God Is Love

    "God is Love", but how do we define it?

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines love as "an intense affection for another person based on familial or personal ties". Often this "intense affection" stems from a sexual attraction for that other person. We love other people, or we say we love other people, when we are attracted to them and when they make us feel good. Notice that a key phrase in the dictionary definition of love is the phrase "based on." This phrase implies that we love conditionally; in other words, we love someone because they fulfill a condition that we require before we can love them. How many times have you heard or said, "I love you because you are cute;" or "I love you because you take good care of me;" or "I love you because you are fun to be with"?

    Our love is not only conditional, it is also unpredictable. We love based on feelings and emotions that can change from one moment to the next. The divorce rate is extremely high in today's society because husbands and wives supposedly stop loving one another-or they "fall out of love". They may go through a rough patch in their marriage, and they no longer "feel" love for their spouse, so they call it quits. Evidently, their marriage vow of "till death do us part" means they can part at the death of their love for their spouse rather than at their physical death.

    Can anyone really comprehend "unconditional" love? It seems the love that parents have for their children is as close to unconditional love as we can get without the help of God's love in our lives. We continue to love our children through good times and bad, and we don't stop loving them if they don't meet the expectations we may have for them. We make a choice to love our children even when we consider them unlovable; our love doesn't stop when we don't "feel" love for them. This is similar to God's love for us, but as we shall see, God's love transcends the human definition of love to a point that is hard for us to comprehend.

    God is Love: How does God Define Love?
    The Bible tells us that "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). But how can we even begin to understand that truth? There are many passages in the Bible that give us God's definition of love. The most well known verse is John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." So one way God defines love is in the act of giving. However, what God gave (or should we say, "who" God gave) was not a mere gift-wrapped present; God sacrificed His only Son so that we, who put our faith in His Son, will not spend eternity separated from Him. This is an amazing love, because we are the ones who choose to reject God, yet it's God who mends the separation through His intense personal sacrifice, and all we have to do is accept His gift.

    Another great verse about God's love is found in Romans 5:8, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." In this verse and in John 3:16, we find no conditions placed on God's love for us. God doesn't say, "as soon as you clean up your act, I'll love you; " nor does He say, "I'll sacrifice my Son if you promise to love Me." In fact, in Romans 5:8, we find just the opposite. God wants us to know that His love is unconditional, so He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us while we were still unlovable sinners. We didn't have to get clean, and we didn't have to make any promises to God before we could experience His love. His love for us has always existed, and because of that, He did all the giving and sacrificing long before we were even aware that we needed His love.

    God is Love: It's Unconditional
    God is Love, and His love is very different from human love. God's love is unconditional, and it's not based on feelings or emotions. He doesn't love us because we're lovable or because we make Him feel good; He loves us because He is love. He created us to have a loving relationship with Him, and He sacrificed His own Son (who also willingly died for us) to restore that relationship.

    More on Agape Love

    Agape, and its verb form agapao, is one of the several Greek words for love. The Bible also mentions phileo, or brotherly love, and refers to eros, erotic love. The Greeks also spoke of storge, which is a love between family members.

    Agape love is a little different. It is not a feeling; it's a motivation for action that we are free to choose or reject. Agape is a sacrificial love that voluntarily suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return. We are called to agape love through Christ's example: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2).

    We are to agapao God (Matthew 22:37), our neighbor (Matthew 22:39), and even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-46). We are not to agapao money (Matthew 6:24), darkness (John 3:19), or men's approval (John 12:43).

    The New Testament has over two-hundred references to agape love. Here are a few.

    Matthew 24:12: With increased lawlessness in the end times, concern and caring for others will fade.

    Luke 11:42: The legalism of the Pharisees, even their sacrifices, did not reflect a love of God.

    John 13:35: The Christian life is characterized by sacrificial agape love.

    John 15:9-10; Romans 13:10: When we agape love God, we show it by obeying His commandments because His commandments teach us how to love others.

    John 15:13: The greatest demonstration of love anyone can give is to die for his friends.

    John 17:26; Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22: Agape love comes from God, not our own effort.

    Romans 5:8; Revelation 1:5: It was agape love that caused Jesus to sacrifice Himself for us.

    Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:1: It is not loving to lead another into sin.

    Colossians 3:19: Men are called to show agape love to their wives.

    James 1:12; 2:5: Love of God will result in rewards in heaven.

    2 Peter 2:15; 1 John 2:15: It is possible to sacrificially love something that is not godly.

    Although 1 Corinthians 13 is known as the chapter on love, there is no book that speaks more about agape than 1 John. Two important themes come out of 1 John. The first is that it is inconsistent and false to claim we agape love God while not agape loving other believers. We cannot love God without loving brothers and sisters who also love Him. The second is that it is inconsistent and false to claim we agape love God if we don't obey Him. It is impossible to love God while ignoring what He says. The two are inextricably connected, as Galatians 5:14 says: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

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