The Love of God

At the heart of the most succinct summary of the gospel message is the love of God.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  “God loved” is the foundation upon which the gospel stands.  And God’s love reached down and rescued you and me.

In the Old Testament and other Jewish writings, God’s love was reserved for the children of Israel.  We have some hints here and there that the Gentiles would eventually be included in God’s redemptive plan, but His love appears to have some boundaries.  In the New Testament, God’s love is shown to be boundless.  “God so loved the world.”  His love was now showered upon the entire population of the earth.  God’s love for “the world” makes it possible that “whoever” believes has eternal life.  As part of the progressive revelation of God’s character, we now see God’s love without limits or partiality.

Did God change?  No, but as with many aspects of God’s character, the curtain is pulled back in the New Testament and we see and experience more and more facets of who God is.  And at the heart of who God is, at the heart of His character, at the heart of His very essence is love.  God is love.

In his hymn The Love of God, Frederick Lehman put to music an ancient poem that paints a beautiful picture of the vastness of the love of God.  Read slowly and let the enormosity (God’s love is so beyond description that I could not even come up with a proper English word) of God’s love fill your soul:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

As a holy and beloved saint, wrapped up forever in God’s love, may this be your and the angels’ song.

At Home with a Life of Love

Continuing our Colossians chapter 3 theme of a life of love, we come now to what love looks like in family relationships.  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperated your children, that they may not lose heart” (Col 3:18-21).

These instructions are not a random list of one-off ideas assigned to four groups of people.  They are designed to work together, to work in unison to provide balance in a healthy family.  For example, a focus on “wives be subject to…” without the balance of “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25) leads to a distorted view of headship.  It leads to using the Bible to support an ugly, domineering, version of male authority.  Male headship without unconditional love has no support in Scripture.

Wives practice a life of love when they show, in tangible ways, respect toward their husbands.  When they encourage their husband.  When they speak highly of their husband.  When they honor their husband.

Likewise, husbands practice a life of love when they love, lead, and protect just as Christ does with His bride, the church.  It is a love that is unlimited and unconditional.  Husbands, there is no competition between loving your wife and loving God.  We show in a very practical way that we love God by how we love our wives.  Loving God and loving our wives are not two separate circles that we are always having to figure out how to prioritize.  Loving our wives lies in the big circle of loving God.

Moving to children and parents, our goal in child-training is to motivate our children to obey us out of a love relationship and see our kids transfer that into obeying God out of a love relationship as they mature.  When our kids are young, we teach them to obey the rules because that is what is required.  We enforce the rules with threats of punishment for bad behavior and the promise of rewards for good conduct.

But as our children grow up, our interaction over the rules becomes more influenced by our love relationship with them.  When we see that developing a relationship with our child is just as important as rules of control,  we set the stage for a healthy transition to obedience out of love.  After all, this is the eventual goal for the adult believer.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15).

Our proper obedience to our Lord is based on a love relationship, not rules of control.  God did not say, “If you know all the rules, you will obey.  If the rules are clear, you will obey.  If you work harder, you will obey.  If the threat of punishment is strong enough, you will obey.”  No, He said, “If you love me, you will obey.”  And this obedience on our part, just like the child obedience described in our Colossians 3 passage, “is well-pleasing to the Lord.”

Well, we have run out of time with one verse to go.  Since fathers and exasperation is a connection that needs some explanation and understanding, we will try to give it the time and space it is due next post.

A Life of Love

Paul continues in Colossians chapter 3 to explain what a life of love looks like.  Remember, Paul has already identified the key to overcoming the flesh.  It is living into all that became new at our salvation.  It is laying aside the old self with its evil practices and putting on the new self with its holy attributes.  And the greatest of these is love.

“And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col 3:14-15).  Two times in these two verses, Paul writes about the unity of the body.  One of the signs of a life of love is the peace that comes in our relationships with other believers.

The peace of Christ is the opposite of strife.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of dissension.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of jealousy.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of all these things that tear down the body of Christ.  Peace is synonymous with unity.  And it is God’s design that we live in peace.  And this peace leads to thanksgiving.

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  In this context, the “word of Christ” is not just referring to Scripture.  It applies to all the ways we hear the voice of Jesus.  We hear His voice in the Bible to be sure.  But we also hear His voice in our Spirit, the Spirit of Christ that indwells us.  In fact, we should expect to hear the voice of Jesus through His Spirit that is alive and active inside us.

In this particular verse, Paul highlights hearing the voice of Jesus in the community of believers that surrounds us.  We are literally the voice of Jesus when we teach and admonish one another; when we sing with and sing to our brothers and sisters in the Lord; when we express our admiration and thanksgiving to God.  Let the word of Christ, in all its different expressions, richly dwell in you.  A life of love is a life of listening to the voice of Jesus.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17).  When we set up a rule-keeping system for pleasing God, we tend to separate our lives into the spiritual – following the rules, doing things to earn God’s favor, keeping spiritual disciplines – and the secular – our normal everyday responsibilities.  But when we walk in the Spirit, our connection to God is 24/7.  There is no separation between the sacred and the secular for the believer.

By virtue of who you are in Christ, all you do in word and deed is sacred.  Your homemaking, your 40-hour-a-week job, your visiting a neighbor are all sacred because you are indwelt by the sacred Spirit of Jesus.  Christ in us, living His life through us, sanctifies all of who we are and all of what we do.  This is “doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (vs 17).

The Law of Love

Let’s dive back into our recent topic:  empty religion.  We were working our way through the book of Colossians, when we stopped at Paul’s warning regarding the “empty deception of empty religion.”  The apostle reminds us that setting up a self-abasing, overbearing, tedious, rule-keeping system for living the Christian life is not only inappropriate, but is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).  The very thing we are trying to defeat is not the least bit hindered by a law-keeping system.  Why?  Because in its empty deception, it lacks true power.

The power to live the Christian life lies instead in our connection to our new nature.  Paul goes on in Colossians chapter 3 to explain that we defeat the flesh when we live into all that became new at our conversion.  Our recent posts,  Empty Religion, Indulging the Flesh, and Defeating the Flesh cover this in some detail.  To summarize, we are to put on the “clothes” of our new nature; a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness (Col 3:12-13).

These attributes, these qualities of the new nature, look a lot like Christ.  The new self we are to put on is essentially putting on Christ.  And putting on the new self, the life of Christ in us, is the answer to the flesh.

The final attribute of the new man that Paul commends here is love.  “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:14).  Love is the overarching quality – “beyond all these things” – that energizes all the others.  Love is the motivation for living into all that we are in Christ.  And this love dwells inside you right now.

It is not waiting for some new level of spirituality.  It is not waiting for some new attainment or enlightenment.  It is in you by virtue of the Holy Spirit who has taken up residence inside you.  In Romans 5:5 we learn that the Holy Spirit is literally “pouring God’s love into our hearts.”

If there is a “law” to follow for the New Testament believer, it is the law of love.  It is to empower and inform your relationships, activities, and thoughts.  It is a unifying bond for your church and family.  Throw off the chains, throw off the sin that inhibits its fullest expression.  You are a saint, holy and beloved by our Lord (Col 3:12).  Because of this, you can do it!

Love in the Big Circle

In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus identified the two great commandments – love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself – as the greatest commandments in the Old Testament.  Did I just say Old Testament?  I did, and I said it because Jesus said it.  Jesus listed these as the greatest commandments in “the Law” (understood to be the Old Testament) saying that “the whole Law and the Prophets” (again, the Old Testament) depended on them.

In the New Testament, Jesus introduced a new love emphasis.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love on another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).  Three times in these two verses, Jesus repeats the new and radical command, “Love one another”.  And Jesus elevated loving one another as the gold standard by comparing its priority to His love for us.

When we view love’s priorities as competing circles, love God first and love others second, we may defend our lack of loving others in a particular situation with the reasoning that in this case my actions demonstrate that I am loving God more.  The message and model of the New Testament is that we are never to deny love to others on the basis of loving God first.  Our loves are not competing loves, but complementing loves.  Loving God is one big circle and loving our wives, loving our children, loving our fellow believers, and loving our neighbors are part and parcel of the big circle of loving God.  The apostle John, for example, equates loving God and loving others at the highest level in his epistle.  As to love’s priorities, John writes that we demonstrate our love for God who we cannot see by how we love our brothers and sisters who we can see.

Let me give you one example of how this works in practice.  In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul encourages husbands to, “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for it” (Eph 5:25).  When we add in, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13), we find that we are to love our wives with the greatest love possible.  Our wives do not take second place to loving God.

The challenge, for ministers and laymen alike, is to not put our love of ministry – whatever God has given us to do to serve His body – above our love for our wives and I believe by extension our families as well by some expectation that leaving them behind is putting God first.  Ministers gaining their congregation’s admiration while loosing their family’s is a well-worn tale.  It shouldn’t be that way.

Before I set up shop to prepare a Sunday School lesson or write a blog post, I often ask Rhonda, “Will you be lonely if I go off and …?”  It is my way of saying, “Do you need anything from me right now before I disappear into the study?”  It is, in a small way, an expression of my love.

In I Peter chapter 3, the apostle starts the chapter off with an admonition to wives on how to treat their husbands with respect.  Turning to the husbands in verse 7, Peter writes, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (I Pet 3:7).  Do you want to be a prayer warrior?  You can pray in Jesus’ name, stare down the devil, exercise great faith, or whatever you want, but the effectiveness of your prayers may come down to the simple question, “Are you treating your wife in an understanding way?”  Or put another way, “Are you loving your wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it?”

When you are doing your seminary homework and you hear the dishes rattling around in the kitchen, the most spiritual thing you could do at that moment might be to go downstairs and help your wife with the dishes.  When you would like to start the day with focused prayer and see a lunch that still needs packed for your grade-schooler, the most spiritual exercise might be to pitch in and finish the job.  In the final analysis, loving your wife does not compete with your spirituality, loving your wife completes your spirituality.  Putting down your Bible and filling the dishwasher might be the clearest expression of your love for God today!