Love of God
The love of God is captured in the noun, agape. God is the source and definition of agape-love (Eph. 2:4, 1 John 4:8, 16). According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, agape-love is patient, kind, and not self-seeking. It is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs. Agape-love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Agape-love never fails.
In the New Testament, two verbs are used to describe the manner in which God loves. The first verb, agapao (25) is closely related to the noun agape and means to be well pleased or fond of or contented with. It is the unconditional love God the Father has for his Son (John 3:35, 15:9, 17:26), for the whole world (John 3:16), and for his children (Eph. 2:4, 1 John 3:1). God loves you the same way he loves Jesus (see entry for John 17:23). The second verb, phileo (5368), means fondness or affection. It is the affection that God the Father has for his Son Jesus (John 5:20) and the disciples (John 16:27). It is the friendship Jesus had for Lazarus (John 11:3, 36) and the wretched Laodiceans (Rev. 3:19).
The love of God is also captured in the adjective agapetos (27) which is usually translated as beloved. The word means dearly loved, esteemed, favorite, and worthy of love. God the Father referred to Jesus as his beloved Son (see entry for Matt. 3:17), and the epistle writers referred to their readers as beloved (see entry for Rom. 1:7). This beautiful word captures God’s heart for you. Your heavenly Father is fond of you. You are his esteemed favorite and he is well pleased with you. He looks at you with a feeling of deep contentment knowing that you are his dearly loved child.
Manmade religion portrays God as capricious and his love as variable. “Sometimes he loves you, sometimes he doesn’t.” But the gospel of grace declares God’s love for you is constant and shadowless (Ps. 136, Jas. 1:17). Religion prostitutes the love of God by putting price tags on his affection. “You have to earn his favor.” But the gospel of grace declares that God loved you while you were a sinner and nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 5:8, 8:38-39). Religion demands that you impress God with the fervency of your love, but the gospel of grace inspires you to trust in your heavenly Father who loves you without limit (Eph. 3:17-19).
Everything that is good about the good news—his forgiveness, acceptance, and righteousness—is good and true because your heavenly Father loves you. He always has and he always will. God never changes.
God loves you like a father
The love of God is revealed to us through his Son Jesus Christ (see entry for John 17:26), and Jesus reveals a God who loves us like a father (see entry for Luke 2:49). When Jesus prayed, “Righteous Father… I have made your name known to them” (John 17:25-26), he was referring to the name of Father. And when Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28), he was saying, “May you be known as Father.”
There are three ways you can miss the love of God. First, you don’t see God as your heavenly Father. Like the Pharisees, you get upset with the familiar-talk of Jesus or like the prodigal you don’t see yourself as worthy to be called a son. Second, like the Athenians you think of God as the Father of all, but not the Father of me (Acts 17:28). Third, you accept that God is a Father, but he’s cold and aloof, and nothing like Jesus. Instead of drawing near as a dearly-loved child, you hold back as though you were merely a servant. These are serious errors that touch our identity. If you don’t know who your Father is, you won’t know who you are. This is why you need to see the Father that Jesus reveals.
What sort of Father does Jesus reveal? God is a loving Father (John 10:17, 14:21, 23, 16:27, 15:9, 17:23, 26), a caring Father (Matt. 6:8, 30, 32, Luke 12:30), a merciful Father (Luke 6:36), a grace-giving Father (John 1:14), a forgiving Father (Matt. 6:14, 18:27, Luke 7:47, 15:22, 23:34), a giving Father (Matt. 7:11, Luke 11:13, 12:32), a listening Father (Matt. 6:8), a responsive Father (Matt. 7:11, 18:19, Luke 11:13, John 15:16, 16:23, 26), a faithful Father (John 16:32), a holy and righteous Father (John 17:11, 25), a praiseworthy Father (Matt. 5:16), and a perfect Father (Matt. 5:48).
Jesus referred to God as Father more than 160 times in the Gospels and the epistle writers continued this theme (e.g., Rom. 1:7, Jas. 1:27, 1 Pet. 1:2, 1 John 2:14, Jude 1:1). This is what makes the new covenant new and this is the good news an orphaned world needs to hear: God does not love us like a king but a father. In the greatest parable ever told, Jesus revealed that God is like a father watching for your return, who runs when he sees you coming, and who falls on you with hugs and kisses (Luke 15:20). As a dearly-loved child, you can rest in your Father’s love knowing that you have nothing to prove.
The Bible has many names for God, but Jesus gave us the best name of all: “Abba, Father” (see entry for Mark 14:36). Abba is not the name of a distant and mysterious God. Abba is your heavenly Father who cares for you and knows your needs (see Matt. 6:31–32).
God’s love is unconditional
The agape-love of God is other-focused and self-sacrificing (John 15:13, Eph. 5:2, 25, 1 John 3:16). Agape-love takes no account of the evil done to it (1 Cor. 13:5, AMP). Jesus knew the name of every soldier who beat him, every person who mocked him, and every Pharisee who thought he was the devil. Yet he still went to the cross so that they might be reconciled to God.
The wonder of the cross reveals God’s unconditional love for us (Rom. 5:8, 1 John 4:10). God did not wait for us to repent or get cleaned up before he loved us. While we were in the filth of our sin and self-righteousness he came and hugged us.
God will never make you jump through hoops to earn his love. He won’t love you any more if you succeed and he won’t love you any less if you fail. If you lead millions to Christ or none at all, he will love you just the same. There is nothing you can do to make him love you more, and nothing you can do to make him love you less. His love endures forever.
God’s love is limitless
Paul challenged the Ephesians to comprehend the vastness of God’s love. “Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!” (Eph. 3:18, MSG). Trying to comprehend “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19) is like using a thimble to measure the oceans. It’s a neverending occupation. But this is how we grow. Just as we go to the gym to stretch our physical muscles, we stretch our faith muscles by trying to grasp the limits of Christ’s love for us.
An old covenant mindset prays, “God help me to love you more.” But a new covenant mindset prays, “God, help me to know your love.” As we receive from the abundance of his love, we grow in the love and faith of God.
God’s love never fails
The miracle of the resurrection reveals that the love of God never fails (Is. 54:10, 1 Cor. 13:8). You can take the love of God and nail it to a cross and he will still love you enough to come back from the dead to tell you that you’re forgiven and that he loves you and wants to be with you forever.
Every kind of love you will experience in this world is a failing love—it breaks and it bruises, it disappoints and ultimately it dies. But God’s love never fails. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38–39). Not even death can separate you from your Father’s love.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). Everlasting means everlasting. Either God has to raise you from the dead and keep on loving you or he is a liar. Cancer can’t keep you from his love. Neither can anxiety, AIDS, or alcoholism. The devil and all his demons cannot separate you from his love. The only thing that can come between you and his love is your refusal to receive it. Think of the prodigal son. His father loved him the same at the beginning of the story as at the end. But the prodigal didn’t know his father’s love until he was embraced.
Your heavenly Father created you as an expression of his love for the purpose of receiving his love. Although he loves to love you, he will never be satisfied until you know and receive his love and are able to love him back. There is no greater aspiration in life than learning to live in the love of your heavenly Father and sharing his love with others.
God’s love inspires us to trust him
Manmade religion says you better love God or else, but the gospel of grace reveals how much God loves you personally. He “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The question is not “do you love God?”, but “do you know how much he loves you?” Do you know the love of Christ (Eph. 3:19)? When you know how good God is and how much he loves you, he is easy to trust. Just as our love for God is a response to his love for us (Luke 7:42), our faith in God is a response to his faith in us (see entry for Eph. 6:23).
The agape-love of God “doesn’t force itself on others” (1 Cor. 13:5, MSG). It waits for you to “come to know and believe the love which God has for us” (1 John 4:16). Under the old law-keeping covenant, you were commanded to love the Lord your God with all your heart (Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). But in the new covenant of grace, we are exhorted to walk in his love (Eph. 5:2), keep ourselves in his love (Jude 1:21), remain in his love (John 15:9, 10, 1 John 4:12, 16), and not wander from his love (Rev. 2:4).
“May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God” (2 Th. 3:5). Learning to live in the love of God is the essence of Christianity, because nothing else can change us. Knowing the love of God brings us peace (2 Cor. 13:11) and the confidence (1 John 4:17) that displaces fear and worry (Matt. 6:31-32, 1 John 4:18). His love that fills us with grace (2 Cor. 13:14, Eph. 6:24) making us more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). It is the love of God that empowers us to do good works (Heb. 10:24) and abound in love for others (1 John 4:7, 10-11), whether they are family members (Eph. 5:25), fellow believers (John 13:34, 1 Th. 4:9, 1 John 3:11) or mortal enemies (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35).
For too long religion has prostituted the love of God by telling us we must behave and perform before our Father will love us. This is the greatest crime ever inflicted on the human race. It has left us orphaned, messed up, and in the pigpen of dead works. Manmade religion says God is angry and must be app¬eased. But Jesus shows us that God’s face is shining on us with love and grace.
No manmade god was ever known as the friend of sinners and no other religion proclaims God’s great love for humanity. It is the unconditional, unfailing, and limitless love of God for you that makes the good news good news.
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