ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – LOVE

Scripture says that God is love. 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8

We know that there are three primary words for love in the New Testament that enrich its meaning in Scripture beyond what our English translation can provide.

First is Eros from which we derive erotic, or romantic love, sexual and physical; it is a love that desires to possess for personal benefit.

Second is Phileo from which we get Philadelphia and philanthropy, words that mean companionship and friendship.

Third is Agape love.  This is the New Testament Greek word that describes God’s love for us.   Agape love is the result of a decision that commits itself to the well-being of the beloved regardless of the condition or reaction of the one who is loved, and it is the type of love that comes from God.

God loves His creation, and more than the creation generally, God loves His people.  Moses expressed it like this:

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

In other words, God’s love is not dependent on anything that we have or any action that we have taken.  It is not dependent on our position in society or the status of our bank account.  Indeed, we have nothing that God has not given us, and we can give Him nothing that he needs … He loves us because He is love.

The amazing aspect of this attribute is that it is complete, unconditional and everlasting love.  A. W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) said this about God’s love:

God’s love is measureless.  It is more.  It is boundless.  It has no bounds because it is not a thing but a facet of the essential nature of GodHis love is something He is, and because He is infinite, that love can enfold the whole created world in itself and have room for ten thousand times ten thousand worlds beside.

The Apostle John elaborates on this incredible attribute of our marvelous God when he says:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. … We love because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:9-11, 19

And now we come to the crux of the matter.  John said it well – “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”  This week, known by many as Passion Week, we have prepared for Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  It is truly a day of joyous celebration for the Christian. 

But, before we can properly arrive at Sunday’s celebration we need to ruminate upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, the Friday night when sin thought it had triumphed over mankind.  This is the supreme example of God’s Agape love.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinnersChrist died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6-10.

We, who were wallowing in our sin and were deserving of nothing but death and judgment from a holy God, were granted righteousness and full pardon from the judgment that our sin surely deserved when Christ died for us.  His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His powerful resurrection from the dead provides us with His righteousness because He took our sin and paid for it with His precious blood on the cross.

That, Beloved, is Agape love.  We don’t have to get clean before God will love us.  We don’t have to do anything before God will love us. The Holy Spirit said it through Paul’s writing: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the example of divine, Agape, love for a being that can offer nothing … it is supreme love that is contingent not on the person being loved but on the nature of the One doing the loving.

This is the love that our Lord exhibited when He took our place on that cross.  It is the love that is evident when Jesus, suffering mightily on the cross, prayed for the soldiers who, even as He spoke, were dividing His clothing among themselves:

“”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

Luke 23:34

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion.  It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party.  It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them.

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 182.

This love that has been extended to us deserves our response in love extended back to God and then to others.

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a Puritan theologian, pastor, and devout Calvinist, whose conversion centered on his coming to the realization that God is sovereign over all things.  In the book Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards calls love the “sum of all Christianity”.  And he renders the following exhortation:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God… If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming [to] Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

May we relish in this glorious attribute of our holy God – Love.  And may we honor and glorify the embodiment of that love in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who endured unimaginable horror on the cross as He absorbed all our sin in Himself so that we could be called the children of God, all on the day we call Good Friday.  And may we live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we glorify God through compassion and loving kindness as we share the good news of Jesus Christ and the glorious message of hope through His resurrection which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Sovereign God, I praise You and glorify You as only You are worthy of adoration.  Thank You for the love that has been expressed through the sacrifice of Your Son so that my sin has been paid for and my debt extinguished through His righteousness.  I bow in humble obedience to You, my Lord and Master.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, NO. 6, LOVE, PART THREE.

We are continuing Dr. R.C. Sproul’s identification of the characteristics that should be evident in the Christian’s life and heart when Agape love is present through the Holy Spirit.  We began consideration of these characteristics last week by noting that:

  • Agape love gives us the desire in our hearts to worship God;
  • Agape love believes and trusts God’s Word; and
  • Agape love recognizes God’s absolute right to govern us.

 

What does Scripture say?

Let us now consider several additional characteristics of Agape love.

  1. Agape love enables us to desire justice for others.

 

David, in Psalms 82:3-4 says:

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

 

The prophet Micah says that God has told us what we are to do in Micah 6:8:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

 

Of course, we know that Jesus was asked “who is my neighbor” in Luke 10:29 and in response, the parable of the Good Samaritan was given, telling us that all persons are our neighbors.  Agape love enables us to want, and to work for, justice and mercy for persons we come in contact with, whether physically or through hearing of their difficulties.  They are our neighbors and Agape love encourages our participation with them.

 

  1. Agape love encourages us to be content in any situation.

 

Paul said that he was content in whatever the circumstance presented in Philippians 4:11-12.  Paul exhibited this contentment when he and Silas were in prison and, after being beaten and put in chains, they were praying and singing praises to God, so loudly that the other prisoners heard them.  Acts 16.

 

Paul understood that contentment is possible when we remember that God is sovereign and that He is in control of the events and circumstances that confront us.  Therefore, through His sovereignty, we know that He will use the situation for His purposes and for His glory.  We often may not know why certain things happen, but we know the One who has ordained and permitted those things for His reasons and for our ultimate benefit. We, therefore, can be content in His provision and grace.

 

In 1 Peter 1:6 the demand for contentment sounds impossible when Peter says:

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials….”

 

Rejoicing while suffering — this is evidence of Agape love because only the Holy Spirit can enable us to do so.

 

  1. Agape love enables us to resist the sin of bitterness.

 

Paul says in Ephesians 4:31:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

 

The writer of Hebrews 12:15 warns:

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled….” 

 

James 3:14 warns that bitter envy and selfish ambition do not come from heaven but rather are earthly, unspiritual and of the devil.  James then says:

 “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

James 3:16

 

Jonathan Edwards describes the response to bitterness in Charity and Its Fruits as follows:

An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction.  It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

 

Simply put, bitterness, gossip, resentment … none of this has any place in a heart that is filled with Agape love.  Using Christ as our Guide, we see no evidence of this response when He was lied about by false witnesses, rejected and abandoned by His own disciples, accused by the hypocrites in the Synagogue, or when He heard cries for His crucifixion from the very people who within that same week were clamoring for Him to become their leader.  Another example of Jesus’ Agape love was His response when He was nailed to the cross and people were “wagging their heads” at Him.  Mark 15:29.  Rather than bitterness, Jesus’ prayer was

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” 

Luke 23:54.

There are times that we forget that the Agape love in our heart through the Holy Spirit is simply another way of saying God’s love is within us.  The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, has the same power and strength as the other Persons in the Trinity and it is this Spirit that has the power to enable us to love as only God can love.   The Holy Spirit can impart God’s love to us because He is God … and He has provided this same love to all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Think about the awesomeness of Agape love that is available to us, and then let us commit ourselves to putting that love in practice as we go through our lives, day by day.

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

Let’s get practical – What can we do to exercise each of these characteristics?

 

Dr. Sproul suggests using what he calls the Judgment of Charity.  The Judgment of Charity is simply the practice of giving others the benefit of the doubt, believing them to have acted in love and not hate, responding in love and not as an enemy.  Charity makes it a practice to consider other’s communication in the best light, or the best case scenario, even when that person’s actions or words have wounded us.

 

Rather than thinking of some negative ulterior motive for why they acted the way they did, the Christian exercising this fruit of the Spirit views the actions of others through the lens of Agape love.  In so doing we are following the example of Jesus in our relationship with Him.

 

How often have we hurt our Savior by failing to honor our commitments, by failing to obey His commands, by failing to serve Him to the utmost of our abilities even when we have promised to do so?  Yet, despite knowing our failings, He went to the cross for us, took our shame and punishment, and paid the price of our sin.

 

The evidence of the fruit of Agape love in our heart is the Spirit’s enabling us to love God and others as Christ loved us.  It is a love that honors God and His Word.  It is a love that serves others without demanding anything in return.  It is a love that enables the Christian to love the unlovely, precisely because the Christian is also aware that she is a sinner and is repugnant to our Holy God, BUT FOR the righteousness of Christ that she has been given through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Praise the Lord for His wonderful mercy and grace and for Agape Love.

 

Damaris sings How Deep the Father’s Love for Us on her The Heart of God album.  It is a beautiful song that touches my heart each time I hear it.    Let the words speak to you as you consider Agape Love and your response to the Spirit as He leads you into a new appreciation of God’s Love!  Praise His Holy Name!

 

Agape love – it truly is way more than casseroles and cards!

 

Next week we will begin our look at the fruit of the Spirit – Joy.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.