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Distinguishing the Love of God

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Article by Wade Jackson

Doing a quick google search will provide you with a definition of love which states, "an intense feeling of deep affection." By this definition, I can think of many things I have a feeling of deep affection for. The most obvious being my wife and kids. Others would include activities such as reading, learning, fishing, hunting, sports, and so on. Basically, it can be anything that produces an emotion of affection. This definition of love is almost universally accepted in the world we live in today. Think about what is propagated concerning love in the mainstream media. Almost every movie, show, or popular song is about loving yourself. Along those lines there's been an explosion of life-coaches, books, podcasts, and other endeavors laying out instructions on how to love your "true self." All of this is based on the widely accepted definition of love being a feeling of deep affection, mainly in regard to yourself, and who you are. This self-love is selfish and irrational when placed against the backdrop of what God says is true biblical love.

The world's infatuation with self-love should not surprise us. Paul writes in Romans 1, " For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man… Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity… because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." Here, Scripture clearly shows that God's judgement is not limited to the future, but is in fact in effect and visible now.

This perfectly describes what we see in today's culture. It pushes the acceptance of loving the creature over the love of the Creator. If you've attended many weddings, then you've probably heard and are aware of Paul's description of self-sacrificial love in 1 Corinthians 13. It's in this passage we get the most complete definition of true biblical love: "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

This contrasts entirely to the kind of love as defined by the world today. First, it's the exact opposite of the type of selfish love we see in secular society. The love described by Paul to the Corinthian church does not insist on its own way and it is not arrogant. Instead, it is a self-sacrificial and self-denying love. This love is not looking to its own, but to the glory of God. This love is not about you. It is seeking out the things of God and what will bring Him most glory. We're so used to a love which centers around us, instead of Christ. Second, by definition, it is not a feeling driven by emotion (as secularly defined earlier), but it is an act. To be precise, it is an act of self-giving, self-denial, and self-sacrifice. In other words, the best way to love yourself is to deny yourself. It's human nature to be inclined to the feelings associated with the type of love defined by the world we live in; a love which is self-absorbed and seeking only personal gain. It is hard to act in the love which is laid out from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. It's contrary to our nature, but this is real love as defined by God.

What does this biblical love look like?

"God is love." as 1 John 4 states and there's no greater manifestation of God's love than Him sending His only son, Jesus, to be the propitiation for our sins. There couldn't be a more self-sacrificial, self-giving example of The Lord's defining love in all of history. In fact, Jesus spoke of this love to Nicodemus in John 3 as He said, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Christians beware of separating God's love from His other attributes.

Believers, we must not take the fact that "God is love," and separate it from God's other attributes. There are so many different Christian clichés or sayings that we use regularly. One which is used often, that we agree with in a sense, but also can be very misleading is, "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner." It begs the question, does God send the sin or the sinner to hell? It separates who a person is with what a person does. We absolutely love sinners, and we hate sin, but we can’t separate those into two categories. With secular influence on the definition of love we fall into the trap of overemphasizing God's love and de-emphasizing His other attributes. We want to only preach of God's love, goodness, mercy, and compassion, yet we leave out equally important attributes of holiness, wrath, righteousness, and truth. If we go back to the biblical definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13 we see this, "it [love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth..." If we are to show true biblical love we must preach the whole truth. Not just the truth of God's love and compassion, but also the truth about God's holiness, wrath, and righteousness.

Too often we simplify God and make Him out to be only love. He is so much more than that. Believer, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that biblical love is only showing compassion, and in doing so being complacent about our sin and the sin of others. Instead, we must understand that biblical love is in conjunction with all of God’s other attributes. We can't fully understand the significance of His love (as shown by sending his only Son to die for our sins), until we grasp that love within the backdrop of God's holy, righteous wrath, and His hatred of sin. In love, God sent his only begotten Son to satisfy the justice His holiness and righteousness demanded, due to our sins. We can distinguish between God’s attributes, but believer, may we never separate them.

Wade Jackson is married to his lovely wife, Kaylee and they are the proud parents of two young children. Wade and his family are residents of Lebanon, VA where he works as a systems engineer for CACI. He also serves as a deacon at their home church of Calvary Bible Church in Duffield, VA.

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