The Scriptures speak to us of the love of God, the love of the Father, and the love of Christ. They also speak of the love of the brethren, for it is the same love that is found in those who are born of God as that which is found in the Godhead. Believers are, as the recipients of the greatest and most precious promises, “partakers of [the] divine nature” (2 Pet. 1: 4), and the divine nature is love, for “God is love” (1 John 4: 8). All these affections then, are divine. However, the direction that Scripture describes each as taking is not the same. Neither the Father nor the Son are said to love the world, but God is. The Father is not said to love the Church, but Christ is. And although believers are spoken of as loving God and loving Christ, it is love to the brethren that is the most frequent thought in the NT. All this is full of interest and instruction.
God’s Love in the OT
God does not change (see Mal. 3: 6), but God’s love is not said to have been manifested in the OT. Not until the death of Christ was the heart of God fully told out: “Herein as to us has been manifested the love of God, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4: 9, 10). Some of the expressions of affection for Israel by Jehovah are extremely touching (see Jer. 31: 3; Hos. 11: 4 etc.) but love is not the dominant feature of the OT. The way into the holy of holies had not yet been made manifest (see Heb. 9: 8), and the worshippers knew nothing of a perfect love that had cast out all fear (see 1 John 4: 18). Certainly the children of Israel were commanded to “love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength” (Deut. 6: 5) but they were “not able to bear what was enjoined” (Heb. 12: 20), “for the law perfected nothing” (Heb. 7: 19). What was needed was “the introduction of a better hope by which we draw nigh to God”. This, in essence, is the Gospel.
The Love of God
John 3: 16 tells us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only–begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal”. Here we get God’s love presented in all its universality and greatness. Elsewhere we learn that he loved Jacob and hated Esau (see Rom. 9: 13), but here His heart is towards the kosmos—the world of people—and anyone, “whosoever” who believes, may enter into blessing. Indeed, God so loved that He gave all that divine love could give: “He who, yea, has not spared his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Rom. 8: 32). The more we examine these things, the more wonderful they become. Thus we were loved when we were unlovable, for “God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us” (Rom. 5: 8). Again, though “dead in offences” we have been quickened with Christ, and made to “sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus”. Why? Because of God’s “great love wherewith he loved us”. No wonder that Paul can speak of “the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2: 4–7)!
Once we have “known and have believed the love which God has to us”, we come to the further realisation that “God is love” (1 John 4: 16, my emphasis). The statement “God is light” is set against a background of “in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1: 5), but “God is love” stands by itself in all its absoluteness. Nor are these mere abstract thoughts for “he that abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4: 16). All this is very simple, but profound beyond measure. The believer both dwells in the immeasurable vastness of God’s love, and has that same love filling and animating his innermost being. Indeed, nothing, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which [is] in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8: 38, 39). Unlike earthly relationships, there is to be no parting from God’s love—it is with us forever. God will see that it is so, because “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by [the] Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5: 5).
From our side, however, we constantly need to be reminded of the fountain of our happiness as children of God. “Bad and evil men” may prevail in the world around us, and it is easy to become occupied with such things. How necessary then is the apostle’s prayer “the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God” (2 Thess. 3: 2, 5) and the later injunction to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude v21)! Keep in the sunshine, and you will stay elevated and bright in spirit.
The Love of the Father
We do not find the thought of sovereignty connected with the Father’s love like it is with the love of God. The Father’s love is confined to that in which He finds pleasure. Pre–eminently, that love is centred on the Son, the One who was ever the delight of the Father’s counsels: “For thou lovedst me before [the] foundation of [the] world” (John 17: 24). Nor do we always find the Father’s love set upon the same objects as God’s love: God is said to have loved the world (see John 3: 16)—that is never said of the Father. The Father has a sphere of His own outside of which His affections are not said to travel, and which this present world system is the antithesis. Hence: “If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2: 15, 16). The Father’s world is centred in the “Son of His love” (Col. 1: 13). Thus we read that “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things [to be] in his hand” (John 3: 35). Why was this? It was because “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15: 10). Again, “on this account the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again” (John 10: 17). Now if we can see no further than Christ as God manifest in flesh (see 1 Tim. 3: 16) we really lose what was of delight to the Father in Christ. What is presented in the Gospels is a dependant man here fulfilling the will of God, whose ear was opened morning by morning “to hear as the instructed” (Is. 50: 4). It was that man in which the Father found His delight and satisfaction. There was nothing in the world that caused God to love it apart from the love in His own heart, but there was a reason for the love of the Father to the Man Christ Jesus. Hence: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight” (2 Pet. 1: 17).
Yet there is more: wonder of wonders, we also are objects of the Father’s love. It is not merely that we are called to contemplate the love which the Father has to the Son, but we are to know ourselves as objects of that love: “see what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called [the] children of God” (1 John 3: 1). But even as regards us, though so unworthy, this love is not presented in its sovereign character. If the Father loves us there is a reason why: “He that has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me; but he that loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him” (John 14: 21, my emphasis). Now God loved you when there was nothing lovable about you—He loved you because of what was in Himself. But the Father loves you because He has found something in you in which His heart has unbounded delight. Here, where His Son has been rejected, you are found on the Lord’s side, lifting up a feeble testimony in His favour. And, as thus loving Christ, the love that rests upon Him, rests upon you: “that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and [that] thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me” and “And I have made known to them thy name ... that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them” (John 17: 23, 26). It is thus a poor representation of the sphere of blessing into which we are brought as Christians to limit it to being saved from sin and from judgment. The testimony of Scripture is that the Father chose us in Christ “before [the] world’s foundation, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love” and has “taken us into favour in the Beloved” (Eph. 1: 4, 6, my emphasis). Furthermore, “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him” (John 14: 23). What a test! We may know forgiveness, and, like Martha, we may be busy in what is apparently service, but what do we know about entertaining in the secret of our own souls the Father and the Son? And yet this is the Gospel in all its fullness and reality!
The Love of Christ
Only once does the Bible say that that the Son loves the Father, and that, significantly, is in the context of obedience to His Father’s will: “but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father has commanded me, thus I do” (John 14: 31, my emphasis). A similar thought is suggested by the Hebrew bondman of Exod. 21: 5 and by what is said prophetically of the Lord in Ps. 40: 8: “To do thy good pleasure, my God, is my delight, and thy law is within my heart”. The overwhelming majority of Scriptures, however, speak of a love directed towards His own. Yes, He was “moved with compassion” (Matt. 9: 36) for the crowds, and “loved” the rich young ruler (Mark 10: 21), but the love of Christ, as presented in Scripture, is predominantly directed towards those who belong to Him. Thus “even as the Christ also loved the assembly, and has delivered himself up for it” (Eph. 5: 25). The assembly belongs to God (see Gal. 1: 13; etc.), but it is Christ who is said to love it.
The Lord Jesus has proved His love for His own by dying in their place. It was a love that would do all for its objects, for “no one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 13). No wonder the same writer can later exclaim “To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father: to him [be] the glory and the might to the ages of ages. Amen” (Rev. 1: 5, 6)! This supreme act of love is frequently used as a lever on the hearts of those for whom He died in order to cause them to love one another, for we are to “walk in love, even as the Christ loved us, and delivered himself up for us” (Eph. 5: 2). Again: “Hereby we have known love, because he has laid down his life for us; and we ought for the brethren to lay down [our] lives. But whoso may have the world’s substance, and see his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abides the love of God in him? Children, let us not love with word, nor with tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3: 16–18).
Paul makes the love of Christ intensely personal when he speaks of “the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me” (Gal. 2: 20). Indeed, it is “the love of Christ” itself which “constrains us” to be active here for Him, for, as conscious of that love, we “no longer live” to ourselves, “but to him who died” for us (2 Cor. 5: 14, 15). And this love is made all the more remarkable when we consider how much there is in each of us to test it. Among His twelve disciples there was dull–wittedness, ignorance, rivalry, desertion and denial. Would His love bear such a strain? Yes, for “having loved his own who were in the world” He “loved them to the end” (John 13: 1).
The “love of the Christ” is beyond our comprehension for it “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3: 19), and yet it is our privilege as Christians to be consciously in the enjoyment of it. Certainly, nothing can ever separate us from His love (see Rom. 8: 35), but the way to full blessing is through obedience, and in this, the model, as ever, is the Lord: “As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you: abide in my love. If ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy be full” (John 15: 9–11). This joy is not dimmed by adverse circumstances. Whatever the tribulations and trials of the Christian pathway—“for whom [the] Lord loves he chastens” (Heb. 12: 6)—“we more than conquer through him that has loved us” (Rom. 8: 37).
The Love of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is never presented in Scripture as exercising love, nor is He ever brought before us as a distinct object of our love. Some may be perplexed by this, but it is entirely in keeping with the subjective position He has taken up in relation to the believer. Thus the fruit of the Spirit in the believer is “love, joy, peace …” (Gal. 5: 22). Again, Paul commends the Colossians for their “love in” (not to) “[the] Spirit” (Col. 1: 8, my emphasis), and he beseeches the Romans “by the love of the Spirit” (Rom. 15: 30)—that is, by the animating power given to the Christian. It is the Holy Spirit that works in the saints through God’s Word so that they are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4: 9). Indeed, it must be so, because “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by [the] Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5: 5).
The Love of the Brethren
This love of the saints to one another is no less divine than is the love of the Father and the Son, and is one of the great distinguishing marks of true Christians (hence the emphasis in John’s writings, who wrote late, when sham Christianity was expanding rapidly): “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you … These things I command you, that ye love one another … He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in the darkness until now. He that loves his brother abides in light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him … Whoever does not practise righteousness is not of God, and he who does not love his brother. For this is the message which ye have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another … We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love [his] brother abides in death ... And this is his commandment, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and that we love one another … Beloved, let us love one another; because love is of God, and every one that loves has been begotten of God, and knows God. He that loves not has not known God; for God is love … If any one say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he that loves God love also his brother” (John 15: 12, 17; 1 John 2: 9, 10; 3: 10, 11, 14, 23; 4: 7, 8, 20, 21). Love in this context is not mere natural affection, but what is produced in the heart by divine working. It is just as unnatural to love God’s people in this way as it is not natural to love God and to love Christ. Thus “Every one that believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God; and everyone that loves him that has begotten loves also him that is begotten of him” (1 John 5: 1, my emphasis). This is not mere amiability, for the apostle then goes on to say that “Hereby know we that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments” (v2). We do not serve our brethren well when we sacrifice truth for friendship or fellowship. Thus “whoever keeps his word, in him verily the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2: 5). Again, “this is love, that we should walk according to his commandments” (2 John v6)
There are remarkably few references that speak of our love to Christ (for example, Eph. 6: 24; 1 Pet. 1: 8; 1 John 4: 19), and the reason is that our love to Him is demonstrated by our love to His brethren. Hence all shall “know that ye are disciples of mine, if ye have love among yourselves” (John 13: 35). Again, when the Lord questions Peter’s love for Him (see John 21: 15–17), He puts all on the basis of how Peter will care for those of the Lord’s flock. Nor is it sufficient to love some of God’s people, for our love is to extend to “all the saints (Eph. 1: 15, my emphasis; see also Col. 1: 4; Philemon v 5). Indeed, it cannot be otherwise, for it is “the whole body” that must be built “up in love” (Eph. 4: 16). I do not deny that there are practical difficulties associated with this, but nonetheless, the fact remains that this is what Scripture enjoins. Again, our love is not to be half–hearted or desultory but fervent (see 1 Pet. 1: 22; 4: 8), abounding and abundant (see 2 Cor. 2: 4; 8: 7; 1 Thess. 3: 12; 2 Thess. 1: 3). Indeed, we are instructed “Let all things ye do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16: 14, my emphasis), to be “rooted and founded in love” (Eph. 3: 17), to “follow after love” (1 Cor. 14: 1), and even to pursue it (see 1 Tim. 6: 11; 2 Tim. 2: 22). There may be much to try us in our brethren, but we are to bear “with one another in love” (Eph. 4: 2) for “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4: 8), and we are to hold the truth “in love” (Eph. 4: 15). Indeed, following the apostle’s example, we ought to spend and be utterly spent for their souls, even if in loving them we are less loved (see 2 Cor. 12: 15). Of course it is easy to put on a pious show when the reality is otherwise, but our love must be unfeigned and genuine (see Rom. 12: 9; 2 Cor. 6: 6; 8: 8), and instead of biting and devouring one another, we need to “consider one another for provoking to love and good works” (Heb. 10: 24).
The subject of divine love is a vast one, but our space is limited, and we must close. Soon faith will give way to sight, and hope will be realised, but divine love will roll on unchanged and unchanging. It has been active towards us, and active in us, and will animate us forever in that scene to come where God will rest in His love (see Zeph. 3: 17). Beloved brethren, may our heads be bowed in worship, our hearts stirred in love, and our hands moved into activity for Him as we consider these wonderful things!