It is grievous to someone who loves another when the loved one spurns, ignores or responds coldly to the love offered. How God must lament in His love for the world which continues to reject Him, a world that He "so loved...that he gave his only begotten Son;...that the world through him might be saved" (Jn:3:16-17)! Not only does He love us, but He desires our love in return. Such is the nature of love, and "God is love" (1 Jn:4:8).
It is astonishing to think that being loved by the very Creator of the universe moves us so little. To know God is to love Him. But how can we love Him as we ought when we spend so little time in fellowship with Him and in meditating upon His person, work and Word?
The very first and greatest of God's commandments to man is "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut 6:5; Mat:22:37; Mk 12:30, etc.). In putting love first, God shows that obedience to His commands is to be a joy, not a burden. Indeed, obedience that is not motivated by love is not acceptable to God: "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom:13:10; Gal:5:14). God created within us the capacity to love, and requires our love, not to tyrannize us, but because He wants to bless us. That fact often seems difficult to believe. Viewed from our limited and warped perspective, those circumstances which God allows to invade our lives often seem to us unnecessarily harsh or depriving. We are like a baby crying in its crib because a parent has just carefully taken from its hands a double-edged razor blade.
Love desires the highest good and greatest blessing for the one loved—and the most rapturous blessing is close fellowship with the one loved. Thus God says, "He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb:11:6). Instead, many seek the blessings they hope to receive from God and miss the true reward: the Blesser himself. The greatest gift God can give is Himself. Yet many seek gifts instead of the Giver. There is so much emphasis upon getting healing, prosperity, blessing, happiness. What a poor bargain to gain the whole world and miss God! How many would consider it a wonderful privilege to know intimately a great personage of this world, yet neglect the offer of intimate friendship and fellowship with the Creator himself!
God's love is a neglected topic among Christians. There is much teaching about loving one another, but little concerning God's great love for us and our love response to Him. We often encourage ourselves in a crisis with the phrase "all things work together for good" and forget that this promise is "to them that love God" (Rom:8:28). God told Israel repeatedly, "Know therefore that the LORD thy God...keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments..." (Deut 5:10; 7:9; Ex 20:6; Neh:1:5; Dan:9:4, etc.). Jude writes, "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (v 21), but seminaries and Christian colleges don't even offer a course in how to do that.
Poets, songwriters and novelists agree that love is the most wonderful of human experiences. However, it has been romanticized into something one falls into, and therefore can just as easily fall out of because it has been divorced from its major ingredient, faithfulness. By commanding love, God tells us that love is a choice and a commitment. We are to love our neighbors (Lev:19:18; Mk 12:31, etc.) and even our enemies (Lk 6:27, etc.).
When love has its rightful place, all else is in harmony. Jesus said to His disciples, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (Jn:14:23). My heart is often smitten by how little I revel in His love to me and how seldom I fervently express my love to my Lord.
God cannot accept worship or praise that is not motivated by love and accompanied by the obedience which love produces. Without love for God, worship is but empty forms and phrases. There is no inherent virtue or power (ex opere operato"in the act itself," as Catholicism teaches) in liturgy or ritual: "I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats....Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me....Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth..." (Isa:1:11-14). The repetition of formulas (such as the rosary) in prayer is equally abominable. Jesus declared, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them" (Mat:6:7-8).
In fact, Paul lets us know that without love nothing is of value or meaningful: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,...and...have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,...and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and...give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Cor:13:1-3). In the Old Testament God often reminds His people Israel that their first duty is to love Him, and that if they will do so He will bless them abundantly:
Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway....I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart, and with all your soul....I command you, to do them [all these commandments], to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him; then will the LORD drive out all these nations from before you...there shall no man be able to stand before you.... (Deut 11:1,13, 22-25; Josh:22:5; Ps:31:23, etc.).
Tragically, instead of loving God, Israel turned from Him to the idols of the surrounding pagan nations (Jer:2:11), forcing Him to execute judgment upon the chosen people whom He loved. God mourned continually for His people (Ps:81:13-16; Isa:48:18;1:2-3; 65:2-3; Jer:2:32, etc.). Jesus likewise, in a clear expression of His deity, wept for Israel: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing, and ye would not!" (Mat:23:37).
Before we can love God He must woo and win us. He has not failed to do so; the problem is in our lack of response. We can all testify that God has been persistent in His desire to convince us of His love and to draw us to Himself. By the wooing of His Spirit, God captures our hearts with the revelation of His love. Of ourselves we don't seek Him, but in His great love He seeks us: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn:4:10). As a result, "...we love him because he first loved us" (v 19). We know this by faith; yet our lives so often do not reflect its reality.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we find it difficult to believe that God, who is so high and holy, infinite in power, wisdom and knowledge, could really love us. We believe that He does, but at the same time His love seems to be more a matter of some universal principle than truly personal. The classic hymn expresses our need well:
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart,
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
Help me to love Thee as I ought to love!
Many Christians who love the Lord are nevertheless plagued with puzzling questions about God's love. For example, "Why doesn't God speak with an audible voice or go to greater lengths to prove His existence?" It is even claimed that no one can believe the gospel without accompanying miracles.
In fact, God has provided far more evidence than anyone needs, both in creation all around us and in our consciences. No people ever had such overwhelming evidence as Israel: the Red Sea parting before them, then swallowing up their pursuers; God speaking with an audible voice from Mount Sinai in concert with earthquake and fire on its summit; a literal pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day to guide their steps; shoes and clothes which never wore out; a gift of heaven-sent food every morning, etc., etc. Yet no people were ever so unbelieving and rebellious (Ps:81:11; Isa:6:5).
Surely Christ did more than enough miracles. Nevertheless, "though he [Christ] had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him" (Jn:12:37). The problem is not in any lack of evidence or failure by God to do all He can to win us; the problem lies in the human heart.
The incorrigible nature of unrepentant hearts will be demonstrated conclusively in the Millennium, when the world is a paradise far superior to the Garden of Eden. Christ reigns in righteousness and the saints reign with Him in resurrected and glorified bodies. Satan is locked up and can tempt no one. Yet as soon as Satan is released multitudes follow him in open rebellion, attempting to overthrow Christ's rule from Jerusalem (Rev:20:1-9).
Still the argument persists: "If God really loves us, why does He allow anyone to go to hell?" The answer is obvious. God cannot exercise love at the expense of His justice. His character cannot be divided. In view of Christ's sacrifice, no one can complain of God's judgment upon sinners who reject Christ.
How often do parents indulge their children or, having threatened punishment, fail to fulfill their promise! Not so God. He means what He says and says what He means. Any who will spend eternity in hell have only themselves to blame for having rejected the pardon God has offered through Christ's payment for their sin, for "he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn:2:2).
Consider a judge who has presided over the trial of a man accused of unspeakable crimes. The evidence has proved the defendant guilty and the law requires the death penalty. The defendant is the judge's own son. Brokenhearted, the father relives again his son's stubborn rebellion against him and all authority in spite of faithful discipline, the futile attempts to change his son's downward course and rescue him from destruction, and his son's persistence in living for self. The father's love is undiminished, but he also is a just judge, and love cannot compromise justice. The penalty required by the law must be paid.
Yes, love, like justice, cannot turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the truth. Love can offer neither grace nor mercy until the full truth concerning the evil which is to be forgiven has been laid bare. Thus the psalmist declares with joy, "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Ps:85:10). John testified of Jesus, "and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn:1:14).
Real love corrects those loved, "for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth" (Heb:12:6). Jesus said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev:3:19). If we truly love God and man, we will expend ourselves in warning the lost and rebuking those who are leading multitudes astray with false doctrine, for we are to preach the Word, reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim 4) in order to rescue as many as possible from God's final judgment.
Christ wept in the Garden and pleaded with His Father to deliver Him from the cross if there was any other way for man to be saved. Not because the physical suffering would be too much to bear. Nor was it His physical sufferings that saved us, but the judgment He endured as the sacrifice for our sins. He suffered the penalty demanded by His own infinite justice: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin..." (Isa:53:10). Christ shrank from being made the thing He hated: "For he [God] hath made to be sin for us, [He] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor:5:21).
The answer from the Father was that the penalty had to be paid and Christ alone could pay it. For God, then, to let anyone into heaven on any other basis than the Cross would be a slap in the face to Christ. It would also prove God, who cannot lie, to be a liar (Num:23:19).
Christ did not die for us because we were deserving, but because of His love for us. So it was in God's choosing of Israel: "The LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself... because the LORD loved you..." (Deut 7:6-8). That fact is difficult for us to understand. In our inability to comprehend, we cry out, "How can it be that the infinite God who created the universe actually loves us, not with the impersonal "love" of some cosmic energy but with a love more intensely personal than that between husband and wife or a mother for her child?"
The sad truth is that among today's Christians the emphasis is upon loving and esteeming self rather than God. One of the proponents of this concept declares, "The death of Christ on the cross is God's price tag on a human soul...[it means] we really are Somebodies!" In fact, Christ didn't die for "somebodies," but for sinners. Another has called the Cross "a foundation for self-esteem"! On the contrary, that Christ had to die on the cross to redeem us should make us ashamed—and eternally grateful—for it was our sins that nailed Him there.
The sinful woman, having been forgiven much by Christ, loved Him much (Lk 7:47). The more conscious we are of the greatness of our sin, the more we will love the One who reached so deep into the mire to pick us up and bring us to Himself. Unworthy of His love and sacrifice as we are, our eternal love song will be "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood....Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" (Rev:1:5, 5:12)! TBC