[Note: This blog is the third in a series .]
In the previous section of this series, we closed by asking some questions about what kind of relationship God wants to have with us and why it was that God felt the need to create in us a new heart. The overarching question we wish to look at today is what it means on the level of commitment and will to love according to the biblical standard. Love is one of those words that is easy for people to define on their own, and one which is viewed in an almost casual way in society at large. Love is often used as a justification to pursue any sort of desire of the heart, regardless of any standard of morality or anyone else’s desires. The question, though, is not how we are to love by the standards around us, but how we are to love in light of what scripture says. That love, as we shall shortly see, looks far different from what we may be used to.
The place that people first look at when thinking about the love that God has for humanity is John 3:16. Let us look at this verse in its immediate context to get a bigger picture of what this justly famous passage has to say about the love of God for sinful humanity, in John 3:14-17: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Here we see that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the only possible spotless and perfect lamb to pay for the sins of the world was what was meant by this love. We also see that this sort of love is immensely costly. Jesus Christ did not come to condemn, but He came with the goal of offering Himself as a sacrifice for His enemies as well as His friends.
We have detailed eyewitness accounts that the Messiah felt the burden deeply. As it is written in Matthew 26:36-46: “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.””
Shortly before being arrested, as He knew a horrible and completely unmerited death approached, He sought the awareness and comfort of His closest disciples, who were unable to stay awake and encourage their Master. Despite His immense grief, and the fact that He did not want to die by His own will, He accepted the plan that He had agreed upon with God that He would die and be lifted up in the agonizing and humiliating death of crucifixion as an apostate to the Jews, cursed for being hung on a tree, and as a rebel against the civil authority of the Romans, so that neither Jew nor Gentile was free for responsibility in His judicial murder, but that all bore responsibility for it just as all have sinned and fallen short of the standard of God’s ways, and are deserving of death. Jesus faced abandonment, humiliation, and torture because it was only through that awful death that we might know life because God is just and because the debt of sin must be paid, and since it cannot be paid by mankind it had to be paid by God and Jesus Christ, who were willing to sacrifice so that we could live.
It is not without grave and serious importance that this sort of self-sacrificial love is commanded of husbands towards their wives in Ephesians 5:24-31, as it is written: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This passage is worthy of fuller and more knowledgeable commentary than a single man can do justice to it, but it ought to be obvious that God expects the same sort of self-sacrificial love from husbands that Jesus Christ had for the Church. The legitimacy of the headship of the husband in the family is tied both to ongoing outgoing concern for his wife (and their children), through love and tender affection, and the willingness to even lay down his life for his wife should it be necessary. It should be noted that this is not to be done to coerce or manipulate the wife into respect and honor, but all the same it is far easier for a wife to honor and respect a husband if she knows in her heart that he cherishes her and is willing to sacrifice for her. As John wrote in 1 John 4:9-11: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The love that God and Jesus Christ have for us ought to have consequences in the way that we love others.
It is in this light that we should read the fundamentals of love spoken of by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-10: “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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” It is easy for us to rejoice in the head knowledge about prophetic patterns, but one day those prophecies will be history. It is easy to feel proud about the abilities we have to communicate in our own language or in other tongues, but one day all tongues will be comprehensible by all, and communication between those in the Kingdom of God will no longer be a difficult struggle for any of us as it is today, and there will be nothing for anyone to brag of then. Yet there will never come a time when love will be obsolete, for as long as there are others to relate to, there will be a need for love to bind us heart to heart in outgoing concern. And we see in Paul’s memorable commentary on the qualities of love the same qualities discussed by John: love suffers long, love is patient, love is self-sacrificial, love does not parade itself or envy others but instead rejoices and seeks the best for others, it is generous and full of hope and endurance.
Do we exhibit this sort of love towards God? Do we exhibit this sort of love for others? After all, if we do not love our brethren, whom we see, we are liars to claim that we love God, as the Apostle John says in 1 John 4:20-21. Likewise, it is not our head knowledge about God’s ways or laws or matters of prophecy or interpretation by which people are to recognize us as followers of the Messiah and the people of God, but by the love we have for each other, as John wrote in John 13:35. And, taken from the law, the two great commandments are to love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, as it is written in Matthew 22:34-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18. The subject of the love we are to have for God and each other is not something that only appears in one or two scriptures, but something that fills the entire body of scriptures, and is familiar even to those whose only knowledge of the Bible comes from watching people hold up signs with John 3:16 at football stadiums on television. We know, intellectually, that God loves us and that we are to love others, but what sort of practical action is supposed to be a result of that love? It is to that question that we will turn next.
 See the first two parts here: