The Love of God
Tim Temple

Introduction

Everybody wants to be loved. Deep down inside the human heart there is the crying need to be loved, to be accepted, and to be appreciated. Even with that being the case, when you ask people to define love, they seem to hem and haw around, trying to come up with some way to express the concept. Really, people do not know how to describe what it is they are looking for. To some people it is kind of a fuzzy feeling in the pit of their stomach. To other people it is a sense of deep caring, but to still others it is a sense of excitement over the person or the thing that they love. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. used to say, “Love is an itch six inches below the collarbone, on the left side that can't be scratched.” Maybe that is the best description. We all know that it is really impossible to put into words all the things that we feel when we try to describe the love that we have for someone or the love that we would like to experience in our own lives.

Unfortunately, in our sin-filled world, the concept of love has been so misused and so abused that there are almost as many definitions of love as there are types of people in the world today. Because of that, there are many people who have more or less given up on really knowing what love is, much less experiencing it.

If that is the way that you feel, I have good news for you today, because the Bible tells us exactly what love is. Not only that, it tells us that God has expressed that love to each one of us. I John, chapter 4, verse 8, says, “God is love”—not just that God has love for us, though He does, not just that God desires our love, though He does, but the fact is that “God is love.” God is the embodiment of love. I know that most of you have heard that little phrase many times before, but I hope that by the time that we are through with our study today, you will have a whole new understanding of it.

Today we are thinking about the aspect of God which reveals Him as Love itself. We want to look at it from four standpoints. We are going to think first about the source of God's love. Next we are going to think about the sharing of God's love, then thirdly, the standard that is set by God's love and finally, the security that we can find in God's love.

The Source of God's Love

Let's begin by thinking about the source of God's love. The theological definition of the love of God is that it is “His self determination to reflect the goodness of His will and glory by meeting the needs of mankind.” That sounds like a complicated definition, and it is kind of a technical, theological kind of thing, but I use it today because it encompasses the key elements of what the Bible describes as God's love for us. In fact, that definition may not even sound like a definition to you, but the Bible always speaks in such a way that any definition of love has to be based on God and Who He is and what He has done for mankind.

We can't really understand what love is without understanding Who God is and understanding the kind of love that God has for us. Any definition of love that is not rooted in God's love will drift in one of two directions. If we don't understand God's love, then our human love will drift into just emotional sentimentalism. It will be just violins, flowers, perfume, chocolate candy, and those kinds of things that have a part of love; but if we don't understand God's love, then that part of love is all that we will be able to recognize.

The other extreme to which love can drift is just an unfeeling duty, just doing the things that we think we are supposed to do for the ones that we love. These are the two extremes of the spectrum. Your love for your spouse or for your children, for your work or for anything else is not going to find harmony and wholeness that God intends for it to have if it is not anchored first in the foundation of God's love for you and of your love for God.

Love, a Part of God's Glory

One of the clear statements of this principle of God's love is found in Ephesians, chapter 1. We will look at verses 4-6:

Ephesians 1

4Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
6To the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Just jumping into those verses without a lot of prelude, they may be a little hard to understand. These verses show us that any action God takes is always in love. “He chose to save us,” we read in verse 4. Because of His love for us we have been chosen before the foundation of the world in love.

Verses 12-14 say that His saving us and His giving us the Holy Spirit was all for “the praise of the glory of His grace.” We also find that in verse 6: “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.”

All of this comes down to the fact that everything that God does, including His acts of love, is to bring glory to Himself. It is very important that we understand this. The basis of our salvation, the whole purpose of our salvation, is for the praise of His glory. It brings glory to Him for Him to act in love toward us. At first hearing this, it might sound conceited or a self-centered kind of thing for God to do, but remember we are not talking about a human being who is trying to boost his reputation; we are talking about the all-knowing, the all-wise, perfect and holy God of the universe. That kind of God deserves all of the honor and glory in the universe, and it is perfectly in keeping with His perfection to insure that He gets it.

This has tremendous implications, but let me just mention a few of those in this study. First, it means that God can love us without our deserving it in any way. There are people who say, “All of that talk about love is well and good, but I know that I am such a terrible person that God could never love me. No one could love me, not even God.” There are many people who feel that way, but God is free to love you, because loving you is a part of His glory and praise. He can love you, regardless of whether you deserve it or not, because it brings glory to Him. It fits with His perfections to do that.

Overflowing Benefits of God's Love

The second implication of that is that it means that He can keep on loving us regardless of our response. He can love us whether we deserve it or not, and He can continue to love us regardless of our response, because His love has as its aim to glorify Himself. The benefits that we receive of experiencing His love are a by-product of His glorification of Himself. That should not diminish our appreciation for His love for us because we recognize that we don't deserve His love for us in the first place, so why should we have that feeling if we find out that He loves us for some reason beyond ourselves?

We have seen in our previous studies that no illustration is perfect when it comes to talking about God, but let me just give you an illustration of how we benefit from the love of God. Let's suppose that you are out watering your yard one day, and some neighboring children come along and start playing in the water sprinkler. Now, you are a good-hearted neighbor, so you don't run them off because they are having such a good time playing in the sprinkler. In fact, you're such a great guy that you go in the house and fix them a little snack and bring it out to them. You share it with them and even help them to have more enjoyment. Now, those kids had a wonderful time, and they thank you for the fun that they have had. They think of you as a great person because of what you've done for them. Everybody is happy, but think about this for a minute. You didn't water your grass so that the kids could have a good time, did you? You had other motives in watering the grass; in fact, you probably had several motives in watering the grass, but the children enjoyed the water even though that wasn't your purpose in doing it.

Listen, God is such a loving God, and God is such a perfect God, that as God seeks to live out His glory, and as God seeks to glorify Himself in all the universe, so much a part of His essence is that essence of love that you and I enjoy—the overflowing benefits of His being a holy and just and perfect and loving God. It is a beautiful by-product. God's love is simply a part of bringing glory to Himself, but you and I get the benefit of getting to play in His water sprinkler—if you want to use that illustration.

It is important for us to remember that the source of God's love is tied in with His desire to glorify Himself in everything that He does. Therefore, it doesn't bother God if you don't respond to His love. It disappoints Him for your sake, but God doesn't get His feelings hurt if you don't respond to His love. There is no one so terrible that they can't experience God's love, because God's love is much broader than that which we experience of His love. But that makes it all the more secure to us. That is the source of His love.

The Sharing of God's Love

Turn with me to Romans, chapter 5, and let's talk about the sharing of His love, the way that He shares that love with us. The Scripture tells us in many places that God's fullest manifestation of His love is in providing our salvation through Jesus Christ. One of these places is in Romans, chapter 5, verses 1-8, where it says that the fullest manifestation of God's love toward us was providing our salvation through the death of Christ. Look at this passage beginning with verse 1:

Romans 5

1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. [skip down to verse 8]
8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

If you want to know the depths of what it means to love and to be loved, don't base it on what you see in the movies or on television. Don't base it on the love songs that you hear. Don't base it on any of those human ideas of love that are going around. If you want to know the depths of love, look at the death of Christ—the sacrifice that He made for us in love–because that's where God's love came to mankind.

The Fullest Manifestation of God's Love

I John, chapter 4, verse 10, says the same thing:

I John 4

10Herein is love, [you want to know what love is. God says, “Here is love”] not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Listen to me. The greatest example of love is not the example of the young, talented, highly educated missionary who goes and spends the rest of his life working in the backwoods of the Amazon jungle or somewhere, never to be heard from by humans very much again. We hear a story like that, and we think, “What love for God that person must have had, because think what all he could have done with his life.”

The greatest example of love is not the person who gives away his fortune to feed the poor. The greatest example of love is not any example of man loving God. I John, chapter 4, verse 10, says, “The only valid example of love is that God loved us.” “If you want to know what love is,” the Bible says, “you think of God's love for man. That is what love is.” And what is the proof of that love? The last line of verse 10 says, “that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” That is the sharing of God's love. God's love is shared to us through the avenue of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into human history and paid the price for our sins. That is the sharing of God's love for us.

The third thing that we want to think about is that, because that's true, God's love gives us a standard for love. How do we know what true love is? It is easy for us to visualize God's love for us in the coming of Jesus Christ that we have just been talking about, but what we need to understand is that that gives a very vivid illustration of what any love is.

I want to share with you six standards of love from the Word of God that we can find by looking at God's love for us. These are standards by which we can judge, from a limited scale, human love and whether it is valid or not.

Love Backed Up By Action and Attitudes

In Romans, chapter 5, verse 8, which we have just read, we saw that God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. So the first standard of love that we can learn from God's love is that love is visible. True love is visible. True love is not just talk. Talk is part of it, perhaps, but talk is only a small part of it. True love has to be backed up by action and by attitude. True love can always be pointed to. Its activity says, “I love you.”

We need to tell each other that we love each other. That is not to discount the talk part of it, but what I am saying is that God not only talked about love, He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. He did something in love.

Sacrificial Love

The second principle we can find from a very familiar verse, John, chapter 3, verse 16:

John 3

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

The second characteristic of love that was set by that revelation to us is that love is sacrificial . “He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” The key words in this verse are those three words, “only begotten Son.” Critics of the Bible have found fault with that and have said, “Wait a minute. John 3:16 says that Jesus is God's only Son, and yet we are told in several places in the New Testament that we become sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is a contradiction there.” No, what John 3:16 says is that Jesus is God's unique Son—His only begotten Son.

We don't have time in this lesson to go into the ramifications of the structure of the language, but take my word for it, what that means is that Jesus was God's unique Son. Jesus was God's own being. He is a member of the Godhead, a part of the Trinity. God loved us enough that He gave Himself to die for us, and so that second standard is sacrifice . It costs something to love. Let me say that again. You who are so anxious to find out what love is, and you who are so anxious to have someone to love, let me tell you something. God's love tells us that love costs something. You can't love someone without being willing to do something for them, and particularly you can not love someone without being willing to give up something for them.

Listen, if the man is not willing to sacrifice anything for the woman he claims to love, he's not the one, Girls. If it comes to the place of sacrifice and he is not willing to make the sacrifice, he doesn't love you in the way that you need a person to love you if you are going to spend the rest of your life with him. In fact, Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 25, says:

Ephesians 5

25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

How did Christ love the Church? He gave Himself for it. He gave up his life in Heaven and came to earth so that He could become our Savior. True love sacrifices. True love is willing to pay whatever price it takes, even at the cost of sacrifice, to meet the needs of the one who is loved. God gave His Son to pay for our sins, and it is doubtful that anybody ever loved you that much.

Beneficial Love

A third characteristic of love is that true love is always beneficial . It seeks to benefit the one loved. A reference for that is I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 5. In that verse from the great love chapter it says:

I Corinthians 13

5Love seeketh not her own…

Its own what? Its own way, its own priorities. True love doesn't ask, “What am I going to get out of this?” True love says, “What am I going to do to benefit the one that I love?”

Our human tendencies are always to ask about anything, “What's in it for me?” No matter how good a project we may think it is, how much we may understand it, our subconscious tendency is to say, “What am I going to get out of this, if I get myself involved in it?” The fact is that there is something in it for you, because genuine love is always returned in some way. The focus is never on “What are you going to do for me?” The focus on the part of both people in a loving relationship, if it emulates God's love, if it is true love, the truth is, “What can I do for her,” or “What can I do for him? What can I do for the one I love?” As long as both people will focus on that, true love will flourish and grow.

Unconditional Love

There is so much more I would like to say about each of these points, but we need to hurry on. The fourth characteristic of genuine love is that it is unconditional . Romans, chapter 5, verse 8, says that “God died for us while we were yet sinners.” God didn't wait until we were good enough to be saved. God saved us while we were still sinners. That is the essence of salvation. It is not salvation if you can become good enough for God to accept you. Salvation is being saved out of something, so genuine love as demonstrated by God's love is that it is unconditional.

Don't ever let yourself think, “I will love you as long as you continue to meet my standards. I will love you when you get up to this standard.” If it is genuine love, it is unconditional.

Judicial Love

There is a fifth characteristic of genuine love, and that is what I am going to call judicial . By that I mean that it doesn't put up with wrongdoing on the part of the other person. You may be thinking, “Wait a minute. That sounds contradictory. On the one hand, true love is unconditional, and on the other hand, you say that true love doesn't put up with wrongdoing on the part of the one loved.”

Even though God's love is unconditional, He doesn't let us get away with sin, does He? Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 6, says:

Hebrews 12

6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

In fact, the writer goes on to say that it is such a consistent principle that if you claim that you love God and God loves you, if you come to be a child of God and God is letting you get by with sin, then you had better question whether you are even saved or not. Why? Because God disciplines His children. It is a part of love. If we truly seek the good of the person we love, which is what genuine love is, we are not going to let them go on in their sin. We are not going to let them get by with something that we can see is contrary to God's Word.

That calls for a great deal of wisdom. That calls for a great deal of prayer. That calls for the leading of the Holy Spirit. True love does not let the other person get by with sin and go on in sin. Many times the avenue that God uses in disciplining His children comes through the person they love. God's discipline very often comes to children through parents. God's discipline very often comes to husbands through wives and to wives through husbands. Not only does God love us, but He uses us as a channel of His love.

In the late sixties or early seventies, there was a famous line in a movie going around that said, “Love means never having to say you're sorry.” But, you know, the opposite of that is true. That is a poor description of love and even worse theology. It is not true that love means never having to say you're sorry. There are those times when God will convict you of sins that you have allowed to creep into your life after you have become His child, and God convicts you of that. If you don't respond to that convicting voice of the Holy Spirit and confess that sin to God and get it out of your life, God has to bring discipline into your life for the same purpose.

God's discipline brings us to that place of I John, chapter 1, verse 9, where we confess our sin and agree with God that it is sin and get it out of our lives. Then God can go on. God uses, as I say, people who love us, many times, to effect that discipline. God uses people who love us, sometimes, to convict us of that sin before He has to bring discipline.

Let me tell you, if you genuinely love somebody, the most loving thing that you can do, many times, is to stop them where they are. The most loving thing that you can do is to confront a person with their sin, when they sin against you. That is hard to do. It is a delicate situation, and people are awkward about doing it, but that is part of genuine love.

Emotional Love

Finally, there is a sixth characteristic of true love, and that is that it is emotional . That is demonstrated by what God says to us about Himself in Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 2, and I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 6. We tend to think in our culture today, dominated by the mass media, that love is a kind of warm fuzzy, or some kind of a feeling that we have, or a buzz that we get. There is that part of it, but we don't have true love without emotion. Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 2, says that Christ had joy at the prospect of providing salvation for us. A part of His love for us was the joy of knowing what the effect of His love was going to have on us. I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 6, says that love rejoices when the truth wins out.

Paul wrote to the Philippians that he longed for them with the affection of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:8). Any definition of love is incomplete that doesn't include joy and deep feeling. It doesn't mean that you feel good all the time when you are in love, but it means that your love is marked by an overriding sense of joy even when things are not going well.

We have a tendency to think that when we love someone, after the honeymoon is over, somewhere along the line, things just get humdrum and so so, and that's love. Of course, there is that sense in which the new wears off. We get used to each other and we get used to a situation that we are in, but that doesn't mean that the love is over. Love has that emotional aspect that should be nurtured and kept up and allowed to grow. Those are standards that are set by God's love. Those are some ways of knowing whether that which you are considering is really love, whether that which you claim to express for another person is really love.

Security In Love

Obviously with that kind of a standard of God's love, we should find great security in that love. The Bible tells us exactly that. Turn to Romans, chapter 8. Paul has been writing about the love of God in salvation in Romans, chapters 5-8. After talking about all these things that God has done for us in His love for us, Paul says in verse 31:

Romans 8

31What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

Let's stop our reading there for a moment. After seeing all the characteristics of God's love, can anyone question that God is for us? Let me remind you of that. That may be extremely good news to some of you. That may be a clear drink of water to some of you. God is for us. God is on our side, the God of the universe, the God Who loved us enough to rescue us from our sins. If God loved us that much, is there any question that He is on our side? God is for us. He is in our corner; He is on our side.

Of course, the next question is rhetorical. If that's true, who can be against us? That is what we read there in verse 31. If God is for us, what does it matter who else is against us? Certainly there are those who are against us; there are people who are against us; there are circumstances that are against us; there are situations that are against us, but if God is for us, what does it matter who is against us?

Obviously, if God was willing to give up the most important thing in the universe for our sakes, when we didn't even deserve it, what person or circumstance could keep Him from giving us anything that we need, or doing anything else for us that we need done?

These verses tell us that in giving us salvation, God is not just selling fire insurance. Jesus Christ did not die just to keep us out of Hell. Now, thank God, it does that. We have no fear of Hell. We have no fear of death, but that is not all there is to it. God cares for us every moment of our lives. We talk about the sweet by and by when we will be in Heaven, but in reality, eternal life begins the moment we trust Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Death will just bring a change of locations. If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior five minutes ago, five years ago, twenty-five years ago, you are just as much His child right now as you will be five minutes, five years, or twenty-five years after Heaven begins. Eternal life is only beginning for us. We are children of God. We are heirs of Christ, and all that makes a difference is where we live. Right now we live on earth. Someday we will live in Heaven. We are children of God, and the only thing death does is to change our locations.

Responding to God's Love

God has invested too much in us to let anything take us away from Him. Can anything separate us from the love of God? That is so true that Paul emphasizes it farther down in chapter 8. Look at verse 35:

Romans 8

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Notice carefully, he doesn't say that those things won't come, but what he says is that even if they do come, they won't separate us from God's love and God's provision and from the fact that God is on our side.

Jesus said the same thing while He was on the earth. In John, chapter 16, verse 33, talking to His disciples, He said:

John 16

33These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

At this point, somebody may be thinking, “Well, I just don't feel all that love and support. I don't seem to overcome all these things, and I just don't sense that God loves me.” This takes us back to something that we said at the very beginning of our study. Remember what we saw about why God loves us in the first place? Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 4 through 6, said that it was for the praise of the glory of His grace. That is why God pours out His love toward us. It is a part of His essence, and it is a part of the glory He deserves for Him to love us, and for Him to bring praise to His name.

If that is the reason for His love for us, then to fully enjoy that love we have to be in sync with that purpose. We have to be in step with that which God is doing. What that means is, once you know Jesus Christ as Savior and understand the love of God, if your aim in life is anything other than to respond to God's love, then you are going to be out of step with God. If your whole aim in life is to glorify God, then you will feel God's love no matter what the circumstances, because that is the whole reason for His love in the first place. God created men so that He could have beings that could share in His joy and share in His love and fellowship with Him.

Radios are getting more and more sophisticated these days, so this may not be a completely perfect illustration, but maybe you can remember the time when it was possible to turn in to a station just a little bit off the exact location on the dial. When you did that, you could get a program, but it would fade in and out or have a hissing in the background or something like that. In fact, sometimes it was more of an irritant to listen to a program like that than it was an enjoyment. Many Christians spend their lives just on the fringe of the broadcast of God's love to us—lots of static, able to hear the program, but just a lot of interference, not able to really enjoy it.

Aim to Glorify God In Your Life

What we need to do is to tune in to God's love fully. Tuning in is very simple. I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 31, says this:

I Corinthians 10

31Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

I have always loved that verse, because it is so down to earth. It is so practical. It doesn't say, “Whether you preach or go to the mission field, do all to the glory of God.” It doesn't say, “Whether you make good grades or are at the top of your company, do all to the glory of God.” It says, “Even when you do something as simple as eating and drinking, even those kinds of things, do to the glory of God.”

What is your aim in life today? What is the motive and motivation behind what you do? I can make a lot of suggestions, but deep down you know what that motivation is. It is good to have goals and standards. I am not decrying that at all, but unless your underlying aim and motivation is to please the Lord in every single thing that you do—even the little day to day things—unless that is your aim, you are just going to be on the fringes of the broadcast of God's love. You are not going to be able to rejoice in His love as He intended you to do and as He wants to do.

Let me close with one last illustration. It is a story that has happened many times, one that you may even have seen take place. A little child gets separated from its mother—lost in the crush of the people in a crowded mall or crowded grocery store. The child soon realizes that he doesn't know where he is. The more he looks around, the more strangers he sees, the more panicky he becomes. He begins to cry, because everybody is packed in there and he doesn't have his mommy. He gets frustrated and it gets worse and worse, but suddenly he turns around, and there is his mommy. She picks him up and cradles him in her arms, and suddenly everything is all right. The tears stop, and the sniffling stops.

What happened there? His peace and security doesn't come because of his circumstances. His circumstances are still exactly the same. He is still in that crowded place, and those people are still milling around, but what has changed is, whose arms he is in.

God is out looking for you today, if you are separated from Him, because He loves you. He wants you to have Him near you. He wants to pick you up and cradle you in His arms. All you need to do is just turn around and rush into His arms, because He loves you and has demonstrated that. He is standing there with arms outstretched. The circumstances may not change, but you will rejoice in the love of God.

In Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20, John looked into Heaven and he saw Jesus knocking on a door. As Jesus knocked on that door, he was saying:

Revelation 3

20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Are you listening to Jesus knock on the door? What many of us need to do, I am afraid, is to hear that knock. What does Jesus say? “If you will just open the door, I'll come in and dine with you, and you with me.”

Conclusion

If you are not enjoying the love of God today, which is so abundantly poured out, respond to Jesus Christ. Open the door, and let Him come in. Ask Him for that fellowship that you desire to have. When He comes in you may say, “This needs to be cleaned up, and that needs to be cleaned up,” but I John, chapter 1, verse 9, the all purpose cleaner, tells us how to clean it up. Let Jesus come in and enjoy that fellowship that He wants to have with you.


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