Portraits of Genuine Love12 min read
The word used for love in Galatians 5 is agape. The Lord Jesus said “Greater love (agape) has no man than this: that a man would lay down his life for his friends,” which tells us that this kind of love in its fullest, purest form is sacrificial in nature. (“Love is patient. Love is kind….”). Another word for love in Scripture is phileo, referring to relational love, or more properly, affection. In fact, friends in the above verse is philos, a closely related form of phileo. But while it is nice to have a form of affection toward a person (probably because of mutual enjoyment of the relationship), true spiritual fruit is seen in our “agape” toward all, regardless of culture, belief, relationship to us, or whatever may hinder affection. Our calling is not to be close friends with everyone, nor is it to “tolerate” or “like” everyone we meet: we are to rise above that and think of our neighbors (in the Luke 10 sense) as people worth sacrificing for, though they may not deserve it. The Lord didn’t “tolerate” the Pharisees in the modern sense of the word, but He still died for them. This illustrates the fact that love must always be in the Truth for it to be genuine (2 John). With these things in mind, we will consider four main aspects of love, 3 of which are illustratively seen in Scripture’s first mentions of the word.
I. Of a Father to His Son
It is only appropriate to mention firstly the love of the Father toward the Son, for this is where Scripture begins. The first mention of love in all of Scripture is in Genesis 22 when God says “take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest.” This is a picture, of course, of the Father’s love to his well-beloved Son. Three times does the Gospel of John record the Father’s love for the Son. John 3:35 “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.” John 5:20 “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.” John 10:17 “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.” We also see in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that each reveals its first mention of love at Christ’s baptism: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” His desire was that no man at that scene would miss such a pivotal point. Yet very touchingly we can come to John’s Gospel, looking for his first mention of love, and we find these words “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” With Abraham, he had an obligation to part with Isaac, for he was accountable to God. But who was God accountable to in the giving of His Son? Was there any higher than He that should command his love toward us? Our hearts unanimously say no, yet even then the pain God spared Abraham was the pain he did not spare Himself from. Why? For you, for me. Oh what grace that God spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us! Are you not thankful for Calvary, dear friend?
But thankfully the story doesn’t end at the scene of humiliation, for God has highly exalted His Son and has given Him a name above every name. He declared once again in thundering clarity at the resurrection of Christ “This is My Beloved SON!” Let there be no doubt in our minds that the Father loves His Son above all else. Before we would consider anything else on the topic of love, let us be sure we understand what God emphasizes so clearly in His Word. If we miss this, we miss our basis for learning of love.
II. Of the Son to His Bride
The second mention of love in Scripture is in Genesis 24, the record of Rebekah and Isaac’s marriage. Genesis 24:67 – “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” This is a picture of Christ and His Church after the temporary setting aside of Israel (represented by Sarah’s death). “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” Even more specifically, we can apply Paul’s words to ourselves: “I live by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” That phrase “gave Himself” has not the idea of a gift, but of surrender. He “delivered Himself for me” or “He surrendered Himself for me.” The question arises “Why?” Because He saw in a coming day a Bride adorned with beauty and righteousness for her Bridegroom. He sees in the near future a Church sanctified from every spot and blemish that he can present to Himself and say “Thou art all fair, my love: there is no spot in thee.” And so greatly does He love His Bride that His Millennial Reign commences with a marriage supper. “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.”
Coming from such a bright and glorious scene, consider Calvary for a moment, for it was there that He proved is love for us as His Bride. It was there that He made way for an entirely new position before the God of Eternity – no longer a position of judgment and despair, but of regal dignity and honor. Let us never separate our honor as His Church from His shame as the dying Lamb. His was a portrait of true love.
III. Of the Believer to His God
In Mark 12 Jesus says “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” In Matthew 22 He says “This is the first and great commandment.” It is no wonder, really, that this is the first and greatest command, because it forms the pattern for all other obedience. If love toward God is cold, so will every other form of worship be. Sadly modern Christianity has reinterpreted love to be outside of what God delights in, when in reality it is our devotion to God’s Truth that reflects our love for Him. We need to learn love toward God before we learn any other form it. In what ways are we to love Him?
- With our Heart. This aspect of love envisions a proper desire within our deepest parts, a desire toward the Heavenly, a desire toward that which pleases God. A husband who loves his wife learns what pleases her and aims for it. Why? To prove his love for her. So must we set our affections on things above, where Christ dwells. Dear believer, does He have your heart? If so, are you desiring what He desires? Are you delighting yourself in the Lord? Or is every decision you make one that eases your want for preference? Are you living the sort of Christianity that tries to conform God’s will to yours so that you can do what you want while still “pleasing” Him at least on a surface level? Ah, dear believers, let us set our hearts on things above and allow the “things of earth to grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” This is true love toward God.
- With our Soul. Here we see a call to passionate determination. True love for God no longer says “How can I combine the things of the world with the things of God?” for that is a false form of so-called godliness. No, true love for God says “What must I leave so that I may go unto Him more fully?” True love towards God finds no rest until deep-rooted faith is found. True love for God says “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” God says that He will be found only when sought by a devoted, seeking heart. “Ye shall seek Me and shall find Me, when you search for me with your whole heart.” Have you seen His power and glory lately? If not, perhaps it is time to seek Him early.
- With our Mind. This part of our inner being called the mind allows for perceptive decisiveness and discernment. It allows us to serve God based on knowledge of His Word and His ways. Paul said “So then, with my mind I serve the law of God.” Was it not the mind Paul addressed when he spoke of Christ’s example of service: “Let this mind be in you”? Was it not his burden to prescribe those same Philippians a thought pattern in chapter four (“Whatsoever is pure, lovely,”etc.) so that they would “Think on these things”? Truly love for God involves both heart and mind. We must have affections informed by knowledge so that we have assurance of that which we are affectionate toward. We need to understand this: Christian love toward God cannot grow unless Scripture-based, which goes back to the point we made at the beginning. What was it? Love must always be in the Truth (2 John); otherwise, it is really just vain hormonal infatuation. Do you love and worship God both in spirit and in truth (John 4)? Has your mind been well-informed by the Word of God on a consistent, disciplined basis? God calls for love from our minds; let us give it to Him.
- With our Strength. At this point we move from inward intentions to the outworking of them, a powerful display of true fruit coming out of our desires. There is a good phrase which is “What goes into the mind comes out in life.” We have already looked at the mind, and perhaps that little platitude will establish even more what has gone before. As to the second part of that truth, what has been working out in your life? Is it active service for God? Or is there no fruit and therefore no real reason for people to take your testimony seriously? “Let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth” says John. Why do we think this somehow reverses when it comes to our love toward God?
IV. Of the Believer to His Brother
Where there is love toward God there must be love toward the brethren, that is, those who are in Christ. “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” (Col. 3). “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth.” (2 Thess. 1). “And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4). “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (1 Jn. 3).
In the last point we skipped the third mention of love in Scripture, which is this: “And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Here we see a pattern of love which corresponds, not to the Father and Son, nor to the Son and His Bride, but to love between brethren – those of the same family. Yet it is a sad example, for it shows the failure of this form of love rather than a worthy example. Even so, is it not closely similar to our love at times? Do we not find ourselves “loving” because of what a believer benefits us rather than because they are in Christ? What a sad state of affairs! To truly love God means we love what He does, and oh how He loves His own! The only way we truly love Him, then, is if we have the highest regard and affection toward those same ones He holds very dear to His benevolent heart. One either has love for God and love for his brother, or he has no love for God and no love for his brother. They are always together. So then, if we claim devotion to Christ, how can we do so without having lived devotedly to His assembly? Did He not buy it with His own blood? It is impossible to have true love for Christ and desire the world more than His assembly. Let us remember that love for Christ shows itself in love for His own. While in a different context, the principle applies: “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me…Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Our attitude and actions toward God’s people mean everything, for they are really toward Christ. Are we living with love? Are we willing to sacrifice for others and act on the truth that we hold so highly? Oh, let us do it for Christ!
So then, as we conclude this brief yet vital study, let us think of love as a high thing, a profound thing. Let us think of love as a dignified thing to grasp, for “God is love.” It is no wonder that “the greatest of these is love,” for it is a display of God’s very essence and character in perfect relation to His holiness. Truly the extent to which love is a beautiful thing in its true sense is defined by the greatness of our God. How great is God to us? Are we ready to imitate our God?