The Judeo/Christian God is different than all other gods. The God of Israel is a God of love and compassion. What a great contrast this is with the pagan deities of antiquity. These gods were often mean, capricious and sometimes appeared equally depraved as humans. For instance, the ancient and detestable god, Molech, was such a one; so cruel and unloving that he regularly required small children to be burned in his sacrificial fires (2 Ki. 23:10). He was certainly not alone in this requirement.
The idea of a loving God was unknown in the ancient world until the God of Israel was revealed. We will also search in vain for the concept of a truly loving god in the neo-paganism of today.
GOD’S NATURE IS LOVE
In Deuteronomy 7:8, we read of this loving God and his covenant relationship to Israel: “it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
From what we can see in scripture, love is the one word that best sums up the personality and nature of the true God. In 1 John 4:16 the Beloved Apostle says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”
This love of God is so vast, so deep and so wide that it is difficult for us to comprehend. Paul once prayed that the church at Ephesus would somehow be able to understand this amazing love. He prayed that they would come “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19).
The following third stanza of Frederick Lehman’s beautiful and modern hymn, The Love of God, was actually composed in 1096 by a Jewish songwriter, Rabbi Mayer, of Germany. The stanza so well expresses God’s love with these words:
Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies
of parchment made,
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill and ev’ry man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole tho stretched from
sky to sky.
GOD’S LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL AND EVERLASTING
First, God’s great love is unconditional. It is so great and so unconditional that he cares and provides for all his creatures and especially for humankind (Psa. 104: 10-30; cf. Acts 14:17). He is indeed a loving and impartial God for it is said in Matthew 5:45: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
But God’s greatest act of impartial and unconditional love was to send his Son to die for our sins. In Romans 5:8 we read these assuring words: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This amazing, wonderful and unconditional love has been the basis of the Gospel message that has gone out all over the world for almost twenty centuries. The very heart of this Gospel or “good news,” is seen in the famous words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God’s love is not just unconditional, but it is also eternal. In 1 Corinthians 13:8, Paul speaks of this saying: “Love never fails.” It is not just in the New Testament that we read about the everlasting nature of God’s love but it is in the Old Testament (Tanakh) as we have seen earlier. We learn that the great love of Israel’s God is not a fickle love or one that fades away. In Jeremiah 31:3 the Lord says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
The great love ofIsrael’s loving God is a forever thing.
GOD HAS A SPECIAL LOVE FOR HIS SAINTS
When we become members of God’s household and of the House of Israel by faith in Jesus, the Lord pours out his love into our hearts through his gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). We become filled with God’s love.
Jesus in his earthly ministry pictured this great love for his own people. In John 13:1 (NKJV) we read: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” Even in these last hours of Jesus’ life he was not distracted from this great love and allowed John to repose upon his breast.
It is almost unbelievable that God has the same love for us humans as he has for his dear Son, Jesus. In the great High Priestly Prayer of John 17 Jesus asks the Father: “that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (Jn. 17:26). We must remember that Jesus had all his prayers answered.
If we had to summarize the Bible, Judaism and Christianity we could probably do it with a combination of these words – “holy, love relationship.” The whole of the Christian life is simply a loving relationship and sweet response to the love that God has given to us.
Again, there is probably no writer in the Bible that expresses this relationship any better than the apostle John. He was no doubt the closest of all the disciples to Jesus. In his Gospel and three small epistles he speaks much of this love relationship. Many years after John leaned upon Jesus’ breast (perhaps he was even thinking of this event) he exulted in his Savior’s great love. He says: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (1 John 3:1-3). In another place John reports Jesus’ words: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn. 15:9). Here it is again. We are loved by Jesus just as Jesus was loved by God! Do we yet realize this glorious fact?
THE REAL TEST OF LOVE
Because God has so loved us we must try to return that love to him and to others. John says: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8). The love of our brothers and sisters in Christ is the real test of whether or not God’s love has gotten through to us. In 1 John 4:20, the apostle states: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
Perhaps the two great commandments of Jesus best sum up our necessary response to this great love of God. Jesus says: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mk. 12:30-31). In 1 John 4:10 we read that our love is only in response to his love: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for
THE GREATEST THING
Love has been called the greatest thing in all the world. Paul says that love is greater than the greatest things of the Christian faith, even the key things like faith and hope. Love is also the most exciting and glorious thing. When we finally realize the great love that God has for us we are sent into ecstasy and transformed forever.
Publication date, 2005
Picture credit, Wikimedia Commons
The Prodigal Son received by his loving father
Painter unknown, 1663-65