The love of God is perhaps the most confused and misunderstood of His attributes. Many would place the love of God above every other attribute, others believe that if God loves them they will get whatever they want. Such confusion does not arise from a disbelief in the fact that God is love, for this is one of those few attributes explicitly ascribed to God (1 John 4:8). Rather it is a misunderstanding of the very meaning of love itself. Yet the love of God is summarized for us in a concise and easy to be understood form in 1 John 3:16. John says, "Hereby perceive we the love of God". The Greek word translated perceive means "to have an intimate understanding." In this lesson we shall learn what the love of God truly is and apply this knowledge to our lives.
I. Perceiving Love
John tells us that we can gain an intimate understanding of the love of God because Jesus laid down His life for us. Therefore, we shall use this act of Christ as the grounds for understanding the love of God.
A. The Objective of Love
What was the purpose for the death of Jesus? Was it not to redeem us from the result of Adam's sin, that is death, and give us a better end, that is life (Romans 5:12-19). God wanted the best for man: to share His life with us (John 17:24). Let us begin then with this fact: Love seeks the best for the object loved. What better thing could God have given us?
Praise be to God that He did not give us what we might have asked for! No, because God loves us He gave us what was best for us. We might have asked for riches, fame, or pleasure. Once when the Israelites had complained to God in the wilderness, He plagued them with deadly serpents (Numbers 21:4-6). The Israelites pled with God to remove these poisonous snakes, but this was not what was best for them. If God had granted their request, they would have been no better off than before. God's solution to this plague showed the Israelites how they could become righteous, and it separated those who would believe God from those who would not.(Numbers 21:8).
Let us consider the following observations with this fact:
Seeking the best for the object loved sometimes requires punishment in order to correct an evil tendency. Hebrews 12:6 says, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth", and in Revelation 3:19 we find, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten". Our old sin nature may not enjoy this, but it truly is for our good (Hebrews 12:11) and therefore we understand that this is an act of love.
2. Unanswered Prayer
The love of God does not guarantee that we will get everything that we want. James explained that we do not always get everything we ask for because we sometimes "ask amiss" (James 4:3). A child may ask to eat a candy-only diet, not understanding that what may taste good is not always nutritious and good for the body. Out of love, God only gives us what is best for us.
B. The Motivation of Love
John was very precise in his wording in 1 John 3:16. He did not mention simply that Christ had died, but rather that He laid down His life. The difference in these points out that Jesus willingly gave up His life and suffered death for our benefit. Let us then add this fact: Love is an unselfish concern for others.
In Romans 5:6, Paul asks who would die for a righteous man or even a good man. Yet, Jesus gave His life for us as Paul says in verse 7, "while we were yet sinners". We were not worthy of this act and there was nothing about us to merit this gift. It was not that we loved God, but that He loved us (1 John 4:10). Jesus had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Because He loved us, He unselfishly gave His life that we might live.
We are often motivated to do things because of what we will get out of such actions. This, however, is not love. Love does not consider the worthiness of the beneficiary nor the reward for the benefactor. This is the same idea behind the "pure religion" of James (James 1:27). It is easy to invite a famous man to supper or give aid to a rich man for the one is worthy and the other is able to reciprocate.
C. The Purity of Love
God could have simply pardoned man and given eternal life to him without sending His only begotten Son to the cross. This would have been just as easy as to have allowed Adam to remain in the garden. Why did He not choose this way to give the best gift to man? The answer lies in this fact: Love is Pure. The holiness of God demanded that sin be punished and that man be made righteous before he could enjoy eternal life with God. By laying down His life for us, God harmonized His love with the rest of His nature. Love never seeks the best for the object loved by violating righteousness.
D. The Immutability of Love
How many have claimed that the God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament, because now He is a God of love. These would question how a loving God could order Joshua to kill every man, woman, or child that inhabited Canaan (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). This, however, is not at all what the New Testament teaches. Is the death of the Son of God less in consequence to the death of all the inhabitants of Canaan? The same God that ordered the conquest of Canaan took pleasure in bruising His own Son (Isaiah 53:10). We shall add this final fact: Love never changes. God loved as much in the Old Testament as He did in the New. He is the same God with the same love. His love is constant and consistent.
II. Perfecting Love
Our primary instruction from the love of God is to once again find that Jesus must be God. Who is the subject for which the pronoun "he" represents in 1 John 3:16? From the context, it can only be God himself. We could then rewrite 1 John 3:16 like this: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because God laid down his life for us". When did God lay down His life for man? How could it be more obvious that the Bible teaches that Jesus is God?
Can there be a more comforting thought than to realize that God is seeking the best for us, that we do not have to do anything to merit this, and that this love will never fade or wax old? Compare our text with Romans 8:32. We can estimate the greatness of God's love by considering what He did in order for us to have eternal life. It is impossible that we could conceive of any greater act of love (John 15:13). What a cure for loneliness, fear, and distress to consider the love of God (Romans 8:35-39).
Let us perfect the love of God in our own lives as we are commanded in the following areas:
1. Husbands love your wives
Paul tells the husbands in Ephesians 5:25 to have the same love for their wives as Christ displayed in 1 John 3:16. Husband, are you consistently and unselfishly seeking the best for your wife in holiness?
2. Wives love your husbands
In Titus 2:4, Paul instructed Titus that the "aged women" were to teach the "young women" to love their husbands. Wife, do you love your husband?
3. Parents love your children
Parents, get a hold of Proverbs 13:24: He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. It is selfishness, not love, that causes a parent to withhold correction from their children.
4. Love one another
Immediately following the explanation of the love of God in our text, John exhorts us to lay down our lives for the brethren. In other words, we ought to love one another in the same manner that God loves us (see also John 13:34 and 1 John 4:11). Christian, do you love the brethren?
5. Love God
The first and great commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind (Matthew 22:37-38). How can we love God? Jesus said in John 14:15, "If ye love me, keep my commandments"!