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.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Love'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".