This is the fifth part in a series:
- Gospel-Centered Bible Study
- Awe-Inspired Bible Study
- Self-Surrendering Bible Study
- God-Glorifying Bible Study
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:8–10 (ESV).
Rounding out this five-part series that has taken much longer to finish than originally intended is the subject of God’s love as a motivation for our Bible study. This aspect of the Christian faith is the nuts and bolts, the glue that holds everything together. None of the other pieces would fit together as they do if one thing wasn’t for sure: God is love.
The question is, what kind of love is manifested in God? I think there are two extremes that we can gravitate towards, neither of which is Biblical. The first of these is the view I think most nominal or secular folks would take these days, that is the position that certainly God is loving; by loving they mean he is completely affirming of all of their wants and desires, their lusts and there passions. God essentially becomes the great beach-bum, surfer-dude grandfather in the sky who looks down on his children and says, “As long as everyone is having a good time, I’m happy.” This is destructive and poisonous milk that can destroy growth of faith, and is something I am seeking to address.
The other extreme is for those of us who tend to “intellectualize” the faith. We enjoy reading books and sermons written by 300-year-old dead guys and talking about in-depth topics over a pint. I am certainly guilty of this. What we then tend to gravitate towards is a God who we would say is loving, but we forget to what extreme he is loving, we forget what our response is supposed to be towards that love, and we tend to think of him as more hands off.
My goal is to address a Biblical perspective of God’s love, and how our response to that can fuel our study of God’s Word.
1) God Cares for the Details in Our Lives
When we study theology and read our Bibles often, we tend to magnify the love of God less. I’m not sure exactly why this is. One would think that as we came to study and know God more, our affection would grow for him more and more. Time and time again in my own life and the lives of others, I find it to be the exact opposite. Our knowledge and pursuit of God stops in our heads, and never makes its way into the deep crevices of our soul.
Pastor Paul Tripp calls this the “Danger of Familiarity.” As the months and years go on and we get into a “routine” with our faith, we forget the small things. We forget, as my good friend reminded me of this simple truth a few weeks ago, that “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Two things occur when we get into this mode with our Bible study, we forget that God cares for our needs, and we forget how our love for God is meant to fuel our life and actions.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith (Matthew 6:26, 30)? What a simple and glorious truth are these words of Jesus! Our God is kind, he is loving, and he cares for our most basic needs. He is intimately and deeply involved in our lives. Scripture says he has the hair on our heads numbered. Incredible! Such a foundational truth this is, and yet we often squander this affection from God in vain intellectual pursuits.
It is great and wonderful God loves us in this way, but there is certainly more to God’s love. God’s love is so great, and so perfect, and so much more than we can possibly imagine, that he would descend from his throne and die in the presence of beggars and thieves like you and me to redeem his people. And what is our response from this? Vain debate and thick textbooks? Quoting Spurgeon until we are blue in the face? Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:11, 20-21). Pastor Tripp also rightly says that we can measure our love for God by the extent to which we love one another.
I think that deserves some repetition: We can measure our love for God by the extent to which we love one another.
Paul (the Apostle, not the Tripp), says if I have not love, I am nothing. Or in the words of my Islam professor, if I am not motivated by the love of God in my study of His Word and service towards others than I am a charade. I have no business reaching out to others, serving them, or sharing my faith with them if I am not deeply motivated by compassion and love for them.
Man, those words cut me deep. How many times have you and I read scripture, or books by the saints, and just came away thinking “Man, thats some good knowledge! Deeeeeeep!” How weak are we? Our knowledge of God, our study of His word, is meant to move us towards compassion and empathy for one another. May this be a call for all of us who are in this trap to turn from this snare we are in and be moved into deep affection by the profound love of God.
2) Sacrificial, Committal Love
Today’s society is so bent on this concept of “love.” I’m afraid there are so many definitions floating around these days that love no longer has any weight. Love is more of a fleeting emotion, like lust and happiness, than it is a deep and committal sensation for another person.
For many people, this concept of love meshes with their ideas about the love of God. God affirms everything about us and where we are. He “meets us where we are”, but then never takes us anywhere. He has no desire over our life except for us to be happy and who we want to be.
This concept of God’s love is not only belittling to the concept of love, but it belittles the creator himself. Surely we must relent that this is a puny and small idea of a loving God!
Let us take a brief survey over Scripture to see the extent of which the Bible says God is loving:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:7–8
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. -John 15:13-14
God’s love is absolutely life-changing. You see, God’s love does not simply stop at the cross, a one time saving act that never has any impact on the rest of our lives. God’s love is meant to change every aspect of our lives, he wants to make us into a new creation, continually making us more like himself. As C.S. Lewis says,
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. -Mere Christianity
The love of God is far greater than anything we can possibly fathom. This love is meant to spur us on to good deeds, not because we have to, but because we want to. This love should spur us on to deeper intimacy with the Sovereign Commander of The Universe, not cause us to be apathetic and not pursue Him at all.
Look at how the Pslamist responds to God’s love through praise in adoration:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever; – Psalm 136:1-3
Love is not an emotion, it is not something that changes on a whim. Love, especially the love of God, is sacrificial and committal. As I detailed in another post, society’s concept of love is vile and insufficient, a meager shadow of the reality of God’s love for us. God has given us everything by giving us himself. He completely, freely, and willingly gave himself for a people who had turned his back on him and rejected him. A people who to this day still turn our backs and reject him.
There is no greater love than the sacrificial and committal love of God our savior. This love should move us towards obedience and service to him.
I don’t know where you’re at when you’re reading this. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for years, and this is a reminder to you for where your heart should be during your study of God’s Word. If you’re like me, you need a reminder like this to get your head out of the clouds and move towards deep compassion and affection.
Maybe you’re not a Christian at all. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe. A good many of you might have been going to church for some time, but the church and its members has wounded you. Unfortunately, the reality is that Christians are no better off than anyone else, the only difference is we are redeemed sinners. We still mess up, and we still cause great harm to others even when we don’t intend to.
Wherever you’re at, I just hope this post was an encouragement and a challenge to you. This is a deep subject that I’ve already gone overboard on, but if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me either through comments or the “Contact Me” page.
From “A Short Declaration of the True, Lively and Christian Faith”
A man may soon deceive himself, and think in his own fantasy that he by faith know God, love him, fear him, belong to him, when in very deed he doth nothing less.
For the trial of all these things is a very godly and Christian life. He that feel his heart set to seek God’s honor, and studies to know the will and commandments of God, and to frame himself thereunto, and leads not his life after the desire of his own flesh, to serve the devil by sin, but sets his mind to serve God for God’s own sake, and for His sake also to love all his neighbors, whether they be friends or adversaries, doing good to every man, as opportunity serves, and willingly hurting no man ; such a man may well rejoice in God, perceiving by the trade of his life that he unfeignedly hath the right knowledge of God, a lively faith, a steadfast hope, a true and unfeigned love and fear of God. But he that casts away the yoke of God’s commandments from his neck; and gives himself to live without true repentance, after his own sensual mind and pleasure, not regarding to know God’s word, and much less to live according thereunto ; such a man clearly deceives himself, and sees not his own heart, if he thinks that he either know God, loves him, fears him, or trusts in him.
Some peradventure fancy in themselves that they belong to God, although they live in sin; and so they come to the Church, and show themselves as God’s dear children. But St. John says plainly, If we say that we have any company with God, and walk in darkness, we do lie.
Others do vainly think that they know and love God, although they pass not of his commandments. But St. John says clearly, He that says, I know God, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar.
Some falsely persuade themselves, that they love God, when they hate their neighbors. But St. John says manifestly, If any man say, I love God, and yet hates his brother, he is a liar. He that says that he is in the light, and hates his brother, he is still in darkness. He that loves his brother dwells in the light; but he that hates his brother is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not whither he goes: for darkness hath blinded his eyes. And moreover he says, Hereby we manifestly know the children of God from the children of the devil: He that doth not righteously is not the child of God, nor he that hates his brother.
Deceive not yourselves, therefore, thinking that you have faith in God, or that you love God, or do trust in him, or do fear him, when you live in sin : for then your ungodly and sinful life declares the contrary, whatsoever you say or think. It pertains to a Christian man to have this true Christian faith; and to try himself whether he hath it or no; and to know what belongs to it, and how it doth work in him. It is not the world that we can trust to ; the world, and all that is therein, is but vanity. It is God that must be our defense and protection against all temptation of wickedness and sin, errors, superstition, idolatry, and all evil. If all the world were on our side, and God against us, what could the world avail us? Therefore let us set our whole faith and trust in God, and neither the world, the devil, nor all the power of them, shall prevail against us. Let us therefore, good Christian people, try and examine our faith, what it is ; let us not natter ourselves, but look upon our works, and so judge of our faith what it is. Christ himself speaks of this matter, and says, The tree is known by the fruit. Therefore let us do good works, and thereby declare our faith to be the lively Christian faith. Let us, by such virtues as ought to spring out of faith, show our election to be sure and stable; as St. Peter teaches, Endeavour yourselves to make your calling and election certain by good works. And also he says, Minister or declare in your faith virtue, in virtue knowledge, in knowledge temperance, in temperance patience, in patience godliness, in godliness brotherly charity, in brotherly charity love. So shall we show indeed that we have the very lively Christian faith; and may so both certify our conscience the better that we be in the right faith, and also by these means confirm other men. If these fruits do not follow, we do but mock with God, deceive ourselves, and also other men.
Well may we bear the name of Christian men, but we do lack the true faith that doth belong thereunto: for true faith doth ever bring forth good works; as St. James says, Show me thy faith by thy deeds. Thy deeds and works must be an open testimonial of thy faith: otherwise thy faith, being without good works, is but the Devil’s faith, the faith of the wicked, a fantasy of faith, and not a true Christian faith. And like as the devils and evil people be nothing the better for their counterfeit faith, but it is unto them the more cause of damnation ; so they that be christened, and have received knowledge of God and of Christ’s merits ; and yet of a set purpose do live idly, without good works ; thinking the name of a naked faith to be either sufficient for them, or else, setting their minds upon vain pleasures of this world, do live in sin without repentance, not uttering the fruits that do belong to such an high profession; upon such presumptuous persons and willful sinners must needs remain the great vengeance of God, and eternal punishment in hell, prepared for the unjust and wicked livers.
Therefore as you profess the name of Christ, good Christian people, let no such fantasy and imagination of faith at any time beguile you; but be sure of your faith; try it by your living; look upon the fruits that come of it; mark the increase of love and charity by it towards God and your neighbor; and so shall you perceive it to be a true lively faith. If you feel and perceive such a faith in you, rejoice in it; and be diligent to maintain it and keep it still in you ; let it be daily increasing, and more and more be well working ; and so shall you be sure that you shall please God by this faith ; and at the length, as other faithful men have done before, so shall you, when his will is, come to him, and receive the end and final reward of your faith, as St. Peter names it, the salvation of your souls. The which God grant us, that hath promised the same unto his faithful ; to whom be all honor and glory, world without end.