God Is Love
Love is very prominent in our speech and writing but not so much in evidence in our deeds. It is by many regarded as a sublime theme but not to be seriously considered as a practical, rewarding rule of life. The reluctance to whole heartedly rely upon the principles of love, by walking in love, is to be traced to the prevailing ignorance as to the origin and nature of love.
What Is Love?
The answers one would receive should this question be posed to any average audience would be varied, and vague. The close observer would be able to detect contradictions between the answers themselves and also conflict between some of the answers and some clearly stated principles of God. There will be a very few to be found who question the importance of love. The admission of its importance in the affairs of men places a responsibility upon every man to familiarize himself with its origin, nature, accomplishments and rewards.
Some would restrict love to emotion. While the emotion or feelings of man is involved, yet to limit love to emotion is to ignore other things which are fundamental and necessary to a correct, comprehensive conception of love. Love is not mere feeling, but is a way of living, a course of action. Love establishes or proves its presence in the life of an individual by proper treatment of all others on his part. Improper attitudes and treatment of ones fellowman, or of God and the things of God, can be taken as evidence of the absence of love. Love is not a mere back-slapping prompter. Yes, love is kind but real kindness often requires severity. Rather than requiring compromise with error at any point, love forbids and prevents such. Nothing but a warped or perverted conception of love would cause one to entertain the notion that the presence of love cancels or excludes justice. God loves all men, but that love in no way cancels God's justice. To ignore other attributes of God and other duties of man is to have an incorrect idea of love.
This proposed series on the theme love will comprise five articles. The theme lends itself to the following very natural divisions. (1) God is Love. (2) Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. (3) Love thy neighbor as thyself. (4) Speaking truth in Love. (5) Paul's definition of love.
Love Is Of God
It is logical to consider God and love before man's love for God or man's love for man, for John says, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19); we further learn that love, like everything good, has its origin with God, "for love is of God" (1 John 4:7). The divine character of love is further brought out in John's statement that "God is love" (1 John 4:8b). These statements which are all to be found in the fourth chapter of First John cannot be properly appreciated without considering them in their context. For the sake of convenience in studying I am giving the quotation, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is even so are we in this world"
(1 John 4:7-17).
We love because God first loved us. Love is such a prominent element in the divine nature that the Holy Spirit can say God is love. No mortal has the power to set bounds to that which eternity alone can comprehend, yet it is equally true that neither is power possessed by any mortal to extend the love of God so as to make it embrace any thing that would violate any other divine principle. The Holy Spirit affirms that "God is Love" but the same Holy Spirit also says, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb.
Christ is to take vengeance on them that "know not God" (2 Thess. 1:8), "He that loveth not, knoweth not God," hence will "suffer punishment even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might." In the article to follow on man's love the matter of what is involved in loving God will be more fully developed but for this paper it will suffice to show that love is a necessary element to obtain fellowship with God — to be a participant in the inheritance. The love of man is a necessary complement to the love of God. When man fails to respond with love to the overtures of God's love, he rejects salvation.
The Love Of God Manifested
That the love of God could not be revealed or manifested by mere verbal expression is evident from the means employed by God in expressing His love for man. The wisdom of God is exercised in the selection of the supreme convincing expression of His love. The wisdom of God selected the cross as the means of manifesting His love to man. "Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9).
The contrast of the capabilities of man's love and of God's love is brought out by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:6-9 "For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him." The righteous man is one who adheres to the demands of strict, stern righteousness. He is not influenced by generous impulses. While such a person might excite admiration yet it is improbable that such a one would cause others to be sufficiently concerned as to make any very great sacrifice for him. The good man goes beyond the demands of justice. He does not arrange his life and conduct his affairs on the basis of reciprocity. He is not engaged in bargaining but in serving. The apostles conceded that one might dare to die for such a person.
By way of illustration we might think of the order given here by the apostle in terms of acquaintance; friends — enemies. The righteous man would be an acquaintance, the good man comes into the closer circle of friend. The sinner is the enemy. Now we see the improbability of one being so strongly bound to even a friend as to be willing to relinquish his dearest possession, life, for that one. The improbability increases when we advance into the realm of mere acquaintance and becomes an unthought-of thing when we consider it in relation with enemies. "But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, (or enemies) Christ died for us."
There is another thought of note in this passage. Did you notice that the apostle gives recognition to the wrath of God in this very passage? He doesn't lose sight of the fact of God's wrath. We need to keep the fact ever before us that "God is a consuming fire." Love does not cancel wrath. God is love but he is also a consuming fire. The love of God provided the means for man to escape, be saved from the wrath of God but a failure to appropriate to one's self the means of salvation is to remain exposed the wrath of God through him." Love and justice are not incompatible. A failure to be cognizant of the wrath of God will cause us to presume on the love of God but a recognition of God's wrath will cause us to rely on God's love to escape the wrath. By getting into Christ and remaining in him we are within the orbit of God's love. When we venture out of Christ by disobedience we come under God's wrath.
God doeth all things well. God's love for man is perfect as is also His justice. To get a full picture of God's love and justice manifested to the same group of people we consider 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 "For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food; and did all drink the same spiritual rink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ. Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness." Here we see the love of God manifested on the peoples behalf in bringing them out of Egypt and providing all the rich blessings of which they were the recipients. His justice is manifested in his overthrowing them in the wilderness. Jude puts it this way, "Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all that the Lord having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not." God's love did all things well in saving Israel. His justice did all things well afterward in destroying them that believed not. Yes, God does all things well. His love is perfect and His justice is perfect. Both must be taken into account before one can know God.
The apostle discusses the relation of love and discipline in Hebrews 12:5-9, "My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art reproved of him For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. It is for chastening that ye endure. God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastening, where of all have been made partakers then are ye bastards and not sons. Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the father of Spirits and live."
Paul here teaches the Hebrew brethren that chastening is to be received, as an evidence of love. The love God has for his children prompts corrective chastening. Our fleshly fathers corrected, disciplined us with chastenings according to their best judgment (as seemeth good to them) but God's chastenings are according to His infallible wisdom. No affliction or chastening comes from God upon His children but such as is good for His children.