Friday, February 7, 2014

The Love of God

Sometimes scripture uses the word love to mean God’s general providence—his sustaining care for creation—but most often, love is used in relation to God's saving work. In fact, John tells us that sending Christ to save is the way that God loves.
God is love. . . .  In this is love, . . .  that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:8b, 10 ESV).
And again:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .  (John 3:16 ESV).
Redemption is the supreme example of God’s love. God is love, so he saves people even at great cost.

His Love Is Great

The cost of redemption reveals the depth of God’s love. He saves sacrificially, giving his own Son. What's more, his sacrificial giving is done, not for people who love him back, or are even neutral toward him, but for people who hate him. 
[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  . . . [W]hile we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. (Romans 5:8,10 ESV)
God's love is the kind of love that gives something infinitely precious to rescue those who are rejecting him. You can see why the Psalmist writes that God’s love is "great to the heavens." 

His Love Is Free

God’s love is also free. It is not compelled or called out by anything within the object of his love. The reason God loves is simply that he is, by nature, loving.
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you . . . . (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a, ESV).
If you strip this sentence down, you get this: "The Lord set his love on you . . . because the Lord loves you." God’s own love is the cause of his love, not anything desirable within the objects of his love. It is unforced and uninfluenced love; it is free and sovereign love. He loves because He is love. 
As I write, I'm trying to wrap my mind around it, but it's not easy. Human love is not like this. Love, for us, is an emotion of response; it is drawn out by the ones we love. We make a connection with the object of our love and love grows from this connection. The love of God works the other way around. He loves and so he connects; he loves us and so he draws us to him. We love him back only because he loved us first. 
We love because he loved us first, but he loves because he loves. When you think about it, this is the only way it could be: God's love, like God himself, must be free and sovereign. If God could be compelled to act by something outside himself, whatever compelled him would be controlling God. It is perfectly right that his love loves the unlovable for his own loving purpose (2 Timothy 1:9). 

His Love Is Unchanging

Like all his other attributes, God’s love is eternal and unchanging. The Father loves the Son, and if these two are co-eternal, then their love must be eternal. We know that his love for his people is eternal, too, for he lovingly chose them before the foundation of the world. And there are many references in scripture to the steadfastness or faithfulness of God’s love (see Lamentations 3:22; Psalm 59:10 and more), an unchanging quality that, as we shall see below, gives security to those he loves. 

His Love Is Particular

God’s love is particular—not persnickety particular, but particular in the sense that it is selective rather than simply generally diffused. There is a sense in which God’s love toward mankind is general love, for out of his love he provides and sustains us all; but at the same time, God has a special love for his own. God’s love was with those within the nation Israel in a way it was not with those in the nations around them.
Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day (Deuteronomy 10:15, ESV).
In the New Testament, we see God's particular love for his own people. He loved his church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). Out of his special love, God disciplines those who are his own children, and that we are on the receiving end of God’s disciplining love is proof that we are belong to him (Hebrews 12). 
And God’s loves each of his children individually. Most often, scripture refers to the objects of God’s love as a group—us, or the church, or his people, or the world; but  those who belong to him can rejoice along with the Apostle Paul that the Son of God "loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). 

We Love Because He Loves

God is the only source of true love, so any love we have for others comes from him. If we are his—if we belong to the One who is the source of all love—then we will be loving. 
[L]ove is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8, ESV).
From 1 John 4 we also learn that the love God’s children show to others is a work of his Spirit within them:
[I]f we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit (1 John 4:12-13, ESV).
It is also through the Spirit that we come to understand something of the greatness of God's for us. Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is 
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19, ESV).
Think about it: The "love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" can be comprehended—known!—through the power of the Spirit. In the power of the Spirit, measureless love can fill us. 

We Are Safe Because He Loves

That God loves us is our security. 
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39, ESV).
If God did not spare the Son he loves because he loved us, his love is a love we can count on to give us everything else we need. God’s love for us has already cost him his own son; he will not give up on us, ever. Nothing—no person or power or circumstance—can take God’s love from us, and we can rest in that.

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