Love: Fundamental to the Faith

Love: Fundamental to the Faith

Author: Pastor John Fahrbach
February 01, 2023

The love of God is a topic embraced by Christians of every persuasion. Liberal churches that deny the inspiration of the Bible are often the first to say “God is love” and “God loves everybody,” while denying the holiness and judgment of God. Bible-believing Christians, on the other hand, are sometimes shallow in their grasp of the depth of God’s love. But what is the biblical teaching on God’s love?  Let’s examine some of the features of “love” as set forth in the Bible.

The primary Greek word describing New Testament love is agape. Christians often speak of agape love. In the New Testament, this word is commonly used to describe God’s love for mankind as well as the love that is expected to exist among the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:4).

“Agape is used in the NT (a) to describe the attitude of God toward His Son, John 17:26; the human race, generally, John 3:16; Rom. 5:8, and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly, John 14:21; (b) to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude one toward another, John 13:34, and toward all men, 1 Thess. 3:12; 1 Cor. 16:14; 2 Pet. 1:7; (c) to express the essential nature of God, 1 John 4:8.” Vines Expository Dictionary, vol 2, p. 381

DEFINITION OF LOVE

“Love” has been defined as “meeting the needs of the loved one, regardless of cost to self.” This is a simple but accurate definition of Christian agape love. Jesus demonstrated the hallmark of love toward others, particularly lost sinners. So, what was the cost to Jesus? The cost was extremely great! It involved the death of God’s own son, the Lord Jesus Christ, upon the wooden cross.

What transpired on the cross of Calvary was not just physical death, but something even more significant. The death of Christ involved the separation of His “eternal presence” with the Father. While the crucifixion of Jesus was a mystery in many ways, His separation from the presence of the Father defies an adequate explanation. We know that, while upon the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46). The fact is that Jesus was indeed separated from the Father while upon the cross!

Peter beautifully describes the basis for Christ’s death on the cross: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

Here we see that Jesus was willing to be treated unjustly as He gave Himself unselfishly for the salvation of others.  Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is the pinnacle of love.  That selfless act informs our understanding of the kind of love we ought to have for God and one another.  As J. I. Packer wrote:

“The measure and test of love to God is wholehearted and unqualified obedience (1 John 5:3; John 14:15, 21, 23); the measure and test of love to our neighbors is laying down our lives for them (1 John 3:16; cf. John 15:12–13). This sacrificial love involves giving, spending, and impoverishing ourselves up to the limit for their well-being.”[1]


DEMONSTRATION OF LOVE

God chose to reveal His plan and purpose in sending the Son of God to manifest His perfect love toward mankind. This is not just a “theoretical love.” It is a “demonstrated love,” exemplified through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible, and for good reason.  It reads: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

In this verse, God shows the magnitude of His love for the world by the giving of His only Son. God “demonstrates” His love through action. 

So, we see that God’s love is not theoretical, but was clearly demonstrated! What is the demonstration? Namely, that God sent Christ to die in the place of undeserving sinners. The apostle Paul solidified this point when he penned these words for all to read and understand: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man  someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).


DURATION OF LOVE

Love is an enduring attribute, carrying on even into eternity. In 1 Corinthians 13:8, Paul writes that “lover never fails.” The word translated “fails” is the Greek word pípto. It is often translated “to fall” or “be tripped up.” True “love” will not “fall” or “be tripped up.” Love will endure. In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, love is set in contrast to spiritual gifts that were being exalted as an end in themselves, when in fact they would all be done away in the future. Love, on the other hand, will endure into and throughout all eternity as one of the hallmarks of the redeemed. 

Paul further describes love in 1 Corinthians 13 as follows:

    4      Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
    5      does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
    6      does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
    7      bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    8      Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.

This section of Scripture is one of the great passages on biblical love.  It not only establishes the qualities of such love, but also establishes the fact that love will endure into eternity. Spiritual gifts will cease, but love will never cease.

Thank God today for His love for us as believers and our opportunity to live the Christian life, loving as He loved: “for by this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). As we engage in our daily interactions with other believers and the world around us, might we heed the exhortation to manifest “love” for God and others as one of the hallmarks of the Christian life!

[1] Packer, J. I. (1993). Concise theology: a guide to historic Christian beliefs (pp. 181–182). Tyndale House.
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