‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.
But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
~ Malachi 1:2
The phrase ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) has been rightly used but wrongly upheld. Its full effect does not resonate with its hearers because many do not appropriate it to themselves. John who made this statement rightly does so, because he himself appropriated this Word to the point he refers to himself as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:22, 20:2, 21:20). After Jesus showed all His disciples ‘the full extent of his love’ (13:v1) by washing their feet, John seemed to take the words Jesus said to heart. After washing their feet, Jesus told them, ‘I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’ (v15). Here, Jesus shows the fluidity of love, that it ought to be passed on- because love cannot remain stagnant. Neither can it be contained. However, before love can really be passed on, it ought to be internalized, and so Jesus asks, ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ (v12). Unfortunately, many do not understand love because they do not know the Source of love as ‘love comes from God’ (1 John 4:7). Some also have not fully grasped and appropriated the extent of God’s love to them personally. And so what exists in the world and in many people are attempts of failed love, misconstrued love, and mere appearances of love.
So the biggest question many today ask is, what is love? Attempts of romance movies, love songs, and novels have failed to answer that. No wonder many are released each day with a revised, usually downgraded form of love that borders lust, insanity, and abuse. For Christians who believe that God is love, it is usually with a generalized connotation that proceeds to robotically explain, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). Although this is the core way God showed us His love, many do not appropriate it to themselves and so do not quite understand what Jesus has done for them. It then becomes hard to understand the nature of love, and of God (who is love). As a result, many fail to go and do likewise.
So how has God loved you? He Himself says, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness’ (Jeremiah 31:3). God’s love is everlasting; it has no beginning or end for He has no beginning nor end. He says, ‘I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God’ (Isaiah 44:6), and so apart from God, there is no love. God’s love is also unchanging, and does not fluctuate based on fleeting feelings for ‘I the Lord do not change’ (Malachi 3:6). The love of God is also active, it is not passive, for He draws us, hinting that ‘he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). God does not use coercion, manipulation, or tricks to draw us, but uses not just kindness, but loving-kindness. In Hosea, God says He draws us with ‘cords of human kindness’ (Hosea 11:4), meaning that God stoops low to our level to show us love, to show us Himself in a way that we can understand it.
In that regard, we may fail to explain what love is because God, who is love, is indescribable. ‘Oh the depth of riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’ (Romans 11:33). While we may not explain love, we can mention and express the qualities of love because God expresses qualities of Himself (of love) to us. Paul, who had a personal encounter and close relationship with God attempts to ‘show us the most excellent way’ (1 Corinthians 13:1)- that of love, that of God. He opens the Chapter by explaining that all our human efforts apart from God, apart from love, is meaningless. He then proceeds to explain the character of love, the character of God. With the attributes Paul mentions, each one is backed by God Himself through His entire Word. Thus, it should be appropriated to each personally because ‘man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 8:3). In the same way, one can only know the full extent of God, of love, when they open His Word, which is His love letter to each of us.
Love is patient– ‘Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes’ (Hosea 3:1)
Love is kind– ‘I will restore them because I have compassion on them’ (Zechariah 10:6)
Love does not envy– ‘I made it beautiful with abundant branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God’ (Ezekiel 31:9)
Love does not boast– ‘Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’ (Philippians 2:6-7)
Love is not proud– ‘Whoever comes to me I will never drive away’ (John 6:37)
Love is not rude – ‘I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her’ (Hosea 2:14)
‘So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me’ (Zechariah 1:13)
Love is not self-seeking– ‘Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion’ (Isaiah 30:18)
‘For I seek not to please myself but him who sent me’ (John 5:30)
Love is not easily angered– ‘For I am God, and not man- the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath’ (Hosea 11:9)
Love keeps no record of wrongs– ‘I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more’ (Isaiah 43:25)
‘I will not accuse you forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me- the breath of man that I have created’ (Isaiah 57:16)
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth– ‘For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth’ (John 18:37)
Love always protects– ‘How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?’ (Hosea 11:8)
‘For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you’’ (Isaiah 41:13)
Love always trusts– ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2:15)
Love always hopes– ‘Tell the righteous it shall be well with them’ (Isaiah 3:10)
Love always perseveres– ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame’ (Hebrews 12:2)
Love never fails- ‘. . . so great is his unfailing love’ (Lamentations 3:32)
‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5)
‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us’ ~ 1 John 3:16
‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ ~ Romans 8:38-39
‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins ~ 1 John 4:10