Love is a dominant and indispensable virtue in the Judeo-Christian religions. Through its impelling influence, the good news of God’s care for man has ceaselessly expanded toward the remote corners of the world for nearly two millennia. From the prophets of the Old Testament to the preachers of today, the note of love has been sounded. Love in divine-human relationships and in interhuman relationships is at the heart of Christian life and teachings. Hymns, songs, lit., and poetry have been inspired and vitalized by the theme of love.
Paul declared love to be the greatest of the Christian graces (1 Cor 13:13). John stated that God Himself is love, and that love emanates from God (1 John 4:7f.). Jesus showed that love was the identifying badge of divine sonship (Matt 5:44f.). Love is also a prerequisite to being a good citizen, a good neighbor, or a good husband or wife or parent.
Hebrew and Greek Terms for Love
Love is an abstract quality and is therefore indefinable in precise terminology. It finds expression in both nouns and verbs, and so occurs throughout the Bible. Love is defined in the dictionary as “An emotion, sentiment, or feeling of pleasurable attraction toward, or delight in something, as a principle, or a person, or a thing, which induces a desire for the presence, possession, well-being, or promotion of its object...,” plus such terms as “strong feeling of affection...devoted attachment... great tenderness.” These terms are obviously more descriptive than definitive.
The Hebrew verb for love is אָהַב, H170, meaning “to breathe after... to lust... to be attached... to delight... to love.” It, with its noun form, ahabbah is used for various types of love in the Old Testament. Some examples of its use are: (a) sensuous, both legitimate and lustful, as shown respectively when Jacob “loved Rachel” (Gen 29:30), and when Amnon declared, “I love Tamar” (2 Sam 13:4); (b) covenantal love between David and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:26); (c) and spiritual love existing between God and Israel (Deut 4:37; Mal 1:2).
Agape acquired special significance as the name applied to the love feasts of early Christians. This feast was a common meal in connection with and prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It was truly a love feast expressing and fostering mutual love. Therein poorer Christians mingled with the wealthier and partook in common with the rest of the food provided by the wealthier. This feast is mentioned by name or referred to in substance by three New Testament writers (Jude 12; cf. 1 Cor 11:20-22; 2 Pet 2:13).
Because there is of necessity some overlapping in the meanings of philia and agape (nouns), they are in some instances used inter-changeably, though their basic difference is maintained (cf. John 14:23 and 16:27). One clear distinction may be seen in application. Since love as an emotion cannot be commanded, philia may not be used in a command to love. Contrarily, love as a choice may be commanded; hence, Jesus commanded His disciples to “love (agapate) your enemies” (Matt 5:44). Actually the two terms may be used in conjunction without a threat to semantics, as philemati agapes, “the kiss of love” (1 Pet 5:14).
Though love itself is an attribute (of God), it in turn consists of attributes. It is through these attributes, functional characteristics, and fruits, that love is portrayed in the Bible rather than through definitive terms. From the earliest patriarchal records (Gen 24:12), the durability and permanence of love is portrayed in the continual recurrence of the phrase “steadfast love.” It occurs in nearly every book in the Old Testament, totaling at least 171 times in the Revised Standard Version, and is particularly frequent in the Psalms and the later writings. It appears seven times in 2 Chronicles (1:8; 5:13; 6:14; etc.), and twenty-six times in Psalm 136. This is a thanksgiving psalm for the Lord’s great deeds on behalf of His people, in which the response is, “For his steadfast love endures for ever.” The same quality appears in Jeremiah when God promises joyful restoration from Babylonian exile, declaring to Israel, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3). Paul likewise subscribes to the eternal quality of love in declaring that “Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8a).
Another attribute of love is power. The maiden in the love song declares that “love is strong as death” Song of Solomon; and then with fire as a metaphor says, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Song of Solomon 8:7). The power of love between the sexes sometimes forces one into unconventional ways, as in the case of Samson’s love for the Philistine women (Judg 14-16). The power of love holds the family together, binds church members together, and tethers man to God.
Charity, in the broad sense of giving, is a primary quality of love. Certainly, giving is Godlike. “For God so loved the world that he gave...” His dearest and best to save man (John 3:16). Likewise, Jesus so loved people that He willingly died for them (Eph 5:2). The Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas said that creation itself sprang from God’s love of giving. Love separates the givers from the getters. Consequently, eleven disciples left all that they had to give themselves to Jesus and His work, whereas Judas grabbed thirty pieces of silver. The reward of the former was membership in the infinite kingdom of love; the reward of the latter an untimely and ignominious death.
Other characteristics of love are compassion, tenderness, and sympathy. An old hymn says, “Love drew salvation’s plan... love brought God down to man.” Love puts one in the other’s place. Contemporary psychology has popularized the word “empathy,” but its meaning is as old as the Christian era, as God in Christ projected Himself into human life. Jesus’ own love was expressed in compassion and sympathy as “he bore the sin of many” (Isa 53:12), and as He wept with those who mourned (John 11:35).
The fullest Biblical commentary on love is Paul’s ode on love, 1 Corinthians 13. It appears as the climax to his discussion on spiritual gifts in the preceding ch. (vv. 1-11). All these, he says, are worthless without love. Even if he has gifts of tongues, prophecy, faith, and makes the supreme sacrifice, he says, “but have not love, I am nothing....I gain nothing” (vv. 1-3). He then lists the attributes and characteristics of love:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7).
In the succeeding verses he says that “Love never ends” (v. 8a); points up the perfection and maturity of love (v. 10f.); and concludes, “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (v. 13). Paul was a beneficiary of God’s love, and was therefore keenly aware of its necessity and effectiveness in his ministry as Christ’s emissary.
The love of God
To experience love is to experience God; to know love is to know God. God is inseparable from His nature. It is significant that Paul wrote both of “the God of love” and “the love of God” (2 Cor 13:11, 14). The former signifies the nature of God, and the latter, the expression of that nature. Both claim and reward man’s noblest self.
Attribute of God’s nature
Love is a part of the nature of God, and has its ultimate origin in God. Every expression of love, therefore, whether of God or man, emanates from God. “God is love” (1 John 4:8b), and consequently all love has its roots in the God-head. To love is to be like God. The essence of God’s nature is portrayed by John as “life” (John 1:4), “spirit” (4:24), “light” (1 John 1:5), “truth” (1:6), and “love” (4:8).
Although love is an eternal attribute of God, which always benefits man, it was through the long process of revelation that man became more aware of this significant fact. It was not until the decline of the northern kingdom that the love of God, in Hosea’s prophecy, was presented as a dominant theme (Hos 11:1). Later, at the fall of the southern kingdom, Jeremiah portrayed the Lord as a God of love, compassion, and tenderness, not only to the Jews but to all mankind (Jer 31:3). In the dark days of the Babylonian exile, Isaiah sang, “I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord...his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Isa 63:7).
Expression of God’s nature
The love of God may be seen in all His creative works. At times and places law and power are more in evidence in nature, but God’s love is undergirding all (Rom 1:20). Love is manifested in beauty and orderliness, and in the balance and sustenance of natural life. Nature in turn becomes an instrument of God’s love for man in providing food in plants (Gen 1:29f.) and in fish, birds, and animals (Gen 9:2f.). God’s promise to Noah after the Flood summarizes His loving care for man through natural laws: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease” (Gen 8:22). God’s love also transcends the area of ecology.
Enoch and Noah experienced the personal love of God. Abraham achieved divine favor and was chosen as the fountainhead of God’s immeasurable redeeming love (Gen 12:2; 22:15ff.). Subsequently, God progressively revealed His love to man until it reached its fullest measure in the gift of Jesus Christ. Early in His ministry, Jesus revealed to Nicodemus, a ruler and teacher of Israel, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Luther called this verse “the Gospel in miniature.” It reveals both the extent and power of God’s love. It reveals the fatherhood of God and His compassionate care for His children on earth. Jesus’ entire ministry expressed God’s love.
Extension of God’s nature
Christ is the foremost object of God’s love (John 17:24), yet long before Christ made His appearance in history God was manifesting His love to man. When Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the two new tables of stone, God disclosed Himself as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin...” (Exod 34:6f.). Subsequently, it became increasingly evident that Israel was the object of God’s love.
Even in Israel’s apostasy, God revealed to the prophet Hosea His undying love for His chosen people. Divine compassion that would not let Israel go was realistically portrayed through Hosea in the domestic drama of a faithful husband’s love to an unfaithful wife (Hos 1:2f.; 3:1-5). Hosea related God’s consoling promise, “I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily...” (14:4f.). When there was valid reason to reject Israel, God revealed Himself as a husband whose persistent love ultimately reclaims His wayward wife. This advance in revelation portrays more of the love of God, and more of its availability to man. It becomes more intimate, more personal, and consequently more vital in human affairs.
In Judah’s darkest hour--her beloved city ravaged, her sacred Temple destroyed, her nobility deported to Babylon, and her land desolate and waste--God supported His people with His hand of love. Just before this dark hour, Jeremiah declared God as one “who showest steadfast love to thousands” (Jer 32:18). He delivered God’s promise that restoration would occur and that His people would again sing their former song of praise, “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (cf. Ps 136:1). “For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord” (Jer 33:11).
God’s love was never confined to the Hebrews, but was from their progenitor mediated through them (Gen 12:3). In due time Jesus could declare that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22b). He said that “God so loved the world,” not just Israel; that He provided eternal life for all who would believe (3:16). As God was fully revealed in Jesus Christ, His nature of extending and comprehending love became manifest. Henceforth it would be known that God loved Gentiles and Jews, sinners and righteous, aliens and neighbors, rich and poor, black and white—all men everywhere (Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8), not just the favored ethnic or religious groups. In three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Luke 15:3-32)—Jesus illustrated God’s love for an individual, its searching mission accomplished, and the consequent joy in heaven. This lends credence to Paul’s assertion, “Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8).
The love of Christ
The love of Christ is unique in that Jesus is both the personification and mediator of God’s love. From this approach may be seen the donation, degrees, and demands of love.
The donation of love
Christ is the gift of God’s love to man, and sufficient for all his needs: life, liberty, healing, happiness, fellowship with man and with God. Paul admonished the Roman Christians to “Owe no one anything, except to love one another” (Rom 13:8). Love therefore is a personal product of supreme value, and a debt that every Christian owes his brother; but love is a free gift from God, unmerited by man. God does not owe it, but man does, because he is placed under obligation by the free gift from God to share it with others. When Jesus sent the Twelve on their initial tour of home missions, He said to them, “You received without pay, give without pay” (Matt 10:8b).
Jesus specifically declared to His disciples His mediation of God’s gift of love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I 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 15:9f.). Jesus’ fourfold ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and redeeming was God’s love in action, as well as an expression of Jesus’ own love (Matt 4:23; 20:28; cf. 10:7f.).
The degrees of love
There are degrees of love as there are varieties of love. “For God so loved” implies degree, in this case the fullest degree. Sinners who only “love those who love them” (Matt 5:43-48) limit their love to small degrees. Jesus admonished His disciples to do better than that. An example of degrees of love was pointed out by Jesus as He sat at table in the house of Simon the Pharisee. During the meal, a sinful woman poured ointment on Jesus, at the same time weeping and wiping His feet. The Pharisee inaudibly scorned the act because Jesus allowed a sinful woman to touch Him. In response Jesus told Simon a parable of two debtors, with unequal debts, whose creditor forgave both, and asked Simon which one would love most. Then Jesus contrasted Simon’s limited love with that of the woman, declaring that, “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
The post-resurrection scene at the seaside provides another example of the degrees of love. Here Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). The question recalled Peter’s former boast when he implied that he loved Jesus more than the other disciples did (Mark 14:29).
The gospels record that Jesus stated the measure of love. Man was to love God with “all” his faculties and being; and he was to love his neighbor as himself (Matt 22:37ff.). The law then was summarized in the expression of love as stated in these two commandments (cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18). To these Jesus added a new commandment of love by which His disciples were to be bound in spiritual brotherhood: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12f.). That was the supreme measure of love, the highest degree possible to man. Soon afterward Jesus laid down His life for His friends, and challenged them to comparable devotion.
The demands of love
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor 5:14). Christians are controlled, constrained, and motivated by the love of Christ. As Jesus faced the cross, He said, “He who loves his life loses it” (John 12:25). Jesus was ready to lose His life to save it and others. Thus He also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Paul felt the pull of that love on the cross, and He saw its effects in Christian converts. Love like that could not end at the cross; it would find response in the hearts of people and make demands upon their lives.
The love of Christ placed Paul “under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (Rom 1:14). Throughout this masterful treatise, Paul made it clear that his impelling drive to share his spiritual blessings came out of his experience in Christ. His rejoicing, endurance, and hope, even in suffering, were “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This love he traced through Christ from God, climaxed in the Crucifixion. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). All the commands of the Decalogue could not be as effective as this one act of supreme love. Paul was willing to live for it and to die for it. It was his drive and demand, in work and in death. “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28). Triumphantly he asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”; and answered that no power or person “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35-39).
For clarity it may be seen that “the love of Christ controls” in three areas of the believer’s life: his faith, his manner of life, and his ministry. All are evident in New Testament Christians, particularly in the boldness and persistence of the apostles in their preaching. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Peter and the other apostles deliberately disobeyed the Jewish council’s order not to preach, and then boldly defied the council in court, declaring, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Stephen—a deacon, not an apostle—was so impelled by Christ’s love that he gave his life after preaching one sermon to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-60). Thousands of men and women since have followed the examples of these early Christians for the love of Christ.
The love of man
Human love has divine origin. “Love is of God...for God is love” (1 John 4:7f.), and therefore the source of man’s love. The love man has is that essential benevolent, and desirable reciprocal bond that binds him pleasingly and favorably to the beings dearest to him—family, friends, and God. After listing a number of interpersonal virtues, Paul admonished, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14). Man’s love finds expression in numerous ways between himself and his fellowman and between himself and God, in the home, community and church.
Human love in the family binds husband and wife, father and children, mother and children, and children and children. A distinctive of the Hebrew culture was its emphasis on family ties. Beginning with Abraham and increasing in importance, the home was sacred and held in highest esteem (Exod 20:14, 17). Jacob’s family, in spite of shortcomings, made an indelible impact on the history of the family. Hebrew records of genealogy is another example. Through Jesus’ life and teachings, family love was enhanced and became a cherished Christian heritage. The holy family, Jesus’ presence at a marriage, His parables related to marriages, His elevation of womanhood, and His tenderness for children formed a precedent for strong family love.
Therefore, matrimonial sexual love is legitimate, essential, and desirable. It has played a major role in human society from the beginning. The love lyrics in the Song of Solomon reflect the normal impassioned courtship love of young adulthood as a prelude to marriage. After marriage, man is told to “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Eccl 9:9a). Paul encouraged matrimonial love, and compared it to the love-bond between Christ and His Church. Consequently, he commanded: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25). To this he added the instruction,
Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church (Eph 5:28f.).
Reciprocally, he commanded that “the older women... train the young women to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:3f.). Jesus emphasized the sacredness and joy of the marriage bond both in His teachings and by His presence at the marriage at Cana, where He performed His first miracle (Matt 5:31f.; 19:3-9; John 2:1-11). Paul recommended love as the unifying bond of the entire household, mentioning “Wives... husbands... children... fathers... slaves” (Col 3:18-22). Jesus metaphorically spoke of the spiritual family, with God as the heavenly Father (John 14:23).
There is an interhuman bond of love in which neither sex nor spirit are dominant. It exists between man and man, woman and woman, and man and woman, and may be called “platonic love.” One well-known classic example stands out in Biblical history—that of Jonathan and David, one the king’s son, the other the king’s servant. When David’s life was threatened by King Saul, he informed his friend Jonathan (natural heir to the throne) of his father’s intention. Jonathan then jeopardized his own life and his royal inheritance to save David: “And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul” (1 Sam 20:17). Later, in David’s lamentation over the death of Saul and Jonathan, he expressed, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26).
Another Biblical story of friendship love, hardly less known and loved, is that between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth, a young Moabite widow, voluntarily left her native land to go with Naomi, an Israelite, back to her home in Bethlehem in Judea. Her deep devotion is expressed in the well-known verse:
Entreat me not to leave you or return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you (Ruth 1:16f.).
Jesus set a beautiful example of personal human friendship. There were specific ones of whom it was said Jesus loved. John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). Earlier, in recording the incident of Lazarus’ sickness and subsequent death, he had quoted Mary and Martha as saying in their message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (11:3). To this he added his own comment, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). It is common in human experience to have an inner circle of friends who are best loved. Jesus had His, and thereby endorsed friendship.
Love that is limited to selfish interest of a worldly and temporal nature is spurious. It expresses itself in a number of ways. One is extramarital sex indulgence, the prostitution of honorable members of the body by spurious love (1 Cor 12:23f.). Two of the Ten Commandments, seventh and tenth, forbid adultery and sexual lust respectively (Exod 20:14, 17). Jesus speaks strongly against illicit sexual desires (Matt 5:28). In the wisdom literature (Prov 7), men are warned against the enticing flattery and seduction of a harlot or adulteress who says, “Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home” (Prov 7:18f.). In the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife, the heartbreaking effects of Israel’s apostasy is illustrated (Hos 3:1). With vivid metaphor, Ezekiel drew a sordid picture of Judah’s apostasy: “The Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their lust” (Ezek 23:17).
Spurious love also takes the form of greed for material things—houses, lands, money, all kinds of worldly possessions. Jesus called these things mammon, and uttered strong warnings against their influence. He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24). He often warned against riches and, in two parables—the rich farmer (Luke 12:16-21) and the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31)—against the fatal consequences of being a slave to riches. Summarily, Paul said, “The love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). Later he wrote to Timothy, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Tim 4:10).
Jesus pointed out that even love for one’s family could be selfish. “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). Moreover, He said, “He who loves his life loses it” (John 12:25; cf. Rev 12:11).
A fourth type of spurious love is vainglory. It is most prevalent and most tempting, making its appeal to the ego. It can destroy the effectiveness of religion by replacing God with self, as did the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day. Jesus called them hypocrites who “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men” (Matt 6:5). His renunciation was strong: “Woe to you Pharisees! for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places” (Luke 11:43). He warned against the scribes for the same conduct plus their love for “the places of honor at feasts” (Luke 20:46).
To these may be added the love of pleasure and the love of wine (Prov 21:17; Isa 47:8), and anything else that may come under the heading of “the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
The highest form of man’s love is spiritual. In the godly man it is both spontaneous and commanded. Jesus defined the bond of believers in a love sequence. “As the Father has loved me, so have I 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 15:9f.). Hence, the spiritual family is man in love, and love in man, and both in God. With God and His kingdom as the focal attraction of man’s love, all other objects of man’s love may properly and acceptably fall into subordinate categories. The kingdom of God and His righteousness, however, are to be sought first for man to keep his love in proper perspective (Matt 6:33).
Love on a lower plane is based on emotion and therefore prompted by feeling, whereas spiritual love (agape) can be commanded. Consequently, in New Testament righteousness, Jesus could and did make a threefold command to love. Man must love God completely, his neighbor as himself, and his Christian brother as Christ loves him (Luke 10:27; John 15:12).
As Paul discussed various activities of the Christian life, he concluded by pointing out “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31b) with his immortal classic on love (1 Cor 13). In it he virtually personified love, and this portrayal may very well be a picture of Jesus Christ. It is at once the greatest of the spiritual gifts, the attributes of Christ, and the example of perfection for Christians. It lacks jealousy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, selfishness, and irritability; it rejoices in the right, bearing all things, believing, hoping, enduring; and never fails in any endeavor, nor ends in time or circumstance. This is spiritual love—excellent and eternal—and attainable by man through the love of Christ.
On the same high plane, John emphasized brotherly love of believers. He is persuasive in his logical presentation: God’s love is seen in sending His Son for the expiation for our sins; to love one another is the primary authentication that we know God, whom no man has ever seen; the testimony of the Holy Spirit and man’s confession that Jesus is God’s Son insures man’s dwelling in God and God in him; and this perfected love allays any fear of judgment in us; and finally that love originates with God, and that love for a brother is essential to love for God (1 John 4:7-21). According to the enlightening quality of love, John wrote, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:10). Thus Jesus, Paul and John, show the necessity, nature, and rewards of man’s spiritual love.
The legacy of love
Love may be viewed from many standpoints, but no comprehensive view is possible without citing the benefits and blessings of God’s love. Hosea stated the phrase, “fruit of steadfast love” (Hos 10:12b). It suggests the legacy of love. The multiple expressions of God’s love may be summarized in five legacies to man.
A Person—the Son of God
A Power—the Spirit of God
Someone has said that "in the Old Testament, God was for man; in Jesus Christ God was with man; and in the Holy Spirit God was in man" (see John 14:17b). God not only sent Jesus, He sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in those who love Jesus and keep His commandments (John 14:15). “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). Subsequently, Paul could rejoice in suffering, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). In turn, Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love...” (Gal 5:22; cf. Col. 1:8).
Jesus identified the Holy Spirit as God’s legacy to believers who love Christ and keep His commandments; a legacy given in response to Jesus’ prayer. “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive” (John 14:16f.). This is a unique legacy for believers only, imparting to them Christ’s life, uniting them to God, and giving peace of heart and guidance of mind (John 14:18-31). In Christ’s service, the Holy Spirit is the source of power for the believer in sustaining him, in his preaching the Gospel, and in his warfare against Satan (Acts 1:8; Rom 15:13; 1 Cor 2:4).
A province—the kingdom of God
The initial note in the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus was, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2; 4:17). In His teaching, Jesus sought, primarily through parables, to portray the image of the kingdom. Is is in essence a spiritual kingdom (Luke 1:33; 13:29; 17:21; John 18:36) whose citizens are bound together by bonds of God’s love.
A portrait—the nature of God
In all the various aspects of God’s self-disclosure, the most far-reaching and fruitful knowledge that ever came to man was the revelation that “God is love,” demonstrated fully and magnificently in Jesus Christ. The portrait of God as a loving Father was revealed by Christ (John 17:20-26). John was deeply impressed with this revelation of God. He exclaimed, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1; cf. John 1:12; Rom 8:15). The writer, in his masterful sermon, 1 John, portrays God so dominantly as love that other attributes are hardly seen. Thus Christ and the early Christians bequeathed to the Church a glowing portrait of the God of love.
A permanence—the City of God
The final word on love cannot be said, but a treatise may well be concluded with some Scriptural highlights on the subject. Paul admonished believers to “make love your aim” (1 Cor 14:1). There are three obvious reasons for doing so.
First, love is the essence of harmony. Without love there would be universal chaos. By it all other attributes of God are harmonized; by it all heavenly beings are in harmony; and, wherever it prevails on earth there is harmony. “Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Love is spiritual healing of frictions and fractures in interpersonal relations. It makes possible the boundless reach of God’s kingdom on earth. Love holds together and harmonizes various human elements. It binds the brotherhood. “In the love of God” (Jude 21) is peace and harmony. Without love, man is beastly, greedy, suspicious, selfish, murderous, and always at enmity with others. With love man builds homes, churches, and communities, and lives in harmony with God and man.
Second, love is the essence of life. “He who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14b). To love is to give, and to give is to live. Whoever loses himself in the love of God finds his life in the greatness of God (Mark 8:35). Without love one does not risk the outward reach, but is driven by fear into the suffocating bonds of self until he dies. However, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). It alleviates all fear of punishment here and hereafter. It releases the life-giving forces in man, and enables him to grow toward Christian maturity. Love is an essential ingredient for man’s sustenance, and all people all the time need it.
Finally, love is the essence of occupational service. All occupations grow out of supply and demand in such areas as food, clothing, shelter, health, education, and spiritual welfare. The supply of God’s love is abundant, and the demand is great. Agents are needed to deliver the goods. This constitutes an occupation in which there is no threat of unemployment. Every Christian is employed in the business of sharing love. Jesus closed His earthly ministry with this emphasis. Someone must take His love to the unlovely and the unloved, and keep his own supplied. At His post-resurrection appearance by Galilee, after breakfast Jesus gave Peter a second test on love. Peter had failed the first in thinking that the sword was more powerful than love. Things were different now. Love had broken the bonds of death, to which he was witness. In reminiscence of his former boast of love (Mark 14:29), and subsequent denial (John 18:17, 25-27), Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). The question was repeated three times, providing the opportunity for three affirmative answers, to revoke the three denials. Peter answered with philo in all three instances, though Jesus used agapas in the first two. He passed the test, and Jesus gave him a special threefold assignment to express his love: “Feed my lambs.... Tend my sheep.... Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). And this is the assignment of love for all Christians until the Lord of love comes again!
Bibliography and Further Reading
D. M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (1948), 184-189
G. L. Carr, The Song of Solomon (TOTC), 1984, pp. 60-67
H. M. Fosdick, The Man from Nazareth (1949), 28, 34f. 102-111, 201-208
R. B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, 1897, pp. 107ff.
G. A. F. Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament, 1959, pp. 224-29
May and Metzger, The Oxford Annotated Bible—Marginal Notes (1962), 223, 760, 815, 1306-1308, 1315, 1388-1390, 1485f.
Davies-Mitchell, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (1960), 13f.
A. T. Robertson, Greek Grammar of the NT (1923), 401, 429, 499
F. W. Robertson, Robertson’s Sermons (1901), 766-787
E. Russell, A Book of Chapel Talks (1935), 16-20, 60-63
A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1936), 401
N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, 1944, pp. 94-142
J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT (1889), 3-5, 653-655
D. E. Trueblood, The Company of the Committed (1961), 96-113
G. W. Truett, A Quest for Souls (1931), 67-71, 109
L. D. Weatherhead, The Christian Agnostic (1965), 132-141, 172, 187, 363f.