Statement of Faith Current Teaching Teaching Index
Is “Love” a Characteristic of God?
November 2011

           A good way to start any lecture or sermon is to ask a related question to get your listeners involved and attentive.  Over the 40 years of our ministry we have often used this technique.  Therefore, can anyone name an attribute of God’s character?  Inevitably the first response by most who are asked that question is “Love.”  Most Christians believe that “Love” is God’s ultimate and perfect characteristic.  This belief is absolutely wrong!  Love is not a characteristic, aspect, trait, feature, attribute or element of God.  God does not have the attribute of love, nor is He loving; NO – God IS love (1st John 4:8b)!  The Bible never defines love as a characteristic of God.  A characteristic is an attribute or quality most dominant in an individual. This quality or qualities are based on ones personal philosophies which are a combination of ones upbringing, genetics, and nationality combined with their learning and experienced history.  This is not the way the Bible defines the love of God; not even close!  The Bible lists “love” as a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), but not a characteristic.  In fact the Bible says that Love is the very nature of God (1st John 4:8b).  In fact, out of His nature of love all His characteristics or attributes originate and radiate.  When we hear someone referring to “God’s character as being love, they are referring to the grace or attribute of His very nature which is love and that love brings with it benefits and blessings beyond our imagination.  These graces are salvation, eternal life, mercy, peace, communion with God, adoption, etc, but not love.  We receive “Love,” God’s very nature, when we receive Him into our hearts (1st John 4:8b). Observe:

           “(7) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. (8) He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (9) In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (10) In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (11)  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (12) No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (13) By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (14) And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. (15) Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (16) And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him. (17) Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (18) There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (19) We love Him because He first loved us. (20) If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (21) And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1st John 4:7-21).

           Let us first take a look at verses 8 and 16.  Repeated twice, one time in each verse, the same phrase appears; “God IS Love.”  The Greek word is “agape.”  Agape is a noun.  Agape the noun and its corresponding verb “agapao” are never and can never be translated “loving.”  In the verses we see it translated the only way it can be accurately translated – “God IS Love.”  If it was rendered “God is loving” (once again, it is not translated like this in any version of the Bible), it would make God a being that had an attribute of Love.  Love would then be just a part of His being, not His very nature, essence, and existence.  If love was only a part of His being, how could we have faith and trust in Him?  Because there would always be the doubt of how God would react to us in any given situation, or for that matter, would He react at all?  But because His nature, His essence, His being, and His very existence “is” love, there can be no doubt to how He will react in every situation.  Love would be then be the foundation of every decision He makes and in every action He takes. God can only react in love, because it is an extension of His divine nature.  Brethren we must absolutely understand that love is not drawn out of God because of the excellence of an object. God’s Love is not complacent or passive; it is the driving force behind every action He takes. 

            In fact, it is so important that man understands the truth of what the love of God is, that God made love the Alpha and Omega of His Word. Love is the golden thread that runs throughout the entire Bible.  It starts with God translating His love for man in the creation story of Genesis, where all things were made for man and man was made for God.  It expressed itself even further by man being created in the image and likeness of God.  It then demonstrated itself throughout man’s history by the repeated restoration of God’s creation from depravity and sin.  The demonstration of God’s love reached its zenith when it was manifested in Christ, and was completely and divinely revealed by His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary.  The story of God’s Love does not end there however.  Its absolute fullness will be revealed and seen face to face when the heavens open, and Jesus returns to rule and reign forever.

            The Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest of all God’s commandments.  Jesus responded by telling them that the greatest of all God’s commandments was two fold; in fact “this commandment comprises the whole of true religion.”  Let us look at Matthew 22:35-40 “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, (36) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (37) Jesus said to him, ‘you shall love the Love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39)  And the second is like it: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (40) On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

            There are two things that are extremely important to recognize about these verses. 

1.  To obey God in just these two commands comprises the sum of true religion.

A.   Look at what verse 40 clearly states “on these two commandments,” said our Savior, “hang all the law and the prophets,” i.e. that is everything required by the law, and the prophets.  If man obeys just these two commands then there is no need for the Moral law of God for they would have been made unnecessary. 

B.  Refer also to Romans 13:8-10, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) for the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “you shall not murder,” “you shall not steal,” “you shall not bear false witness,” “you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (10) Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  

The law of God is our perfect and ultimate standard of right and wrong. The whole law of God is summed up in these two principles. Accordingly, obedience to these is the completeness of true religion. In other words, it is the sum of what God requires of man.

2.   Our lives are to demonstrate complete obedience to the whole law; we are to emulate God’s character in all that we do or say.  Love is the sum of the requirement. But what is the kind of love required by these commands?

A.   Love God – It is the love of the heart, and not mere emotion. Our actions should not be based on    feelings but based solely on our love for God which controls our will to obey. The will controls our conduct. And it is therefore, the love of the heart that God requires.

B.   Love Man – The man that truly loves his neighbor will not plot or do harm against him; he will not injure, nor defile his bed, nor rob or deceive, covet, or steal from him.  He will not damage his character, bear false testimony against him, but, on the contrary, he will bestow upon him all the good        he is capable of and in the same manner as he wishes to receive.  In so doing he fulfills all the law.

Agape is the expression of a perfect, Holy being to an imperfect, unholy, sinful, and unworthy mankind whose righteousness is like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Its expression produces a reverential love in man toward God the giver, “We love [Him] because He first loved us” (1st John 4:19).  This love relationship reveals itself by loving all mankind. This can only happen however, by first having an experiential relationship with Him. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another...  If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us… If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1st John 4: 11-12, 20-21). 

            Practical love toward others, enables man to further experience the Giver of Love, the one who is love, God Himself (Romans 15:2, 2nd Corinthians 5:18-20).  Practical love’s perfect expression and perfect operation were seen through the birth, life, and death of the only begotten of the Father, Jesus the Christ (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 8:32-39, 2nd Corinthians 5:14, Ephesians 2:4, 5:2, etc.).  Love is the completion of all the requirements of the Moral Law.

            When referring to the Moral Law we are referring to the Law of Moses generally speaking, but specifically the Ten Commandments – and to be more specific the second table of the Law (Commandments 5-10). This second table of the Law is described as man’s actions toward man, or actions taken in regard to our duty to our neighbor.  If people truly loved one another, all the demands of the Law would then be satisfied.  Therefore, Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Love is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments.  As stated earlier, when Jesus was asked about the greatest of all commandments He responded by giving only two.  Love is the essence of both!  Love God above all.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  It couldn’t be easier to understand.  But understanding is one thing, doing is another!  Jesus made provision for that also however. He said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).  Moreover, the apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  There can be therefore, no excuse for not loving ones neighbor if one claims to love God. 

            So how do we define, analyze or brake down love?  God uses the apostle Paul to do just that.

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; (5)  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; (6)  does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; (7)  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (8a) Love never fails” (1st Corinthians 13:4-8).

            Contained within these five verses we have what might be described as the “Spectrum of Love,” or the “Analysis of Love.”  Let’s look at what the essentials of Love are.  You will notice that these elements have common names. In fact, they are virtues that we hear about every day.  They are things that can be practiced by every man anytime in life. These elements of love which we will call “The Spectrum of Love” have fourteen ingredients:

 

            1.         Patience                       “Love suffers long.”

            2.         Kindness                     “And is kind.”

            3.         Generosity                   “love envies not.”

            4.         Humility                      “love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.”

            5.         Courtesy                      “does not behave rudely.”

            6.         Unselfishness              “does not seek its own.”

            7.         Good Tempered          “is not easily provoked.”

            8.         Guilelessness               “thinks no evil.”

            9.         Sincerity                      “rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.”

            10.       Compassion                 “Bears all things”

            11.       Sympathy                    “Believes all things”

            12.       Optimism                    “hopes all things”

            13.       Tolerance                     “endures all things”

            14.       Dependability             “Love never fails”

 

            These ingredients when they are all together, for they can not be separated, make up the supreme manifestation of divine love, as well as the stature of a perfect man. You will observe that all these are related to man and to life. They all bear on the known today and the near tomorrow. They have no bearing at all on the unknown eternity.  In eternity, there will be no unkindness, envy, or pride. There will only be love! 

            Here is the problem; in today’s world and especially in today’s churches, we hear much about loving God; however, Christ spoke much more of loving man.  We make much of peace in heaven, but Christ made more of creating peace on earth.  Brethren, we need to get our priorities straight before we are called home or Christ returns.  We must do as Paul in Philippians 2:5 said; “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” If we don’t we may not make heaven our home!

            Theologians throughout time have tried to explain God’s love so that mere man can come to some understanding of it.  This writer does not believe that anyone no matter their educational background or the heights of their intellect can explain God’s love so that man can fully comprehend it.  Do not get me wrong, they can, as I am attempting, give you some understanding of it, but it will be limited and shallow at best. 

I attend an interdenominational prayer gathering each week with Pastors and biblical scholars of all denominations.  Many of which are much more intelligent than I will ever be. It was during one of these gatherings that this very subject came up.  The dialogue concerning this lasted for hours over a period of several weeks.  The conclusion of the matter was that the only way for man to take hold of the true essence of what God’s love is, and the graces that it brings is to experience it for ones self.  Sure we can break it down into easy to understand formulas, but the true nature of it can never be, even remotely grasped until one comes into a real and intimate relationship with the Father, whose very nature is love.

            The supreme manifestation of Love is not a thing to be coveted, but a person, Jesus of Nazareth!  Who was, is, and is to come.  Who is the all in all, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end!  He is the one who from the beginning knew that man’s nature was evil and had no way of escaping the punishment due for it. Jesus is the one who knew that there was only one way for man to return to a place of rest and peace.  He’s the one who knew that man had no way of receiving the glory, honor, love, and acceptance that man once had with the Father in the Garden of Eden.  He’s the one who, in His infinite wisdom, recognized that there was no other way for His beloved creation to truly understand His love or to return to the loving bosom of God.  Knowing all this and with His heart stirred by His very nature, He gave up the glories of heaven and the blessedness of His relationship with His Father so that God could use Him as a one-time eternal sacrifice that would bridge the gulf between Himself and man and give man the ability to have that relationship once again.  He who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

            The one and only true God, clothed with the mantle of mere man came to earth with one solitary purpose. That divine purpose was the redemption of our souls.  He did it by showing us what love really is.   “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps, for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

            By this the Bible says we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1st John 3:16).  Notice how God’s love brought forth a divine act, that act brought forth a divine commission.  One can not be fully experienced without the other.

            So in conclusion let me ask you; can a man understand, be devoted or obedient to God and His Word without understanding His divine nature?  Now that we know that love is God’s divine nature, His essence, and His very existence, the answer can only be, No!  We can only know God if we have experienced Him personally and intimately.

            As stated in the beginning of this teaching; “When we hear someone referring to “God’s character as one of love, they are referring to the graces or attributes of love, which brings benefits and blessings beyond our imagination.”  Can we even begin to understand or imagine what this world or man could be, offer, experience, or have if we only knew and demonstrated the fullness of God’s love.

Next month we will examine another characteristic of God.  (16) And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (17) Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (18) There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (19) We love Him because He first loved us. (20) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (21) And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1st John 4:16-21).

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