“God loves you” is one of the most common things children hear in any Sunday School class; at least the ones I visited. And, while I can’t really say it is a wrong thing to say, I also can’t advise that it is the wisest thing to say. Why? Because unless you are careful, it is probably one of the most confusing things you could say to a child.
Confusing? What is confusing about telling a child that God loves them? It is confusing unless you know for sure what the child is thinking. Because it is rarely explained carefully and clearly in an age-appropriate manner, children can end up believing all sorts of misconceptions about God and what it means that God IS love. Ask a child,“what do I mean when I tell you God loves you?” and see what they say. It may be an eye-opening exercise for you.
To help clear up any confusion, let’s study it for ourselves. After all, we can’t teach something we ourselves don’t know. To truly understand it, let’s study the word “love”, let’s look at how God shows it, and then, we’ll see how it affects our lives.
LOVE – WHAT IT MEANS
1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 3:1, Romans 13:10
Love is a fulfillment of the law that in its entirety embraces the comprehensive character of God; it embodies all that God has expressed in how He orders His universe. Love is possessive and protective inherently, as a parent would be of a dearly loved child. Love is understood in our thoughts, expressed in our behaviors, and is strongly emotional; love is an experience that touches every part of us. Because we have a restored and intimate relationship with our God, soul to soul, we know that God is love from the inside out because of how we experience life with Him.
LOVE – HOW GOD SHOWS IT
John 13:34, John 3:16, Romans 5:8
God is love and it drives His relationship with us. God does nothing without love being a primary motivation because He can never do anything that is contrary to who He Himself is. We are commanded to love one another as God loves us. Therefore, knowing how He loves us is necessary to believers participating in fellowship which honors God and blesses the believer. God’s love is sacrificial, personal, intentional, obvious, and undeserved. He showed it in the ultimate expression of putting us before Himself by dying on the cross and rising from the dead to be the atonement, the propitiation, and the redemption that, as sinners, we so desperately needed. His love meets the demands of His justice by giving all of Himself to those He loves, even though they do not yet love Him.
LOVE – HOW IT CHANGES US
John 14:31, 1 John 3:17-18, 23-24; 4:19, Colossians 3:14, Galatians 5:22, 23
God’s love, when experienced, is life-changing. Someone who truly experiences the living God can not walk away unchanged or indifferent. Love brings unity to the body of Christ, a heart that yearns to obey God, a character that is more concerned with others than one’s self, and is seen in deed and word consistently throughout one’s life. When we believe in the triune God – the Father who rules, the Son who sacrifices, and the Spirit that abides – our faith in God is our expression of love to God that is given to us by the Spirit. Love is produced by God in us which then flows through us and is evident to all. Love is life-changing in us and changes the lives of others who experience that love through us in ways that make us closer to God, closer to one another, and changes us, as God’s children, to be more like our Father (Ephesians 5:1-20).
Explaining it to children
Telling a child that God is love encompasses all of the above. And you would be right to believe that not all of the above is able to be understood at all ages. So we need to ask, what is necessary to know and how do we make it clear?
- We must love children. If we are not loving the child, then we can not verbally explain to a child what love is, after all, love is seen in word and deed.
- We must love God. Before we even worry about showing love to one another, are we loving God? Am I growing in my admiration, affection, and enjoyment of the God who has given everything for me? If children don’t see us loving God, then they won’t trust our love for them.
- We must think about how we articulate the love of God. We can’t say to a child, “God loves you and God died for you.” In a child’s mind, how does death reflect love? How are they connected? If you love me, wouldn’t you live for me? A child needs to understand that death is the punishment for sin; they need to know the “bad news” of the gospel before they understand the good news of God’s love.
- The bad news (sin and death) – We, as people, have hurt God and disobeyed Him. God, like any good Father, must discipline His children but instead of us getting into trouble (taking the punishment for our own sin), God took the punishment for us by dying on the cross. He got hurt so we don’t have to be hurt; He took the pain so we don’t have to experience hell.
- The good news (God’s love) – Because God substituted Himself for us, we can be reconciled to God; we can know God’s love and we can love God in return when we believe in Him and what He has done for us. God’s love lasts forever and we will enjoy Him now and one day in heaven for God’s love brings eternal life.
Dear Reader, teaching children the love of God is essential to the foundation of their faith. Let’s make sure we are loving God, loving others, and thoughtfully considering how we articulate God’s love to children so they do not know confusion, but instead, know the sweet confidence and surety that comes from knowing indeed that God is love.
Blessings to you and may the love of God be yours today in rich and new ways.
Fondly yours, Elizabeth