In scripture, the love of God is understood primarily in two ways. Neither of them has much to do with what we commonly think of as emotionally based love.
He is a God of relationship and covenants.
First, scriptural love is associated with the idea of covenant loyalty. The Bible teaches that God himself, the one God, is tri-personal and relational. There is one God and Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. There is also a Holy Spirit, who is effective in the life of the church. The one true and living God of the Bible is tri-personal. He is a God of relationship, and he enters into covenants with his people.
In the book of Deuteronomy, for example, we read that God set his love upon Israel. This means that he chose Israel and established a covenant with Israel, just as he had established a covenant with Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. God is faithful in his covenants. He keeps his word. Scriptural love is also loyal and faithful. It keeps its word, and it makes sacrifices. The ideas of covenant and loyalty overlap and blend together—relationships and love are grounded in covenant loyalty.
Service, Sacrifice, and Self-giving
The other dominant themes associated with love in scripture are service, sacrifice, and self-giving. You see this throughout the New Testament, but one of the obvious places is in Ephesians 5:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
Paul defines love in terms of the cross, the ultimate symbol of sacrificial self-giving. The cross of Jesus is always a revelation and demonstration of God’s love.
Love is the sacrificial self-giving of myself to another, with constancy and loyalty. This is the character of God, and this is what he seeks to create in us. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ:
Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)
The Character of God
Notice the parallel there between God and us in this verse. The Bible’s notion of love is tied up in the character of God, the action and revelation of God historically through the person of Jesus Christ. God tries to accomplish this love within us.
Does this mean that God wants us to feel syrupy and sappy? No, it means that he wants us to extend ourselves sacrificially in service to others. Or, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2,
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant… (Philippians 2:5-7)
God wants us to break down the clutching, grasping, crabbed, closed fists of our own egos. We’ll never fully reach that point, but if that’s not the direction we’re going, there’s a desperate problem. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John,
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected… (1 John 2:3-5)
There’s a connection here between loving one another and beginning to become all that God wants us to be on the last day. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 says,
Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
“…so that He may establish your hearts…” There’s absolutely no question that in Greek grammar this is a purpose or result clause. The New International translation of the Bible misses this fact—that’s part of why I prefer the New American Standard Version. It’s an important detail. We’re to love one another so that when we stand before God on the last day, we’ll be counted as blameless.
Is God’s Heart in You?
The Lord’s Prayer says, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). The only petition in the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus commented on is the forgiveness petition:
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15)
If your heart is not opening up, then it is not God’s heart in you. If you squeeze your heart, crimp your soul, or tighten your fist to express your independence, you’re acting against the flow of all the movements that God has done in history through Christ. When we act according to the dictates of our own egos, we work against what God is trying to do in us and through us, through our salvation in Christ and through the work of the Spirit moving in our midst.
We’re made for other people. We need other people so that we may become what God made us to be.
My prayer for myself is that I’ll never get so busy, so mean, or so crabbed that I can’t love somebody. Love is one of the hardest things in this world to do. Don’t think that having a physical relationship is the same thing. That’s the easy part. Extending your heart with sacrificial constancy to someone else, that is the character of God. That’s like Jesus giving himself for us. I pray that we will each learn to do that.
Related blogs about love and relationships:
- What You Need to Know About Christian Relationships
- The Truth About Love
- 3 Strategies that Strengthened Our Marriage
The previous was adapted from one of Dr. Robert Sloan’s sermons.