Love is a central and reoccurring theme in the Bible and among the followers of Jesus. Succinctly, God is love (1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16)
Although the modern usage of love, expresses it as an emotion (as in, “I love rain”) or an intensifier (as in, “I’d love to!”), we’ll do well to consider love as an attitude, an act of will and determination. Even to claim love for a pet, is stretching things a bit.
We can rightly love a person and we should love God. A person can love us back, but such love is often ultimately conditional; God’s love for us is unconditional.
Supreme love is shown by giving one’s life to save another (Romans 5:7). Jesus embodied this in dying to make us right with God; that is, to save us (Romans 5:8).
Faith, hope, and love are a major triad in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and 1 Thessalonians 5:8).
Last week in my post, How Important is Knowledge?, I noted that many in our society – and the Western Church – esteem knowledge above all else, while Paul says that love is more important.
In another place Paul elevates love over several other things as well, such as supernaturally using other languages, giving prophetic words, having spiritual discernment, exercising deep faith, possessing a giving heart, and enduring physical hardship. Although these things have value, they aren’t as important as simply loving one another. In fact, without love, these other things don’t even matter, not really.
I’ve often seen well-intended followers of Jesus seek an impartation of supernatural gifts, especially speaking in tongues, but I’ve never seen anyone ask for more love. Yet if we really believe what Paul says, love should be the first thing we ask for.
After all, Paul does say that love is the greatest thing of all.
[1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 13:13]
In our society we value information and knowledge. We pursue it at great cost (just consider the price of a college education). In many situations, knowing the right answer is what matters most, and knowing more than someone else is the way to win.
Many people who study religious stuff also pursue knowledge, often making the most minuscule of distinctions over trivialities that normal people care nothing about. This is the epitome of the age of modernity, elevating knowledge above all else.
I know people with great knowledge. They dispense it freely, often with little regard for others. They use knowledge as a weapon, hurting people with it as they smugly attempt to elevate themselves. In the process they end up being cocky and condemning.
This is how some preachers preach and how some of their followers act. In the wake of their unfiltered rhetoric, they leave a trail of bodies. Though they love knowledge, they don’t love people.
Yes, I study the Bible, too. But I don’t lose sight of why. More knowledge isn’t my end game.
Paul understood this. In one of his letters, he writes that love trumps knowledge. In another dispatch, he says that without love, we’re hosed.
I don’t study the Bible to obtain more knowledge but to know more of God, the God of love. That’s all I really need to know.
[Ephesians 3:19, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 1 John 4:8, 16]
Reading through the book of Judges, a cycle quickly emerges: the people turn away from God, he sends a leader to rescue them, and then they return to him. This pattern continues, albeit to a lesser extent, in the books of Kings and Chronicles. With endless patience, God offers them second chances.
This abruptly changes as 2 Chronicles winds down. The people’s rejection of God reaches its zenith, arouses his wrath, and “there was no remedy.” He offers no second chances and no do-overs, only judgment. Conquerors invade them, killing some people, carrying off others, and leaving a few to subsist in abject poverty. For them, it was “game over.”
Is God a god of wrath or love? Your answer may depend on which part of the Bible you use to form your answer. Old Testament folks may see a God of wrath, while New Testament readers may see a God of love.
Jesus makes the difference, offering a loving solution to Old Testament wrath and providing us with a remedy.
[2 Chronicles 36:16, 2 Chronicles 36:17-21 and John 3:16]
The phrase “the Lord’s anger” occurs 29 times in the Bible. Is God an angry god, frequently mad at us for messing up? Does he enjoy punishing those who disappoint him? The answer is no.
This phrase only appears in the Old Testament of the Bible (before Jesus) but not at all in the New Testament, where Jesus places the focus on God’s love.
The Old Testament seems to show God is angry, while the New Testament reveals his love. Is the Bible talking about two different gods? Did God change from mad to loving?
Again, the answer is no. Anger and love come from the same God. We need to keep both traits in mind – and remember that Jesus made the difference.
[See the occurrences of “the Lord’s anger” in the Bible.]
As we struggle with the paradox of fearing God and loving God, there’s another thought on the subject.
John writes that “perfect love drives out fear.”
Perfect love never fails. Perfect love is love that’s without fault, consistent and always present. God embodies perfect love.
Paul gives us a list of what love is and isn’t. Love is:
- not envious
- not boastful
- not proud
- not rude
- not self-seeking
- not easily angered
- forgetting the mistakes of others
- not delighting in evil
- rejoicing over truth
- offering protection
- never failing
This is love, perfect love, and it drives away fear.
[1 John 4:18, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8]
In the Old Testament of the Bible we read the command to “fear God.” In the New Testament we read “God is Love.” How can we fear someone who is loving? Is it even possible to do?
Is there a difference between fearing God in the Old Testament and a God of love in the New Testament? Although it’s the same God in both, one who doesn’t change, the difference is Jesus. Jesus alters the way we understand and perceive God.
True, God is to be feared and God is love. This is a spiritual paradox we need to accept.
In the Old Testament, the focus is on the law (rules) and the result is fear because we fall short. In the New Testament, Jesus fulfills the law (overcomes or replaces rules) with love. The result is that love trumps fear.
This doesn’t mean we should completely disregard a healthy fear of God, but instead to temper our fear with his love.
[1 John 4:8 and 16]
We know Cain to be a murderer — and we vilify him for it. What we often fail to consider is that Cain had a relationship with God.
Consider that Cain gave an offering to God that wasn’t requested or expected. (Cain lived centuries before God instructed Moses about the need to give him offerings.)
Also, consider that Cain also had a personal relationship with God, that is he talked to God and was able to be in God’s presence.
Given this, one might conclude that aside from one terrible act, Cain was a good guy, a God-loving dude. Perhaps like you and me.
Even so, this one act — his only recorded failure in life — needed to be punished. Justice demanded it. And as a just God, he meted it out.
So God sent Cain away, away from his presence. But not angrily or out of spite. For despite a need to punish Cain for his grave error, God lovingly put a mark on him to protect him from being killed by others.
God justly punished Cain — and then lovingly protected him.
In Jude’s letter, he warns Jesus’ followers to be on the alert for ungodly people in the church.
After detailing their characteristics, Jude tucks in a bit of advice at the end of his letter. Implicitly, it is his recommendations on how followers of Jesus can avoid being ungodly, offering three prescriptions to promote godliness:
- Build up your faith.
- Pray in the Holy Spirit.
- Remain in God’s love.
These, then, are three essentials that we are to actively pursue: faith, prayer, and love.
Although some items on Jude’s list of ungodly behaviors may be far removed from us, other aspects might be quite close, such as speaking against things we don’t understand and being divisive. What about grumbling and finding fault? For those who follow Jesus, these are apparently all forms of ungodliness.
However, we can do much to avoid these errors as we actively seek to build up our faith, pray with the Holy Spirit’s power, and abide in the love of God.
By following Jude’s advice, we can avoid the error of ungodliness.
Here is a trio of thoughts from the book of Job:
1) What Job feared most happened to him. The enemy (that is Satan, the devil) knew Job’s fears and exploited them. Although everyone fears something, we are best advised to turn our fears over to God and not dwell on them.
2) Job believed that through good behavior he deserved God’s blessings. Things are not any different today. The common belief is that we can earn God’s love and attention. Of course, the converse of that is rejected; people assume that bad behavior should be forgiven, not punished. The right motivation for good behavior is simply out of respect for God and to honor him, not to earn something in return.
3) When Job had nothing left to say that is when God spoke. It is hard for us to listen when we are talking; it is no different in our relationship with God. When you pray do you spend more time talking or listening?
[Job 3:25, Job 30:25-26, Job 38:1]