By Larry Ray Hafley
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we love God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9,10). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (1 Jn. 3:16). “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for ‘us” (1 Jn: 3:16). “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us” (1 Jn. 4:16). “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 Jn. 3:1).
The best part of this essay is inscribed above. “And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of” the height, the depth and the width of the love of God which “passeth knowledge.” However, with a trembling hand and a grateful heart, we shall seek to magnify our theme and glorify our Rock and our Redeemer.
“Our theme will lead us as deep into the mystery of God’s nature as man can go, deeper than any of our previous studies have taken us. When we looked at God’s wisdom, we saw something of His mind; when we thought of His power, we saw something of His hand and His arm; when we considered His word, we learned about His mouth; but now, contemplating His love, we are to look into His heart. We shall stand on holy ground; we need the grace of reverence, that we may tread it without sin . . .
“It is staggering that God should love sinners, yet it is true. God loves creatures who have become unlovely and (one would have thought) unlovable. There was nothing whatever in the objects of His love to call it forth; nothing in man could attract or prompt it. Love among men is awakened by something in the beloved, but the love of God is free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pp. 108, 112).
Expressions Of God’s Love
All men enjoy the tokens and expressions of love a nice gift, a warm smile, a kind word. God has not left us without the evidence of His love.
(1) In The Physical, Material Realm. We take for granted the beauty of our planet. But imagine a world without the aesthetic sounds and shades of nature. Every stream that gurgles and babbles, every bird that coos and calls, every sunrise and sunset’s radiance and light bathes us in the temporal beauty of the love of God. Surely, the canopy of heaven on a night “clear as crystal” is a taste of the artistic talent of nature’s Creator. The shimmering splendor of a silver star enlightens the heart if not the pathway. Have you never been entranced while watching an eagle soar or hearing an ocean roar and spend itself on the sands of an endless shore? All of these are the touches and brushes of the Master’s stroke. The earth is the canvas of His hues and tints and tones from whence we view the handiwork of God.
(2) In The Spiritual Realm. See and review the texts of our introduction. Observe that God’s love is shown in what God did. The sending of Christ and His sinless, selfless sacrifice reveal God’s love for sinful man. Some translations render Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrated his love for us” by having Christ to die in our place. Time and the ravages of life may steal our ability to enjoy the grandeur of our earthly domain, but “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38, 39). “But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). The cross of Calvary, above and beyond the manger of Bethlehem, manifests the love of God.
All the signals of love commence with the death of Jesus, but emanating from the cross, like sparkling spokes from a glowing hub, are the attendant provisions of God’s love. (A) “That we could be called the sons of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). Consider the pride one might feel if he could cite some famous and honored person as his parent. (Select your own hero.) Then, cease the idle dream and recognize what an exalted tribute it is to be called a son of God, a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (B) The word of God is ours. It can be hidden in the heart (Psa. 119:11). It is a divine communication, a heavenly revelation. Occasionally, an “average citizen” in a local community will receive a personal letter from the President or some other head of state. A newspaper in the city will note the letter and write a story, complete with a photo of the recipient and his letter. All of these events occur because someone received a message from the President of the United States. How more wonderful, then, is the love of God because we have His word, His letter to us, to teach, to correct, to admonish and to comfort (2 Tim. 3:16,17; 1 Thess. 4:18). (C) Prayer. Esther was afraid to petition the king personally and directly (Est. 4:11). Few members of Congress, let alone “John Doe,” are allowed to have a personal conference with the President. Think what a privilege we have to call upon our Creator and Savior and to know that He hears (Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:12).
Nature Of God’s Love
(1) Active, Not Passive. As alluded to earlier, God’s love is shown in deeds, actions. A woman would not believe a man loved her if his love could not be seen in what he did. “For God so loved that, he gave . . .”
(2) Not Eroded By Time. Time may efface and erase the love of man. Time often dims the luster of man’s ardor and devotion, but time cannot erode or corrode the love of God. It is not subject to the forgetfulness of long separation or to the changes in temper wrought love by age.
(3) Constant. One who loves us may at times appear indifferent or may disappoint us by some thoughtless oversight or “Balance must be maintained, negligence, but God’s love but a superficial for us never has to say, “I am sorry.” It is always sentimentality must there. It is steady. It is constant. It is true.
(4) Personal. The love of God is not some abstract, intangible quality diffused throughout the universe. It is supremely, intensely personal – “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). No one is a faceless number on some celestial computer. The God who marks the death of a sparrow and who knows the names and number of the stars and of the hairs of our head certainly loves you and me as individuals and not solely as a drop in the sea of humanity.
(5) Has Moral Requirements. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). “We love him because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). As God says, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:17); so, we are to love because He loves. The love of God cannot be passively accepted or appropriated. His love is the basis of our love. “Even so, love, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
(6) Described And Defined In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. In this passage, Paul was showing the genuine character of Jesus
of true love. Generally, it is applied to the nature of man’s love, but does it not also typify and exemplify the love of God? “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (RSV).
God’s Love Does Not Exclude
God is often portrayed as a kindly, doting, indulgent grandfather who benignly excuses the mischief of His children. Assuredly, “God is love,” and He is king, but “God is (also) light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Hence, His love does not exclude:
(1) Hatred of Evil. “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6). “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Rev. 2:15). There is a “time to love, and a time to hate” (Eccl. 3:8). “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (Psa. 119:104). “Therefore I esteem all they precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psa. 119:128). Paul said, “Abhor that which is evil” (Rom. 12:9). God commends love but never of hatred for every false way. Balance must be maintained, but a superficial sentimentality must never suppress hatred of evil. A man can be measured by what he loves, and he can be weighed by what he refuses to hate, despise and denounce. There is a time for smiles and the extension of the right hand of fellowship, but it must be tempered by times of stern rebuke and stiff opposition, yes, with hatred of everything that is not in harmony with the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 10:3-5). God knows how fervently we love truth by how ardently we hate error.
(2) Conditional Blessings. Certain blessings are unconditional, “for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). However, God’s love does not provide benefits unconditionally in all realms or spheres. Religious denominationalism often scoffs at commands or conditions of pardon as though they contradict or make void God’s love. Thus, they hiss and boo at us from the haven of the love of God. They stake claim to God’s love, mercy, grace and blood and mock at “terms of pardon.” They confuse the basis or grounds of salvation with the terms or conditions of forgiveness. It is a fatal error. Even Christians occasionally fall into this trap. Attempting to excuse sin by claiming the merits and benefits of “the perfect doing and dying” of Jesus will not hold. Forgiveness is posited in the blood of the Son of God and granted in the mind of God upon obedience to the word of God (Col. 2:11-13; 1 Jn. 1:7-2:2; Rev. 22:14; Heb. 5:8, 9; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19, 22; Rom. 6;17, 18). He labors in vain who would seek to cite a spiritual blessing provided by God’s love that does not have conditions attached to the reception of it.
(3) Judgment. God loved Adam and Eve, but He drove them from the garden. God loved man in the days of Noah, but he brought the flood “in upon the world of the ungodly.” God loved Israel with an “everlasting love,” yet He brought them out of their favored land and into the chains and shackles of bondage, servitude and death. God loves the world and does not will or desire that “any should perish,” but He will cast all the wicked into hell, into everlasting shame, reproach and contempt, into “tribulation and anguish, indignation and wrath,” into outer darkness, “the blackness of darkness forever.” Yes, God is love, but judgment is not excluded. Therefore, let us serve Him “with reference and godly fear.”
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 2, pp. 36-37, 53
January 17, 1985