Today’s guest post comes from the pen of Jim Pemberton. Jim, his wife, Lois, and three children are members of Western Avenue Baptist Church in Statesville, NC, where they are active in the music ministry, foreign missions and local evangelism. Jim has a passion for strengthening the Body of Christ through sound Bible teaching and discipleship.
There’s a common teaching from the Bible that that God is love (1 John 4:8) and I suspect most of us are familiar with it. However, perhaps you’ve said or heard someone ask the question, “How could a loving God…?” This typically calls into question something about what the Bible teaches about God. What is often not taught is what love is according to the Bible and how it is exactly that God is love. So let’s look at that now.
Definitive and Descriptive Statements
There are two kinds of static statements that give us information on any subject. Descriptive statements give us information that may at least partially define the subject. Definitive statements may be descriptive in nature, but serve the purpose of identifying something uniquely. So if I told you that my car was red, that would narrow down which car is mine to some degree, but there are plenty of red cars in the world. If I gave you the VIN, that would narrow it down to only one car in the world.
When you are looking for how an author defines a word in the Bible, you look for definitive and descriptive statements in contexts that are appropriate for such things.
Love Never Ends
I usually stay away from loose translations of the Bible, but sometimes different translations can result in noticing something that can trigger a fruitful study. Recently, I was with a group who was reading 1 Corinthians 13 from the Good News Translation and we came to verse 8. Most translations render the Greek accurately to read “Love never ends,” in English. The translators of the GNT rendered it, “Love is eternal.” This is a descriptive statement, but the information we gain here is very useful for understanding love.
As I followed along in the reading, I realized that the rest of the chapter followed from this. The Greek doesn’t say “eternal”, but that’s essentially what it means. Every other gift of God falls away, but not love. When we stand before God, even faith and hope are mitigated by their fulfillment. Our faith is complete and our hope is complete because we are present with our Lord.
Love is Sacrificial and Submissive
Paul wrote a definitive statement for his use of love in Ephesians 5. The context is mutual submission (verse 21) as an expression of love among believers in general (verse 2) and in the covenant of marriage in particular (verses 22ff). In verse 25 he wrote the following:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,”
Although it’s cloaked in the context, the definitive statement is that love is sacrificial. In the context love is submissive in that it seeks to meet another’s needs above meeting one’s own needs.
Paul is hardly the only apostle to write extensively about love. John agreed with Paul in a definitive statement that falls in the context of a teaching conversation Jesus had with his inner core of disciples that goes into detail about what Paul seems to casually touch on in 1 Corinthians 13:8. In John 15:13, he writes:
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
This simple sentence identifies love as that which is sacrificial on a scale at which the uppermost measure is the giving of one’s own life in the course of meeting another’s need.
Love Is the Basis for the Relationship Between Members of the Trinity
If we look at what John says about love in the conversation recorded in John chapters 14-17 we see how it is that love operates in an eternal context:
In 14:1-14, Jesus describes his relationship with the father as each being in the other. His role with the father is one of submission to the Father (verses 10, 11). In verse 12 Jesus indicates that this relationship is available to the disciples through faith and the obedience of submission. In verse 15, Jesus indicates that this practice is love. He also brings in the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who he calls the “Helper” and the “Spirit of Truth”. The conversation that follows clarifies that each member of the Trinity is in each other on the basis of love (15:9, 10).
…And the Basis for Our Relationship with God
The amazing thing I notice is that this is intended to encourage and exhort the disciples to follow in this pattern of love. In so doing, Jesus indicates that as his followers, his disciples share in that divine, eternal love. Now that’s not to say that we will become God, but rather that we have an unbreakable relationship with God the same way that the members of the trinity have with each other. This gives us boldness in the face of the darkness of this world. If anything, this is John’s Great Commission discourse.
If you love God, go with the knowledge that you are in him and you have him in you with power and authority to accomplish what he has for you to accomplish in his name. So, when we face hardships the question is not how a loving God could allow such things. Rather our response should joy in the fact that we have him with us to face the worst situations.