Part 1 – “God is Love“
Whatever one thinks of the nature of the Bible—whether word-for-word divinely inspired or written by humans but to some degree and in some ways guided and influenced by divine involvement—few question that the central and foundational nature of God can be best be summed up in one word: LOVE. So much so is God’s nature summarized by this word/concept that the letter we call 1 John states,
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7–12)
Because God is love, we understand that love will be the most foundational quality of lives of those who truly know God—in evangelical Christian terminology: “those who truly have a relationship with God.” In other words, no one can truly say he/she knows God who is not striving to live a life of love. Jesus taught that the two greatest commands, the two that sum up all other commands, are to love God and love our neighbours (i.e., all other humans). So completely did Jesus consider our neighbours to mean all other humans, that Jesus (and Paul) insisted that we are to love, not just “one another” (other Christians and other close relationships), but we are to love “our enemies.” Why? Because God in love sends both sun and rain upon both those who do evil and those who do good. Finally—though there is really much more that can be said—Jesus who lived a life of love, stated categorically that the one mark by which all people would know who his true disciples are, is by their love.
But, what is “love” (ἀγάπη) and how does love demonstrate itself in one’s life. Again, back in 1 John, that letter states,
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:16–18)
Jesus, also taught, that his life (and death) is the gold standard for what it means to love, when he said to his closest disciples (who knew his life best), “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). The letter to the Ephesians emphasizes this point when it states, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2).
But what are the practical qualities of this God/Jesus love? What will be true of my day-to-day life and my day-to-day interactions with my fellow humans, if I am truly striving to imitate God’s/Jesus’ love? Here’s where my favourite definition of love helps and challenges me. Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Corinthians to a church who were off base when it came to love. So, he wrote, probably one of the most quoted passages of all Christian scripture—1 Corinthians 13. Here, Paul emphasizes that love is THE essential quality of those who claim to follow Jesus and that this life of love must be consciously and purposely desired. Why? Because having love is more important than having faith and/or having hope. Love, Paul wrote, is the greatest of all!
Paul emphasizes this bold claim by first stating that no matter what else people do in and with their lives in this world, even great efforts to gain knowledge or unbelievable acts of faith or even the ultimate act of self-sacrifice is NOTHING without love (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). So, again, I ask, what does it mean, and what does it look like, to love like Jesus loved? Here is Paul’s answer…
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8a, NIV)
More than anything else, I am convinced that to continue to follow Jesus, I must continue to make every effort to fully know God—which means understanding love better, since God is love—and to make every effort to grow in my imitation of God/Jesus, which means imitating their demonstration of love in my own life.
Love is the first of all first principles of Christian discipleship, the foundation upon which all other beliefs and resulting obedience must be built. We can do everything else really well, or even exceptionally well, but if we do not love “more and more” we will have truly missed the boat. So much so that in I John we read,
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19–21, NIV)
Where do we start with learning to love “more and more”? We start with God, who is love. One of the most practical ways that I have found to do that is to take Paul’s beautifully articulate and practical definition of love and see how it applies to God, in general, and to how God loves me, specifically. For me that starts with taking Paul’s definition of love, and because God is love, substituting the word “love” (and “it” where “it” is a pronoun for “love”) with the word “God”. To do so, creates this:
God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. God is not rude, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but God rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.
What we end up with is a series of statements about God that must apply to how God deals with all of us, and how God deals with each of us. God can do no other than this because God IS Love. Wow!
- God is patient
- God is kind
- God does not envy
- God does not boast
- God is not proud
- God is not rude
- God is not self-seeking
- God is not easily angered
- God keeps no record of wrongs
- God does not delight in evil
- God rejoices with the truth
- God always protects
- God always trusts
- God always hopes
- God always perseveres
- God never fails.
I would encourage you to take some time to think about how God is relating to you in each of these ways. Try to think very practically what this means about God and God’s ongoing attitude and efforts toward you personally. Which qualities of God are clearest to you and why? Which qualities of God are hardest for you to see or believe? Please, as you go through this exercise, keep the following statement foremost in your mind—it’s not good English, but it makes the point:
God cannot NOT love, because God is love!
For example, God cannot ever act impatiently towards you because that would mean that God, at that moment, is NOT love. Also, God cannot ever act in an unkind way towards you because that would mean that God, at that moment, is NOT love. So, whenever we believe, think, say, or hear anyone say that God is ever, towards anyone, impatient, unkind, not protecting, not persevering, etc., that means either you (and that anyone) is either wrong about God OR that God is NOT love.
If this blog article and exercise is speaking to you, you might want to read Parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series, “Love is…”
- Part 2 – “As I Have Loved You.” How do we see Paul’s practical descriptors of love lived out in Jesus’ demonstrated in his interactions with people as recorded in the Gospel accounts? How does this exercise help you better understand and appreciate the challenge of “as I have loved you, so you must love one another”?
- Part 3 – “Love One Another.” When it comes to loving those with whom you have the closest relationships: family (physical/spiritual), and other close friends (at work, in the neighbourhood, etc.), how are you striving or needing to strive to love as Jesus loved? Which qualities of love are “easiest,” and which are the most “challenging” to demonstrate in your relationship with the “one anothers” in your life?
- Part 4 – “Love Your Neighbours & Enemies.” How can we live out these qualities of love when it comes to our neighbours (workmates, acquaintances, strangers) and even our enemies? What does it mean when we come across people we barely know or don’t know who are in need?
 Or as the authors of the New Testament (NT) documents wrote, ἀγάπη (agapē). This noun is found 116 times in the twenty-seven books of the NT. The verb form ἀγαπάω (agapao) – to love – is found 142 times; and the related adjective ἀγαπητός (agapatos) – beloved – is found 62 times. Although I have yet to check every reference, I’m convinced the majority of times the noun and the verb occur it is in reference to God’s love or Jesus’ love.
 Although I do believe and thus try in my own writing to refer to God with non-gendered language, when I quote the biblical texts I leave the masculine gender pronouns untouched because that is what the authors and editors of the biblical texts wrote. They lived in highly patriarchal cultures who thought of Yahweh as a ‘he’ (OT) and thought of the God of our Lord Jesus as a ‘he.’ Please remember that the biblical texts are ancient texts, not modern 21st century Western texts.
 See Matthew 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–31.
 See Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35; Romans 12:20–21.
 See Matthew 5:44–48.
 See John 13:34–35.
 Read Ephesians 1:17. The Greek reads, “ἐν ἐπιγνώσει αὐτοῦ,” which means “in/for full knowledge of him.” The NET Bible translates this verse as follows: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him,” which catches the ‘full’ sense of ‘epignosis.’
 Please read Philippians 1:9–11 and 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10. When it comes to love, none of us has ever, in this life, arrived. No matter how much and how well we love, there is always room for, and the need for, loving “more and more.”
 The open and relational theologian, Thomas Jay Oord, is the first person I ever heard/read who said, “God cannot not love.” That was about 4-5 years ago and that statement and that conviction has changed my life because it changed my faith. In his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, Oord convincingly introduced me to idea that God’s essential nature is love, a “self-giving, others-empowering love…revealed in Jesus Christ to be logically primary in God’s eternal essence. In God, love comes first. …God’s love is a necessary and eternal attribute of God’s nature. …God loves necessarily. …Because God must act like God, God must love. … It is impossible for God to be unloving because being so would require God to be other than divine.” (pp. 160–161). For me (Brian) the God who has this essential nature is the only understanding of the divine in which I choose to believe. As Oord goes on to say “Love is God’s preeminent attribute” (p. 167). Therefore, everything God does, God does out of love and always in ways that are loving. To not do so, God would have to deny Godness. In other words, if any thought or action of God were motivated, empowered, and directed by anything other than love, God would have to “deny himself,” something the author of 2 Timothy said God cannot do (2:13)! Therefore, to quote Oord, “God cannot not love.”
 Part 4 might need to break into Parts 4 (Neighbours) and Parts 5 (Enemies). I’ll see how it goes as I read, research, and write.
One thought on ““LOVE IS…””
“Love is” just finished reading through this Musing. It is something I will continue to reflect upon… Thank you for this body of work Brian.