by Vijay Chandra
God’s Moral Excellence: Love (1 John 4:1-10).
God expressed his ‘goodness’ [tub, Ex 13:19] in a list of attributes that begins “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfastness love” (Ex.34:6, ESV). I will only look at one of the attributes of our God—love. The motive for loving God, is God. No title can be stronger than this. God gave himself to us in spite of our unworthiness, and being God what could he give us of greater worth of himself. Today the love of God is defined in different ways. The world has defined it as ‘a sentimental’ love—or simply God’s love is same as man’s love.
When the Lord says he is ‘abundant in goodness’ (Ex 34:6), the word rendered as ‘goodness’ [khesed] is more often translated as “kindness”, “lovingkindness” (KJV), “mercy” (LXX, KJV), “righteousness” (LXX), or “steadfast love” (ESV). The term [khesed] communicates faithfulness, as in God’s keeping of his covenant of grace, “However, it cannot merely refer to God’s reliability, but includes his kind affection, for he ‘delighted in mercy [khesed]” (Mic 7:18). Therefore, [khesed] is best understood to mean faithful love and affectionate loyalty.
God’s unbreakable husbandly love for his bride is [khesed] (Isa 54:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). His faithful love is the hinge upon which the hope of his people turns when they have broken his law and need his forgiveness (Neh 9:17). It is the greatness of God’s faithful love that enables his people to approach him and worship in his presence with reverent fear (Ps 5:7), and it is the subject of one of the most common refrains of worship in the Scripture, “his mercy [khesed] endureth forever,” literally, “his love is forever”. Whether we consider creation or redemption, all things magnify God’s enduring love (Ps 136) [numerous verses]. His [khesed] is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him (Ps.103:7).
The Old Testament background of God’s love:
a. The Old Testament employs another term for God’s ‘love’ [verb aheb], noun [ahabah], that can be used for human affection for a wife or child, or for loyalty between friends. God’s love is not fickle passion; the Lord loves righteousness and justice (Ps 11:7, 33:5, 37:28, 45:7). Yet his love is merciful to the weak and vulnerable (Deut 10:18).
b. God’s love with sovereign freedom, for his redeeming love is expressed in his election of and covenant with his people. He warns those to whom he had extended outward privileges but who persist in wickedness that “I will love them no more” (Hos 9:15). God’s love for his holiness will be undoing of the unfaithful (Mal 2:11, 12).
However, in his love God pursues elect sinners as a husband pursues an unfaithful wife to make her his own (Hos 3:1. cf. Isa 54:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). He chooses to “love them freely,” so that their backsliding is healed, his anger is propitiated and his divine vitality makes them fruitful (Hos 14:4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The Lord has loved them “with everlasting love” and says, “I will make a new covenant” with them (Jer 31:3, 31). His love is parental, discipling his children to train them in righteousness. God will dwell with his people in love to their mutual delight (Zeph 3:17). The LXX regularly renders “love” [aheb] as the Greek word [agapao] and on occasion as [phileo].
Agapao and the related noun agape are the primary terms used in the New
Testament in connection to the great revelation of divine love in Christ. The agape of God is best understood not by lexical distinctions but in usage of the term in Scripture. God’s love is not indifferent to justice, but as we have seen the Lord “loves” [agapao] righteousness and justice. Though God demonstrated his love by sending his Son to die for lawless wicked men (Rom 5:6, 7, 8, 9, 10), the cross glorifies God’s righteousness (Rom 3:23, 24, 25, 26), for Christ bore the curse of the law to satisfy divine justice (Gal 3:10,13). As Leon Morris notes, “though [ agape] does not by definition mean divine and gracious love, it seems that early Christians seized this rare word as the primary vehicle to communicate the love of God-love revealed not so much in the lexical meaning of. a particular word as in the work of Christ” (1 John 4:10).
2. Theological Exposition of God’s Love:
Though not generally known as the love chapter, 1 John 4 contains the highest concentration of agapao and agape in the New Testament [used 27 times in vv. 7-21]. In it we see that God’s love is essential to his nature. Trinitarian in its form, active in its display, and free in exercise.
- God’s Essential Love:
- Love is essential to God. Twice in John’s discourse on love, we find the remarkable statement “God is love” [ho theos agape estin, 1 John 4:8, 16]. What does this mean?
- To clarify John’s message, we first need to consider what he does not mean. “God is love” does not mean that ‘love is God’. This error deifies love, so that all warm feelings and even impure lusts are regarded as somehow divine.
- Real love hates moral evil and clings to righteousness. God is love distinguishes God’s love from all other love, even godly Christian love in his image, by identifying God’s love with the holy Creator, but leaving the purest human love on the level of the creature. It is also an error to interpret, “God is love” to mean ‘God is only love”—using love as a paring knife to cut away his power, justice, and wrath against sin, leaving only unconditional acceptance and positive regard, what Pink rightly disdained as “amiable weakness and mere sentiment”. Evangelical preachers and theologians do not eliminate divine justice, but they still become imbalanced if they teach that God is primarily love, as if love trumped all other attributes of God. “God is love” and God is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3, Rev 4:8). We must reject the opposing error, namely, that God’s love is only an anthropomorphism, for in reality, he is above all human knowledge. While all our language about God is anagogical, biblical teaching is true analogy, so we can know God in the truths we confess and the life we experience (1 John 4:7, 14, 15, 16).
- What then, is the true message of ‘God is love’?
A. Love is God’s nature so that no one has a saving relationship with God unless he loves other people (1 John 4:7, 8). John says, “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God is him” (1 John 4:16). Just as “God is Spirit” (John 4:24 ESV) indicates that God’s nature is entirely spiritual and “God is light” (1 John 1:5) tells us that God’s nature is truth and righteousness, so ‘God is love’ tells us of God’s very essence. Love is not merely a relation that God has with those outside of himself, or an activity in which he engages toward his creation, but love is God’s very being.
B. The truth that ‘God is love’ has a significant implication for the doctrine of God.
- In the simplicity of God’s being ‘without body, parts, or passions. God’s love is not a part of him but all of him. The love of God is simply God loving.
- Love permeates God’s attributes and harmonizes with them all. His holiness is loving holiness, and his love is a holy love.
- God is pure love. Just as ‘God is light’ implies that ‘in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), so “God is love” implies that no malice lurks in his being.
- God’s love is of himself. God’s love does not arise from something outside of him, but is God’s very life, he is love.
2. God’s Trinitarian Love:
A. Even prior to creation, God’s love involved relationship and self-giving within the Trinity. John’s teaching that “God is love” comes through the gospel framed by the Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Spirit (1 John 4:12, 13). God manifested his love by giving his ‘only begotten [monogenes] Son’ (John 3:16), implying Christ’s preciousness to his Father, the highest price he could pay to demonstrate his love for the world (John 3:16, Heb 11:17). The greatest display of God’s love for us is grounded upon his love for His Son.
- The Bible emphasizes that ‘the Father loveth the Son’, and this love is the foundation of their partnership in all of God’s sovereign works (John 3:35, 5:20). Christ is God’s beloved Son. The Father “loved the Son before the foundation of the world,” and thus appointed him to his mediatorial glory (John 17:24).
- The Son has always been with God and was God and is, the only begotten of the Father (John 1:1,18). The father honored the Son to be the “heir of all things,” and the Son is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb 1:2, 3). Paul writes, “All things were created by him, and for him—that in all things he might have the preeminence (Col 1:16).
- The Son loves the Father, and he shows that love by doing as the Father commands (John 14:31). However, the Bible’s emphasis falls not on the Son’s love for the Father but upon his obedience to the Father’s will (Matt 3:16, 17, 12:18, Mark 1:10, 11, John 3:34, 35).
3. God’s Active Love: Kindness and Delight:
1.The love of God willingly overflowed outside of his own being in his works of creation and providence, and supremely in the giving of his Son to save sinners (1 John 4:9, 10). Paul writes, “love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on own its way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:3, 4, 5, 6 ESV).
Point. Paul magnifies the love of God by declaring that God loved those whom he saved with ‘great love’ precisely when they were the objects ‘of his wrath’ (Eph 2:3, 4). How could God love people so much that he sent Christ to save them when he was angry enough to send them to the hell that they deserve?
It is false to say that God has only wrath and no love for unconverted sinners, for “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” [Tom Nettles denies the free offer of the gospel] (1 Tim 1:14, 15). Neither can we say that God has no wrath toward his elect people prior to their conversion, for they “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph 2:3). It is misleading to say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner, for David says of God, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Ps 5:5, 11:5).
- Augustine noted, “In a wonderful and divine manner, even when he hated us, he loved us”. It is also not the whole truth to say that God is angry with sinners, but loves and forgives them when they trust in Christ, for “he loved us, even when we were dead in sins” (Eph 2:4, 5). Calvin said, “It was then from God’s goodness alone, as from a fountain, that Christ with all his benefits has come to us”.
- How, then is it possible that God loved us when he hated us? Paul explains that God saved us because he ‘is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph 2:4). God’s saving love flows from the great riches of his glory (Eph 1:18, 19, 2:7). The God who loves the cheerful giver is himself the infinitely cheerful and all-sufficient Giver (2 Cor 9:7, 8). Therefore, he is able to love those whom he hates for their sins, for his love springs from the bottomless riches of his own goodness. Furthermore, God’s saving love flows from his mercy to our misery. Even as he hated sinners for their sins, he loved them as his pitiful creatures. Truly God’s love is a loving benevolence, a compassionate goodwill that pays the highest price so that unworthy sinners may know the riches of his grace.
D. God’s Free and Sovereign Love:
“God is love” (1 John 4:7); and therefore, he is loving to all: every good gift— cometh down from the Father of lights (James 1:17). God’s goodness is a necessary attribute of his being, and all his works are good (Ps 119:68). Calvin said, “for there is no drop of any goodness, wisdom, righteousness, power, or truth which does not flow from him, and of which his is not the cause”.
- God exercises sovereign freedom in how he loves his creatures. He is not like a sun which mindlessly radiates light in all directions; his acts of goodness are those of a personal, intelligent, voluntary agent. The Lord said, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Rom 9:15, Ex 33:19).
- Psalms 145:8, 9 speaks of God’s universal goodness in broadest terms to include all creatures as we note: “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works”. This text ties together God’s revelation of his goodness to his people (Ex 34:6), with his generosity and compassion to all creation. Psalm 119:64 says, “the earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy,” or faithful love [khesed, Ps 33:5]. Perkins wrote, “God therefore being faithful Creator, tenderly loves all his creatures. Among them the creatures, however, God distributes his gifts diversely. The Father cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, but he gives far greater value to human beings” (Matt 6:26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 10:31, 12:12).
- God’s love for his children caused John to exclaim, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God, therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:1, 2).
Practical Implications of God’s Goodness and Love:
Point: God’s goodness and his love is the cause of everything in the world. It is a wide and fertile field, therefore, in which to grow human piety and justice. It is the vital heartbeat of God’s image. Knowing God’s goodness and making it known is the central purpose for which we exit. Therefore, it calls for you to respond.
- First, we need to set our mind to know God’s love and engage our powers to make it Those who are wise observe God’s mighty acts in order to understand his lovingkindness (Ps 107:43). This is God’s intention behind his great acts: that people will declare his ‘great goodness’ in a memorable way (Ps 145:7).
- Second: have absolute confidence that the Lord is good: trust him and believe that those who trust in such a good God are blessed by him (Ps 34:8). Charnock said “The goodness of God by his promises leads us to reliance. If God be not first believed to be good, he would not be believed at all in anything he speaks (1 John 4:9, 10).
- Third: turn from your sins and come to God in repentance: He is good so he will welcome you and teach you his ways (Ps. 25:8). Brakel said “You who need to be convinced of your miserable condition and are desirous to be reconciled to God, be not discouraged from coming to God, you need not to be discouraged if your desire is to approach unto him in truth with sincerity, and in the right way, that is only through Christ. Simply come; the Lord is not merciless, cruel, or pitiless—Just as the father of the prodigal son, the Lord runs to meet all who turn to him from afar’.
- Fourth: by faith in his goodness, keep his commandments, trusting that the laws of the good and kind God are for your good (Deut 6:24, 10:13). Believe that ‘his commandments are not grievous’ (1 John 5:3). Pray with the psalmist, “Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statues” (Ps. 119:68).
- 5th, hope in his love in the darkest times. David said, “How long will thou forget me, O Lord? Forever? —–, But I have trusted in thy mercy” (Psa 13:1). Perkins said, “the ground of our religion stands in this; to believe things neither seen nor felt; to hope above all hope, and without hope; in extremity of affliction to believe that God loves us, when he seems to be our enemy, and to persevere in the same to the end” [Vol 5:215].
- 6th, ground your confidence in God’s goodness upon Christ. Look to the cross for irresistible proof that God loves us, and when God’s providence hurts you deeply, see in Christ’s hands and his side the marks of his love. Charnock said, “The wounds of the Almighty God for us are a greater testimony of goodness, than if we had all other riches of heaven and earth. In the shadow of the cross, patiently bear your sorrows with confidence that he will give you all good things and works all things for your good” (Rom 8:28, 31, 32).
- 7th, love God for His goodness (Luke 7:47, 1 John 4:19). God’s goodness displays his loveliness (Zech 9:17). We must love God, love him above all things and in all (Ps 73:24, Matt 10:27)—we should express our love to him by our care of keeping his commandments (John 14:15, 15:10, 1 John. 2:3).
- 8th, receive his good gifts with gratitude and holiness (1 Tim 4:3, 5). If we do not glorify him in his gifts, he may take them back (Hos 2:8, 9). Fear to abuse God’s goodness with ingratitude, complaining, and contempt for the Giver, lest God give you over to inner darkness and depravity (Rom 1:21).
- 9th, desire God as your supreme good (Ps 73:25, 28). God is to be desired of all, he is the chiefest good. Mediate prayerfully on the love of God until, as Brakel said “your soul is increasingly irradiated by the love of God to ignite with reciprocal love, so that your heart, no longer covets the love of others and is really weaned from all that appears to be desirable on earth”.
- 10th, imitate his goodness to all things: show kindness even to the plants and animals that God created. Love men, even your enemies (Matt 5:44, 45).
- 11th, love others fervently and sacrificially in the church of Christ (Eph 4:12, 1 Peter 1:22). The gospel both reveals God’s love and enjoins us to love each other as God loved us (1 John 4:10, 11). We have an obligation to “do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10, 1 John 3:17, 18 ESV).
- 12th, worship God for his goodness and love. This was the response of Moses when the Lord proclaimed his goodness and the greatness of his love (Ex 34:6). “And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped” (Ex 34:8). “Sing psalms to him, enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the lord is good, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations” (Ps 100:4, 5).