UNDERSTANDING GOD’S LOVE FOR YOU
There are two words used in the original language of the New Testament for love “phileo” and “agape.” Simply defined, phileo is friendship love (e.g. Philadelphia – city of brotherly love, and philanthropic – love of mankind). Phileo is a conditional love based on the actions, character, or love ability of the object. Agape, on the other hand, is unconditional love. It is not based upon the character of the one being loved, but on the character of the one expressing love. Agape loves whether the person is deserving or not because it has chosen to love. This is the kind of love God has for us.
By sending His only Son to die for our sins and to give us life, God demonstrated His unconditional love. He continues to love us unconditionally regardless of our behavior or performance. It is vital that we understand His agape love toward us if we are to love others in the same way. In John 3:16-17 we read: “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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
The Bible tells us that God is love. To find out how God loves you, substitute the words “love is” with “God is always” in this passage: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).”
God is love and He has defined Himself and His attitude towards us in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians that we have just read. Now, the opposite of love is not hate, as many people would think. The opposite of love is pride. Love is always concerned with others, and its focus is outward. Pride is concerned with self, and its focus is always inward. God’s agape love is the attitude of God expressed in action to man. The opposite attitude of agape love is pride. We have to remember that agape love can only come from God.
For Paul, the love of God was not just a doctrine to be understood but a reality in his own life. When he said in Romans 8:35-39, “I am convinced that…. (nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” he had learned this from his own experience. This can be a reality in your life as well. Have you come to understand the extent of God’s love for you? If not, ask the Lord to give you the power to understand His love.
SUBSTITUTES FOR LOVE
Although we seem to hear more and more talk about love, we see less and less of the reality of love in our daily experience. As a result of our lack of love for one another, we attempt to develop our own definitions and interpretations of what love is, and then diligently try to live up to our own definitions.
Sometimes the issue becomes “how to become spiritual” rather than the practical New Testament emphasis on “how to love.” Love is God-centered and therefore turns our eyes outward to others. A preoccupation with one’s own spirituality is self-centered and is therefore all inward: How is my prayer life? How spiritual do I feel? Am I really more spiritual this month than last? Can you see where we can be absorbed in our own spirituality but be utterly without love.
As stated earlier, the opposite of love is pride. Pride is at the root of any substitute for love. Only God can fill our needs for love and acceptance. When that need is not met, we try all kinds of ways to meet that need. “I” becomes the focus of that search, and it is a never-ending cycle of emptiness and longing. Check out some of the substitutes for love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Do you see how God values these things apart from love?
We have a good example of love versus pride in John 9:13-16 where Jesus restored the sight of a blind man who was well known in the community and who had been blind from birth. The Pharisees questioned him and his parents but were not willing to accept the truth that Jesus healed him but instead discredited and mocked him and even accused him of being one of Jesus’s disciples and cast him out. They also took issue with Jesus breaking the law and healing this blind person on the Sabbath. Were the Pharisees glad that the man had received his sight. No. What were the Pharisees more concerned about? It’s obvious that they were concerned about losing their power and authority (if people started following Jesus). Would you say they were demonstrating love or pride? The answer is very obvious – pride. From this example another question comes to mind: Does a preoccupation with observing the law produce love in a person’s heart? Obviously not. From God’s perspective, what is more important, observing the law or serving someone in love? Can you see where the Pharisees had no love in their heart except for pride and protecting their own interests?
Many people substitute earthly things for love. It tells us in 1 John 2:16-17 that “Everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Let me ask you this: “Which makes more sense, to trust in Christ and His love or to trust in the things of this world that will one day pass away?”
Many people confuse love with approval. They believe if they can get that special someone – a boss, a parent, a husband, or a wife – to approve of them, then they have their love. This keeps people in the never-ending cycle of trying to gain the approval of others. We read this from Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of God.” It’s obvious that winning the approval of people was not important to the apostle Paul. As believers, does the approval of people really matter when we are in Christ and are approved of by God and He loves us and accepts us unconditionally.
Look, people are constantly searching for ways to fill the deep longings that ache within them. No matter how we try to fill this need, we cannot provide the kind of love and acceptance our hearts are craving. In fact, the Bible tells us that no matter how hard we try or how much we pretend, our surface joys end in pain and heartache if the deep longing within us is not satisfied. God wants us to know that we are already completely loved and accepted by Him. His unconditional love and grace is the only source that will fill those needs within the human heart. There are no substitutes.
ABIDING IN CHRIST’S LOVE
There is clearly a discernible order in the New Testament for how God intended us to live the Christian life: 1). God’s love for us (1 John 4:10). Our knowledge of God’s love for us brings about…. 2). Our love for God (1 John 4:19). Which results in…. 3). Our dependency upon God (John 15:5). Resulting in…. 4). Our obedience to God (Romans 12:1). Notice in this pattern that our love for God, our dependence upon God, and our obedience to God are the result of knowing God’s love for us. It was the love of God demonstrated through Jesus Christ that drew us to Him when we first believed. And it is the love of God that motivates us to walk in total dependence upon Jesus today.
The message of God’s unconditional love and grace that He freely gives us in Jesus Christ is what transforms our hearts and lives. That is why the key to the believer’s life is learning to abide in God’s love. We read in John 15:9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
To abide in God’s love means that you will grow in your under-standing of Christ’s finished work at the cross. We read in 1 John 4:9-10: “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the one who would turn aside His wrath, taking away our sins.”
Abiding in God’s love means that you will grow in your under-standing of who you are in Christ. We read in Romans 8:15-17: “You did not receive my spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”
Abiding in God’s love is abiding in the vine. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).” The reality of Christianity in human experience lies in this simple yet profound statement made by Christ. Christianity does not become practical to us through ceremonies, tradition, or even personal moral reform. It is only through abiding in the Vine, the person, the life of Jesus Christ, that we begin to experience a new quality of life.
The parable of the vine and the branch is one of the most important teachings in the Bible. Not only did our Lord call us to come to Him – “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28)” – but He also called us to abide in Him (continually be drawing life from Him) – (John 15:5). This abiding relationship enables us to live in complete, everlasting union with the living God, and to experience the daily reality of Christ living His life in and through us.
THE GREATEST OF THESE
Love is the very nature and character of God. As John tells us, “God is love.” That is why Paul could say, “These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).”
The measure of the vitality of every believer is not how much believer activity he or she is engaged in, but how he or she is progressing in learning to love others. Jesus summoned a believer’s life up in these words: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37, 39).” Because God first loved us, loving others is to be the lifestyle of every believer.
As one who belongs to Christ, the believer has the magnificent privilege of being God’s chosen channel through which He pours out the reality of His love and grace to a world hungry for reality. Because the believer can rest securely in the knowledge of His love and acceptance by a holy God, he or she is free to look outside themselves to the needs of others and be part of the solution to the world’s problems rather than being part of the problem.
In closing, during Christ’s absence, we are to be governed by this new commandment of love. Christ Jesus said this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).”
F/B – Signs Of Our Times
Transforming Power; The Work of God on Behalf of Man
Lian Muan Kim –
Koinonia Baptist Seminary- Yangon, Myanmar