The Excellence of Love
by Tom Stewart
December 24, 2000
What would a chaste bachelor, Paul the apostle, know about love?
Yet, by inspiration he informed us that "though
I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not
[love], I am become as sounding brass, or a
tinkling cymbal" (1Corinthians 13:1).
Reading the context of what has come to be known as the Love Chapter, it becomes
readily apparent that Paul was using the term to mean more than a special way of
feeling. "4 [Love]
suffereth long, and is kind;
[love] envieth not; [love]
vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 doth not
behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no
evil; 6 rejoiceth
not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the Truth; 7 beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things,
endureth all things" (13:4-7). Love
is so esteemed in the estimation of Paul that he valued it more than even faith or
hope, making love the most sought after commodity. "And
now abideth faith, hope, [love],
these three; but the greatest of these is [love]" (13:13).
Our comprehension of who God is, demonstrates who we are. For example, a sinner may most likely view the Divine as an incomprehensible, not-always-fair Being, if He is to be thought of at all. But, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Christians, on the other hand, are privileged to understand that the true essence of "God is Love" (1John 4:8). "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is Love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (4:16). Did this revelation that "God is Love" only occur to Christians in the last two millennia? Even the ancient Jews, to whom the holy demands of the Law were made, understood the relation of love to the Holy God. "8 But because the LORD loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His Commandments to a thousand generations... 13 And He will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: He will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which He sware unto thy fathers to give thee" (Deuteronomy 7:8-9,13).
But, the understanding that the perpetual fulfilling of the Moral Law is Love, was made plain by the LORD Jesus Christ, i.e., "36 Master, which is the great Commandment in the Law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the First and Great Commandment. 39 And the Second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two Commandments hang all the Law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:36-40). "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (5:17). Yea, LORD, Thou Who art Love, came to fulfill the Law of Love (Galatians 6:2). "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore Love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Romans 13:10). The centerpiece of the Gospel is that "God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life" (John 3:16). With great tenderness, the Saviour taught His disciples the Principles of Love by His Words, and especially by His Death. "Greater Love hath no man than this, that a man lay down His Life for His friends" (15:13). Our reciprocation of love to Him is also demonstrated by our words, but particularly by our obedience to Him. "If ye love Me, keep My Commandments" (14:15).
The Theme of Love continues throughout the New Testament, most notably in the writings of the Apostle John, the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Voluntary selflessness is an attribute of Love. "For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (1John 3:11). True Love only requires that we love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves, i.e., "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). For to love our neighbour more than we would love ourselves, would be to love him supremely, and that, True Love reserves for God alone, i.e., "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matthew 22:37).
Questions immediately arise about the nature of True Love. Since the Word of God declares that "God is Love" (1John 4:8, 16), does God voluntarily choose to love, or does His natural constitution involuntarily force Him to love? In answer, God's Love must be voluntary and uncoerced for His Love to have any moral character at all. "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). And, the majesty of God's Love is that He loved sinners, and not simply the lovable. "God commendeth His Love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). But, unless His Love is ultimately returned by Lost Sinners, as His Moral Law of Love requires, then the sinner-- "for sin is the transgression of the [Moral] Law [of Love]" (1John 3:4)-- must pay the Eternal Penalty for his hatred of God and man, i.e., "for the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), in the Perpetual Prison of No Release, i.e., "And Death and Hell were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the Second Death" (Revelation 20:14).
What is True Love? The Apostle John faithfully recorded, the "Love of God, [is] that we keep [God's] Commandments [the Moral Law of Love]: and His Commandments are not grievous [impossible or burdensome]" (1John 5:3). Though God has unconditionally given His Love to this world of Lost Sinners-- "God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son" (John 3:16)-- only when we repent, believe, and obey Him do we receive the conditional and special Love of Himself, Heaven, and all that follows. "He that hath My Commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (14:21). It is no mystery why we ought to love God and man-- because His Moral Law of Love requires it-- but, when it comes down to it, why do we actually do it? "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1John 4:19). Though man is not constitutionally sinful at birth, it does not give us good reason to believe that man will naturally choose to love and obey God. Unfortunately, even our perfect parents, Adam and Eve, found themselves disobeying God, when they allowed Satan to pervert their faith in the Creator, i.e., "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the Garden?" (Genesis 3:1), which confidence is placed in only those whom we love-- for it is our "faith which worketh by Love" (Galatians 5:6).
Only as the Living God would fulfill His Promise to "subdue our iniquities" (Micah 7:19), can He work in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13), that we would choose to love the Almighty supremely and our neighbour equally as ourselves. The Father has given to us His Beloved Son in the ultimate display of Fatherly Love. "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" (John 3:16). In a magnificent demonstration of Selfless Love, Jesus-- our Elder Brother (Romans 8:29)-- laid down His life for His friends, "that He might destroy the works of the Devil" (1John 3:8). "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The "Holy Spirit of Promise" (Ephesians 1:13) has covenanted to reveal the LORD Jesus Christ to our hearts-- "He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:14)-- causing us to love Him, cleave to Him, observe His Commandments, and "do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1John 3:22). Thus, God's Spirit will fulfill the Ancient Promise of the New Covenant in us by giving us a heart of loving obedience. "26 A new heart also will I give you, and a New Spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My Statutes, and ye shall keep My Judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
In short, Love comes from God through His Son by His Spirit to dwell in the willing hearts of those whom He has subdued by His example, humbled by His Word, and overcome by His Love. "He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was Love" (Song of Solomon 2:4). God keeps no slaves to serve Him from selfish fear, but He seeks all to freely choose to serve Him from grateful hearts of Love. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth Him [the Father] that begat loveth Him [the Son] also that is begotten of Him [the Father]" (1John 5:1). The excellence of God's Love toward us is best seen in the "Manifold Grace" (1Peter 4:10) of His Cross, but the proof of His Love in us is that we voluntarily become like Him, Who "hath shined in our hearts, to give the Light of the Knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Corinthians 4:6). "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world" (1John 4:17).
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