Monday, September 21, 2009

Regarding the Love of God


Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) The subject of the Love of God is as vast and daunting as just about any other single subject in Scripture. As such, there are a variety of different aspects concerning the Love of God that one could write about. This article is concerned with that aspect of the Love of God which is to find its expression in the lives of the believing community, the church. The one quality that serves to demonstrate to the world that we are Christ’s disciples is love. Alexander Strauch wrote, “The one quality, however, that should beautify every believer and every church, regardless of giftedness or personality, is love.”[1] Love is the key to selflessness. For God so loved the world that He gave. Christ loved the church and He gave Himself for her. Genuine service to others and to God begins with a selflessness that is borne in love. Without love, genuine selflessness is truly impossible to attain. This explains why “dying to self” and “loving God with all our being” is so indelibly connected. Strauch continues, “Love can grow cold while outward religious performance still appears to be acceptable – or even praiseworthy.”[2] There is a real danger that we all must guard against. That is the danger of a love that has grown cold. By this I do not mean a feeling. I mean the genuine practice of being truly concerned with the lives of other people. If we wait until we feel something, this indicates we are allowing the human heart to lead as opposed to willingly leading our heart to where God would have it to be.

Love of God in the Old Testament

The first example of love in the Old Testament is seen in God’s relation to Adam and Eve and His loving response to them in the Garden of Eden. Rather than eliminate them from His presence forever, He made provision for them in slaughtering the animal and providing them with a covering. Indeed the display of mercy was ostentatious. A second example is God’s love for Noah and his family. Instead of destroying all men from the earth, God directed His love and grace toward a man named Noah and made provision for him. In continuing to display His love, God looked down on Abram, and set His special love on him, calling him to Himself and making an everlasting covenant him. (Gen. 12:3; Deut. 10:15) God also set His affection on and directed His love toward Israel. From among all the nations, He chose Israel and loved them, calling them unto Himself. (Deut. 7:13)
And what is the impact of this love of God toward humans in the Old Testament? First, it is expected that man will love God with all His heart, soul, and might. (Deut. 6:5) And what does it look like to love God in this way? Is it that you feel something for God, or is it that you behave a certain way toward God? In our culture we equate love with a deep emotional feeling. But nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to “feel love” toward God. Loving God means,
1. God’s words are kept on our heart
2. We teach God’s words to our children
3. We talk about them when we sit down
4. We talk about them when we are on our way
5. We talk about them when we lay down
6. We talk about them when we rise up
7. We bind them to our foreheads
8. We hang them on our doorposts and over our gates

What is the point of all this? The point is that loving God means complete submission and surrender to His word. His command becomes the breath by which we live. We make no decisions or engage in any activities without consulting His word. It presides over our life like a prison guard presides over a prisoner. Paul viewed himself as a slave of Christ. Secondly, this love toward God was to work out in a love toward others. (Deut. 10:19) A love toward God was to translate into a love for our neighbor and especially the stranger. This love meant that certain provisions would be made for those who may have been experiencing special needs.

Love of God in the New Testament

Jesus was once asked by a clever lawyer what the greatest of all the commandments was. Jesus answered by telling this man that the greatest of all commandments was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And then he added this fascinating second commandment; that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt. 22:37-39) Jesus was quoting Lev. 19:18 which says “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” In Jesus’ mind the second greatest commandment is for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. What does this look like? What does it mean to love your neighbor? In his sermon on “Love’s Commendation,” C.H. Spurgeon says, “If thou wouldest commend thyself to thy fellows, go and do – not go and say; if thou wouldest win honor from the excellent, talk not, but act; and if, before God thou wouldest show that thy faith is sincere, and thy love to him real, remember, it is no fawning words, uttered either in prayer or praise, but it is the pious deed, the holy act, which is the justification of thy faith, and the proof that it is the faith of God’s elect.” One hears James’ words of being a doer of the word and not a hearer only in Spurgeon’s sermon. We also feel I John 3:18 which commands us to love not only with word or tongue, but in deed and truth. He continues, “Let us imitate God, then, in this. If we would commend our religion to mankind, we can not do it by mere formalities, but by gracious acts of integrity, charity, and forgiveness, which are the proper discoveries of grace within.”[3] James Boice, in commenting on John 13:35 says, “In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative that Jesus gave them. If people say, ‘You don’t love other Christians,’ we must go home, get down on our knees, and ask God whether or not they are right. And if they are, then they have a right to have said what they said.”[4] Jesus, by saying that all men would know we are His disciples by the love we have for each other has placed the world in a position to assess the genuineness of our personal claims to be such. And the world is certainly watching. All too often what they see is Christians gossiping about each other, hating each other, judging and criticizing each other, cheating on each other, divorcing each other, and filing to be there for each other when the situation merits. This behavior, and a host of other unacceptable behaviors for which we are soundly without excuse, is unbecoming for those claiming to be Christ’s. Where is the love of God in this kind of behavior? I do not think this is what the New Testament Scripture provides us in painting the picture of what the church, the body of Christ, should look like.
What has happened to us? What is happening to us? Where is the loving, caring Christian community that Christ describes in John 13? In Matthew 24:12 Jesus said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” Two elements in this verse must be understood and then the evident connection between them must be considered. First, what does Jesus mean when He says “lawlessness is increased?” In our day we have especially witnessed a rapid increase in antinomianism. Antinomianism means without law or a standard of morality. Even in conservative churches today, the number of Christians who have displaced the law of Christ in how they live their lives has experienced a remarkable increase. The number of Christians who think abortion is acceptable, who think homosexuality is a viable alternative lifestyle, and who dismiss the Bible when making the most fundamental or moral decisions is staggering. Leon Morris writes, “But real love is impossible for the lawless person. By definition the lawless person is motivated by personal, selfish concerns, not by any regard for others or for the rules that govern our intercourse with one another. So with the upsurge of lawlessness there is a cooling off of love. The one necessarily involves the other.”[5] For a believer, the governor of our intercourse with one another is God’s word. In it God describes for us how we are to relate to one another. And the first word that comes to mind for each and every believer in terms of how we are to relate to each other must be love. The idea of love growing cold is compared to a fire. We should not think Christ intended to talk about the warmness of a loving feeling. Such a view would be reading western ideas back into the text. The point is that just like a fire is extinguished, so love too will be extinguished when we abandon a whole-hearted commitment to the law of Christ.

Maintaining an Amazing Love

Jonathan Edwards wrote, “A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God…If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming [to] Christians.”[6] Strauch writes, “Because it is easy to talk the language of love without living the reality of love, the apostles had to continually remind and exhort believers to practice the love they professed. We must do the same today.[7] Let each of us remind ourselves and each other, what it means, fundamentally, to be a Christian. The sinful nature is selfish, and the human heart deceitfully wicked above all else. We cannot walk by feelings or follow our heart. Nor can we trust our heart. We must place our faith firmly in Christ and do what we know is right regardless of how it feels to us. In attempting to do this, I will admit I have failed miserably. But I fight the good fight of faith as Paul said, striving to put my body under daily. When we err, and God reveals it to us, let us respond with repentance and a renewed vigor to obey Christ and to love and forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us. Wherever Christianity does not translate into love within the believing community, then in that community, Christianity is dead. Love is an essential component of genuine Christianity. John said we cannot possibly love God while hating our brother. (I John 4:20) May God grant each of us the grace and strength to love one another as God has loved each of us.

People LIVE what they believe; EVERYTHING else is just noise!

[1] Strauch, Alexander. Love or Die. Pg. 11.
[2] Strauch, Alexander. Love or Die. Pg. 19.
[3] C.H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. II, pg. 410-411.
[4] Boice, James M. Commentary on John.
[5] Morris, Leon. Commentary on Matthew. Pg. 601.
[6] Edwards, Jonathan. Charity and It’s Fruit. Pg 23.
[7] Strauch, Alexander. Love or Die. Pg. 65.

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