"He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God 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." I John 4:8-10
Without doubt the love of God is the subject preached on, in the churches on the mission fields, more than any other subject. Strange to say, there are many who talk about the love of God who are actually strangers to the meaning of divine love. God is love! But love is one aspect of the divine Being, so that once I have stated that God is love, I am compelled to go on and say that God also hates. God loves and He hates, He blesses and He curses, He chastens and He punishes, He saves and He damns. And it is when we see and confess that full picture that the love of God becomes very precious to us; for God does not love everyone, but He loves a people chosen in Jesus Christ.
The love of God is amazing! Amazing when you consider Who loves, how He loves, how He reveals that love, and whom He loves! I want to know more about the love of God, don't you? Let's get the Biblical terms for love before our minds that we may arrive at a Scriptural definition of the love of God.
There are two Hebrew terms for love: one has the root meaning of fastening, binding, sticking together; the other has the idea of breathing after, longing for, desiring strongly. The Greek term, used by John in the passage quoted above and by Paul as well, agrees closely with the Hebrew. As Paul writes to the Colossians (3:14), love or charity is "the bond of perfectness." Love can exist and flourish only in the sphere of moral perfection, where there is holiness, justice, and truth. For love is to be mutual, for love to flourish and grow, the one who loves and the one who is loved must be ethically perfect. This is the great reason why God hates even as He loves. God takes delight in Himself and in certain men because He is the highest perfection, and because He has provided perfection in certain men. But God takes no delight in darkness; He hates it. And God takes no delight in the workers of iniquity; He hates them. Because God is love, love is of God; that is, all true love finds its source in God. Hence, we can define love this way: in God, love is the bond of fellowship that eternally exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, according to which these perfect Persons seek, find, delight in One Another. In respect to love outside the Godhead, love is the spiritual; bond of fellowship between ethically perfect persons, who because of that perfection, delight in one another and seek one another.
If one examines the occurrences of the word love in the Bible, he finds that God's love is characterized by ten outstanding virtues. 1.) The love of God is sovereign or free, for He did not have to love anyone nor was He influenced by anything when He set His love on certain ones. 2.) The love of God is eternal in that there never was a time when He did not love Himself or His people. 3.) The love of God is unconditional for in its beginning and in its continuance the good or evil in man does not influence it. 4.) The love of God is unchangeable for whom He loves always remain the objects of that love. 5.) His love is particular for it burns not for every man, but for a definite few. 6.) His love is strong, enduring the sternest tests, capable of following the wayward and returning them to the way of life. 7.)The love of God is primary or first, it is a casual, working, producing love; all other love is result of it. 8.) His love is always fruitful, for God never yet loved a man and than man failed to love God, his brother, and his neighbor. 9.) The love of God is always a Father's love, so that those whom He loves experience that they are His sons and His daughters. And 10.) The love of God always gives; it belongs to the nature of the loving God always to give. We'll return to this idea of giving in a moment.
Someone may ask whether it is really necessary for the Church to proclaim that God loves and hates, that He reaches out in love for the men of His good pleasure but is angry with the wicked every day, that He saves and that He damns. Our answer is, Yes, that's necessary for three reasons. First, this belongs to the revelation of God in Holy Scripture so that it would be unfaithfulness on our part not to include this. Second, it is only when a person understands that God does not love every individual that he sees the love of God to be exceeding precious, a pearl of great price, the most astonishing thing in the world! Believers must view the love of God for them as rare, exquisite, and precious! In the third place, God would have both His love and hatred carefully proclaimed that the Church is gathered not only, but that the unrepentant are left without excuses as well. No one may arrive at the great judgement scene saying, I didn't know, I never heard, that God also hates, punishes, and destroys.
God has revealed His great love for us in Jesus Christ. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son." God loves and sent, God loves and gave (John 3:16). You see, the question is, How can the great love of God reach us, how can we be taken into the family of God in order to experience His love, and how can we return that love to God and live in that love with the brethren? Remember who and what we are! We are sinners from two points of view; we share in the sin and guilt of Adam (Romans 5:12), and we add to our sin and guilt every day of our lives. In ourselves we are depraved and corrupt, incapable of loving God or anyone. And the love of God is not some wishy-washy sentiment, it is the bond of perfectness! God can only love that which is ethically pure, and love between men can only be established when there is that same perfectness present. How can the love of God reach me, become a bond that unites us, and be returned to Him?
The answer is that when God sent His Son, God made Him a propitiation for our sins. Now the word propitiation, a word related to the mercy seat of the ark in the temple, means that Christ is the covering for our sins. The blood of Christ propitiates, appeases, or satisfies God. When Christ died on the cross, His death paid the debt of our sin, satisfied the outraged justice of God, and reconciled us to God. That means that we are innocent (justified) and holy (sanctified) before God. Or, that means that we have become ethically perfect for Christ's sake, and thus can enter into the life of love with God! In Christ God's love reaches us, transforms us, renews us, and works in us that we live as sons!
God loved and God gave! Oh, how God gave! Humanly speaking, it cost God a great deal when He manifested His love to us in Christ! The gift of God's Son to the Church collectively and to believers individually can only be termed an unspeakable Gift. No one can adequately describe the value, beauty, power, and the benefits of such a Gift! God sent His only begotten Son from His own bosom into this world of sin, to become poor, to endure the contradiction of sinners, to be despised, betrayed, denied, and forsaken. And even though God loved Him eternally, God withheld His love and His friendship at the crucial moment of the cross; God would have nothing to do with His Son in our flesh, in order that He might be the righteousness of God in us! What a love that it would not spare such a Gift!
Having given Christ to His people, it follows with irresistible logic that God also gives us all things! Thus Paul argues in Romans 8: "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" There is nothing that God does not give to us; nothing that God does not do for us! All things are ours, we are Christ's and Christ is God's! All things must work together for out temporal and eternal good!
There are tremendous fruits in the life of the saints as they experience the love of God in Jesus Christ. Because the apostle John writes "He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love", we can say that who so loveth God knoweth God! Because God loved us, we love Him; because we love Him, we know Him and have life everlasting! Loving and knowing God, we keep His commandments, for love is the keeping of the law. That which God loves and delights in is to be found in the Ten Commandments. Those that love God love His law, meditate upon it day and night, and use it daily as a guide for thankful, holyliving.
Secondly, the fruit of the love of God for us is that we love one another also. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." (v. 11) Because God loved us and placed us in family relationship to Himself, we owe the debt of love to all members of the same family. We must love the whole Church of God everywhere in general and the saints that we know in particular. (Please note that the believer's calling to love also the unbelieving neighbor is outside the scope of this chapter.) It would be monstrous and unnatural if believers did not love one another, give themselves and their substance to one another, and share in the joys and sorrows of one another. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (v. 20) The point is not, Is the brother a nice person and does he show himself worthy of my love? The only point is, Has God by His love made that individual a member of His covenant family? That's all I need to know! Then I love him!
Finally, the fruit of God's love for us is that His perfect love casts out fear. (v.18) Love reaches its perfect goal when the child of God does not have fear but has boldness in the day of judgment! Fear hath torment; the one who has fear in his heart regarding the judgment is a tormented person. He worries about that day. He is afraid to die. When he lies down at night he wonders whether he shall awake; and if not, where shall he be? But when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, that love carries us powerfully along life's pathway unto the end. And it casts out fear! What a blessing that we may have boldness, confidence, even longing for the day of Jesus Christ!
All this, because God loved us and sent Christ to be our propitiation. In love He chose us, in love He gave us to Christ, in love He redeemed us unto Himself at the cross, in love He preserves us all our days, and in love He judges us worthy of everlasting live at the end of the ages! Believing all this, I say, "I love Him!" But I also say, "He must have loved me first!"