Monday, December 7, 2015

Delighting in the Love of God

I find refuge in the love of God. I don’t speak of this remarkable attribute of God as often as I think of it, fearing cultural misunderstandings of love will pervert “love so amazing, so divine.” Our culture equates love with an emotional state, a gushy feeling, a temperament. Or a sexual act. So husbands and wives (or moody teenagers) fall in and out of love as quickly as seasons can change or the sex drive dries up. Our expressions of love ring hollow like Hallmark cards.

But to remain silent about God’s love only gives the cultural misunderstandings greater footing. “Christ’s love compels us,” wrote the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 5:14). I include myself in his company. God’s love goes beyond the boundaries of time and space, my hurts and hungers, my sin and shame. He loves eternally, unconditionally, and with the intimacy of a father, bridegroom, brother, and friend.

Below are a few meditations on God’s love.

Love forms the core of God’s self-disclosure and His people’s understanding of Him.
When passing by Moses in the cleft of the rock, God says: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7, ESV). This is the most concise reckoning of God's essence. (Holy, holy, holy comes in second place.)

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s people repeat this short creed in Psalms, prophecies, and prayers. See Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm86:15; 103:8; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 1:2.

In his first letter, the elder John makes the love of God most explicit (1 John 4:7-21). “God is love,” he writes, and proceeds to give the evidence for and ethic of God’s love (Jesus’ sacrifice and our reciprocation).

Love defines the core of God’s law and His people’s response to one another.
When asked to summarize the Law, Jesus preached with precision eluding most pastors. He narrowed the discussion to two imperatives. Love God. Love neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). In the final evening with his disciples, Jesus reiterated this “new commandment. "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV) Love among fellow Christ-followers, the apostle John later says, gives ongoing testimony to the love (and fellowship) of Jesus (1 John 1:1-4).

Love employs powerful metaphors of personal relationships.
While human relationships may be marred by brokenness and betrayal, the pain they are capable of only underscores the power they harness. God was not afraid to use images of human relations, as fragile as they are, to illustrate his exceptional love for His people. He refers to Himself as Father (Hosea 11) and Husband (Isaiah 54:1-10). Jesus is our brother (Hebrews 2) and friend (John 15:13). He adopts us into his family as blessed and glorious heirs (Ephesians 1; Romans 8). He hears our cries, secures our destiny, and lavishes us with every good gift (James 1:17).

Love marks Paul’s prayers as the spiritual reality he longed for God’s people.
The Apostle Paul repeated many key petitions – for open doors and golden opportunities, for spiritual protection and insight, for power and glory to define the church of the living God (Romans 15:13; Ephesians1:17-19; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Of all his prayers, the request that God’s people know God’s love stands out as my favorite. I pray it every night for my girls. I pray it regularly for my church. And envision Jesus, peeking over the edge of heaven, and praying it for me (Rom. 8:34).

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV)

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