John is speaking to the church. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. But, the command to love is broader than that. The Old Testament commands, and Jesus restated the command – love your neighbour as yourself. We are not only to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are to love the people in the community where we find ourselves living. But Jesus pushes the bounds of love even further than that. He told his followers to “love your enemies.” Do good to those who despitefully use you.


            There are a lot of things that go under the guise of “Christian” these days. But whenever you hear people who call themselves Christians but have an underlying tone of hate, you are hearing people who verse eight says, “don’t know God.”

            Whenever you hear supposed Christians, but they are spewing hatred of homosexuals, or hatred of abortionists, or hatred of Muslims, or hatred of Secular Liberals, or hatred of evolutionists, and the list could go on for a way too long – whenever you hear hatred coming out of the mouth of people who claim to follow God, you remember this verse.

1 John 4:8 (NIV)

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

            You will hear people try to justify it. Didn’t God in the Old Testament kill people because they disobeyed. Didn’t God show himself as vengeful and full of wrath?

            First of all, you are not God. God says to leave vengeance up to him; you are to love your enemies. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.

            Number two, make no mistake about it. God hates sin. But the reason why God hates sin so much is because he loves people. Sin brings death. God is love and the author of life, and he wants us to experience life, not death, so he hates sin.

            If we really love people, we will have an aversion to sin as God does, but that aversion will be because we love people, and we hate to see them heading for a truckload of hurt and spiritual death.


            The mark of a follower of Jesus is love. Most of us grew up in a culture that has a way of labelling and dismissing people. Some of you grew up in a culture that promoted racism or, sexism or prejudice against religious groups. We live in a cancel culture where if someone doesn’t live in the way that we approve of we dismiss them and boycott them.

            I suspect that there are few people here who don’t have problems either loving a group of people or loving some particular people in your life. Whenever we see that in our own life – it is a discipleship issue. It is something that God needs to deal with in us.

            It is ok to have areas in your life where you need to grow and become more like Christ. It is ok to see where your heart needs to be changed. What is not ok is when we justify our lack of love. What is not ok is when we call our prejudices good. What is not ok is when we hate and think that we are fine. When we see a lack of love in our hearts we need to grieve over the state of our hearts and ask God to change us.    

            I have found it helpful to understand that what people do is “their stuff,” and what goes on in my heart is “my stuff.” When I see people behaving poorly – that is their stuff. When my heart is cold towards others, that is my stuff. I need to deal with my stuff and let other people deal with their stuff. If my heart is lacking love, that is my stuff. I need to let God do a work in my heart.

            For when he does a work like this work in our hearts, it will help set the tone of how we deal with people. When God transforms our hearts and being his disciple takes root, then when we encounter people with messy lives, our predisposition is love. When we encounter people who struggle with sin, our stance is grace. When we encounter people who are different than us, our way is love. Why? Because we have encountered the love of the Father.


            Let me talk for a moment about the hardest person for many of us to love. The person looking back at us in the mirror.

            I have known a lot of people who could love others; they just had a hard time loving themselves. If you are one of those people, then here is what I want you to know – If you could see yourself from God’s perspective, if you could see yourself as God sees you, then you would appropriately love yourself. For you would see a person of immense value. You would see someone who was loved so much that Jesus died for you. You would see someone who is deeply cared for by God. As the song says, “The one who knows you best loves you most.”

            When you encounter the Love of God, it gives you the bases to love yourself. It gives you the foundation to love others. Because when you encounter the love of God, you can see life from his perspective.

So the question is, how do you get to the place where you encounter God’s love for you? How do you have that awe ha moment where, like me in my study in Bruce Mines, it moves from your head to your heart.


1 John 4:9–10 (NIV)

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

            This is known as he condescension of God. God, who lives in unapproachable light, in purity and power, adored and worshipped day and night by angels surrounding his throne, sent his one and only son into the world. God became human. Talk about a drop in status. Not only that, but he gave his son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

            Jesus died for us. How do we know that God loves us? Look at Jesus- contemplate Jesus. Focus on the passion of Jesus. See his suffering his death and know that this is happening because he loves you.

            I want to take you down to the end of this passage.

1 John 4:16 (NIV)

16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

            John, who wrote this inspired passage, says, we know God’s love, and we rely on God’s love. But what happens if you are a Christian and you don’t know it. What happens if you were like me, and you know it in your mind but not in your heart. What do you do?

            John says we rely on this love. Much of the Christian life gains power in light of this love. What do you do if you are not in a place where you know God loves you? How do you get to a place that you know, in the core of who you are that you are loved by God.

            The first thing I want you to know is that it is a discipleship issue. That means that it is something that God wants to teach us and some things that we may need to implement after he teaches us. There are probably some lies that we have believed that we will have to root out. There may be some truths that we have failed to believe that we will have to accept. This is often a process that takes place over time. But let me suggest ways to start the process.


            Really knowing the love of God is something that is more imparted than it is grasped. It is more caught than it is studied. It is much more a work of the Spirit than it is a work of your intellect. It is more of a revelation that is given than a piece of knowledge to be acquired.

            Because of this, this knowledge of the Love of God is to be pursued on a spiritual plane more than on an intellectual one. It is to be sought after on your knees, looked for with your eyes closed, pursued in stillness and contemplation, grasped by opening your life up to God.

            Listen to Paul’s prayer for the people of God living in Ephesus. It is a prayer that they might know this love of God.

Ephesians 3:16–19 (NIV)

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

            To really know this love of God, it is a matter of impartation, of revelation – it is a matter of prayer. People, at the end of this sermon I will pray for you. But people make this a matter of prayer until God reveals himself to you. We have already read that “God is Love.” when you encounter God, you will encounter his love.

            The second thing that some of you might have to do is to remove the roadblocks to encountering the love of the Father. Some of you have abandonment issues with your earthly father. Some of you have issues of abuse from your earthly father, and because of that, you are unwilling to trust your heavenly father.

            Some of you have had prayers go unanswered, and that has been your reason to distance yourself from God. I want you to know that God is good. He is not a heavenly version of your earthly father. God is better than you can imagine. He is more trustworthy than you will ever know. There are some of you who may have to deal with your anger towards God. Some of you might even need to forgive God.

            I would urge you, whether it is your belief system that makes God like your earthly father, or misplaced anger, or disappointment that God didn’t come through in the way you thought he should, — to deal with that. When you know the love of the Father, not all questions will be answered, but it will help you to see clearly and trust for what you cannot see.

            Because the love of God is known on a spiritual plane first, I would urge you to make space for God. Because as you make space for God, God has a way of filling that space, and sometimes even in a way that you can sense and feel.

            When we make space for God, we can hear his word to us. This morning we are going to view “The Father’s Love Letter”. We have seen it here before. But there is something that is anointed about this, that has a way of connecting people with the love of God. Hear God’s word to you.

Sermon Questions – 1 John 4:7-16


1. What are you celebrating today?

2. What are you praying about this week?

Digging in

3. Has there been a time when you knew that you had encountered God’s love? What did that do for you?

4. Read 1 John 4:7-16. What stands out to you in this scripture passage?

5. Reread verses 7-8. Do you believe that whenever you encounter God, you encounter his love? What about those times when it doesn’t feel good, like conviction? How is that love?

6. Read John 13:34-35. How does 1 John 4:7-8 reflect what Jesus said? As you think about all that Jesus taught, who are we called to love? What does verse 7-8 tell us about those who do not love?

7. Who does our culture encourage us to hate? Can a Christian be involved in that? What do we do if we struggle to love a particular person or group of people? Does that make us “not know God?”

8. Reread verses 9-10. How do we know that God loves us? What do these verses tell us about God’s heart towards you?

9. Read verse 16. How do we rely on the love God has for us? What are some of the lies that Satan implants in people to keep them from knowing God’s love? What are some things we can do to encounter God’s love?

10. Read Ephesians 3:16-19. Pray this prayer for yourself. Pray this prayer over your group.