We continued our study of God’s attributes this past Wednesday night. Our attention was focused on God’s love, meaning that God eternally gives of Himself to others:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 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.” 1John 4:7-11
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
In his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D.A. Carson gives five distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God:
(1) The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.
This intra-Trinitarian love of God not only marks off Christian monotheism from all other monotheisms, but is bound up in surprising ways with revelation and redemption.
(2) God’s providential love over all that he has made.
“God creates everything, and before there is a whiff of sin, he pronounces all that he has made to be “good” (Gen. 1). This is the product of a loving Creator. The Lord Jesus depicts a world in which God clothes the grass of the fields with the glory of wildflowers seen by no human being, perhaps, but seen by God. The lion roars and hauls down its prey, but it is God who feeds the animal. The birds of the air find food, but that is the result of God’s loving providence, and not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the sanction of the Almighty (Matt. 6).”
(3) God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world.
“God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16).” “… In John’s vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of “the whole world” (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together”
(4) God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.
“The elect may be the entire nation of Israel or the church as a body or individuals. In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others.”
The people of Israel are told, “The LORD did not set his affection On you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7-8; cf. 4:37).
(5) Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience.
“It is part of the relational structure of knowing God; it does not have to do with how we become true followers of the living God, but with our relationship with him once we do know him. “Keep yourselves in God’s love,” Jude exhorts his readers (v. 21), leaving the unmistakable impression that someone might not keep himself or herself in the love of God. Clearly this is not God’s providential love; it is pretty difficult to escape that. Nor is this God’s yearning love, reflecting his salvific stance toward our fallen race. Nor is it his eternal, elective love.”
We see this command for obedience by Christ Himself: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 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 15:9
D.A. Carson sums up obedience this way: “Christian faithfulness entails our responsibility to grow in our grasp of what it means to confess that God is love.”
There are two ways that we can imitate this communicable attribute of God’s love:
1. By loving God in return. “Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
2. By loving others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1John 4:11