What are the various relationships of love? How is the love of God the basis and model for us?
How can we live a life of love? Why is love the greatest virtue? Is love absolutely essential in your life?
This short study of Love, the greatest of all virtues, exemplified by God who is Love Himself, is dedicated to my wife, Monica, who has shown the love of God to me in her own personality and character. She is a constant inspiration to me to love God, to love Christ Jesus, and to love all people more.
Contents of Part 1
ps of Love
God Loves His Son, Jesus Christ
God Loves the World of Sinners
God Loves His Dear Children
Christ Jesus Loves God the Father
Christ Jesus Loves the Lost World
Christ Loves His Faithful and Obedient Followers
Our Love for God
Relationships of Love
Love! The word brings fascinating, warm, and expansive thoughts to our mind. Our imaginations soar as we think of what love means to us, how we have demonstrated and how we have received it. We remember the people whom we love and who love us. We may also recall people whom we have loved in the past who are no longer a part of our lives. Perhaps we think of the manifold aspects of love. There is something profound, almost mystical, about the word. Love is something beyond earthly existence, something that we may long for but few of us can say we have experienced it in all of its fullness.
God is the creator and sustainer of true love. The Bible pointedly says that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16)for we know that love derives its greatest significance in the infinitely loving God. Love is defined, illustrated, and commanded by God Himself. If anyone can tell us about this elusive but desired subject, surely it is God our Creator who Himself is Love personified. He is the beginning point in any discussion on this vital subject.
In order for us to know why we should earnestly want to learn about love, let us first examine two scriptures. First, God wrote through Moses: Hear, O Israel! Yahweh [the Lord] is our God, Yahweh is one! You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This was of highest concern to the Lord God. He said that Israel, His people, were to love Him with all of their being. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus reiterated this same command and added a second to it:
. . . a lawyer, asked Him [Jesus] a question, testing Him, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And He said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:35-40; cf. Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28).
According to Jesus, the greatest command is to love God with all of our being and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love for God and othersthese are the priority commands of Scripture! Since this is true, a lack of love must constitute the greatest of sins! A failure to love God and others violates the basic quality or virtue we must possess! If love is the greatest of Gods requirements and if lack of love is the greatest of sins, we should earnestly seek to understand what God says about the subject of love! This should be our highest priority. You and I should be lovers of God, of Christ, of other believers, of all people!
Lets now notice the various love relationships that are described in Scripture. Well notice that we cannot know the fullness of love until we have a true relationship with the God of love, through the Son of love, described in the Biblical revelation of love, inspired by the Spirit of love, and exemplified by Christians, the people of love!
God Loves His Son, Jesus Christ
The love that God has for His dear Son is beyond our comprehension. Who can plumb the depths of this divine relationship! It is a spiritual mystery known only to the Father and the Son. Jesus referred to the pre-creation, eternal love of the Father and Son. In His longest recorded prayer in Scripture, Christ said, You loved Me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). In the mystery of Gods divine nature, a unique, deep, intimate, spiritual relationship existed between the eternal God and His beloved Son!
Later, God assured Jesus at the time of His baptism, You are my beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased (Luke 3:22). Later yet, we read, The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand (John 3:35; cf. 5:20). On the mount of transfiguration, God the Father also said, This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him! (Matthew 17:5).
This was not a momentary, ephemeral, changeable love, for our Lord also affirmed, I have kept My Fathers commandments and abide in His love (John 15:10). Gods love for His Son was and is so great that it becomes the divine pattern of our own love for other believers. Incredibly, Gods love for His Son, Jesus Christ, is the same love that He bestows on His dear children. You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me (John 17:23).
God Loves the World of Sinners
Although the world as a whole has turned from God, disobeyed Him, and left Him out of their lives, still He loves them. He loves all peopleeven those who overlook and reject Him. He sends his sun and rain and provides fruitful seasons for His creation (cf. Matt. 5:43-48; Acts 14:15-17). In a way known only to Himself, God somehow can love the very ones who are the objects of His righteous wrath because of their sin and rebellion (Romans 1:18; 2:5; John 3:36). In a mystery known only to Himself, and in harmony with His holiness, God can even be said to hate or abhor the wicked person who persists in his sin (cf. Psalm 5:5-6; 7:11; 11:5; 139:21; Proverbs 6:12-15; Malachi 2:16). But still, God loved those who sinned against Him, rebelled against Him, and turned from Him.
Amazingly and wonderfully, Gods love for sinners was manifested in all of its glory when He was willing to give the supreme object of His love, Jesus Christ our Lord. Notice this connection: By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). This was love beyond comprehension: A love that was willing to offer His beloved one and see this one die the horrible death on the crossall because He loved you and me!
This is the essence of the gospel or message of good news to all of us sinners! Lets reiterate this saving message of love and grace and mercy to lost sinners: Gods amazing, incredible love was demonstrated in a profound way when He gave His beloved Son to die for us on the cross. Although people have become alienated from Him through sin (Romans 5:6-11), still God manifested His love to them through Christ: God so loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son (John 3:16). Paul says the same: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We also read of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions (Eph. 2:4-5; cf. Titus 3:4). God even loved people who were His enemies (cf. Romans 5:10). When we look at Christs coming to this sinful earth and dying on the cross for us, we see Gods immense, sacrificial love for the world!
God Loves His Dear Children
Although God does love all people in the sense of providing for them and giving the Lord Jesus to die for them, beyond this, Gods special and intimate love is reserved only for those who are in a saving relationship with Him through Christ. In this sense, His love is conditional, as opposed to the popular contemporary myth of Gods supposed unconditional love. His intimate love is bestowed on those who truly know Him in Christ. Jesus said, The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came forth from the Father (John 16:27). Again He said, He who loves Me will be loved by My Father. . . . If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him (John 14:21, 23). His general love is for all; His special, Fatherly love is only for His children.
John was so overwhelmed by this special love of God that he marveled, See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God, and such we are (1 John 3:1). We are Gods own dear children because of His great love for us! Notice further: We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16). Gods intimate love is ours in Christ! We may experience the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). Gods love is mediated by Christ or in Christ. This special love cannot be known and experienced by those not in Christ.
Our experience of this love is in the context of a loving obedience to God. This was true of Jesus Himself. He said, I have kept My Fathers commandments and abide in His love (John 15:10). Christs experience of His Fathers love meant that He lived in total submission to the Father. In this way, He would abide, remain, or continue in Gods love. His purpose on earth was to express His love for the Father by doing His will (cf. John 4:34; 8:29). The same is true of us. Jude urges us, Keep yourselves in the love of God (v. 21). How do we keep ourselves in this love? By allowing our love to express itself in faithful obedience. We must value Gods love so deeply that we would do nothing to block, hinder, or divert it!
How privileged we are to know Gods marvelous, majestic, and many-faceted love. Paul writes to certain Christians as brethren beloved by God and brethren beloved by the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul refers to the Roman saints as beloved by God (Romans 1:7), and Jude writes of those beloved in God the Father (Jude 1). The Colossians were chosen of God, holy and beloved (3:12). If you are a true follower of the Lord Jesus, then you also are beloved of God for you have received and continue to experience His intimate, measureless, and Fatherly love! It should delight your heart to realize you are truly and deeply loved by God!
If you have been truly saved from sin and spiritually born into Gods family, you may depend on Gods special, intimate, Fatherly love. When you are rejected and lonely, remember that God loves you! When you are sick and in pain, remember that God loves you! When you have suffered great loss or experience deep and continual poverty, remember that God loves you! If your children disappoint you, if your spouse turns from you, if your parents reject you, or if friends prove untrue, remember that God loves you! When others fail to understand you, empathize with you, or show an interest in you, remember that God loves you! Gods love will support you, comfort you, and reassure you. It will encourage, strengthen, and delight you. The love of God is what you and I need!
Christ Jesus Loves God the Father
Why did the Son come to this sinful earth? Why was He willing to die a horrible death on the cross for our redemption? It is true, He wanted to be obedient to the Father and also wanted to save a lost and sinful humanity, but what underlying motivation prompted this radical, painful, extreme obedience? It was His deep, passionate, intense love! Jesus openly said, I love the Father (John 14:31). The Son loved the Father who was pleased with the Sons coming and sacrifice. Jesus explained, He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him (John 8:29). The Father and Son enjoyed a love relationship unknown by any man. Since the greatest command of God is to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), we know that Jesus Christ the Son had such an overwhelming love for the Father, a love that was perfect in every way!
Christ Jesus Loves the Lost World
Not only does God the Father love the people of the world, but Jesus also loves them! He even loved us while we were still in the world, before we came to Him for salvation! Paul writes, Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us (Eph. 5:2). It is vital that we see the personal aspect to this. Jesus did not only die for the whole world or everyone or all (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:6), but He especially died for those who personally respond to Him (cf. Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25). Thus, Paul was able to make Christs general love and redemption personal: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20). Not only Paul, but you and I can rejoice in Christs personal love displayed at the cross.
Although Paul had been a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor who sought to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth (1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 26:9), still Christ loved him, called him, and forgave him (1 Timothy 1:13-15). Christs love was genuine and active! We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16a). Just as Gods love for the world was demonstrated in the giving of the Son and the death of Christ, so Christ revealed His own love for us when He gave Himself in death on the cross! Christs work on the cross was, above all, a work of love!
Christ Loves His Faithful and Obedient Followers
Although Jesus showed His love for all people when He died on the cross, He has a special, intimate love for those who have come to Him in submissive faith. We earlier discussed Gods special love for His obedient children, but let us focus briefly on Christs own love for His faithful followers (who are children of God). Jesus explains this dimension of His love: He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me: and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him (John 14:21). The Saviors special and unique love is reserved for those who respond to His love by loving and obeying Him.
This kind of love is beyond our understanding! How was it possible for the Lord Jesus to sacrifice Himself, experience incredible pain, and bear all the sins of the entire world? It was through His infinite love! Paul prays that we might somehow know Christs amazing love: . . . that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-19). Paul was so overwhelmed by Christs incredible love that he says that it surpasses knowledge! God wants us to meditate upon and be touched by Christs overflowing redemptive love!
The Love of Jesus
The love of Jesus, full and free,
Enfolds my heart and mind.
It breaks my pride and defeats dread sin,
My Savior, so loving, true and kind!
The cross reveals the depth of sin
And shows Gods righteous wrath.
It manifests the length of love
And shows Christs holy path.
The love of Christ invades my soul
And spreads its warmth divine.
This love transcends mere human words,
O praise God, His love is mine!
Christs love can melt the human heart
And make the life anew.
A new and revolutionary love
Affects what we think, and say, and do.
So let Christs love overwhelm your soul,
Truly love the Lord and obey.
Love the One who loves you so,
And walk in His loving way!
Paul also asks, Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom. 8:35). You may ask your own questions: Does Jesus still love me when I have lost my health, when I have lost my job, when my children are disobedient, when I suffer financial loss, when friends forsake me, when I am persecuted and must suffer for righteousness sake, when my carefully laid plans fail, when everything seems to go wrong? Paul answers that we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us (v. 37).
Finally, Paul says that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (vv. 38-39). Do we proudly take the love of Jesus for granted, as though He somehow owed us this incredible gift? Instead, let us humbly rejoice in Christs amazing, sacrificial, and keeping love! Let us be assured that we belong to Jesus so that we might experience His intimate and active love for His own!
Our Love for God
What is the greatest of Gods commands for us to obey? Although He has given us hundreds of commands, what is the one command that is foundational to all other commands from God? The Lord Jesus answers by saying that the foremost command is this: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30; cf. Deut. 6:5). Notice that Jesus did not say that we are to love God with some or much or most of our heartbut with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength! This shows us that this love for God must totally consume us. It must dominate our thinking. We must meditate on it and act on it. It should influence all of our decisions, our use of time, our choice of friends, and every other aspect of life.
Jesus sadly charged some in His day, I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves (John 5:42). Regretfully, most people do not have a burning love for God! What would He say of you and me? Do we really love Godsincerely, thoroughly, earnestly, and fervently?
When we look at how much God loves us, we are motivated to love Him in return: We love, wrote John, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We do not generate love merely from our own inner capacities. Our love is a response to Gods prior love for us in Christ Jesus!
Our model of perfect love is Gods love in Christ Jesus. Since God is our Heavenly Father, we are to be like Him. Be imitators of God, as beloved children, wrote Paul, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Ephesians 5:1-2). Gods sacrificial love in Christ is the example of our own love for Him and others. Since our Father loved us, we are to love the Father, as well as all other people.
Furthermore, our love for God is demonstrated in our wholehearted obedience toward Him: This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments (1 John 5:2-3). This is love, that we walk according to His commandments (2 John 6). If we claim to love God but refuse to submit to Him or obey His word, the truth is not in us. We are dishonest in our profession. We demonstrate that we are hypocrites! It is an empty claim to say we love God if we do not implicitly obey Him.
Our lives must demonstrate our love commitment. John explains it this way: By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, I have come to know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected (1 John 2:3-5a). Do we sincerely seek to obey the word of God, the commandments of God, the requirements of God, and thereby manifest our genuine love for Him?
This close connection between love and obedience is not limited to the New Testament writings; it was also fundamental in the old covenant writings. Moses explained it this way several times in the book of Deuteronomy:
· You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commands (11:1).
· It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul. . . (11:13).
· If you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him. . . (11:22).
· I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments (30:16a).
· So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him (30:20).
· Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORDS commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? (10:12-13).
This shows how love for Yahweh God was a comprehensive response, manifested in complete obedience to His law and trust in His ways. Sadly, many people externally conformed to a form of righteousness but their heart was distant from Him (cf. Matthew 15:7-9). As we have noticed earlier, Christians likewise are to love God and demonstrate this by wholehearted, sincere, consistent obedience to His will expressed in His word.
If a husband says that he loves his wife, but does not care for her, protect her, or treat her kindly, he is hypocritical in his profession. If a wife claims to love her husband, but does not respect him, honor him, submit to him, or obey him, this too shows an inconsistent claim. If a son or daughter claims to love a parent but does not honor and obey the father or mother, this also manifests a false claim. Likewise, a Christian is hypocritical if he says that he loves God but does not sincerely and diligently seek to keep His commands.
Love is more than an emotional feeling. It is more than praying long prayers, singing touching songs, witnessing to your friends, or thinking you have a warm personal relationship with God. No, if we carelessly and selfishly disregard the will of God expressed in the words of Jesus, we manifest a lack of love or else a defective love. True love will not refuse to submit to Jesus Lordship, including obedience to His known commands. We are to live a life of implicit, careful, sincere obedience! God wants us to obey Him, not only because He is Lord and King, with all authority, but because we have a deep and sincere love for Himand a gratefulness for His love for us!
(Continue to Part 2)