God is love and has demonstrated that love in everything that he does. Paul compares faith, hope, and love, and concludes that "the greatest of these is love" ( 1 Cor 13:13 ).
"God Is Love."Agape [ajgavph], the love theme of the Bible, can only be defined by the nature of God. John affirms that "God is love" ( 1 John 4:8 ). God does not merely love; he is love. Everything that God does flows from his love.
John emphasizes repeatedly that God the Father loves the Son ( John 5:20 ; John 17:23 John 17:26 ) and that the Son loves the Father ( John 14:31 ). Because the Father loves the Son, he made his will known to him. Jesus in turn demonstrated his love to the Father through his submission and obedience.
The theme of the entire Bible is the self-revelation of the God of love. In the garden of Eden, God commanded that "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" ( Gen 2:17 ). We are not prepared, then, when God looks for Adam after his sin, calling out "Where are you?" God seeks Adam, not to put him to death, but to reestablish a relationship with him. God, the Lover, will not allow sin to stand between him and his creature. He personally bridges the gap.
That seeking and bridging reaches its pinnacle when God sends his Son into the world to rescue sinners and to provide them with eternal life ( John 3:16 ; Rom 5:7-8 ; Eph 2:1-5 ). John declares, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us" ( 1 John 3:16 ). God's love is not based on the merit of the recipient ( Deut 7:7-8 ; Rom 5:7-8 ). Because he is love, God is not willing that any person should perish, but wills that everyone repent and live ( Ezek 18:32 ; 2 Peter 3:9 ).
"Love the Lord Your God." We are totally incapable of loving either God or othersa condition that must be corrected by God before we can love. The Bible's ways of describing this process of correction are numerous: "circumcision of the heart" ( Deut 30:6 ); God's "writing his laws" on our hearts ( Jer 31:33 ); God's substituting a "heart of flesh" for a "heart of stone" ( Eze 11:19 ); being "born again" by the Spirit ( John 3:3 ; 1 John 5:1-2 ); removing old clothing and replacing it with new ( Col 3:12-14 ); dying to a sinful life and resurrecting to a new one ( Col 3:1-4 ); moving out of darkness into light ( 1 John 2:9 ). Until that happens, we cannot love.
God alone is the source of love ( 1 John 4:7-8 ); he "poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" ( Rom 5:5 ). God's love then awakens a response in those who accept it. God loves through believers, who act as channels for his love; they are branches who must abide in the vine if they are to have that love ( John 15:1-11 ). We have the assurance that we have passed from death to life because we love others ( 1 John 3:14 ).
Once we have received God's love as his children, he expects us to love. In fact, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" ( 1 John 4:8 ). Jude urges his readers to keep themselves in God's love (v.21).
"Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart." Love of God is a response of the whole of the believerheart, soul, mind, and strength ( Deut 6:5 ; Matt 22:34-40 ; Mark 12:28-34 )to the whole of God. Jesus serves as the believer's model ( John 14:21 ; Php 2:5-8 ). Obedience to God ( Deut 6:7 ; 7:9 ) and renunciation of the world-system ( 1 John 2:16 ) are critical elements of our love of God.
Our love, however, is easily misdirected. Its object tends to become the creation rather than the Creator; it loses sight of the eternal for the temporal; it focuses on the self, often to the exclusion of God and others. We become idolaters, focusing a part or all of our love elsewhere. We are "love breakers" more than "law breakers."
Genesis 22 presents a classic struggle: the conflicting pulls of love. Abraham loves Isaac, the son of his old age, the child of God's promise. But God tests his love. For the sake of the love of God, Abraham is willing to sacrifice the son he loves. Hisresponse is to a greater love. Jesus describes this conflict as hating father and mother in order to love and follow God ( Luke 14:26 ).
"Love Your Neighbor as Yourself." Love for neighbor is a decision that we make to treat others with respect and concern, to put the interests and safety of our neighbors on a level with our own. It demands a practical outworking in everyday lifeplacing a retaining wall around the roof to keep people from falling ( Deut 22:8 ); not taking millstones in pledge, thus denying someone the ability to grind grain into flour ( Deut 24:6 ); allowing the poor to glean leftovers from the orchards and fields ( Lev 19:9-12 ). Our actions illustrate our love. Love for neighbor is "love in action, " doing something specific and tangible for others.
The New Testament concept closely parallels that of the Old Testament. John writes: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." Believers need to share with those in need, whether that need is for food, water, lodging, clothing, healing, or friendship ( Matt 25:34-40 ; Rom 12:13 ). The love demonstrated in the parable of the good Samaritan shows that agape [ajgavph] love is not emotional love, but a response to someone who is in need.
The command to love others is based on how God has loved us. Since believers have been the recipients of love, they must love. Since Christ has laid down his life for us, we must be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers ( 1 John 3:16 ).
Many people in Jesus' day believed that a neighbor was a fellow Israelite. When asked to define "neighbor, " however, Jesus cited the parable of the good Samaritana person who knowingly crossed traditional boundaries to help a wounded Jew ( Luke 10:29-37 ). A neighbor is anyone who is in need. Jesus also told his disciples that a "neighbor" might even be someone who hates them, curses them, or mistreats them. Yet they must love even enemies ( Luke 6:27-36 ) as a witness and a testimony.
The Old Testament charge was to "love your neighbor as yourself" ( Lev 19:18 ). But Jesus gave his disciples a new command with a radically different motive: "Love each other as I have loved you" ( John 15:12 ). Paul affirms that "the entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself'" ( Gal 5:14 ). James sees the command to love one another as a "royal law" ( 2:8 ).
Love is the motivation for evangelism. Christ's love compels us to become ambassadors for Christ, with a ministry of reconciliation ( 2 Cor 5:14 ).
Glenn E. Schaefer
Bibliography. H. Bergman, TDOT, 1:99-118; E. Brunner, Faith, Hope, and Love; E. J. Carnell, BDT, pp. 332-33; C. E. B. Cranfield, A Theological Word Book of the Bible, pp. 131-36; V. P. Furnish, The Love Command in the New Testament; N. Glueck, Hesed in the Bible; W. Gunther et al., NIDNTT, 2:538-51; H. W. Hoehner, EDT, pp. 656-59; C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves; J. Moffatt, Love in the New Testament; L. Morris, Testaments of Love: A Study of Love in the Bible; G. Outka, Agape: An Ethical Analysis; P. Perkins, Love Commands in the New Testament; G. Quell and E. Stauffer, TDNT, 1:21-55; F. F. Segovia, Love Relationships in the Johannine Tradition; G. A. Turner, ISBE, 3:173-76.
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This word seems to require explanation only in the case of its use by our Lord in his interview with "Simon, the son of Jonas," after his resurrection ( John 21:16 John 21:17 ). When our Lord says, "Lovest thou me?" he uses the Greek word agapas ; and when Simon answers, he uses the Greek word philo , i.e., "I love." This is the usage in the first and second questions put by our Lord; but in the third our Lord uses Simon's word. The distinction between these two Greek words is thus fitly described by Trench:, " Agapan has more of judgment and deliberate choice; philein has more of attachment and peculiar personal affection. Thus the 'Lovest thou' (Gr. agapas) on the lips of the Lord seems to Peter at this moment too cold a word, as though his Lord were keeping him at a distance, or at least not inviting him to draw near, as in the passionate yearning of his heart he desired now to do. Therefore he puts by the word and substitutes his own stronger 'I love' (Gr. philo) in its room. A second time he does the same. And now he has conquered; for when the Lord demands a third time whether he loves him, he does it in the word which alone will satisfy Peter ('Lovest thou,' Gr. phileis), which alone claims from him that personal attachment and affection with which indeed he knows that his heart is full."
In 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle sets forth the excellency of love, as the word "charity" there is rendered in the Revised Version.
luv ('ahebh, 'ahabhah, noun; phileo, agapao, verb; agape, noun):
Love to both God and man is fundamental to true religion, whether as expressed in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Jesus Himself declared that all the law and the prophets hang upon love (Matthew 22:40; Mark 12:28-34). Paul, in his matchless ode on love (1 Corinthians 13), makes it the greatest of the graces of the Christian life--greater than speaking with tongues, or the gift of prophecy, or the possession of a faith of superior excellence; for without love all these gifts and graces, desirable and useful as they are in themselves, are as nothing, certainly of no permanent value in the sight of God. Not that either Jesus or Paul underestimates the faith from which all the graces proceed, for this grace is recognized as fundamental in all God's dealings with man and man's dealings with God (John 6:28; Hebrews 11:6); but both alike count that faith as but idle and worthless belief that does not manifest itself in love to both God and man. As love is the highest expression of God and His relation to mankind, so it must be the highest expression of man's relation to his Maker and to his fellow-man.
While the Hebrew and Greek words for "love" have various shades and intensities of meaning, they may be summed up in some such definition as this:
Love, whether used of God or man, is an earnest and anxious desire for and an active and beneficent interest ins the well-being of the one loved. Different degrees and manifestations of this affection are recognized in the Scriptures according to the circumstances and relations of life, e.g. the expression of love as between husband and wife, parent and child, brethren according to the flesh, and according to grace; between friend and enemy, and, finally, between God and man. It must not be overlooked, however, that the fundamental idea of love as expressed in the definition of it is never absent in any one of these relations of life, even though the manifestation thereof may differ according to the circumstances and relations. Christ's interview with the apostle Peter on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:15-18) sets before us in a most beautiful way the different shades of meaning as found in the New Testament words phileo, and agapao. In the question of Christ, "Lovest thou me more than these?" the Greek verb agapas, denotes the highest, most perfect kind of love (Latin, diligere), implying a clear determination of will and judgment, and belonging particularly to the sphere of Divine revelation. In his answer Peter substitutes the word philo, which means the natural human affection, with its strong feeling, or sentiment, and is never used in Scripture language to designate man's love to God. While the answer of Peter, then, claims only an inferior kind of love, as compared to the one contained in Christ's question, he nevertheless is confident of possessing at least such love for his Lord.
II. The Love of God.
First in the consideration of the subject of "love" comes the love of God--He who is love, and from whom all love is derived. The love of God is that part of His nature--indeed His whole nature, for "God is love"--which leads Him to express Himself in terms of endearment toward His creatures, and actively to manifest that interest and affection in acts of loving care and self-sacrifice in behalf of the objects of His love. God is "love" (1John 4:8,16) just as truly as He is "light" (1John 1:5), "truth" (1John 1:6), and "spirit" (John 4:24). Spirit and light are expressions of His essential nature; love is the expression of His personality corresponding to His nature. God not merely loves, but is love; it is His very nature, and He imparts this nature to be the sphere in which His children dwell, for "he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him" (1John 4:16). Christianity is the only religion that sets forth the Supreme Being as Love. In heathen religions He is set forth as an angry being and in constant need of appeasing.
1. Objects of God's Love:
The object of God's love is first and foremost His own Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Luke 20:13; John 17:24). The Son shares the love of the Father in a unique sense; He is "my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth" (Isaiah 42:1). There exists an eternal affection between the Son and the Father--the Son is the original and eternal object of the Father's love (John 17:24). If God's love is eternal it must have an eternal object, hence, Christ is an eternal being.
God loves the believer in His Son with a special love. Those who are united by faith and love to Jesus Christ are, in a different sense from those who are not thus united, the special objects of God's love. Said Jesus, thou "lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me" (John 17:23). Christ is referring to the fact that, just as the disciples had received the same treatment from the world that He had received, so they had received of the Father the same love that He Himself had received. They were not on the outskirts of God's love, but in the very center of it. "For the father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me" (John 16:27). Here phileo is used for love, indicating the fatherly affection of God for the believer in Christ, His Son. This is love in a more intense form than that spoken of for the world (John 3:16).
God loves the world (John 3:16; compare 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). This is a wonderful truth when we realize what a world this is--a world of sin and corruption. This was a startling truth for Nicodemus to learn, who conceived of God as loving only the Jewish nation. To him, in his narrow exclusiveism, the announcement of the fact that God loved the whole world of men was startling. God loves the world of sinners lost and ruined by the fall. Yet it is this world, "weak," "ungodly," "without strength," "sinners" (Romans 5:6-8), "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1 the King James Version), and unrighteous, that God so loved that He gave His only begotten Son in order to redeem it. The genesis of man's salvation lies in the love and mercy of God (Ephesians 2:4). But love is more than mercy or compassion; it is active and identifies itself with its object. The love of the heavenly Father over the return of His wandering children is beautifully set forth in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Nor should the fact be overlooked that God loves not only the whole world, but each individual in it; it is a special as well as a general love (John 3:16, "whosoever"; Galatians 2:20, "loved me, and gave himself up for me").
2. Manifestations of God's Love:
God's love is manifested by providing for the physical, mental, moral and spiritual needs of His people (Isaiah 48:14,20,21; 62:9-12; 63:3,12). In these Scriptures God is seen manifesting His power in behalf His people in the time of their wilderness journeying and their captivity. He led them, fed and clothed them, guided them and protected them from all their enemies. His love was again shown in feeling with His people, their sorrows and afflictions (Isaiah 63:9); He suffered in their affliction, their interests were His; He was not their adversary but their friend, even though it might have seemed to them as if He either had brought on them their suffering or did not care about it. Nor did He ever forget them for a moment during all their trials. They thought He did; they said, "God hath forgotten us," "He hath forgotten to be gracious"; but no; a mother might forget her child that she should not have compassion on it, but God would never forget His people. How could He? Had He not graven them upon the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:15)? Rather than His love being absent in the chastisement of His people, the chastisement itself was often a proof of the presence of the Divine love, "for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6-11). Loving reproof and chastisement are necessary oftentimes for growth in holiness and righteousness. Our redemption from sin is to be attributed to God's wondrous love; "Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption; for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back" (Isaiah 38:17; compare Psalms 50:21; 90:8). Ephesians 2:4 f sets forth in a wonderful way how our entire salvation springs forth from the mercy and love of God; "But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ," etc. It is because of the love of the Father that we are granted a place in the heavenly kingdom (Ephesians 2:6-8). But the supreme manifestation of the love of God, as set forth in the Scripture, is that expressed in the gift of His only-begotten Son to die for the sins of the world (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9), and through whom the sinful and sinning but repentant sons of men are taken into the family of God, and receive the adoption of sons (1John 3:1; Galatians 4:4-6). From this wonderful love of God in Christ Jesus nothing in heaven or earth or hell, created or uncreated or to be created, shall be able to separate us (Romans 8:37).
III. The Love of Man.
1. Source of Man's Love:
Whatever love there is in man, whether it be toward God or toward his fellowman, has its source in God--"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" (1John 4:7 f); "We love, because he first loved us" (1John 4:19). Trench, in speaking of agape, says it is a word born within the bosom of revealed religion. Heathen writers do not use it at all, their nearest approach to it being philanthropia or philadelphia--the love betweeen those of the same blood. Love in the heart of man is the offspring of the love of God. Only the regenerated heart can truly love as God loves; to this higher form of love the unregenerate can lay no claim (1John 4:7,19,21; 2:7-11; 3:10; 4:11 f). The regenerate man is able to see his fellow-man as God sees him, value him as God values him, not so much because of what he is by reason of his sin and unloveliness, but because of what, through Christ, he may become; he sees man's intrinsic worth and possibility in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-17). This love is also created in the heart of man by the Holy Ghost (Romans 5:5), and is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is also stimulated by the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, more than anyone else, manifested to the world the spirit and nature of true love (John 13:34; 15:12; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 John 4:9).
2. Objects of Man's Love:
God must be the first and supreme object of man's love; He must be loved with all the heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29-34). In this last passage the exhortation to supreme love to God is connected with the doctrine of the unity of God (Deuteronomy 6:4)--inasmuch as the Divine Being is one and indivisible, so must our love to Him be undivided. Our love to God is shown in the keeping of His commandments (Exodus 20:6; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6). Love is here set forth as more than a mere affection or sentiment; it is something that manifests itself, not only in obedience to known Divine commands, but also in a protecting and defense of them, and a seeking to know more and more of the will of God in order to express love for God in further obedience (compare Deuteronomy 10:12). Those who love God will hate evil and all forms of worldliness, as expressed in the avoidance of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life (Psalms 97:10; 1 John 2:15-17). Whatever there may be in his surroundings that would draw the soul away from God and righteousness, that the child of God will avoid. Christ, being God, also claims the first place in our affections. He is to be chosen before father or mother, parent, or child, brother or sister, or friend (Matthew 10:35-38; Luke 14:26). The word "hate" in these passages does not mean to hate in the sense in which we use the word today. It is used in the sense in which Jacob is said to have "hated" Leah (Genesis 29:31), that is, he loved her less than Rachel; "He loved also Rachel more than Leah" (Genesis 29:30). To love Christ supremely is the test of true discipleship (Luke 14:26), and is an unfailing mark of the elect (1 Peter 1:8). We prove that we are really God's children by thus loving His Son (John 8:42). Absence of such love means, finally, eternal separation (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Man must love his fellow-man also. Love for the brotherhood is a natural consequence of the love of the fatherhood; for "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil:
whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother" (1John 3:10). For a man to say "I love God" and yet hate his fellowman is to brand himself as "a liar" (1John 4:20); "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen" (1John 4:20); he that loveth God will love his brother also (1John 4:21). The degree in which we are to love our fellow-man is "as thyself" (Matthew 22:39), according to the strict observance of law. Christ set before His followers a much higher example than that, however. According to the teaching of Jesus we are to supersede this standard: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). The exhibition of love of this character toward our fellow-man is the badge of true discipleship. It may be called the sum total of our duty toward our fellow-man, for "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfillment of the law"; "for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8,10). The qualities which should characterize the love which we are to manifest toward our fellow-men are beautifully set forth in 1 Corinthians 13. It is patient and without envy; it is not proud or self-elated, neither does it behave discourteously; it does not cherish evil, but keeps good account of the good; it rejoices not at the downfall of an enemy or competitor, but gladly hails his success; it is hopeful, trustful and forbearing--for such there is no law, for they need none; they have fulfilled the law.
Nor should it be overlooked that our Lord commanded His children to love their enemies, those who spoke evil of them, and despitefully used them (Matthew 5:43-48). They were not to render evil for evil, but contrariwise, blessing. The love of the disciple of Christ must manifest itself in supplying the necessities, not of our friends only (1John 3:16-18), but also of our enemies (Romans 12:20).
Our love should be "without hypocrisy" (Romans 12:9); there should be no pretense about it; it should not be a thing of mere word or tongue, but a real experience manifesting itself in deed and truth (1John 3:18). True love will find its expression in service to man:
"Through love be servants one to another" (Galatians 5:13). What more wonderful illustration can be found of ministering love than that set forth by our Lord in the ministry of foot-washing as found in John 13? Love bears the infirmities of the weak, does not please itself, but seeks the welfare of others (Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:21; Galatians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 10:24); it surrenders things which may be innocent in themselves but which nevertheless may become a stumbling-block to others (Romans 14:15,21); it gladly forgives injuries (Ephesians 4:32), and gives the place of honor to another (Romans 12:10). What, then, is more vital than to possess such love? It is the fulfillment of the royal law (James 2:8), and is to be put above everything else (Colossians 3:14); it is the binder that holds all the other graces of the Christian life in place (Colossians 3:14); by the possession of such love we know that we have passed from death unto life (1John 3:14), and it is the supreme test of our abiding in God and God in us (1John 4:12,16).
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