Today and tomorrow I am reposting this two part series on the love of God as a biblical response to the book "Love Wins" by Rob Bell. Yes, love does win, but it is the love of God described and delineated in the Scriptures, not the love that Rob Bell has made up.
Today I want to talk about the love of God, which, I believe, is the grandest theme in the Scriptures. The love of God is what has prompted Him to do all that He has done on our behalf. Yes, I know that ultimately all things are for His glory, but it is through His love that His glory is most vibrantly and visibly expressed. In I John 4:8 & 16 we see that God is love. He doesn't possess love, but He is love; and that love is manifested in, an oh so tangible way, in and through the person of Christ. So let's press on to know more fully this love which is part and parcel of the very nature of God. It is part of who He is and cannot be separated from Him.
The general love of God
First, there is the general love of God for mankind. I know that there are those among our hyper-reformed brothers that will say that God does not love mankind, but only the elect, and that He is angry with the wicked every day. While it is true that God is angry with the wicked every day, it does not, and has not, kept Him from loving mankind. Let's look at some examples from Scripture.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Again, there are those who will say that this verse only applies to the elect, and if this verse were the only verse like it in the Scriptures, which it is not, then that argument might have some weight. However, the word for world here is kosmos. It is used 151 times in the NT and always means this created world, its order, or the people who inhabit it. Also, in this verse we see the word whosoever. It does not say for God so loved the elect, that they would believe in Jesus (even though that is true, and we shall see more on that later), but that God so loved the world that whosoever believes in Christ shall be saved. Whosoever is very clear in its meaning and it means anyone who will. A synonomous verse to John 3:16 is II Corinthians 5:19...God was in Christ reconciling the world (kosmos) to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (Compare this little section with Acts 17:30), and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. God has made reconciliation with Himself available to the world (unredeemed humanity). Why? Because God has a general love for mankind. It is also interesting to note here that the word for love used in John 3:16 is agapao, which is the word for love used in I John 4:8 & 16. God can not deny Himself, or be other than He is, so we see this love of God revealed in His love for this world, and the people who inhabit it.
Additionally, let's look at Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us... The phrase, love for mankind, is one word in the Greek and that word is philanthropia, from which we get our word philanthropy. It is composed of two Greek words, phileo--which means brotherly love; and anthropos--which means mankind. This is a very specific word to denote God's charitable, benevolent love and kindly disposition for all of mankind. It is used only one other time in the NT and that is in Acts 28:2.
But, let's don't stop there, let's look at Matthew 5:43-48, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as you heavenly Father is perfect." Notice that Jesus is saying here that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, and to do that we must love not only those who love us, because even the most despised (tax collectors) do that; but also those who hate us and persecute us; and what is implied here is that God loves those who are His enemies (which He would automatically since He is love). So God does love the wicked, even those who are his enemies, which we all are until He saves us (Romans 5:10).
Finally, let's look at the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22. We all know the story about how he turned away from Christ because he did not want to give up his possessions. But what is interesting here is the attitude of Jesus towards this young man. Let's pick this story up in 10:21 Looking at him Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Here we see the heart of God, revealed through Christ, and His love (agape) for this one person, and how this love prompted Christ to reveal to this young man what was between him and heaven, even though He knew the young man would reject Him and walk away; and it is interesting to note here that even though Jesus felt a love for this young man, He let him walk away from Him and spurn His offer of salvation.
Because of God's love for this world, mankind, all those who are his enemies, and, yes, even individuals, He has made salvation available to all, by giving His Son, that whosoever believes in His Son will have life eternal. God is love, and He cannot be other than who He is, and we see His love for mankind revealed in these verses.
The particular love of God for His Son
However, there is another dimension to the love of God, and to understand that we need to look back into eternity past to see it. God gives us a glimpse of it in John 17:24 in the prayer of Christ, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, be with Me where I am so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." We see here that the Father has loved the Son, God the Father has loved Jesus the Son, since before time began. So for all eternity there has been the love of the Father for the Son. A father's particular love for his own son has always existed between God and Christ. Now we also see here that Jesus wants this love to be known by those whom God has given Him (the elect) as they will see it manifested in the glory bestowed on the Son by the Father when they are with Him.
We see this attitude of the Father towards the Son manifested in Matthew 3:17 For this is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. To be the beloved of someone is to be the particular object of their love, or the object of someone's particular love. We see this stated in a more distinct way in Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (literally, the Son of His love). The Son has always been the particular object of the love of the Father, so we can safely say that the Father has a particular love for the Son, and can understand that because we see it paralleled in this world by the particular love each father has for his own son. We see a manifestation of this love of the Father for the Son in John 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. So the Father loves the Son in different way than the Father loves the world as the Son is the particular object of His love, and this love has always existed between the Father and the Son.
The particular love of God for those who are His own
How does God love us, those who belong to Him? We know He loves the world, he loves mankind, but how does He love us, those whom He has called out of the world. To understand this let's go back to John 17:23-24 & 26. Again this is Jesus praying, "I in them and You in Me, that they maybe perfected in unity, so the the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with me where I am so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world...and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. It is important to note here that in verse 23 Jesus states that the purpose behind the unity of those who believe in Him would be that the world, the same kosmos that God loves with a general love, would know that not only that the Father sent the Son, but that the Father loves those who believe in the Son with the same love with which He loves the Son. The truth given here, that God loves those who believe in His Son with the same love with which He loves the Son is a staggering truth, one that is almost incomprehensible, and is surely inexplicable. It always causes me to pause and catch my spiritual breath. But, while contemplating this great and wonderful truth, we must also not miss the fact that God does not love the world with the same love with which He loves the Son, this love is only for those who place their faith in Christ Jesus.
The Familial love of God
As we have already seen in John 17 God loves us with the same love with which He loves the Son. Tie this in with Romans 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. We see that God's plan from before the foundation of the world was for those of us who name the name of Christ as our Savior to be the brethren of His Son, and that Christ was to have the place of preeminence as the firstborn of the sons of God. It is not those of the world who are the brethren of Christ, but only those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Therefore the love of God for the Son is only for those who are among the family of God.
This is said a little differently, but just as succinctly in I John 3:1. Notice how beautifully John expresses the richness of this truth. See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God, for such we are. The love of the family is reserved for those who are members of the family, and the familial love we see here upon the earth is a dim and imperfect expression of the familial love of God as we have been created in His image, and this image has been marred by sin. This familial love of God is lavishly and graciously bestowed only upon those who are His children and we never see in Scripture those of the world being called the children of the living God. It is only those whom God has called out of the world and place their faith in Christ who become His children.
This is said much more strongly and forcefully in Ephesians 1:4-5a just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world....In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself. This verse brings together all the other verses concerning our status as children of God and tells us how God went about making us His children and the brethren of Christ. We have been adopted. Even better, we see that the reason behind our adoption is the love of God. We know from John 17:24 that the Father loved the Son before the foundation of the world, and from this verse in Ephesians we see that we were also loved before the foundation of the world. What does this mean? It means that God loved us with the same love He had for the Son, that familial love, before the foundation of the world, and because of that love and out of that love He predestined us for adoption as his children. What a wonderful and deep truth to dwell upon, that from eternity past God loves us with the same eternal love with which He loves Jesus and the outworking of that love is our admittance into the family of God; and now we can get insight into why Paul could boldly cry out in Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It reminds me of Psalm 36:7-8 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They drink their fill of the abundance of your house; and You give them to drink of the river of your delights. Oh, the wonder and magnificence of it all!
To be continued