The Essence of Loving God
“THE ESSENCE of LOVING GOD”
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
Being as our English words “love & hate” both have such “strong feeling components” to them, the biblical meaning sometimes suffers as a result. Love & hate are obviously antithetical concepts—when we use these words with regard to a “relationship” with someone (in the biblical context), we are said to love someone when we are predisposed toward them, and hate someone when we are not predisposed toward them. Thus when God said, “Jacob I loved; Esau I hated” (Rom 9:13; Mal 1:2ff), He was saying “He had relationship with Jacob, but did not have relationship with Esau.” So the idea behind these two terms in a “relational context” is not so much one of feeling as it is one of the affectionate predisposition of the soul. One can love without feeling, that’s why you commonly hear the old refrain “love is not a feeling, but a commitment.” Most often our feelings are dictated by the default mode in us (our flesh), but there is a higher principle within us that governs our soul, and that is what defines us. Ultimately, the question for every human being is this: Are you predisposed toward God or toward yourself? Wherein do your affections lie? Whatever it is that you are predisposed to, that is what you love…and whatever it is that you are not predisposed to, that is what you hate. So, do you love God or your flesh?
To be a Christian is to be a “lover of God” — though we love Him imperfectly, we seek to love Him perfectly and long for that day when our love for Him shall be full and complete in heaven. Jesus said a second commandment is like the first: “we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Mt 22:37-40; Mk 12:29-31; Lk 10:26-27), so love is the preeminent commandment. The Greek word agape is the most common NT word for biblical love (this word is also used most frequently in the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the OT). Agape love is an unmerited, self-giving love — rather than having a desire to possess, it is a love that seeks to give. Agape love seeks the highest good of the other person, even though they are undeserving. In contrast to agape love, there is phileo love — which is a love that is both warm and merited; it is a friendship kind of love.
GOD LOVES US WITH AN “UNCONDITIONAL LOVE”
The Bible describes the essence of God in five ways — He is holy (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16), spirit (Jn 4:24), light (1Jn 1:5), a consuming fire (Deut 4:24; Heb 12:29), and love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Literally, God is Agape Love — such love is the very substance and nature of God. To say that “God is love” implies that all of His activity is loving activity — He creates in love, rules in love, and judges in love; there is nothing God does that is not done in love. The fact that all of God’s actions are colored by love baffles the imagination — it is beyond our comprehension. The love of God is unselfish and unmerited — it is epitomized in His love for sinners when they were His enemies and deserved nothing except His wrath; instead He sent Christ to die for them that they might become His children (Rom 5:6-11; 2 Cor 5:14-21). The dominant message of the New Testament is that “God loves us” (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:5, 8; 8:35-39; Eph 2:4; 1 Jn 4:7-10,16,19; Rev 1:5). Writes John, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). Christ’s death is the evidence of His love for us (Jn 3:16; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2; 1 Tim 1:14-15; 1 Jn 3:16), and just as the Father loves Christ, so He loves the believer (Jn 17:23; 1 Jn 3:1).
The lovingkindness (hesed in Hebrew) of the Lord is mentioned some 250 times in the Old Testament (Ex 34:6; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:5; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2), and refers to a “compassionate, steadfast, unfailing covenant love.” The God of the covenant shows His covenantial faithfulness by His loving commitment to His people, regardless of their responsiveness or righteousness (Deut 7:7-8). God’s love continually extends to the undeserving and the unloving — this is seen in His continuing love for the wayward believer in both the Old and New Testaments (Deut 31:6; Josh 1:5; Ps 103:8,17; 118:1-4; 136; 145:8; Is 49:15-16; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 13:5). Twenty-six times in the Old Testament we are told that “God’s lovingkindness is forever” (Ps 106:1; 107:1; 118:1-4; 136). Paul says, “nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:38-39). Thus, there is a deep loyalty in God’s love toward the undeserving; thus this is the basis of God’s command for man’s love. Because God’s love seeks the highest good in the one loved, we too are enjoined to seek the highest good of others as well (this is the will of God).
The fact of “propitiation” reminds us that God is not only wrathful against sin, but is loving toward the sinner. That God indeed loves us as diabolical sinners, to the point that He actually went to the cross and died for us (Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4-5), confounds and baffles the mind, even of the most devout believers. The atonement proceeded from the loving heart of God; He loved us so much that “He gave His Son for us” (Jn 3:16; Rom 8:32). So God’s love is not a vaguely sentimental feeling, but a love that cost Him everything; it is an intense, demanding, holy love that is willing to pay the greatest price in order to save the one loved (and to think that it was “wretched me!” is beyond finding out!). As the hymn writer Charles Wesley put it, “Amazing Love! How Can It Be That Thou My God Shouldst Die for Me?” C. S. Lewis wrote in his book “The Four Loves” —“[the fact that] God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them” is beyond comprehension(pp.175-176). By the way, there is no truth more important than this. None! God loves you unconditionally! Though it is difficult to believe (because we are so undeserving), this truth must be “affirmed every day” if one is to walk in grace and experience God’s joy and peace in life. No exceptions! Remember, you cannot truly love God and others when you don’t believe He loves you (1Jn 4:10-19); that’s why this is the greatest of all the commandments (Mt 22:36-37). If you have to spend 15 minutes a day to reprogram your thinking, do it! you will win! The “number one strategy” of Satan is to get you to NOT believe this truth! He will fill your mind with a thousand reasons why God does not love you, and he knows every weak spot in your soul where you are most receptive to his cunning lies! This is the victory, OUR FAITH (1Jn 5:4) — believe what God says and reject what Satan says! Satan’s arguments are compelling, and if you affirm them you will pull anchor & drift spiritually. That is reality! NO TRUTH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THIS!!! GOD LOVES YOU!!!
The Swiss theologian “Karl Barth” was once asked by a student what the greatest thought was that had ever passed through his mind. After a long pause he responded, “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The truth of the matter is, when we see ourselves as individuals clearly standing in violation of God’s law, and then contemplate the incredible truth that God really loves us — that is utterly remarkable. The hymn writer Charles Wesley stated it this way: “Amazing Love, How Can It Be That Thou My God Shouldst Die For Me?” The love of God is seen in its fullness and without ambiguity at the cross (Jn 3:16; Gal 2:20; 1 Jn 4:10; Rev 1:5). Only after we come to appreciate the meaning of the cross can we appreciate the love behind it — this thought prompted the great theologian Augustine to call the cross “a pulpit from which Christ preached God’s love to the world.” Though the infinite love of God can’t be fully known, because it surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19), yet in can be known in part (I Cor 13:12; Eph 3:16-21). The hymn writer Frederick Lehman penned these words to the hymn, “The Love of God” —
The love of God is greater far… than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star… and reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care… God gave His son to win:
His erring child He reconciled… and rescued from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure — the saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill… and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill… and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above… would drain the oceans dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole… though stretched from sky to sky.
God created man with two basic needs: the “need to be loved” and the “need to love.” Our need “to be loved” can only be fulfilled by realizing that God loves us unconditionally with Agape Love. When Christ enters our lives, “the love of God is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). It is God Himself who comes into our hearts at that moment, and “He is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). This is what gives us our security and our identity in this life — and this is apprehended by faith. The renowned Scottish blind preacher, George Matheson, penned the words to that wonderful hymn, “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go,” one evening during a time of great emotional loss. Its words have encouraged believers for generations —
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
WE ARE TO “LOVE GOD”
The most comprehensive duty of man is that he is to love the ONE GOD for who He is, and for what He has done. In the Old Testament God commands human beings to love Him with their whole being (Deut 6:5; 10:12; 11:1,13, 22; 13:3; 30:6,16; Josh 22:5; 23:11; Ps 31:23). Jesus said the greatest commandment in all the Law is that of “loving God with one’s entire being” (Mt 22:37-40); this is expressly revealed in several passages (Jn 21:15-17; 1 Pet 1:8; 1 Jn 4:20-21; 5:2). The commandment to love God shows that God is approachable and desires a dynamic loving relationship with us. To the ancient Hebrews, “loving God with all our heart” meant loving God from the very core of our being; the heart is the source of all our thoughts, words, and actions. Thus loving God with all our heart means to love God with the deepest, purest, truest part of us, our deepest identity. The book of Proverbs counsels us to “watch over our heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prv 4:23). The term “soul” has to do with our emotions and is the word Jesus used when He cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful” (Mt 26:38). The “mind” may best be seen as the will, the best intention, the power of purpose. We sometimes say, “I made up my mind to do this.” In a sense, this is a kind of clarification of the word “might” — it is translated such in the Old Testament (Deut 6:5). The Hebrew term had a broad connotation and carried the general idea of moving ahead with energy and strength; it is used here in the sense of intellectual, willful vigor and determination, carrying both the meaning of mental endeavor and of strength. The Lord Jesus adds the word “strength” (Mk 12:30), which refers to physical energy; sometimes loving God requires the exertion of physical energy. Thus we are to love the Lord with our entire being.
So genuine love for God is intelligent, feeling, willing, and serving. It involves thought, sensitivity, intent, and even action where that is possible and appropriate. God never sought empty words or empty ritual from us — His desire has always been for the person himself, not simply what the person possesses; besides, if God truly has the person, He then has everything that person possesses as well. And just as God loves us with His whole being, we are to love Him with our whole being. Writes John, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10); God’s love for us was so great “that He gave His only begotten Son” for our redemption (Jn 3:16). Godly love is measured by what it gives, not by what it might gain; it does not love because love is beneficial but because love is right and good.
God requires from man more than “mere belief” (Jam 1:22). James reminds us that even the demons believe that God exists; but instead of rejoicing in that belief, they shudder (Jam 2:19). When we become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) we experience a transformation that includes a new will, a new desire, and a new attitude deep within us that can best be described as “love for God.” — the Apostle John makes love for God the true mark of the believer (Jn 14:23-24; 1 Jn 2:5; 3:17; 4:12-13, 16-21), and Peter declares that God is precious to those who believe (1 Pet 2:7). The Ten Commandments themselves make clear that love for and obedience to God are inseparable (Ex 20:6; Deut 7:9; Jn 14:15; 1 Jn 2:3-5). One of the most sobering descriptions of an unbeliever is “one who does not love the Lord” (1 Cor 16:22). God’s people love Him andwant to please Him… and the unsaved hate Him and want nothing to do with Him; they are His adversaries (Ex 20:5; Deut 32:41; Prv 8:36; Jn 3:19-20; Jn 7:7; 8:12; 12:46). So the person who truly loves the Lord with all his heart and soul and mind is the person who trusts Him and obeys Him (Jn 14:15) — though our love and obedience are imperfect as believers, nevertheless we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
When our hearts are supremely engrossed with “love to God,” our thoughts will naturally turn toward Him. “Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also” (Mt 6:21). Moreover God will become the object of our affections… the supreme satisfaction of our service… and be a perpetual reference in all we do. Should we fail to love God, we will inevitably lose all true peace of mind. Love chooses to follow that which is righteous, noble, and true, regardless how we might “feel” about the matter. The OT Hebrew word aheb is a direct equivalent of the NT Greek word agapao — which is the love of intelligence, the love of the will, the love of purpose, the love of choice, the love of sacrifice, and the love of obedience. This love is in contrast to phileo love, the love of attraction and tender affection. The apostle Paul reminded us to let our love abound more and more in all knowledge (Phil 1:9); obviously the more we know about God, the more there is to love.
WHAT IT MEANS TO “LOVE GOD”
Jesus said the most important thing man can do is “love (agapao) the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind” (M5 22:37-39). The Greek word for “love” in this verse is the verb agapao — to “agapao” something means to totally give oneself over to it, to be totally consumed with it; or to be totally committed to it. What we agapao is what we put first in our lives. All our intentions and abilities are focused and consumed with this one thing — in other words, agapao is a commitment whereby we bind ourselves to something, so that we become “one” with it. This “commitment kind of love” can either be to God, to man, or to the things of this world — in other words, we can either give ourselves over to that which is good (God & others), or that which is bad (worldly things such as money, career, success, possessions, pleasure, sex, self). The following Scriptures tell us what some people in the Bible “totally gave themselves over to” — the Greek word in each of these Scriptures if the Greek word agapao:
- Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil (Jn 3:19).
- They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (Jn 12:43).
- Woe to you, Pharisees! for you love the uppermost seats in the synagogues (Lk 11:43).
- Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world (2 Tim 4:10).
- Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world (1 Jn 2:15).
- Sinners love those who love them (Lk 6:32).
The question is this: “Do we love (agapao) God?” In other words, “Do we seek to put His will and His desires above our own?” How often are we consumed with what He desires for our life and not what we want for our lives? People everywhere are seeking “personal happiness” as their ultimate goal in life – can we truly say that we desire God’s will above our own happiness? How often does our own “momentary happiness” rule the day? Is it “our goal” to totally give ourselves over to God and do whatever pleases Him?
The apostle John tells us what it means to love God — “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). The message is very clear: if we have the wherewithal to “help” someone in need, but are not willing to do so, then we don’t love that person. John goes on to say, “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18) — loving God is not just a matter of what we say, but what we do; it is an everyday way of life. In short, our “actions” demonstrate whether or not we love God. John continues, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:3; Jn 14:15; 2 Jn 6); so no one really loves God without diligently studying the Scriptures to understand His will, and then obeying them. Therefore, to love God is…
- to delight in Him and His Word – the Bible is His love letter to us
- to sacrificially commit ourselves to Him – our calling in life is to serve Him
- to live a life of faithfulness and obedience to Him – say no to our will, and yes to His will
- to honor Him in our thinking and our behavior – as a man thinks and does, so is he
- to honor Him with our choices – they flow from that which we truly treasure
- to serve Him joyfully – without joy our service becomes drudgery
- to experience intimacy with Him – to truly know Him is to truly love Him
- to continually desire to please Him – bringing joy to God’s heart is our supreme desire
- to seek one’s happiness in Him – realizing that He is the source of genuine happiness
- to thirst day and night for a fuller enjoyment of Him – to live is Christ
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21). Our hearts contain powerful emotions, affections and desires, and our affections are deep currents that steer our life. To determine where our affections truly lie, we need to look at what occupies our time… what motivates our actions… what shapes our aspirations… and what comprises their reward. Our affections wait to be captured; they long to cling to someone or something. And wherever our affections are, so will our hearts be. The devotion of our hearts is determined by what we most value — the heart loves what it treasures — notice, the treasure comes first and the heart comes second. So our affections are the outcome of what we treasure. When we truly encounter the “Lord of glory,” loving Him with all our hearts will be the end result. The apostle Paul said Jesus was the treasure of his life — “I count all things loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8). The glory of Jesus was so amazing and satisfying to Paul, that all else paled in comparison. When we divert our attention away from the Lord, our love will begin to grow cold. It’s that simple. A lethargic church can be traced back to hearts with misplaced affections (Rev 2:4). When we stray from the Lord Jesus we have to decide to “pursue Him” — and this we do by praying, studying the Word, cultivating intimacy with Him, worshiping, fellowshipping with other believers, and serving others. James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jam 4:8; 2 Chron 15:2; Zech 1:3). The action lies with us. The word of the Lord to Jeremiah was this: “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13; Rev 2:5).
TO LOVE GOD MEANS TO “LOSE ONESELF”
To love God is not an “emotional feeling;” instead it is to totally give ourselves over to Him — to surrender, to relinquish, and to abandon ourselves to Him, regardless of how we feel, what we think, or what we desire. It means to set aside our life, so that His life can come forth from our hearts. The apostle Paul confirms this when he says, “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus (emphatic), that the life of Jesus (emphatic) also may be manifested in our body; for we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:10-11). Unless we say “no to self,” we will never say “yes to God.” So to love God literally means to “lose self” — that is, to set aside all those thoughts and emotions and desires we have that are contrary to God’s, so that His life is being lived out in us (Gal 2:20). Jesus expressed it this way: “If anyone wishes to come after Me (emphatic), let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt 16:24). To deny oneself is to pick our cross and follow Him — in other words, it is to do what God would have us do. God is asking us to deny our own wants when they are contrary to His; which means He sometimes asks us to do that which we don’t necessarily feel like doing. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). If we refuse to die to ourselves, that is, if we will not sacrifice our own wants for the sake of Christ, then we will not bear fruit — in order to be fruitful Christians we must follow the same path Jesus did, we must “die” (whereas Christ died to give us life, we must die to ourselves to let Christ live His life in and through us). To love God in a way that is self-giving & self-sacrificing is to glory in Him instead of oneself — it is to allow the glory of God, rather than the glory of self, to occupy one’s heart.
As stated earlier, the problem with our English word “love” is that it doesn’t adequately communicate the biblical concept of love — we love God, we love our dog, our spouses, our careers, our friends, hot dogs, apple pie, pizza, entertainment, Starbucks coffee, movies, travel, and even our church! The dominant idea behind our English word “love” is that it is a “feeling kind of love” (in Greek that is storge love). The agapao love that we have been discussing is a “commitment love,” not a feeling love. Because most of us have “emotional feelings for God,” we may be inclined to think we are really loving Him, when that may not be the case. When most young children place their faith in Jesus, it is usually a strong feeling kind of love… and most often it fluctuates depending upon how they feel and what their circumstances are. Thus the love for God that a child has is generally more of a feeling kind of love, as opposed to a commitment kind of love—we only grow in our commitment love through difficult trials and circumstances. Does this mean that a child’s love for God is not valid? No. Of course it’s valid. But the feeling kind of love for God that most children have, is not a mature commitment kind of love that is grown over time — and that is the type of love that God is developing in us.
WE ARE TO “LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR”
The command to “love one’s neighbor” is stated often in Scripture (Lev 19:18; Mt 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mk 12:31, 33; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jam 2:8). Paul says that love for one’s neighbor is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:8,10). People are to be concerned with other people as God is concerned with them. The command is this: We are to love our neighbor to the same degree that we love our self. Since people are basically selfish and very much concerned about their own needs, they should have that same degree of concern for their neighbors. Scripture teaches genuine love for God results in genuine love for our neighbor. Just as the Pharisees had no genuine love for God, neither did they have genuine love for their neighbor, much less a Gentile neighbor. Genuine love for one’s neighbor is an intentional, purposeful, active choice, not merely a sentimental, emotional choice; and it is measured by your love for yourself — when a person is hungry, he feeds himself, he does not merely contemplate his hunger (Jam 2:16). By the way, “No one ever hated his own flesh; rather he nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph 5:29). So just as a person looks out after his own welfare, he is to also look out for the welfare of others if he truly loves them. Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:40) — that is, everything God required of believers, even in the Old Testament, hung on these two commands. “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law,” says Paul. Therefore, when we love we do not murder, steal, commit adultery, or covet — because all such behaviors are contrary to love. If people loved perfectly there would be no need for law, because the person who loves others will never do them harm. In the same way, the believer who loves God will never worship idols or fail to obey, worship and glorify Him as Lord.
In 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter), love is described as being unselfish and sacrificial, with no condition of expecting something in return. It is love that is given and not deserved. That’s the essence of God’s love, and people having experienced God’s love are to exhibit this in two directions — namely, toward God and toward others. This is what is commanded in the Bible (Mt 22:37-40; Mk 12:29-31; Lk 10:26-27; also Deut 6:5; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 30:6,16). The command to love God shows that God is approachable and desires a dynamic loving relationship with us. As human beings we are also to love people as well (Lev 19:18; Mt 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mk 12:31, 33; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14). Paul says that love for one’s neighbor is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:8,10). In giving the command to love our neighbor, Jesus made it clear in the parable of the good Samaritan that our neighbors are more than those who are acquaintances or of the same nationality (Lk 10:26-37; Deut 10:19). People are to be concerned with other people as God is concerned with them. By the way, the command is to love one’s neighbor to the degree that one loves one’s self — and since people are basically selfish and concerned about themselves, they should have that same degree of concern for their neighbors.
WE ARE TO “LOVE ONE ANOTHER”
The new supreme commandment for believers is that they “love one another” (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12,17; Gal 6:10; 1 Jn 3:23; 5:2; 2 Jn 5). Though believers should love their neighbors, whoever they may be, they are to have a real and deep concern and love for those who are fellow believers; so there is to be a definite love between believers. The apostle John says, one who loves his brother abides in the light (1 Jn 2:10), and God abides in him (1 Jn 4:12); in fact, one who does not love is brother cannot love God (1 Jn 4:20) — since God loves us, we are to love one another (1 Jn 3:11; 4:7,11). The New Testament is replete with commands for believers to love one another (Gal 5:13; Eph 1:15; 4:2; 5:2; Phil 1:9; Col 1:4; 1 Th 4:9; 5:13; 2 Th 1:3; 1 Tim 4:12; Heb 10:24; 13:1; 1 Pet 2:17; 4:8) — hence, one sees that love for the brother was a dominant theme in the early church; it was evidence to the world that they were truly the disciples of Christ (Jn 13:35).
So believers should especially show love to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:10); that is, they are to have a real and deep concern and love for those who are fellow believers. This familial love within the body of Christ is so strongly emphasized, that Jesus Himself stated it as a “new commandment” — as believers we are to “love one another” (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Eph 5:2; 1 Th 4:9; 5:13; Heb 10:24; 1 Pet 2:17; 1 Jn 3:23; 4:10-11,19; 5:2; 2 Jn 5). The source of love is God (1 Jn 4:7-9), and because God has a special love for us as His children, we are to have a special love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord (1 Jn 3:11; 4:11). Love was a dominant theme in the early church (Rom 12:10; 2 Cor 2:4; 12:15; Gal 5:13; Eph 1:15; 4:2; Phil 1:9; Col 1:4; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8); it was evidence to the world that they were truly the disciples of Christ (Jn 13:35). The Apostle Paul refers to it as the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). The character of love is described as those fruits that emanate from love — joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23; also 1 Cor 13). In these passages love is described as being unselfish and sacrificial, with no condition of expecting the same in return. So genuine love recognizes and chooses to follow that which is righteous, noble, and true, regardless how one might “feel” about the matter. We “love,” not because we feel like it, but because it is noble and right. The apostle Paul reminded us to let our love abound more and more in all knowledge (Phil 1:9); people who have experienced God’s love are to exhibit it toward God and toward others (Mt 22:37-40; Mk 12:29-31; Lk 10:26-27).
WE ARE TO LOVE “OUR ENEMIES”
Jesus even commanded His followers to “love their enemies” (Mt 5:43-48; Lk 6:27-35). This love is demonstrated by blessing those who curse them, praying for those who mistreat them, and giving generously to them. Believers are to love those who hate and persecute them (Rom 12:13, 17-21; 1 Th 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9). This shows that love is more than friendship based on mutual admiration; it is an act of charity toward one who is hostile and has shown no lovableness. Jesus reminded the disciples that it is natural to love those who love them, but to love their enemies is a real act of charity; it is to be a characteristic of the Lord’s disciples as opposed to those who are sinners or Gentiles. An example of this love is seen in God’s love and kindness toward evil people by sending the sun and the rain upon them just as He does for those who love Him. The NT epistles tell us that rather than seeking revenge, we are to love those who hate and persecute us (Rom 12:14, 17-21; 1 Th 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9
Faith expresses itself in love!
(Gal 5:6; Col 1:4; 1 Th 1:3; Jam 2:18, 20, 22).
----------------- Additional Bibliographic Sources ----------------
In addition to those individuals stated in the foregoing material, some of themes for this study were taken from the following authors and sources —
James Montgomery Boice — Foundations of the Christian Faith, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp. 331-339
C. S. Lewis — The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960, pp. 175-176
John MacArthur — Commentary on Matthew, Moody Press, 1988. pp. 338-342
Walter A. Elwell — Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker Academic, 2001, pp. 708-711 and pp. 896-897
Jim Davis — Author and Writer for the John Ankerberg Show; Website: www.jashow.org