Published February 9, 2016
"God Is Love"
If you were asked to describe God in one word, what would it be?
Well, common expressions about God include such things as "omnipresent," "omniscient," "omnipotent," and, of course, "Holy." All of those, and many more such adjectives, are certainly true. But the Apostle John, who sat under Jesus' own teachings, summed up the nature of God in just one word "love."
In 1 John 4, John twice says (in verses 4 and 16), that "God is love." He didn't say God has love or that God is loving, although that is certainly implied. He said, simply, that God defines love. God is the quintessential definition of love. Where God is, love is. You can't have God without love. Nor can you have true love apart from God.
How amazing and stunning this concept was to people of John's time. God had previously been thought of in many ways, but seldom, explicitly, as "love." The Old Testament includes references to God's love for His people (such as in Deut. 7:7-8, Zeph. 3:17) and even God's desire to be loved by His people (Deut. 7:9). But nowhere (that I could find) does it say explicitly that "God is love."
This shouldn't be surprising, because Christ came to give us a new understanding of God, to show us the Father, and this is revealed to us in the New Testament. Christ said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). And, especially, Christ came to show us God's love.
The best-known verse in the New Testament explores the extent of God's love: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). If we say that God is love, there is no way that God could NOT have sent His Son. Failure to do so would have meant a failure of love -- a violation of God's very character.
What's more, to say that "God is love" sheds light on what is arguably God's most essential nature. Love, after all, is relational. One cannot truly love if there is no one to love. A quick check of the dictionary's definition of "love" finds that all of the primary definitions involve relationships. So to say that God is love means that God, by His very essence, is and wants relationships.
This should come as no surprise because that's why He created mankind, to have a relationship. God wanted someone a people upon whom He could shower the love that is His essence. But that initial relationship with Adam and Eve was broken by sin. So, God sent His Son to restore that relationship. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Now, I'm saying this, not just to give you a "warm and fuzzy" feeling about God, but to remind you of an essential truth of the Christian life. In all that we do, we are to strive to be like Christ. And He called upon us, as His followers, to "abide in My love" (John 15:9). That means we are to "live in" God's love. It's to be how we live. What's more, living a loving life is not just a suggestion. "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (v. 12). And again, "These things I command you, that you love one another" (v. 17).
So, if God is love, and we're to be like Him, we had better pay close attention to what the Bible says love is. 1 Corinthians 13 is often called the "love chapter." Let's look at a few things Paul tells us love is, beginning at verse 4: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails..." (Verses 4-8a). Wow. Paul sets the bar pretty high for living a life of love, but that's what Christ wants -- and demands.
But Christ doesn't just demand it, He empowers us through His Holy Spirit -- to the extent we allow it -- to exemplify God's love. "Love" is, after all, the very first "fruit of the Spirit" listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22. If God is in you through His Holy Spirit, you will evidence that by your love for others. And, in so doing, you will be manifesting Christ in your life. To be a true follower of Christ, you really have no other option. "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments..." (2 John 1:6). "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11), and "this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also" (v.21).
There is great benefit to this. As we live a life of love toward others and, more and more, allow our lives to be governed by an exercise of love in all matters, we'll find our relationship with God grows and deepens. The poet Samuel T. Coleridge put it this way: "He prayeth best who loveth best."
The more we love, the more we are like God, Who is love.
Note: This column first appeared Feb. 12, 2008.
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