‘And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.’ 1John 4:16
The following is a few simple thoughts about the love of God. Whenever we desire to learn more about the character of God, it is essential that we allow the Bible to teach us. Far too often, Christians equate the character of God with that which they have experienced in their relationships with other humans. We must not do that, for we cannot, and dare not, bring God down to our level.
This is especially true when we think about the love of God. In the Greek language a unique word is used to express the love of God. It is the word ‘Agape’. It denotes a love that is far above that which we experience in our natural relationships with one another. It is a free, unconditional, giving love.
The Bible tells us that ‘God is love’. (1 John 4:16). So it is fair to read that great passage in 1 Corinthians 13 in the light of how God’s love is expressed to us.
1 Cor 13:4-8 ‘ God’s love is patient, God’s love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, God’s love keeps no record of wrongs. God’s love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God’s love never fails.
Now, why is this all so important? Well, it’s because our understanding and experience of God’s love plays a huge part in our love, acceptance, and relationships with other people. For we tend to treat others as we think God treats us. So understanding God’s love for you is not an end in and of itself. The end is that you may share that love with others. Paul tells us what he was trying to achieve through his teaching in 1 Tim 1:5 ‘But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart.’ But how does this come about? We love, John tells us, because He loved us first. (1 John 4:19) And it can also be said that we tend to love in proportion to the love we have experienced from God. So while these points are probably not new, allow God to speak them to your heart once again.
Rom 5:8 ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
The first thing that should be noted is that God’s love acts. And not only that but it acts unconditionally. It was when we had nothing to offer, while we were still sinners, that Christ died for us. It is not just some lovey-dovey, wishy-washy empty talk or promise. It acts! It was God’s love for the entire world that caused Him to give up His only Son as a sacrifice for our sin. It is there; forever recorded in history as a demonstration and visible testimony to how much He loves us.
‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’
And it continues to act as God leads, protects and provides on our behalf.
Gal 2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
Galatians 2:20 is a very well known and loved scripture in the New Testament. But one small point that is not always brought out is the last part of the verse. Paul says that Jesus ‘loved me and gave himself for me’. ‘He loves me!’ he keeps saying, ‘he did it for me!’ For Paul (and it should be for us), God’s love is personal. Yeah, ‘for God so loved the world…’ – that is awesome and true. But for Paul it was more than that. Jesus loved him personally and gave His life for him! Now, this is not just something Paul could, and should, be saying. It should be the cry of us all. It has been said before that if there were only one sinner who was in need of redemption, Jesus would have still gone to the cross. It’s true! God’s love is personal.
Rom 8:38-39 ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
This was the climax for Paul. In the book of Romans, he had been expressing the way of salvation and all that Jesus’ death means for us. He ends this section (Romans chapter 3 through to chapter 8) with the most emphatic statement that anyone could make about the eternal nature of God’s love. To those who have come into a true relationship with God, through the death of Jesus Christ, Paul says that he is convinced that there is absolutely nothing that can separate them from God’s love! There is nothing in the past that can separate them, nor is there anything in the future. There is nothing in this life that can separate them from God’s love, not is there anything in death that could do it. Amazing! God’s love will never be taken from those who are truly born again from above, but they, like David, can believe with all assurance that…‘Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’
John 13:1 ‘having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.’
Eph 3:17-19 ‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’
Now Paul had experienced a lot to do with God’s love. That’s for sure! It’s no wonder then that he so eagerly wanted others to experience it for themselves. Here he writes to the Ephesians, and look at the words he uses. He wants them to know this love, grasp the extent of it, be rooted and established in God’s love. And look also at the result of doing this – it results in being ‘filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ All Christians should desire to be filled with God and filled with the Spirit. In fact, all types of wacky methods for doing this abound in our day and age. Why not pray and concentrate on what Paul prays here? That you may have your eyes open to the extent of God’s love for you. Speaking of this agape love, Paul wants us to know the following four things.
The width of the love of Christ – this is expressed in Ephesians 2:11-18. The love of Christ is wide enough to include everyone and exclude none! It reaches out to us gentiles, those ‘having no hope and without God in the world’. His love doesn’t look at race, colour, sex, wealth, or status (the very things some do judge by!) but includes all.
The length of the love of Christ – this is expressed in Ephesians 1:4 and 2:7. It stretches from eternity to eternity. That’s how long it is! In love we were chosen before the foundation of the world. And even in the age to come we will be a demonstration of God’s love, kindness and grace. (Eph 2:7)
The depth of the love of Christ – this is expressed in Ephesians 2:1-5. The depth of His love is shown by the depth of our sin that Jesus took upon himself to free us. How far He descended so that we could ascend. ‘Dead in our sins’, ‘by nature, children of wrath’, ‘sons of disobedience’. Yet His love for us was such that He humbled Himself – even to the death of the cross.
The height of the love of Christ – this is expressed in Ephesians 2:6. Not only did Jesus plunge down to our depth, but he also raised us up to His heights, seating us with Him in the heavenly places. Is this great position only given to the cream of His disciples? No, His love has performed this to for the lowliest sinner who simply, truly believes.
Let me remind you that God wants us all to know the extent of these things, to be rooted and established in them, and to fully grasp and comprehend them. God’s love is to be known and experienced. Just as the roots of a tree sink deep into the ground for nourishment, life and stability, so will these things be ours as we are rooted and firmly established in God’s love.
2 Cor 13:4 ‘the love of God… be with you all.’ – We are meant to have it!
2 Cor 5:14 ‘For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’
I know of nothing that is so motivating as the love and grace of God. Here Paul writes how Christ’s love should work in us in such a way, that it compels us to live for the one who has shown us that love. Perfect love, John writes, casts out all fear, and the one who fears has not been made perfect in love. Love will always be a greater motive than fear for living the Christian life and staying on the ‘straight and narrow’. Other Bible versions speaking on this verse say that Christ’s love ‘constrains us’, ‘controls us’, ‘urges us on’ in our walk with the Lord. All these thoughts are true. It can grip a person’s heart and mind, turning a hard, self-righteous Saul, into a Paul.
John 17:23 ‘I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’
When we read the above verse, our natural reaction is to disbelieve it for the love that we experience on earth is nearly always conditional love. We can understand God loving Jesus so totally and absolutely for He always lived to do the Father’s will. But we don’t! (Always live to do the His will that is.) Does He really love us the same as He loves Jesus? Yes! Amazing truth, but then, that’s why it’s agape love. An unconditional, free, giving love. Jesus said the same thing about His own love for us –
John 15:9-10 ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’
Jude 21 ‘Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’
So what is the logical conclusion to such awesome love? Abide in it! Keep yourself in it! Now, let’s not get this wrong... God’s love doesn’t change. But we certainly do! We allow other priorities (which are never really priorities at all!) stifle our relationship with the Lord. We allow the thoughts and desires of the flesh to distract us from the heart and will of God. Is it any wonder then that Jesus made the process of abiding in God’s love so practical?
John 15:9-10,17 ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love…This is my command: Love each other.’
Jesus, (again!) is the example for us to follow. His relationship with the Father is the key to our relationship with God. He walked in the fear of the Lord (put God’s will first), was totally dependant upon the Father for His strength (‘By myself I can do nothing’ was His testimony John 5:19, 30, see also 15:5), and through these things obeyed the Father in all things. And so, He says, obey my commandments and you will continue in my love. Our priorities won’t get in the way, nor will the suggestions of the flesh be followed. And notice also the commandment He emphasises – Love one another. In other words, express to others that same love which God has installed in your life. I think we are now back to where we began! With the goal of our instruction, being love from a pure heart. But this is not a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ type of thing. God’s unconditional love for you comes first. Absolutely. We can only love others, as we have tasted of His love – and so much so that we have some left over!