God is light, God is love
Notes of an Address at Canterbury 2010
“And this is the message which we have heard from him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
“He that loves not has not known God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
“And we have known and have believed the love which God has to us. God is love, and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
The Lord has laid it upon my heart to give a few basic thoughts (I do not dare to say more) about these mighty verses in 1 John. These three verses, and especially the expressions we find in them, “God is light” and “God is love”, can be rightly said to be among the mightiest verses of Scripture because they do not tell us anything about God’s qualities, but about His essence, His being. It is with a feeling like Moses and Joshua when God told them to take their shoes from off their feet because the ground upon which they stood was holy ground (Ex. 3:5; Josh. 5:15) that I approach this subject tonight. So it is when we try to explain in a feeble way these mighty expressions.
We can speak about the qualities of God:
He is omniscient, all-knowing. He is the only Being able to do so. Solomon says in 1 Kings 8:39, “thou, thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men”. This can only be said of God. He knows the inward thoughts and feelings of every man.
He is omnipresent, all-present. He is everywhere. David says in Psalm 139:7-8, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? and whither flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into the heavens thou art there; or if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there”. God is always there. Many verses in this psalm speak of this. Wherever we can go He is there.
He is omnipotent, all-powerful. He is the Creator and Upholder of the whole universe. He has all power in heaven and upon earth.
These three things are qualities of God. One could say they are adjectives that explain what God is able to do, but the verses we have read do not speak of qualities but speak of Himself, and it is only John who gives us these expressions, “God is light” and “God is love”.
God is Light
Light even in nature, as far as I know, has not yet been fully explained. There are different theories to explain it. There is one theory which explains the nature of light called the wave theory, and it can explain certain features of natural light, but not all. There is another theory which can explain other features of light, the particle theory, which explains things that cannot be explained by the wave theory, but which cannot explain things the wave theory explains. Where exactly between these two theories the truth lies nobody can fully explain. In Job 38 God asked Job two questions, “Where is the way to where light dwelleth”? (v. 19) and “By what way is the light parted?” (v. 24). Where does light come from and what is its nature? These are natural things, things which we see in nature, which are almost inexplicable for us – how much more He who is the source of all light?
When He created the universe the first thing He said was, “Let there be light.” He separated the darkness from the light. This is true in nature and also in the spiritual realm. God is light. Who could understand or fathom it?
Natural man if he thinks of the fact that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, becomes afraid. The light is inaccessible for man. God is not only light Himself, but 1 Timothy 6:16 and other Scriptures also say that He dwells in light, in a light that is inaccessible. That means that no natural man can ever approach God, Whom no man has ever seen nor can see. This speaks not of God Himself but of the sphere in which He dwells. He is light in Himself and He dwells in a light inaccessible. The world in which we live has fallen into spiritual darkness. In the first place this means ignorance of God, distance from God, and no knowledge or relationship with God. This is the state of natural man. They may be enlightened as they think, but as to God man is in darkness. The only way that light came into this world was when the Lord Jesus came as Man on earth.
We read this in John’s Gospel and his epistles. In John 1 the Lord is called the Word in verses 1-3, but then in verses 4-5 we see that light and life are connected in a spiritual sense, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light appears in darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not”. Then in verse 9 we read, “The true light was that which, coming into the world, lightens every man”. The footnote in the Darby translation helps by explaining that this does not mean that the light enlightened every man, it does not bring light into the life of every man, but He brings him into the rays of this light, which does not mean that he receives the light. That is why man is afraid of this light.
In John 3:19-21 we see this more clearly, “And this is the judgement, that light is come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light; for their works were evil. For every one that does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light that his works may not be shown as they are; but he that practises the truth comes to the light, that his works may be manifested that they have been wrought in God”. Here we have it very clearly stated that unregenerate man does not like this light. There is no friendship between natural man and God, there is no affinity between the darkness which we all are in by our sins (sinful life) and our sin (our condition as sinners) and the light of God. Still we have here introduced this wonderful expression that the light is not a cold light, but is the life-giving light. “In him [the Lord Jesus, the Son of God] was life, and the life was the light of men”. It is for everybody. This light has come into this world, and we know what men, and especially, His own people, did with Him. “Away with Him” they cried (John 19:15)! Yet there is no other way to approach God than through Him.
We have also to refer to some writings of Paul and Peter on this subject. In saying “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53), before He went to the cross, the Lord submitted to the power of darkness because there was no other way. God allowed this moment when the power of darkness would have its full sway over the Lord Jesus in the three hours of darkness when He put His hand on His beloved Son and laid the judgement, for those who are in darkness, upon Him who is the Light of the World. The Lord Jesus went down into death for us. He went into the lowest parts of the earth, but then He was raised from among the dead. Then it was that Paul said that by resurrection of the dead He should announce light! He was ever the light when He came into this world, but in His resurrection He announced light; and not only light but life. Acts 26:13 is a wonderful verse, a very profound verse which I mention because it touches upon our subject. Paul says in his defence before Agrippa in verse 13, “at mid-day, on the way, I saw, O king, a light above the brightness of the sun, shining from heaven round about me”. I do not hesitate to say that this light was the Lord Jesus Himself because from this light came the voice that spoke to him (cf. verse 16). This was the first impression that this man in darkness had of the Lord Jesus – “a light above the brightness of the sun”. In verses 22-23 he continued, “I have stood firm unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying nothing else than those things which both the prophets and Moses have said should happen, namely, whether Christ should suffer; whether He first, through resurrection of the dead, should announce light both to the people and to the nations”. This wonderful life-giving light which was and is in God was revealed in the Son. None other could reveal it. But to give it to us it was not sufficient that it was revealed during His lifetime by the birth of the Lord Jesus into this world, but that He must die and be raised, and that by resurrection He could announce life to all the world. This is the gospel, the light of life. These words are so simple and yet I hope we all understand that there are no deeper expressions about what God is and does than these expressions, “God is light” and “God is love”.
This light puts everything in the right place. The first thing we learn is that this light brings us to the knowledge of who we are and who God is. God shines in our hearts. I do not know if anybody in our company tonight were to ask himself or herself the question ‘Where am I? Am I under the sway of the rays of this light or yet in darkness?’ how would they answer? If you are still in darkness I hope and wish that in these moments (it is very easy) you come out of the darkness and into this wonderful light of life. You only have to say one sentence, “O God, have compassion on me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). If you say this from the depths of your heart you will go on justified (v. 14), out of the darkness into the light.
This light is also spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 5:8, “for ye were once darkness, but now light in the Lord”. This is what we have just had, we were once darkness – not only in darkness, that is another aspect, but we ourselves are darkness if we have not yet accepted the Lord Jesus, if we have not come into that light. We were in darkness, far from God without any knowledge. We may know the word of God but yet not know Him who is light. But by faith in the Lord Jesus everybody who believes in Him is changed from darkness into light. He changes his essence in a way – he was a sinner and now he is a child of God, having the same nature as God. That is what is meant by, “You are light in the Lord”, not by ourselves, but in Him who revealed that light, who Himself is the Light of the World and who also said, “Ye appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15) in a practical sense. Here we are looking at the doctrinal position, “ye are light in the Lord”. That is the position of every Christian, we are light in the Lord.
This is why Paul continues in Ephesians 5, “Walk as children of light”. Our walk is to be in accordance with our position in which we have been brought. Children of light does not only mean that we have been engendered by light but that we bear the characteristics of this light. The children of the devil have not been engendered by him, but they bear the characteristics of him. This is often the meaning of “children of” in a figurative sense. This is what God has made us and has prepared us for, that we may walk as children of light so that the world around us which is still in darkness can see that these are believers, children of light. They are to see in us a totally different character of life and walk. May it be so by the grace of the Lord.
Then let us refer to Peter who speaks of the light in 1 Peter 2:9, “ye are a chosen race, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession, that ye might set forth the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness to his wonderful light”. Peter clearly refers back to Exodus 20 when God said almost the same thing to His people Israel after He had delivered them from Egypt and placed them in the desert on the way to Canaan, “that ye might set forth the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness to his wonderful light.” One might say that just as God is light and dwells in light, we were darkness and we dwelt in darkness. Our character was the same as the whole world under the sway of Satan – darkness. Ephesians says that we were darkness and now we are light in the Lord. Peter says something different; God has taken us out of the darkness, out of the surroundings and circumstances in the world and has transported us in His wonderful light. A child of this world may be afraid of this (in his mind) dazzling light of God. But a child of God who has been brought into this light which is at the same time his life, may also know that this light is a wonderful light. We are there right now, we have been made fit for “the portion of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). That is future, but nothing is lacking, we are fit to enter into that light in the heavens now; the Lord could take us up at any moment. But Peter says that we are already placed in this wonderful light now. The sphere of life has changed for us, as children of God we are in that light. Wonderful sphere of His light!
We need to refer back once more to Ephesians 5 for we have not read the whole passage there concerning the light. There are two further things said there about the light which I would just like to add to complete the picture. In verse 9 Paul continues after exhorting them to walk as children of light with the explanation, “for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth”. We have seen that that light is connected with life in God’s mind and will, and now also with goodness, righteousness and truth. These would be the visible things that can be experienced. The goodness of God is an outflow of the love of God. Then follow righteousness and truth.
Then Paul continues in verse 13 more on the line of holiness, righteousness and truth, but it is very important to see that the light of God never contradicts His love. This is seen in the second and third epistles of John. The message of the second epistle is that there can be no real love without light, whilst the third says that there can be no real light without love. Here it is said in another way, firstly that the fruit of light is in all goodness, etc., but then in verse 13 that all things have their true character exposed by the light and are made manifest, for that which makes everything manifest is light. “Wherefore he says, Wake up, thou that sleepest, and arise up from among the dead, and the Christ [not love] shall shine upon thee”. Christ is ever the true light. We have no light in ourselves, so even if we as Christians are called light it can only be light “in the Lord”. It might be that this light in our practical lives is so dimmed that we are in need of this call, “Wake up, thou that sleepest”! We are not dead but alive, born again Christians, but if we live a worldly life we are like a sleeper amongst the dead. The Greeks in their mythology said, ‘Sleep and death are twins’, because you could hardly distinguish them. So a true believer who has life in himself by believing in the Lord may be so worldly that outwardly he cannot be distinguished from those in this world – but those in the world are dead whilst he is not. It is impossible once having life to die again in a spiritual sense, but it is quite possible to be a sleeper among the dead. I heard from several brethren who in the last world war had found wounded persons on the battle field who were unconscious, and they thought they were dead because they could not distinguish them. What a sad thing if a believer is in such a condition that outwardly he can no longer be distinguished from somebody in the world. Then this voice comes to those spiritually asleep, “Wake up, thou that sleepest [not who are dead], and arise up from among the dead, and the Christ shall shine upon thee”!
There again we see that in our lives it is the Lord Jesus Himself Who is our light. We need Him every day to enlighten our path, our heart and our conscience. As we have seen in verse 13, light exposes the true character of all things, for that which makes everything manifest is light.
Often it is said , ‘He does not walk in the light’ or ‘we do not walk in the light’, but Scripture does not say this of a believer. Somebody who is in the light walks in the light. If I am in this hall I can only walk in this hall; I cannot walk anywhere else! It says in 1 John 1:7, “if we walk in the light as he is in the light”. This is not an expression that speaks about our practical walk or state, rather it speaks of our fundamental position, we are in the light, and therefore we walk in the light.
One brother once said, ‘If you are outside today you will be in the sunshine (provided the sun is shining). You can turn your back to the sun so that you do not see the sun, but you are always walking in the sunshine even if you do not enjoy the sun.’ This is what can happen in our lives. We cannot return to a walk in darkness because we have been taken out of darkness into His wonderful light, but we can walk as children of darkness. That is why it is said, “Walk as children of light”. We are to walk in accordance with the position which we have been given by grace. So it is a wonderful thing to which we are called, walking as children of light (Eph. 5:8) and showing forth the fruit of light which is in all goodness. This is a character of love. Then only follow righteousness and truth. These would be more the characteristics of light, but goodness leads us to the love of God.
God is Love
Light without love is impossible in God’s essence. You can never separate these characteristics of God. It is what He is in Himself, and whereas light is more His absolute essence, the second point, 1 John 4, “God is love”, is more His nature in relation to others
Of light it is said that it shines in the darkness and the darkness has not apprehended it. This is a very unnatural thing because naturally when I take a lamp and let it shine into darkness then wherever it shines the darkness is dispelled, but in the moral sense the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not accepted it. It does not penetrate the darkness because it is moral darkness. It is not a natural thing; it is moral darkness that does not want the light. But whether it is accepted or not this light still shines. It shines even if it is not accepted, but love by contrast always needs an object. Without an object love cannot be exercised, cannot be visible, is not there. God being love shows us His nature.
You can ask what is deeper and more glorious, the fact that He is light or the fact that He is love. His love was there just as was His light from eternity. There is no beginning to that love of God. He always had and has a worthy object for His love. The Lord Jesus as the Son in this world at the end of His pathway could say to His Father, “thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). We are brought back into a past eternity (if one may say so) and we see in light inaccessible the Eternal Son, the Only-Begotten of the Father, in the bosom of the Father, who could say “thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world”. This was a perfect love. Perfect in the sense that there was a perfect response to that love. Who could say that? As we know the Lord Jesus and by Him the Father, we all know a little bit of His love. What a wonderful thing this is! There is one who always appreciated this love of the Father and was in His bosom as His equal. “Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world”. This was ever so and was still the case when He went to the cross of Calvary though in an even higher form because the Lord Jesus said when He went to the cross, “On this account the Father loves me, because I lay down my life” (John 10:17). He gave as it were, an additional reason to the Father to love Him, in His going to Calvary. Ever worthy of this love the Lord Jesus came into this world.
We find also that it is a reciprocal love for the Son loves the Father also. We read not only of the love of the Father for the Son, but at the end of John 14 the Lord Jesus says, “but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father has commanded me, thus I do” (v. 31). This is because the love of the Father to the Son was never interrupted or diminished or changed. It shows us also the place where we shall go, this inaccessible light, the Father’s House where God’s divine essence as an invisible being is, and where we will be with the Son. We will be introduced into the Father’s House where never creature has been before. The Lord Jesus as Man has entered to prepare a place for us. Into that undisturbed light, that sphere of love where sin or weakness cannot enter, and where God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall not exist anymore, nor grief, nor cry, nor distress shall exist anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4) we will be brought. There light and love find their display and realisation.
What a place we have before us. The Lord Jesus has opened this to us and He will lead us there where these two characteristics of God will shine for ever undisturbed. We will be there on the ground of redemption. There will be nothing that separates us from being one with Him who loved us and who is one with His Father. That is why John does not speak so much about our position on the basis of redemption, but rather our being brought into that sphere of which Paul always speaks positionally, our relationship which we have by being born again. These are not really different viewpoints or aspects, for the place is the same. What John brings before us is our intimacy or closeness. Paul does it too but not on the same level, and speaks rather of the characteristics of God which have been given to us. We are “light in the Lord” but we are not said to be ‘love in the Lord’ or ‘in the Father’, but rather that the love of God has been shed abroad into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). We have received that love, we are the objects of that love and the love has been poured into our hearts and Paul says that we may now live in pouring out that love to others. That is what John speaks about also in 1 John 3, the love that has been given to us is not for ourselves only. I am not to think that I am self-sufficient in this love and not to have anything to do with others. No, love is always a relationship. Without an object love cannot be exercised. Even self-love needs yourself as an object; we always need an object before us. The Father had a worthy object before Him; we have seen that, and then He showed His love to the most unworthy objects possible. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent His Son a propitiation for our sins” (4:10). Paul goes even further when he says in Romans 5:8, “God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us”. I think that this aspect of the divine love is mostly before us, God shows His love towards men in giving His Son.
It was on my heart to show that “God is love”. Only once is God said to be light. This is enough. But in telling us that God is love He repeats it, because it is so hard to understand. We mostly think of this love towards us, but this is not the primary aspect of this wonderful nature of God to show it to unworthy objects, for He has a worthy object and this object is also now our object, we love because we have been loved first (1 John 4:19).
We love our God and Father. May we do so more and more. We love our Lord, but “let us not love with word, nor with tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Let us also love our brothers and sisters. All of them. Love is not sympathy. There is no difference in nature between brotherly love and love. Sometimes I hear people say that brotherly love is something lower than divine love, but it is only one aspect of love. Brotherly love is not on a lower level than any other aspect of this love. Do we love all of our brothers and sisters?
May this conference help us to learn more of these two things which we always find in John. God is light; we are light in the Lord. God is love; His love has been shed into our hearts, and we should love one another as God loves us. This is God’s measure; He sets no other standard. May this conference be the beginning of a blossoming of this divine love in these last days for His name’s sake.