The Trinity teaches us to Love (1 John 4:7-16) (HC 25)

“Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.”

John Wesley said those words and when taken seriously they show the challenge inherent for any person to try to elucidate the doctrine of the Trinity.  The wise have often understood that

“if you talk about the Trinity for longer than a few minutes you will slip into heresy because you are probing the depths of God too deeply.”

Instead they have proclaimed,

“The Trinity is a mystery; and mysteries are not walls you run up against but oceans you swim in and experience.”[1]

Now I wish that I could give you a grand sermon that would clear up all your questions and confusion about the 3 persons of the Godhead: Father, Son and Spirit; but truthfully I am unable to wrap my mind around it.  However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t believe in something that I don’t fully understand.

Daily each and every one of us believes in things we don’t comprehend.  Who truly understands electricity and can explain it?  The smartest physicists are still debating about how electrons really work.  And yet we believe that when the switch is flipped, light will come on.  Who understands how sound waves can be transferred across tens of thousands of miles of space so that you and I can carry on a conversation with a person in another state or country?  And yet, we believe it happens and we experience its reality every day.

And the same is true when it comes to the Trinity.  We all believe that God the Father is God.  With Paul we can declare, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live… (1Cor. 8:6)Even the Lord’s Prayer that many learn as children begins with the recognition of this, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name (Matthew 6:9).  Jesus regularly talks about God the Father in his dialogues and discourses.  In fact, the idea that the Father is God seems to be universally recognized in Christian history to such an extent that I am unaware of any heresies that deny the Father as God.

So we believe that the Father is God.  We also believe that the Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God.  The apostle Thomas upon seeing the resurrected Son declares, (John 20:28) “My Lord and my God!” and he begins worshipping. Either Thomas and the others are idolatrous and denying the very command of God to have no other God before the LORD (Exo 20:3), or else they understood that though “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4) is a true statement, this does not preclude Jesus from being worshipped as God alongside of the Father. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul spends a fair amount of time speaking about the One God of the Bible, but then he does an interesting thing by going on to name both the Father and the Son.  Both of them are ascribed the majesty of creation: one we live for, the other we live by.  Paul is declaring that these two persons are equally part of the one God. (1Cor. 8:4b,6) We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one…God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Jesus declared similar things when he proclaimed that he and the Father are one in John 8, but he also declares that they are not identical for they serve as two distinct witnesses. (John 8:17-18) In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”  But how are they one, you may ask.  They are one in nature and essence the Nicene Creed declares, but they are separate and distinct persons.

But there is one other person in the Scriptures that is declared to be God – The Holy Spirit.  We believe that the Spirit is God along with the Father and the Son. 2Cor. 3:17-18 declares, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

How exactly these three exist and yet are declared to be one God and not three gods is a mystery to me, yet the testimony of Scripture consistently tells us that there is one God while simultaneously introducing us to the three members of the Godhead whether they be at the baptism of Christ where the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22).”  Or the Ascension of our Lord where we are instructed to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Or the picture of glory  in Revelation 4:8 where the angels cry out Holy, Holy, Holy to God of the Bible.  There is no doubt that all three persons – Father, Son and Spirit are God, and it is a mystery.  But like I said earlier, it is a mystery we can believe and experience without being able to explain.

Our passage today is an often-quoted passage about the character of God, but it is also poorly understood in its doctrinal and Trinitarian implications.  How often have we heard the phrase God is love?  But what does love require? In his book Beyond Personality, C.S. Lewis writes, “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that “God is love.” But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.”[2]

Love requires something or someone else to love.  If we were to stand hard and fast on the belief that God is one and there are not 3 persons to the Godhead, we could not have God be a god of love.  There would be nothing else for God to cherish, nothing for God to honor, and nothing for God to love.

Love proceeds from God precisely because there are three persons in the one Godhead.  Love is the expression of a relationship between beings.  The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father and therefore he submits to him, the Father loves the Spirit and send him into the world to bestow salvation upon individuals and the Spirit loves the Father and comes to ensure that his world is not left without a witness to the Father’s love; and the Son loves the Spirit and promises that he will send his very spirit to dwell in the saved and the Spirit loves the Son and seeks to glorify him at all times and in all ways.  Do you see the love, present?  A constant giving and interweaving of one with the other.

In fact our passage declares not a fancy theological definition of the Trinity, rather it declares our experience with this Triune God.  Because of the love that existed eternally in Yahweh, the Father sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1John 4:10).  What an amazing display of Love by God both within the godhead and towards the creation.  Imagine the Love the Father must have had for his Son, that he would desire to see him exalted to the highest heaven and so he gives him the opportunity to conquer death and cause every power and principality to be subjected to Jesus (Col. 2:15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 1Pet. 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.)

But then imagine the Love the Son has for the Father, that he would willingly humble himself, and take on mortality, experience death and suffering, be mocked, beaten, chided and disbelieved, even unrecognized by the world he created, all because he loved the Father enough to submit to his love for a fallen creation desiring to see it presented with the reality of redemption.  That is Love.  But it gets even better, God loves us and desires to see us incorporated into the divine reality and so the Father sends the Spirit to us as a gift, and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son enough to come first of all, to dwell in our broken, dead bodies and all the while working through our feeble humanity in order to convince us first that the Son is our atoning sacrifice, the Savior of the world and second, to use us to testify to the rest of the world about this same reality.

Is there any way to explain the triune reality except by appealing to our experience of redemption?  There are no words to describe it.  There are no images sufficient to make sense of the Trinity – a shamrock, the three forms of Water – liquid, ice, and gas, Egg – yoke, white, shell – all of these and many others fail because at its core, none of these address the reality of love.    All theological treatises fail to make sense of the three distinct persons who are one, true, eternal God as the Catechism describes the Almighty.  But our experience testifies that the Trinity is true because we know and experience love.

There are practical implications from believing the doctrine of the Trinity? Our passage declares, Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1John 4:11) Because of the love that eternally exists in the Trinity, we have experienced the love of God in our own lives by being renewed and becoming partakers of the Holy Spirit.  Consequently we are called to love others in the same way that the godhead loves one another and loves us.  The exact same word, agape love, is used 46 times in 1 John and every instance of love in our passage, all 27 of them calls us to the same kind of love for one another that God has for us.

Christian love finds it source and example in the divine reality of God.  We are called to submit to one another out of love because that is how the godhead has displayed its love to one another.  We are called to seek the best interest of one another because that is what our Father has done for his Son and what the Son has done for us.

Husbands that means giving yourself up for your wife.  When you come home, are you willing to be spent for her?  Are you willing to fold the laundry?  Do the dishes?  Give 110% and not just 50/50.  The son didn’t give 50% to the relationship; he gave 100% in order to display his love for the Father and for the world.  Husbands are you giving 100% for your wife in order to see her built up, encouraged, cared for and supported?

Wives are you giving up your preferences for your husbands.  Are you seeking to provide for his physical and emotional needs?  Do you truly believe you body is not your own but belongs to your spouse for his enjoyment?  Have you taken an interest in his work and his play?  Can you talk about it intelligently with him?  Are you willing to give us your ideas of what a vacation looks like in order to go along with his – or are you afraid that your needs wont be met?

Parents are you setting an example for your children to follow?  Do you exasperate them or have you made time to spend with them and teach and train them?  Christians, when you hear of others needs do you fulfill them or just ignore them?  Do you seek to meet the needs of other needy brothers and sisters?  How about meeting the needs of the local body?  When you see a bathroom needing cleaning, do you clean it or do you complain about it?  How about a floor that needs sweeping or a lawn that needs mowing.  What about visiting a shut-in, or sick person – do you expect me to do it, or are you available to spend yourself on behalf of the poor and needy?

All of this is part of growing in love and experiencing the Trinity in daily life.  As Christians, we are called to obey God’s commands (1John 5:3) because our Savior did the same.  The commands of God, not committing idolatry, keeping the Sabbath, honor our parents, not stealing, killing, adulterating, lying and coveting are all simple ways of seeking the best interests of others. These are just a few of the simple ways we can begin loving one another and they all begin in understanding that this same kind of love exists between the members of the Trinity.

If we find that we are having difficulty loving others, the root of our problem lies in a faulty understanding of the God who is love.  If we find we have no desire to obey God’s commands, the essence of our problem is not just a sinful heart; it is a misunderstanding of the humility and submission that exists in the Trinity.  If we find that we are fearful of what following our God will bring, we have not fully understood the love that exists in the Father, the Son and the Spirit who gave us everything.  Truly the perfect love they had one for the other drove out all the fear of what abandoning themselves to one another would bring.  How else could any member of the Trinity have undergone that fateful day on Calvary where a Father watched his Son die, a son experienced separation from his Father and the Spirit grieved as the chosen people turned their back on their creator.  Yet their love, one for another, empowered them to push through that day with all its costs in order to experience the ultimate victory.

So the next time you find yourself struggling to love someone sacrificially and servant heartedly, don’t just reflect on the love of Christ for you, but think about the love that existed between Father, Son and Spirit, which led them to fulfill the greatest plan for redemption that has ever existed.  And then love for God is love!

 

Sermon Outline:

 

“Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.”  – John Wesley

 

  • The Father is God
  • Jesus, the Son, is God
  • The Holy Spirit is God
  • God is Love
    • Love requires multiple persons
    • Love is the expression of a relationship
    • Love is Experiential
  • The Trinity teaches us to Love as God loves
    • Examples

 

 


[2] C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality, Macmillan, 1948, p. 21.

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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