God is Love

God is Love

“God is Love”… What do we mean by this?

Our typical understanding of that phrase, “God is Love,” is littered with preconceived notions and assumptions about what that “love” is. We know what that word means, right? We’re adults, most of us are married, some have kids, we know “love.” Well, perhaps not. It certainly doesn’t mean the mushy, flighty infatuation we’re inflicted with as kids. Nor is it solely the stoic, stubborn commitment we married folk discover after a few years of putting up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. *grin*

Before I start, a hat-tip to Wayne Grudem and his Systematic Theology for guiding this post. This is essentially a distillation of his chapter on the subject, with my emphasis and understanding thereof and some borrowed wisdom from other parts of that book as well. Also, I have to credit John Piper for his keying me into the joy and desire for God as the crux of Christian life. As always, the ultimate glory belongs to God, without whom I would have neither the insight nor the desire to write things like this.

Firstly, literally so, God’s Love predates creation. It is a continuous, self-sacrificing, active seeking after the benefit of others that existed in the Trinity before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24) It is also eternal, and reciprocal. Jesus loves the Father just as the Father loves His Son. (John 14:31)

This continual seeking of one after the happiness of the other is on full display in God’s (the Trinity’s) interactions with mankind. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 ESV) Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1-7: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, […] and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great LOVE with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved!—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (ESV, my emphasis added) God wants us to be happy, to benefit from Him, so He came, sent the Son to die in fulfillment of the old covenant and release us from our slavery to our sin. We should live every moment of our short lives in continuous rejoicing at this truth.

So how do we imitate this attribute? By first and foremost, treasuring God in return and seeking HIS happiness, just like Jesus did. Loving God means keeping his commandments (1 John 5:3), and loving Him instead of the world (1 John 2:15). We do this because He FIRST loved US. (1 John 4:19) This is also an imitation of how Jesus loved the Father, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (John 14:31, again)

Secondly, we love others just as God loved us when we were dead in sin. (Matthew 22:37-38) The character of the love we should have for others is described numerous places in the bible, but nowhere more recognizably than 1st Corinthians 13. Not only is it described as patience, kindness and selflessness, it also does not rejoice in “wrongdoing” but the truth. Paul also talked about it in Galatians 5:16-25, in contrasting the ways of the world with the fruits of the Spirit. A love that is Godly and God-like will typify the latter list, not the former. Is it any wonder Christ told his disciples that this love we have for others would be so unusual, so remarkable that the world would be able to recognize us by it? (John 13:35, among others)

One other aspect of this love for others is that God also calls us to be GOOD to one another. (Galatians 6:10, and others) In sharing His Goodness with others, we have to also realize that God is the source and and definition OF that goodness, and in the end the ultimate “good” that we can share:

“Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
(Psalm 73:25-26 ESV)

So, yes. God is Love. He is self-sacrificing, seeking joy in our benefit. We return that love by treasuring Him above all things and seeking HIS joy with our obedience, and by loving others the way He loved us in our sin and sharing Him and His Goodness with them.

This is a far cry from the wanton permissiveness or strict legalism you see so commonly these days in churches both new and old. Neither is a true and correct representation of God’s Love. The former would reduce or ignore God’s clear desire for us to be Holy as He is Holy. The latter ignores grace to seek after nothing else.

Like the Facebook post where this originates, I want to make sure to follow this with an admission that I have by NO means mastered the application of this attribute to my life. This is every bit as gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable to me as it would be to someone reading these truths for the first time. I do not typify God’s love all the time, because my pride and my desire for my own glory OFTEN get in the way of that love. But the fact that this is uncomfortable is NOT an excuse not to face it.

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