I love the third stanza of the hymn “The Love of God.” It says, “Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade, To write the Love of God above would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky. (Refrain) O Love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure the Saints’ and Angels’ song.”
Rarely do we rightly capture the boundlessness of God’s love in this way anymore. In our modern Christian sub-culture, we have reduced God’s love to a self-serving sentimentality that makes us the center of God’s universe and diminishes the reality of His holy transcendence. In the end, we are self-assured of His love for us, but we have completely abandoned the force of its biblical meaning and expression.
It is that reality that I sought to bring us back to as I preached on the love of God this past Sunday. In the hopes of inviting further meditation on the wonder of His love, I am going to reiterate some of those truths here this week. First, how we define love is critical. A good starting place is 1 John 4:15-16 which says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Notice the heart of those verses: GOD IS LOVE. He is not just the Creator of love, not just the Source of love, not just the One who teaches us about love – He Himself IS LOVE. His divine essence and being is love. Our triune God has existed for all eternity in the perfect loving community of Father, Son, and Spirit. This joyful love is a central aspect of His being, and thus it is a relational force overflowing from the Trinity itself, not some mere human emotion brought about in creation.
Secondly, 1 John 4:15 tells us that the only way for any human being to truly know what love is is by abiding in God and by having God abide in him. Unbelievers may know and enjoy love in its human expressions, but apart from God, they will never know its divine, eternal fullness. True biblical love, divine love, can never be fully understood or realized apart from confessing that Jesus is the Son of God. IN HIM, we come to know what love is, for “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
This verse captures the sacrificial dynamic of love. God loves and enjoys Himself in all of His triune splendor. That love overflowed into the act of creation wherein God created a people, made in His image (with the capacity to relate to Him), to join Him in enjoying His loving splendor for all eternity. But instead of loving God, we sinned. We traded the truth of God for a lie; we traded the splendor of His love for idolatry and self-love. But God laid down His life, He sent His Son as the perfect sacrifice, to reconcile us back to Himself and restore us to the perfect joy of His glorious presence. THAT IS LOVE!
And that brings us to the definition of love: Love is the positive expression of sacrificial affection which desires supreme joy for the beloved. God’s love delights in dying to self to accomplish the supreme joy of the beloved. AND WHAT IS SUPREME JOY? God Himself. God loves us so much that He gives us Himself, for He Himself is the most supreme joy imaginable. He sacrificed Himself to insure that we would enjoy the glory of His splendor forevermore.
John Piper said, “The love of God is not God’s making much of us, but God’s saving us from self-centeredness so that we can enjoy making much of him forever. And our love to others is not our making much of them, but helping them to find satisfaction in making much of God. True love aims at satisfying people in the glory of God. Any love that terminates on man is eventually destructive. It does not lead people to the only lasting joy, namely, God. Love must be God-centered, or it is not true love; it leaves people without their final hope of joy.”