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The Love of God

Jim Thompson - 7/17/2022


Whether it’s how popular culture uses the word, how we use the word, or how we have experienced others using the word, our definitions of love are often drastically different than the Bible’s understanding of love. On our own, we end up defining love in terms of emotion, sentimentality, or “feeling” loved in the moment. Many will argue for an understanding of love that is about surface-level function or tolerance, and not about deep relational conviction and trust. And often, if we push on our own definitions of love long enough, we will slowly realize that they’re usually about coddling our fragile egos and not about something that’s real and true and lasting and beautiful.

SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 13

Think about it: We say that we love our family and friends, but then use the same word to talk about how we love food and sports and rock n’ roll. That’s so bizarre. The meaning of love can’t be the same in all of those, right? And further, some people have had fragile experiences with love where someone told them they loved them, and then broke up with them or neglected them or abused them. And yet still, we all ache for a pure definition and experience of love. 

Now contrast all of the above with how the Bible talks about love. The Bible says things like, “His love endures forever,” or “Love never fails,” or “There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out all fear, “ or “Greater love has no one than this, than someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus says love is the greatest commandment. John says that God is love. And Paul says, “These three abide: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.” But why? Why is love the greatest of these? Why isn’t holiness the greatest? Or joy? Or justice? Why can’t it be a tie somehow? Asking these questions will give us a biblical definition of love and show us how love is one of the dominant ways that God is talked about in Holy Scripture. So, why is love the greatest? The answer, according to 1 Corinthians 13, is:

Love in the Bible is God’s eternal, delightful, committed, self-giving posture and activity toward his people.

Each piece of this definition matters if we are going to think well about love as a key attribute of God, and each piece matters if we are going to rightly respond to God by loving others just as he has loved us. So, let’s consider each piece of this answer.

“God’s eternal” - Paul says that faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest is love. Consider, God doesn’t have faith; he’s the object of our faith. God doesn’t have hope; he’s the source of our hope. But “God IS love,” according to 1 John 4:8. Further, faith and hope won’t last forever, but love will (also see 1 Corithians 13:8). And the only thing in the universe that truly possess eternality is God himself. So, that’s why love in the Bible is God’s eternal posture and activity.

“Delightful” - Simply, what you love is also what makes you happy. But it’s not in our definition primarily because it seems logical to us but because Scripture says it. 1 Corinthians 13:6 uses verb rejoice or delight twice to talk about love. “Love doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” This means that love takes joy in those things which are right and faithful and beautiful and unfailing. Meaning, real love delights in those things that are consistent with reality. And this means that God loves loving you. He takes great delight in calling you his. He knows the truth that we are broken and needy apart from him. But it makes him happy to pursue us and rescue us and be faithful to us. He doesn’t regret saving you. He isn’t trigger-happy about showing compassion on you. He isn’t reluctant to extend his grace to you. He doesn’t roll his eyes when he provides for you. And how do we know this? Because real love delights. 

“Committed” - Notice how many times Paul says what love isn’t or what it doesn’t do. “It doesn’t envy or boast. It’s not arrogant or rude. It’s not self-seeking. It’s not irritable. It’s not resentful” (13:4-5). Well, what’s the way to state all of this in the positive? The word “committed” is a great way to describe the opposite of all these things. And beyond this, Paul says as much in verse 7 when he says, “Love endures all things.” And this means that God will not fall in and out of love with you. He’s not going to divorce you. He’s not going to suddenly change his mind about you because you’ve had a bad day. If you are a part of his family through Jesus, his love for you is committed. It is forever fixed. 

“Self-giving” - Paul begins 13:4 by saying, “Love is patient.” The word for patience means long-suffering. However, this isn’t about physical suffering. This is about sacrificial suffering for the sake of someone else. Patient love is long-suffering with and for someone you love through a hard thing or a tough time. This is why divine love is self-giving. And here’s a major difference between our culture-defining love as tolerance and the Bible defining love as patience. Tolerance means I don’t have to have a relationship with you. It includes me stepping back and stepping out of your way and letting you do whatever you want. But patience requires a loving relationship. It includes me sacrificially giving of myself to walk with you no matter what you’re going through. This is how tolerance is the parody of which patience is the reality. And this is why real love is committed and self-giving; it’s long-suffering.

This is why love is the greatest of these because love in the Bible is God’s eternal, delightful, committed, self-giving posture and activity toward his people. This is about what God is really like. This is about his character and his essence. In Scripture, you can’t talk about love in any way without talking about God. And the climactic way that we know God’s love is through the cross of Jesus.

How did God express his eternal, committed love for his people? He gave himself in the person of Jesus. And what did Jesus do? He gave himself on the cross. He freely offered himself up as our representative, that all who trust him and have faith in him would eternally delight in God’s love. This is as close to the heart of love as we can fathom – that love is divine and love gives. And the rest of the New Testament bears this out:

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that all who believe would have eternal life.” John 3:16
  • “God shows us his love in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
  • “I have been crucified with Christ. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
  • “Walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself as a sacrifice for us.” Ephesians 5:2
  • “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25
  • “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16
  • “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
  • “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood – to him be glory forever and ever, amen.” Revelation 1:5

And may we respond to God’s great love in total dependence upon him and with total deference of love to others. May the cross of Jesus fuel our faith in him and shape our love for people. May Paul’s vision of love in 1 Corinthians 13 be a memorial of God’s love to us and an invitation to extend his love to others in Jesus’ name. 

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.