This is the 7th of a 9-part series on Christian Ethics.
There is probably not a single greater attribute of God that has motivated more change in more peoples lives that the love of God. Love is not only one of God’s supreme attributes; it is also a command for every Christian.
The scripture is replete with commands and admonitions to “Love the Lord your God,” (Deuteronomy 6:5), “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:18), “Love your enemies,” (Matthew 5:44), “Love the brothers,” (John 13:35, I John 3:14), and to love the church (implied in Ephesians 5:25). Love is given as the first Fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, signifying its primary importance among Christian character traits. Jesus remarked that people would understand us to be His disciples if we “have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Yet for all of these admonitions of love, including Jesus’ command for us to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34), there are times when love is inappropriate, even wrong.
Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13 describe the attributes of love from both a positive and negative view. From a positive view: “Love is patient and kind…[love] rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing.” But notice also Paul’s negative admonitions about love: “Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoings.” In fact Paul says more about what love is not than he does about what love is.
In this study we will learn about God’s character attribute of love, how he expresses it, and how we can become people who love as God does.
God: Love is His Supreme Attribute
Love is that superior attribute of God whereby we understand God’s feelings, thoughts, and acts toward man. God is love.
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10, 16)
It was because of God’s love that he created the universe and all that is in it, including us! God’s love requires an object to pour out his love upon—man is the object of his love. As such, we can rest in the knowledge that God wishes to act toward us from the depths of his love.
What ways can you think of that the Creator of the Universe has demonstrated his love for his creation?
God loves those who love him, and God loves those who do not love him.
“And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Christianity is unique among all religions in that only Christianity asserts God’s love for both the righteous and the sinner. In fact, the scripture teaches that it is because of God’s love that the sinner becomes righteous.
How can God’s love motivate a sinful (bad) person to be righteous?
Though God is love and loves both the righteous and the sinner, there are certain things that God does not and cannot love.
“These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
“Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph”(Amos 5:15).
“For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously” (Malachi 2:16).
God’s love is great, but it is not unlimited. God’s character traits of righteousness, justice, goodness, and truth require that he not love certain things. In fact, there are certain behaviors that God always hates and never loves.
Examine the list of behaviors provided in the scriptures above. Can you make a list of these you have committed in your own life?
Since we learned that God loves the sinner even though he hates certain behaviors, what else does this tell you about God’s character and feelings toward you?
Jesus is God’s Expression of His Love
We recognize the reality and superior nature of the Lord Jesus because of His love.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:16).
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).
Jesus was unlike any person who ever lived. He is superior in every way—but especially in his love. Jesus had the power and authority to punish all of mankind for its sin, instead he choose suffering and sacrifice on our behalf.
Look at the scriptures above. What attributes and/or actions of Jesus are part of his expression of love for us?
Jesus loved both his friends and his enemies so much that he sacrificed himself on behalf of them both, equally.
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:16).
“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots” (Luke 23:33-34).
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:6-8,10).
Since it was the sinner and enemy of God that needed mercy, Jesus Christ provided that mercy through his atoning death on the cross for our sins. Jesus loves the sinner whom he died for. Jesus also loves the sinner who receives his sacrifice on his behalf.
How is Jesus’ love and sacrifice unique from all other religious leaders and philosophers you are familiar with?
Can you think of a greater expression of love than someone dying for a helpless person, or dying for the salvation of their enemy?
Jesus died for sin, but his death on our behalf does not mean that we can continue to live in sin, or excuse it. Love for Jesus requires that we hate sin.
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2a).
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people” (Hebrews 10:26, 29-30).
It was for sin that Jesus died. His death wipes clean our guilt before God. All of this was done because of his great love for us! Therefore it is proper for us to respond to God by giving him our obedience by fleeing from temptation.
How have you expressed your thankfulness and love to God for what he has done for you?
Our Lives can Express God’s Love
We help others recognize the reality of the Lord Jesus because of our love for one another, and our love for Christ.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:13-14).
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” (I Corinthians 13:1-8).
More than any other attribute, God’s love changes people’s lives. As we express God’s love in and through our lives we can also see people’s lives transformed in the same way our lives are transformed.
How is your life today an expression of God’s love for those around you?
If you feel you are not expressing God’s love then examine your life. What changes do you need to make to become an instrument of God’s love?
To express the love of God in our lives we must love our enemies as well as our friends. We cannot love with God’s love without loving our enemies.
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots” (Luke 23:34).
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
We must never harbor ill intentions toward those who hate us. We must be willing to bless when cursed. This is exactly the way that Jesus behaved when persecuted and even upon the cross as he died. We can know that we are experiencing and fully expressing God’s love only when we love our enemies.
Loving our enemies is a difficult thing. Do you want to fully express God’s love in your life? Pray right now and ask God to begin to transform you into this kind of person; who is like the Lord Jesus.
Though we are commanded to love God and love even our enemies, there are certain things we are never to love, permit, or excuse.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (I Timothy 6:10-11).
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (II Timothy 3:1-5).
Sometimes it can be hard to express love for those who are deeply committed to a life of sin. They sometimes view condemnation of sin as a form of hatred for them. We must never excuse sin in any form. However, we must be careful to express the difference between hating sin and loving the sinner who commits it—just as God did through Jesus.
How can you express love for someone yet not approve of sin at the same time?