Peter Sammons reflects on the love of God. Part 1 of 2.
Can we really speak about “the unconditional love of God”? Is this idea supported in Scripture, or in the words of Jesus? For some this article (in two parts) will make for uncomfortable reading. Yet it is absolutely essential that we correctly understand God’s wonderful love so that we do not abuse it, nor create frankly ungodly ‘theologies’ based on what is often a nebulous concept.
I have two buddies who have quite varying and disparate views of the Divine. In conversation once, I asked them “If there is one word that, in English, perfectly describes the nature of God, what letter would that word begin with?” Without any hesitation, both of them said “L”. We went on to discuss another word that arguably better describes the nature of God, beginning with “R” – of which neither of them was aware. More of that in our second article.
Nowhere in Scripture is God’s love described as ‘unconditional’. The concept is a rather modern one, and seeks to sentimentalize and universalize ‘the love of God’. So wide-ranging is God’s love said to be that He is said, by some, to ‘save’ everyone for all eternity (‘universalism’), which makes rather a mockery of this being the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). I asked someone expressing this view whether Satan would also be saved. He said, after slight hesitation, “I don’t know!” ‘Love’ is thought by some to be essentially all that God is. This ‘god’ becomes an amiable Father figure who might ‘save’ even the devil. Somehow ‘love’ is seen to ‘trump’ all God’s other attributes* such as holiness, righteousness, immutability and wrath. This purported ‘love’ means that God is compelled to forgive because His love is ‘unconditional’. In the words of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) “Of course God will forgive me; that’s His job”.
* A useful if incomplete summary of the attributes of God:
Here is a very challenging truth. When God’s ‘love’ is encountered in Scripture, it is almost always expressed as being directed towards two groups of people, rather than directed at everyone, universally. The love of God is expressed as being invested in (1) the Jewish people and (2) in those who believe on the Lord Jesus. If readers do not believe this, then check me out! Check your Bible in detail. Read it carefully. Where ‘love’ is mentioned, what is the precise context in which it is cited? Who precisely is being spoken about? What precisely is being revealed?
There may be two or three exceptions to the rule, where ‘love’ is expressed in a more universal way. But God’s love is virtually always expressed towards His Chosen people (the Hebrew nation) and towards those who place their trust in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Understanding that the true ‘church’ is grafted-in to the Jewish root stock (Romans 11:24), it is arguable that God’s assembled people, whether Jew or Gentile, are those whom he loves. In this sense ‘the church’ might be considered as ‘expanded Israel’ or ‘Israel enlarged’.
Different kinds of ‘love’
‘Love’ is a term that is often encountered in Messiahian theology and ethics. We must note at the outset that this word in the English language is very ambiguous, covering widely disparate meanings. In the New Testament ‘love’ is used to translate a number of different words from the Greek, each of which has differing meanings in the original. So there is scope for considerable confusion and misunderstanding.
In biblical usage there is a strongly moral sense to this word – something often forgotten by those who sentimentalize
references to the love of God (of which there are fewer than many Messiahians imagine). Of the Greek words today loosely translated as ‘love’, eros (sexual attraction/love) does not appear in the New Testament. The Greek phileo, signifying natural affection (with more feeling than reason) occurs twenty-five times, with philadelphia (brotherly love) five times, and philia (friendship) occurring in James 4:4, but also, very importantly (from the same phileo root) in the last two of Jesus’ three questions addressed to Peter in John 21.
By far the most frequent Greek biblical word translated into
English as ‘love’ is agape, generally taken to signify a moral
good rather than attraction. Agape includes doing good to
the undeserving and the unattractive person. It can involve
meeting a need. The difference between agape and phileo
may be difficult to comprehend in all passages.
True love does not come naturally to fallen man (e.g. the love that causes a man to pray for his enemies; Matthew 5:44). Love in its highest ‘agape’ form has been revealed in the Lord Jesus Messiah. John writes that ‘God is [agape] love’ (1 John 4:8) but he is not thereby saying that love is all that God is. Rather, this statement is a message addressed to believers (as, of course, are all the epistles). The context is relational – the relationship between the believer and God – and has to do with believing, with confessing Jesus, and abiding in him. It is made clear that the love of which God is the perfect source is to be reflected in the lives of his people. (1 John 4:8–21.)
(ice, water, steam)
Love in the Trinity
The way each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity relates to the other two Persons is love, so love is in the Godhead. We take from this great truth that it was not loneliness that prompted God to create human beings in his image, rather it was his will to share his perfect love with others. This helps us define the nature of love in its purest form. It is ‘my best for another’s best’.
Agape love should predominate amongst believers towards each other. Instead of being self-centred, agape is focused on the welfare of another person. This kind of loving is truly godly for it reflects something of the very nature of God himself. It also follows that failure to love like this is to fall short of the glory of God: it is sin (Romans 3:23). At the Fall, Adam and Eve put themselves at the centre instead of God and became tainted with sin (disobedience to God). The devil tempted them to sin. That sinfulness has been passed on to all of us (Romans 3:10–18).
Thus there was a profound gulf between man and God, and only God could provide what we need. When Messiah Jesus came into the world and gave his life as the sacrifice for our sin, that was agape love. Jesus, true God and true man, opened up the only way for man to have the righteousness, without which it is impossible to relate to a perfectly holy God.
God shows his love for us in that: ‘While we were still sinners, Messiah died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Jesus always put his Father first, and could say: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8–11). Perfect love shows the character of Messiah (Ephesians 3:19). Love includes: praying for enemies, as we have seen, and putting the Lord first (see Matthew 10:37). It is patient, kind, and not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, self-seeking, irritable, resentful (bearing grudges). It is not glad when there is wrongdoing.
Love is long-suffering, eager to believe the best, hopes in all
circumstances, endures no matter what happens, and never
comes to an end (1 Corinthians 13:4–8). Love banishes
fear (1 John 4:18), and does no wrong to a neighbour (Romans 13:10). Love delights in serving (Galatians 5:13). It is not worldly (see 1 John 2:15–17).
We cannot do all this in our own strength, for in our natural,
fallen state we all tend to put ourselves and our interests before the good of others. Our own efforts are inadequate. Spiritual giftedness is no substitute for it (1 Corinthians 12:31–13:3). Good works are no substitute for it (1 Corinthians 13:3; Titus 3:5). Even a martyr’s death is no substitute for it (1Corinthians 13:3).
Godly love is of God and must be God’s own doing in us through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). All need to be ‘born again’ of water and Spirit. We can then be aware of Messiah in us, ‘the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). The way of life and love is made available to sinners who repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, who are baptised in Holy Spirit and go on being filled with Holy Spirit. It is the calling of those who belong to Messiah to live their lives in step with the Holy Spirit. As fruit grows unconsciously upon the branches of a tree, so agape love will grow and appear unconsciously in the personality of believers, as the Spirit works in their lives and they co-operate in that life.
Fruit could not survive if it were only tied onto branches! In the same way, this genuinely Messiah-like life of true agape springs from regeneration – though, after regeneration, much sanctification and reforming of thinking has still to occur as we let our minds be renewed by God’s word!
John 3:6–21; 13:35; 15:1–5; Romans 5:5; 8:35–39;
Ephesians 2:4–6, 5:2; Philippians 2:12–13; 2 Timothy 1:13;
2 Peter 1:3–11; 3:18; 1 John 4:7–8, 16.
Please look out for our concluding article.
Here are some further insights into the love of God: http://www.Messiahian-publications-int.com/images/PDF/BibleStudent/25_LOVE.pdf
A recent article on a similar theme:
Peter Sammons’ book “Rebel Church” is freely available as a PDF file here: https://www.Messiahian-publications-int.com/images/PDF/RebelChurch.pdf
 See Rev Alex Jacob’s book “The Case or Enlargement Theology” (a proper theology book) and its shorter summary “Receive the Truth”.