If I could have only one thing out of life, it would be to know love. There are many reasons why I say that. I don’t know that all of them are good, but I would like to share one of them here. I’m not sure I know myself well enough to say which is truly the strongest motivation for me, but I know what it should be. To know love is to know God.
I know a statement like that will bother some Christians. They rightly decry movements in the modern church that emphasize God’s love to the exclusion of His wrath and judgment and our need for repentance. These things are not at odds. In fact they require each other to exist. God is holy and just because He is love, not in spite of it. John 4:8 says that God is love. Does that mean He can be nothing else? We are all many things at the same time. However, there is an important distinction where love is concerned in the case of God.
I’m no English teacher, so forgive me if I fail to use proper grammatical terminology. When we use a noun to describe a person, we usually affix a singular article to it. We would say that john is a man. We would not say that Jon is man. The latter implies that Jon is the standard by which We can judge whether anyone is a man or not. If we want another way to describe John in more general terms as belonging to the class of men, we would say that he is male, using an adjective rather than a noun.
The Bible tells us that God is love. To say that he is a love would not make much sense. We don’t use the word that way, though we might, since there are four words translated as love from the Greek. He is associated with the root word “agapé”, which is by far the most used. To say that He is loving is true, but He means to communicate something more powerful here. God defines love. He is the standard by which love is proven. John writes: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8 NASU) This is why I say that to know love is to know God.
This may still be hard to swallow unless we have some understanding of what love really is. I don’t think it’s an accident that the word has fallen into vulgar usage. We apply the same word to everything from the height of ecstasy to a preference for popcorn. I too am guilty, though no longer without regret, of using the word lightly. When God uses the word, it’s definitely not shallow. Just look at what He did for love.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:7-8)
When Jesus talks about the kind of love we should have for each other (John 13:34-35) and even about the kind of love we should have for our enemies (Matt 5:43-48,) the writers use the same Greek word that is used in the passages above. It is a love willing to sacrifice itself even for those who pay it back with hate. I have to ask myself, is this really the kind of love I want to know? It is freely given, but it is not free. You can have it for nothing, but it will cost you everything. My flesh cringes, but my heart says “YES!”
Ever since reading I John out of my Braille New Testament at seventeen, I have longed to understand and know this kind of love. For all of that, I can’t say that I do. As I look at the notes from the times I have taught on the subject, I see a very academic presentation, full of facts and lacking feeling. The truth is still the truth and God may use it to bring life, but where is the life in me? I feel like a hypocrite explaining to you something that I do not understand myself. Yet I believe in it. Love puts everything else in context. That is why Satan has worked so hard to corrupt and destroy it. I will continue to pursue it, and I will keep calling for you to join me. The One who loves us best will be found, and He will show us what it means.
Finally, no explanation of love is complete without at least making reference to a couple of other key passages from the Bible. One that you may not associate with the topic is Galatians 5:22-23:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Speaking of grammar, look at the structure of this sentence. Often we see somewhat cumbersome structure due to the fact that we are translating from another language with different syntax rules, so consider that the word “fruit” is singular then reread the sentence with a semicolon after the word “love.” Love is the fruit of the Spirit. The adjectives that follow describe love. I’ll leave you to read I Corinthians 13 for yourself. Join me on the journey.