The Bible’s message of God’s love for sinners frees us to love God and others.
A quick internet search for the word love will bring up a lot of information: definitions, serious and amusing quotes, examples of how to love better, steps to a more romantic love life, and who knows how much more.
Most often we learn how to love from examples. Husbands who love their wives teach their sons and daughters how to love. Wives provide the same example for their children. We find friends on life’s journey who teach us about loving others. Perhaps an example of loving others and giving yourself for others even makes the evening news. The person inspires us and warms our hearts to do something for others. We all need such people.
God permits all kinds of people to feel the deep joy of love for another. He allows us all to warm our cheeks with tears of joy over the love we have or others show us. It’s human and universal. It is all part of his gracious care for all, just as he sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).
It’s often said that to love someone is to touch the face of God. That’s such a beautiful thought, but it’s not how the Bible pictures love. We shouldn’t be surprised that the idea of love in our world puts the Bible far down on most lists.
I remember a comment from a young husband in a marriage seminar I once conducted. He came with some reluctance because his wife wanted him to come. Yet he wondered what an ancient book had to tell him about the real world today and about love. To his mind the Bible’s message was unimportant.
So just what does the Bible have to tell any of us in the real world of computers, COVID-19, self-help, and modern relationships?
Christian love looks to God first
At first glance, the Bible contains beautiful and profound descriptions of love. Take for example Paul’s love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Part of that chapter reads, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (vv. 4,7,8). The passage is perhaps the most frequently referenced passage about love, but the Bible contains others that teach us about love.
When we read those passages, we naturally apply them to our relationships with our spouse, friends, neighbors, and other people in general. Love is simply important. The Bible’s teaching about love is certainly about relationships with others. Jesus expanded that theme a bit. He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Yet, interestingly, the Bible’s idea of love first looks in one critical direction—up.
Looking up to see God’s love first frees us to love others.
That’s different. Without the Bible, humans first look to others here. If they look up to God, it’s after they have shown love to others. They hope God will notice their love and accept them. They conclude that, when they love others, it must also put them in a good relationship with God above. So the natural human approach is first to think of others and then to God, expecting their efforts will be noticed and rewarded.
When Christians look first to God, they recognize how far from God they really are. Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). I can’t love God like that. Neither can anyone else. With that in mind, looking up is more than just humbling; it’s devastating. Our heads droop to stare at the ground in despair, but God lifts our attention up again and says that he “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Then Christian love looks to others
The simple gospel keeps us looking up to God for assurances of an undeserved, unchanging, and persistent love for sinners. His steadfast love soothes our hearts and gives hope. It motivates us to continue to look up and then to look to others. The Bible tells us, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10,11).
Looking up to see God’s love first frees us to love others. In his love we have a perfect example of love. Here even the good examples are often flawed and incomplete. God’s love is a perfect example of unselfish love. It’s more than just an example; it motivates us to love him and others.
Further, God’s love frees us from every vain attempt to earn his love. God loves us and demonstrates that by freely giving us his forgiveness and approval in Christ. He doesn’t wait for us to do something before he loves us. He doesn’t keep track of our love to see if we have done enough to earn his. We are free from the burden of wondering if we can ever deserve his love. Then we love others as he loved us.
Finally, in this world love is not as constant or pure as it should be. Love has its dark side. We are hurt deeply by those who take advantage of our love. Loving words hide betrayal. Perhaps love becomes only a tool to get what someone else wants. Friends no longer love. Spouses destroy it in unfaithfulness or selfish pursuits. Children abandon a parent’s love and a parent fails to love a child. It’s not just that the world around us has so much trouble loving purely and persistently. We do too.
That’s when we as Christians look up again in repentance and sorrow over our failures and the hurt we have inflicted on others. We cringe as we face God and sheepishly want to look away from him, not lifting up our eyes to heaven. But his love leads us to cry, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” God again lifts our faces upward and speaks words of forgiveness and love. He embraces us with that love and bids up to step forward to love again. Forgiven, we look to others in order to love as he loved us.
The Bible is not just a series of doctrines and teachings. It is about how to live and love as disciples of Jesus. Yes, it is an ancient book, but it has more to say to us about love than any other contemporary source. It can even tell skeptical husbands taking a marriage seminar, “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
The Bible still matters. It is the story of God’s love for us undeserving sinners and the source of power to love others as he loves us.
This is the final article in a four-part series on the importance of the Bible today.
Author: John Braun
Volume 108, Number 5
Issue: May 2021