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The Love of God



          Many believers talk about the love of God.  It is a common theme in many circles of conversation, even amongst unbelievers.  Throughout the scriptures we hear about this amazing love, but many times we do not take the time to really understand what this means.  This article will attempt to identify the true meaning of God's love.  Please read with an open mind because the conclusion is probably not the one you expect.


Why the confusion?


          Many believers today do not understand the meaning of love in the scriptures.  It is commonly taught that there are two types of love in the Bible, phileo love and agape love.  Phileo love is taught to be a brotherly love one has towards another, but agape love is taught to be a divine love from God.  The confusion is with agape love.  This is unfortunate because the true definition of agape is not a divine love at all.  If this were true, then how could it be used in a love towards evil?  In John 3:19, the Messiah said that, "men loved (agapē) darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."  This is right after He said, "For God so loved (agape) the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).  How could agape possibly mean divine love from God when men use it to love darkness?  The fact is, agape love is not divine love, but something entirely different.

          The word agapē means "love, that is, affection or benevolence (Strong's Concordance - G26).  This, however, is an oversimplification of the word and not a good definition.  A more thorough definition is, "Love, affectionate regard, goodwill, benevolence.  With reference to God's love, it is God's willful direction toward man.  It involves God doing what He knows is best for man and not necessarily what man desires" (The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.).  This definition changes what agape means.  It is not just an affectionate feeling towards someone, but involves a thought out plan of affection.  Professor William Barclay adds to this understanding in his book New Testament Words when he said, "Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.  Agape is not a feeling.  Feelings arrive passively; we cultivate agape.  We are not responsible for our feelings – we can’t help how we feel – but we are responsible for our agape because agape is an act of will.  Feelings are triggered by external events, such as people’s actions or the weather, or internal processes such as digestion or thought.  Agape comes from the soul.  Liking is a feeling.  Agape is a commitment, independent of our likes and dislikes."  This is a very different understanding of agape than simple affection toward another.  To put this in modern terms agapē  love is what we might call today "tough love."  It is a love that causes you to do what is right, even when what is right is very difficult to do.  Parents need this "tough love" or agapē love when disciplining their children.  It is not easy to spank your children when needed, but it does show that you agapē love them.


The Scriptural Definition:


           The scriptures are not unclear in the definition of words.  There is always a verse that gives us the definition, we just need to search for it.  Remember, the Bible is a law book, written in legal code.  Isaiah 28:9-14 tells us so.  As Isaiah states, "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little"  (Is. 28:10).  We need to read each verse pertaining to the subject of love and understand the immediate context of the verse, which is what Isaiah means by "precept upon precept; line upon line."  Then we need to take every verse on the subject and put them together, which is what Isaiah means by "here a little, and there a little."  The question is, where is the definition of love in the scriptures?

          In 1 John 5:2-3, the Apostle states, "By this we know that we love (agapaō) the children of God, when we love (agapaō) God, and keep his commandments.  For this is the love (agapē) of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous."  This is echoed in other passages as well.  In fact, if you do a search for love in the scriptures, you might be surprised how often love is compared to God's law.  You can't have one without the other.  In John 14:15, the Messiah states, "If ye love (agapaō) me, keep my commandments."  The Messiah repeated this again in John 15:9-10 when He said, "As the Father hath loved (agapaō) me, so have I loved (agapaō) you: continue ye in my love (agapē).  If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love (agapē); even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love (agapē)."  It seems clear that the Messiah understood love to be when someone keeps the commandments of God.  In fact, a proper study of God's law will reveal the same.  In Ex. 20:6, God said He shows "mercy unto thousands of them that love [Him], and keep [His] commandments."  This is repeated in Deut. 30:16; " . . . I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments."  To love God is to keep His commandments.

          If to love God means to keep His commandments, the logical next question is, how does God love us?  The scripture is not silent on this matter.  In Prov. 3:12, the author states, "For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."  This is repeated in Rev. 3:19 and Heb. 12:6-9.  God will discipline all His children when they do wrong (sin).  Though God disciplines His children, He also blesses them as well.  In Deut. 7:13 Moses said, "And [God] will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee."  God will bless His children when they do good and discipline His children when they do wrong (sin).  These blessings and disciplines (or curses) are from the Mosaic covenant.  In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God tells us that if we love Him (keep His commandments) He will bless us (Lev. 26:3-12, Deut. 28:1-14), but if we do not love Him (break His commandments) then He will curse us (Lev. 26:13-40, Deut. 28:15-45).  This is what love is, a contract.


Love is a contract?


          The concept of love being a contract may seem odd.  Keep in mind, though, that the word contract is new and nowhere found in the scriptures.  The word used for contract in the scriptures is covenant.  God offered this covenant/contract on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.  The terms of this contract are found in Exodus chapters 19-24.  The Israelites agreed to this contract by saying, "All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Ex. 24:7).  The parties to this contract are God and the Israelites (or anyone who practices God's law).  Each party has a duty under this contract, which are explained in the scriptures.  Our duty is to "walk in [His] statutes, and keep [His] commandments, and do them" (Lev. 26:3, Deut.28:1, Eccl. 12:13).  Our duty under this contract is to obey God and keep His commandments.  This is clear, but what is often forgot is that God has a duty as well.

          God's duty under this same contract is listed in Exodus 23, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.  God gives blessings and curses based on this law.  If we obey God and keep His commandments, He will bless His people (Lev. 26:3-12, Deut. 28:1-14).  If we do not obey God and keep His commandments, He will give curses (discipline) to His people (Lev. 26:13-40, Deut. 28:15-45).  This is a duty that God is required to perform under this contract.  This is why Moses described God as "the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations" (Deut. 7:9).  Our job is to keep His commandments and God's job is to provide blessings and curses based on our performance.  This is the contract of love.  God loves us by keeping His end of the contract, and we love Him by keeping ours.  This is why the Messiah summed up the law and the prophets with two commandments, to love God and love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).


Help is needed:


          The problem we have is we are not able to keep our end of this contract.  We can try and try, but we will always fail.  The scripture is clear on this.  The Apostle Paul tells us that, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).  This is why God sent His Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was sent to "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness" (John 16:8).  The Holy Spirit is our "Comforter" to "abide with [us] for ever" (John 14:16).  The Greek word for "Comforter" is paraklētos which literally means "called to one's side, called to one's aid" (Strong's Concordance - G3875).  The Holy Spirit comes to our side so we can "walk in the Spirit" so we do not "fulfil the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16, Gal. 5:25).  The only way we can love God and keep His commandments is to walk in His Spirit.  Ezekiel 37:26 tells us that the Spirit was given that we might "walk in [His] statutes, and ... shall keep [His] judgments, and do them" (Eze. 36:27).  The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to "reprove the world of sin" and "put [God's] law in [our] hearts" (Jer. 31:33).  The end result is we will "walk in the spirit" to aid us to "walk in [His] statutes ... and keep [His] judgments, and do them."  Not only does God keep His end of this contract, but He also helps us keep ours.  God has come along side us to help us love Him and practice His law.


          This is a hard concept to understand.  The modern definition of love is so different than God's definition of love.  Love is not a feeling that one places on something, but an action one does as a result of something.  Just as a good father disciplines his children when they do wrong and blesses them when they do right, so God disciplines us when we sin and blesses us when we do right.  This is what God calls love.  We can't just say we love God, we must show it also.  As the modern saying goes, actions speak louder than words.


By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV