I have found understanding the love of God over my life the most exhilarating, and at times the most elusive, of challenges. Increasingly more often than not I am so strong and clear in my understanding of His great love for us, and for me. But more often than I'd like, in my life, in my affections, in my thinking, I seem to temporarily lose my securing centre in the love of God.
During lockdown, the Lord has been taking me deeper into a fresh understanding of the love of God. And it has led me to this statement regarding the love of God revealed to us in Jesus:
"God loves us totally"
This statement seems scandalous. How can God love us totally? Would I love me totally? I mean, there are parts of my life that I am very much trying to work my way out of, with God's loving grace and power leading me all the way. Does God love those parts of me? God isn't pleased with my sin (Lamentations 3:34-36), so how can He love me or any of us totally?
Check out the love Jesus is described as having for his disciples in John 13:1 -
"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (John 13:1)
What we read here is what is meant by God's total love for us. He loved his disciples constantly, and right to the very end of his time on earth. What this means is that He never stopped loving them. There was not a time when Jesus stopped or reduced His love for them. This is an immense statement. This is Jesus's trustworthy orientation to the disciples, and us. Were these disciples perfect? No. Were they always faithful? No. Did they get Jesus, and His mission, at all points? No. Did they demonstrate profound weaknesses of character and belief in Him? Yes. And yet, He loved them totally.
Total Love Means Love to the Very End
This is the orientation of Jesus, to us. It is a bent towards us that we simply cannot change. We may change how we relate to Jesus, but He does not change from loving us, to the very end. We may refuse His love but He will not be changed in His love towards us.
We may doubt His love, we may ignore His love, we may not get His love - but He will love us, to the very end.
This IS the scandal of God. This is the scandal of the Gospel. It is not just the scandal of the love of God. It is the scandal of who God is. And boy is it good news to all who come into God's love-orbit!!!
So what does this love look like? Can it be described? Can it's characteristics be listed. Because it is one thing to know that God loves us totally to the end. It is another thing to understand how He loves us totally, to the very end.
This is what God's Love Looks Like
An inspired study of the key word for God's love in the New Testament, agape, has been done by French Bible scholar Ceslas Spicq (1901-1993), in a three volume work called Agape in the New Testament. In Volume three, Professor Spicq outlines 6 characteristics of the love of God from his extensive survey of the New Testament use of the term. Here they are, giving us a clearer sense of just how Jesus loves us, to the very end. I have quoted from Spicq's work, because his way with words is profound.
From page 161-162 of his third volume, which you can read here, Spicq describes Jesus' love as:
a declared love - "affirmed and reaffirmed and always proved. The Lord wants to convince the disciples of his love for them."
a love of respect - his mission is given to us. "This accounts for the value we have in Christ's eyes and for the attention with which he receives us."
a delicate, extremely solicitous (full of desire) love - "which wants to exclude all anxiety and fear from the hearts of those he loves (John 14:1). It communicates his peace and joy to them and exhorts them to absolute trust."
a love of predilection - "'I have chosen you' (John 15:16) as a shepherd who knows his sheep and calls each by name." (John 10:3; 14).
an intimate love- "'His own' are his familiars...even his friends...whom he initiates into the mystery of the life of the Trinity." Jesus wants a deep communion with us, to remain in his love as quoted above, and more than this, He wants to be "in them" (John 17:23)!
a merciful and generous love - "Jesus did not come to judge; his entire mission was to save man from darkness, sin and death. When he offered living water to those who thirst (John 6:35; 7:37), he wanted to communicate to them a superabundance of the divine life (John 10:10; 17:2) and a participation in his glory and beatitude (John 17:23-24). Mediator of the divine charity, the Son transmits what he has received from the Father, all that fills him interiorly, his pleroma [fullness] (John 1:16)...his gifts are identical with his Person (John 6:35) so that when he gives himself, he gives all things (1 John 5:11). Can it be said that Christ transmits even greater riches, meizona touton (14:12)? He will send you 'another advocate to be with you for all time to come' (14:15)."
a gift-giving love - "His sacrifice is a decisive proof of his love and a gesture which shows how great a love it is. Having always loved his own, the Saviour ended his life by sacrificing himself for them. This is supreme charity (John 15:13)."
Can you come away from this, and not be inspired. This is how Jesus loves you, and me, to the end.
You may be doing great, or doing poorly. You may be feeling anxious regarding lockdown, anxious about other things, or loving not having any obligations or commitments outside of your home. Wherever you are at, this meditation on the character of the love of God is a game-changer.
How do we get His love into us? The gift of meditation, as God calls us to it in His word.
Psalm 1 declares that we are blessed if we "meditate on [God's] law day and night" (Psalm 1:2). I can think of no more important law in God's whole revelation than the law of Divine love.
My encouragement to you is thus - over the next 6 days, personalise these key characteristics of the love of God, in prayer, for you personally. For example:
Day 1 - Jesus has declared His love to me. He has affirmed and reaffirmed His love to me in His word, such that I can live convinced He loves me.
Day 2 - Jesus love respects me, far more than I deserve. He has given me the highest calling, to participate in His mission, and so He values me and attends to me deeply.
Day 3 - Etc.
But don't stop here. In your interactions with others, look for opportunities to encourage them in the love that you are internalising. Share with them that the same love you are discovering in Jesus, is for them just as much.
Times like we're in right now are times that be greatly fruitful. If we take the opportunity to get secure in the ways that no lockdown, or virus, or series of world events, can shake us from.
Pressing into the love of God in Jesus Christ with you this week!
Written by Ps. Rob Waugh