Love: The Supreme Characteristic Of God
There may be a list out there (perhaps, only in my mind), consisting of the words we use more often than we realize, which, at the same time we do not necessarily fully consider or understand. If such a list exists, I imagine the word “love” tops the list (followed closely by “ironic” and “surreal”). Love is categorized and defined thoroughly in human art, cultural history, music, writing, and any other media of communication. It is a central storyline in our movies, it is expressed in the most iconic and heralded plays or novels, and we see the word attributed to all the latest drama, coming to us live from Hollywood’s stars.
The result of this over saturation of the word “love” is that it progressively loses its meaning in our hearts. Beginning with our first “love” at a young age, we experience emotions and circumstances that (along with media) shape our understanding of love into a convoluted form. Even the most seasoned saint has the potential to be led astray by the baggage of their own understanding of love, as we finally encounter what God has to say on the subject. But, as with all things, God has the first and the last say on the definition of love.
Timeless as He is, Creator that He is, God defines all terms, love is no exception. The primary definition that He offers is grounded in His identity; God is love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
- 1 John 4:7-8
The reason that we love is grounded in the fact that God Himself is love. There is only One who can properly define and manifest love, it is God. God IS love.
Now, we should state that love is not God, for the simple reason that some have mistakenly chosen to directly or indirectly worship love as their god. Love is not God; though the grass is green, we would not describe green to be grass; though the sky is blue, we would not describe blue to be sky.
God is love, love being the very nature of God. Love is linked to God and, since He created all things, God clearly defines love within His creation. And it gets better! God IS love, which means that love is not just ONE of the activities of God, it’s not just ONE of the things God does, but that ALL of God’s activity is loving activity.
C.H. Dodd wrote, “If (God) creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature.”
God is not law. God is not judgment. God is not wrath. Even though scripture shows us that God works through and conducts all of those things, the Bible tells us that the driving principles behind the activity of God is the love of God. As so His law is the revelation of Himself to His people, lovingly driving them to know that they need Him. His judgment and His wrath are also an expression of His love: Not only does God punish those that disobey Him and hurt His people, but He allowed judgment and wrath to be poured out on Himself (Jesus) so that His people, instead of being destroyed, could KNOW God by knowing His saving love.
God is love, it is the supreme characteristic of His nature and it shows in all that He does. But ultimately, our standard for understanding love is the love that God shows through the clearest and closest manifestation of Himself, His Son Jesus Christ.
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. 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 4:9-10
Jesus displayed the love of God through His action in condescending to human form (ex. Phil 2:5-7), His activity in teaching and ministry (ex. John 13:34; 15:13) and through His sacrificial death on our behalf when we were His enemies:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 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. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. - Roman 5:6-11
If we desire to understand love, we look to God. He exemplifies love for us, then commands that we show that type of love in the way that we treat our spouses, our children, our friends and our enemies. He is the ultimate example, inspiration, source and objective of love.
If you are confused about what love is, I encourage you today to consider the love you have received in Jesus, and then keep that supremely in your mind as you dive deeper into the expressions of love in Scripture.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
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.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:4–13