1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
The apostle John wants to draw all attention to the uniqueness, the size, and the quality of God’s love, but his words simply leave us marveling at something we cannot begin to grasp in these words. In his Greek, these words read something more like, “Just look at what kind of a love God has given us.” Then he leaves us to look and soak in as much of God’s goodness as we can. It is love beyond description.
John hints at what makes God’s love so unfathomable: “that we should be called children of God.” In order to share in John’s amazement, to get a taste of the love he is describing, we must look at God’s love in comparison to its objects. We must understand our unworthiness. We have not earned his love in any way. Perhaps no one says it more eloquently than Paul in Romans 5, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Powerless. Ungodly. Sinners. Jesus died for a world of people who were not his friends. He owed them nothing. Even now that we have come to know his love in our faith, isn’t it true that we find so much less of that love for him in our hearts than we ought? Don’t our lives still betray our rebellion? So many sacrifices he made for us, so many things he gave up (even when we were his enemies!), and still we do so little in return. We begrudge the time or the expense or the effort. So much forgiveness we experience–daily, hourly, even every moment– and still it is so difficult to forgive the few ways in which our neighbor has sinned against us.
And still, he loves! He loves us. He loves even me. To what shall we compare such love? He calls himself our Good Shepherd, but our Lord’s love is infinitely greater than that which any man has ever had for any animal. In his word he compares his love to that of friend for friend, a husband for his wife, a woman for her baby, a father for his son. Yet none of these loves approaches the greatness of that love which the Father has lavished on us. We are called his children! That is, in fact, actually what we are.
Here is a more contemporary comparison. Henri Nouen was a prestigious professor at Harvard University, a world famous lecturer. Long before his powers began to fail, he retired from that life. He spent his last years working in a home for children with profound mental disabilities. These children were able to do nothing for themselves. They could not do tasks as simple as combing their hair or feeding themselves. Someone had to hold their hands and guide them. Their only communication came through grunts and non-verbal noises. Those who cared for them learned great patience. They needed great love, for there was nothing these children could do for them in return.
Can we see ourselves as such profoundly disabled children spiritually? What need do we have, for this life or for the next, that our heavenly Father must not provide? What simple and yet imperfect service do we offer in which he himself is not holding and guiding our hands? How stunted and undeveloped is our communication–our prayer, worship, and praise?
But how patiently our Savior works with us, how faithfully he loves us. He is not ashamed to call us brothers, stunted, helpless beings who can do so little. Our Father is now proud to claim us as his children. In spite of our sin, in spite of our every earthly weakness, you and I are children of the heavenly Father, and his love for us defies words to describe it.