As one examines the world in which we live and as we examine ourselves, we see the need to come to a greater appreciation of what the Bible teaches about love. If we were asked, most of us would quickly affirm that we need to be more loving. But what is love? What is the love that the Bible teaches us to have? Is it simply physical attraction? Is it mere affection? Does it just deal with sexual relations? Is love something that motivates one to tolerate anything and everything in religion and never offend anyone or hurt anyone's feelings?
The kind of love the Bible speaks of -- the kind of love that you and I must have as a part of our lives -- is far different than the ideas expressed above. What is important is what the Bible teaches about love. You and I may have the wrong impression about love, but the Bible is true and right and teaches us what love is. Thus, as we study this great subject of love, we will not be quoting from human experts and professionals. We will be studying directly from God Himself, the source of all knowledge and wisdom, who defines true love in His word, and who Himself is love (1 John 4:8).
I do not think it is possible for us to really understand and appreciate the kind of love we are to have for one another without first understanding the love that God has for us.
THE LOVE GOD HAS FOR US
When one reads the New Testament, it is very hard to find a passage that mentions God's love for us that doesn't either directly or indirectly mention the demonstration of that love through His Son Jesus Christ. A passage most are familiar with, and that many people can quote is John 3:16. Here the Bible says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Here the Bible speaks of God's love for us (the world) and shows that His love was demonstrated by sending His Son to give His life for us. Let me list several verses similar to John 3:16 and then we will sum them up after you read them:
Let us sum up the main points of these passages:
God did not send Christ because He wanted to do something for Himself. He sent Him expecting nothing in return. The Greek word translated love in the New Testament is agape. This is the love that always does what is best for the person who is loved.
THE LOVE CHRIST HAS FOR US
There can be no doubt that Christ has the same love for us that the Father has. Ephesians 5:2 says, "And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." The Holy Spirit through Paul again expressed this love in these words: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
Christ's love is shown in what He had to give up in order to die for us. Paul writes, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus' love is shown in the fact that He left heaven to come to this earth and to die on the cross. Again Paul wrote, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Yes. Jesus gave up the riches of heaven and became poor in order that we might become rich spiritually!
Do you remember the anguish He suffered in the garden shortly before His crucifixion. "And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me" (Matthew 26:37-38). Do you remember that He was betrayed by one of His own? "And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him." Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. But Jesus said to him, "Friend, why have you come?" Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. "Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? "How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?" In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. "But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled." Not only was Jesus betrayed by Judas, one of His chosen apostles, but all the other disciples forsook Him.
Do you remember the mock trials He faced before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod? Notice what He went through: "Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate" (Luke 23:11). "And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. "He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:39-46).
Why did Jesus endure all this? Because of His love for us! This is a love that is unselfish, self-sacrificing, and undeserved. It is a love that was demonstrated for those who mistreated and killed Him -- people who were His enemies. And, He did this without expecting anything to be done for Him in return. He died for our good, not for His own good.
The passages we have studied point out that it is not enough to just say you love others. God could have claimed to have love for us, but that would not have proved it. We know that He loves us because He demonstrated that love! And He did that by sending His only begotten Son to die for us on the cross. What could have proved His love more?
This love should lead us to love Him in return. "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16). These two verses show that there is a relationship between God's love for us and our love for God and for each other. Without God and Christ's love for us demonstrated in the death of Christ we could never really know what true love is, and we could never really know what it means to love one another.
There is one thing we must recognize: When God extends His love through Christ we must love Him in return. However, the Bible teaches that it is not enough just to SAY we love God. We must demonstrate that love through obedience. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). The American Standard Version says, "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments." There is no doubt in Jesus' mind that if we truly love Him we will keep His commandments. We can say we love Jesus all day long, but if we don't keep His commandments we are lying. John wrote, "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him" (1 John 2:3-5). Again John is inspired to write, "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother... My little children let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3: 10, 18). If we truly love Jesus, we will obey Him.
We initially obey Christ by hearing and obeying the gospel (John 8:24; Luke 13:3; Matthew 10:32-33; Mark 16:16). Then we continue to obey Christ by living a faithful Christian life (Revelation 2:10). Will you not demonstrate your love for Jesus Christ today by obeying Him?