How should we understand the love of God?

A problem …..

How can we define the nature of ‘love’ as encountered in the Bible – and in popular Western imagination? American theologian DA Carson wrote “The Difficult Doctrine of Love” back in 1999. In this half hour video Carson discusses some of the issues around the doctrine:

Here is a short book review:

Essentially it is pointed out that what the world at large means and understands in the word ‘love’, and what God’s Word in turn means, is widely, hugely, different and leads to radically different conclusions and impressions. Furthermore, when the word ‘love’ is used in the Bible, God’s love is almost universally stated as being lavished upon the Jewish nation, or those in-grafted to the Jewish nation (Romans 11:11-24, in other words, Christians).


When John writes that “God is love” (1John 4:8,16), he is not saying that  ‘Love is all that God is’ or even that ‘God is loving.’  He is saying that the way each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity relates to the other two Persons is Love. In other words, Love is the Life of the Godhead.  That is why it was not loneliness that prompted God to create human beings in His image, but rather was it the desire to share His perfect love with others.

This helps us to define the nature of love in its purest form.  It ‘my absolute best for another’s best.’ Instead of being self-centred I am focused on the welfare of another.  Such loving is truly godly for it reflects the very nature of God Himself.  It also follows that failure to love like this is to fall short of the glory of God. IUn fact, it is sin (Romans 3:23).

At the Fall, Adam and Eve put themselves in the centre instead of God, and became tainted with the Tempter’s anti-godliness.  That sickness of sin has been passed on to ALL of us (Romans 3:10-18).  However, when the Second Adam (Jesus Christ) came into the world, He lived love – even to the point of putting the good of wretched sinners above His own comfort.  “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Indeed, in His Incarnation Jesus always put His Father first in His life and could say: “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-11).  Jesus is Love incarnate in human form.

Perfect Love Shows the Character of Christ (Ephesians 3:19).  Thus:

Love prays for its enemies                                    Matthew 5:44

Love lays down its life for its friends                     John 15:13

Love puts the Lord first                                         Matthew 10:37, 22:37

Love is patient                                                      1Corinthians 13:4

Love is kind                                                          1Corinthians 13:4

Love is not jealous or envious                              1Corinthians 13:4

Love is not boastful                                               1Corinthians 13:4

Love is not arrogant                                              1Corinthians 13:4

Love is never rude                                                 1Corinthians 13:5

Love is not self-seeking                                         1Corinthians 13:5

Love is not irritable                                                1Corinthians 13:5

Love is not resentful (bearing grudges)                 1Corinthians 13:5

Love is not glad when there is wrongdoing           1Corinthians 13:6

Love is long-suffering                                             1Corinthians 13:7

Love is eager to believe the best                             1Corinthians 13:7

Love hopes in all circumstances                             1Corinthians 13:7

Love never comes to an end                                   1Corinthians 13:8

Love banishes fear                                                  1John 4:18

Love does no wrong to a neighbour                        Romans 13:10

Love pays debts promptly and settles wrongs         Romans 13:8

Love delights to serve                                              Galatians 5:13

Love is never worldly                                              1John 2:15-17

This Godly Love is beyond us fallen sinners, for we all put our own selves before the good of others.  Nor can we attain it by our own efforts:

Spiritual giftedness is no substitute for it                      1Corinthians 12:31- 13:2

Miracle-working is no substitute for it                          1Corinthians 13:2

Works of charity are no substitute for it                        1Corinthians 13:3

Even a martyr’s death is no substitute for it                  1Corinthians 13:3

Good works are no substitute for it                                Titus 3:5

This Godly Love must come from the Life of God working within us.  It is God’s own nature, and must be God’s own doing in us through the Holy Spirit whose foremost characteristic is love (Galatians 5:22-23).  We come to share in the divine nature through being spiritually “born again.”  It is “Christ in [us], the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Such Life and Love are the gift of God’s Grace to sinners. It is the calling of those who belong to Christ to cultivate their lives in the Spirit. As fruit grows unconsciously upon the branches of a tree, so Love will grow and appear unconsciously in the personality of Believers as the sap of the Spirit is allowed to rise in their lives. Fruit cannot survive if only tied to the branches, so this really Christlike life of true Love springs not from reformation, but from regeneration.  The pursuit of Love is the pursuit of Christ. No wonder Paul implores us to “Make Love [our] aim” (1Corinthians 14:1 [RSV]). Final thoughts:

John 3:6-7,16; 1John 4:7-8,16; Ephesians 2:4-6, 5:2; Romans 5:5;

2 Timothy 1:13; 2Peter 1:3-11, 3:18; John 15:1-5; Philippians 2:12-13;

1Corinthians 12:31; John 13:35; Romans 8:35,38-39