ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
THE LOVE OF GOD
- What is love?
Love is a word that we use with a wide range of meanings. We might say that we love apple pie and custard, or that we love a member of our family, or that we love God, or anything in between. So our use of “love” can cover almost anything from self- interest to self-sacrifice. However, it is with this second emphasis that we shall be mainly concerned here. The Apostle John puts it this way, “This is love….. that [God] loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for sins” (1 John 4:10).
May I suggest that our working definition of love might be “the determination to seek someone else’s good at whatever cost to oneself.” In which case God has shown us what love is because He has sought our good, although it cost the life of His Son to make this possible.
God is love and in His love and the love of Jesus, we can be saved from the penalty of our sins.
- What love is not.
If we seek someone else’s good this does not mean that they should have everything they could possibly want. We are all aware of what happens to a child who is given everything they ask for and never hears the words “No” or even “Wait.” We call such children “spoilt” but it is really the donor who is at fault because he or she is not considering the true welfare of the child.
There are those who teach that if you love God to the full then you will prosper in a material sense. This was also at the heart of the accusation that Satan brought against Job (Job 1:9,10), but when Job’s prosperity was ruined he did not turn against God, even though his own wife suggested that he should “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
No, true love will consider carefully and prayerfully the true welfare of the one being loved and then aim to bring that about, not counting the cost to the giver.
God is love and His plan is to give us what we really need – not necessarily the same as what we want!
- Can we say “God is love” when we look at our troubled world?
In fact John says that “God is love” twice in his first epistle (4:8,16), the third of his great statements about the nature of God, [the other two being, “God is Spirit” (John 4:24) and “God is light” (1 John 1:5)] and perhaps the one which we emphasise the most. Most interpreters understand John to mean that everything God does is loving. Now this may be hard to accept when everything seems to go wrong. Yet few have suffered as much as Job who lost all his possessions, all his ten children and was struck down with a painful illness. He was reduced to taking “a piece of broken pottery and [scraping] himself with it as he sat among the ashes” (Job 2:8). Yet he “did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22). In the end, after God had revealed Himself to Job, Job admits that he spoke of things he did not understand (Job 42:3). We, too, may not understand why God, a loving God, allows us to suffer, but like Job we need to remain faithful knowing that in ways we cannot fathom, he is working His purpose out.
Likewise when we read of the wrath of God, this does not contradict His love, for this is a reference to God’s steely, loving purpose to complete the redemption of the world and the total removal of sin from it.
There are those who twist John’s statement that “God is love” into the reverse “Love is God”, (although the Greek grammar does not permit this!). This would suggest that love is the abstract controlling power of the universe. But we do not believe in an abstract power but a personal God who loves each of His children with a lavish love (1 John 3:1).
God is love means that the God whom we worship and obey has a heart of love.
- Love needs an object.
If you were stranded, alone, on a desert island, could you love? This may sound like one of those abstruse philosophical puzzles which some delight to ponder over, yet it has its importance. If true love is seeking someone else’s good, one cannot love if there is no one else there to be loved!
While God’s love could be, and is, expressed by love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it seems that in some way God felt it necessary to create humankind so that He could have someone to love. Job asked the question, “What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention” (Job 7:17). That is, I believe, why we are as we are, beings that can love and be loved, beings that can freely and willingly respond to God’s love. But this also means that there is a darker side. If humans are to be free to be loved by and to love God, then they have also to be free to reject that love and refuse to worship their creator. Love requires a willing response and has to risk running against a brick wall of refusal.
God could have created a race of robots which would always obey Him, but they would have no freedom and therefore could not be truly loved. Only humans, with the free will to say “no” or “yes” to their Maker can fully experience His love.
God is love means that He made us so that we can respond to that love, if we are prepared to do so.
- The Love of God – 1
The simple phrase, “The love of God,” can actually be understood in three different ways, the love of God to us, our love to God and God’s kind of love, i.e. downwards, upwards and sideways love! We will consider these one by one.
“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The love of God for us is the prime-mover, the original display of the meaning of love.
The nature of that love was made clear on the hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God was nailed to a rough wooden cross by an execution party of Roman soldiers and left to die. God went that far to display His love for fallen human beings who had chosen to rebel against Him. We often use the words of Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) to refer to those who have fallen in defence of their country, in order to preserve freedom – and rightly so. However in John’s Gospel Jesus continues in the next verse, “You are my friends,” so the primary application of the words is to Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross.
So God’s love to humankind was demonstrated in all its fullness there on the cross of Calvary, but, amazingly, it did not stop there. Through the Holy Spirit, God’s love is brought to us every single day of our lives. He truly wants the best for us – although, as we have said, sometimes that best may not be the comfortable and easy way through life that we might choose for ourselves!
God is love and His love comes down from heaven to each one who believes in Jesus.
- The Love of God – 2
In its second sense this phrase refers to our love for God. But how can we, puny human beings, sinful and rebellious, ever show love to God? We want the best for Him and surely that means that primarily we respond positively to His love for us. We believe what He says when He promises to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9) and pardon our offences through the redeeming work of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. But it also means that we should worship Him, give a serious amount of time to Him, give Him “quality time” in the modern jargon. The actual pattern of our worship (declaring His worth) will obviously be different for each Christian, but each one of us must seriously consider how we will express our worship of Him, both in Church and in our prayer, reading and study time with Him, or through the Arts.
God is love and we love Him as we accept His love and thank and worship Him for His gifts.
- The Love of God – 3
John challenges his readers, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). So we must reflect God’s love for us by loving those around us in the same way that God loves us, i.e. by seeking the best thing for them whatever it costs us (and this “cost” may well be of our emotions, our time or our energy, rather than of our money).
In other words we should not stand by when we see someone in trouble and say either “Well, they deserved that,” or “That’s got nothing to do with me.” If we are serious about loving as God loves, it will be something to do with us even if they do “deserve” the trouble they have got themselves into!
It may be hard to love those who are unpleasant to us or take a totally different view on life, but this is what we are called to do. We can think of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who overcame racial prejudice to help the one who had fallen into the hands of robbers (Luke 10:29-37) or of Jesus taking the servant’s role in washing the dusty and dirty feet of His own disciples (John 13:1-17) and challenging them, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).
God is love and we are called to love others in the same way as he has loved us.
- Are there any limits to the love of God?
In one sense the answer is no. God loves fallen, sinful, rebellious humanity and has shown that love in the work of His Son. Both God the Father and God the Son really love us human beings with a love so great that we have difficulty in fully appreciating its depth.
But in another sense there is a limit. Love cannot be forced on anyone. If A holds out the hand of love and friendship and B knocks it away or turns his/her back on A what more can A do? A can keep on trying but in the end may have to give up.
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock.” The Almighty God, the Ruler of the Universe, stands and knocks. He does not knock the door down, although, of course, He has the power to do so. But love cannot force its way in, that would just not be love! In fact the second part of the verse emphasises that the one inside must make the choice, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…..”.
So human beings are given the power to leave the door shut and God’s love locked out. This means that their sins remain unforgiven and they have no hope of eternal life in heaven, but only of darkness outside the love of God.
Can we tell who has opened the door? No! It is not for us to judge anyone else, that is Jesus’ business, not ours, not the church’s, not that of any human court.
But what we must be certain about is that we have opened our own door, that we have turned to Christ in thanksgiving for all His love. Then He will bring everything we need for a wonderful “feast,” “I will come in and eat with him and he with Me.”
God is love and sadly many refuse to welcome that love into their lives, let us be thankful that we have seen the seriousness of sin and the greatness of the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and welcome Him into our lives.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.