Love is a word we often hear about at church and experience deeply in our families. My most overwhelming experience of love was at the birth of my son and then my daughter. It was a sense of deep emotion, warmth in my heart and passionate commitment to nurture, care for and cherish, together with my wife, these two special babies. Now that they are young adults and we have journeyed together as a family for over two decades, I am finding it difficult to let them go, but that is a part of loving them too.
Human love is a faint reflection of God’s love. So often human love is based on conditions, circumstances and expectations. God is agape (1 John 4:8) declares John. God is intrinsically—at His very core—love. And because of this, His love is unconditional, unchanging and unrelenting. God’s love is manifested in the relationships between the three members of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We see the deep love between the Father and the Son, for example, in Romans 15:2,3: “Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’.” Paul is quoting Psalm 69:9. David is speaking in Psalm 69:9, however, Paul attributes the verse to Christ—Christ is speaking! David was writing as a Spirit-inspired prophet, speaking about the future suffering of Christ on the cross.
What is the implication? For Paul, Christ pre-existed in fellowship with the Father during the days of David. The Spirit could speak through David in the person of Christ to His Father about the sufferings that He would undergo in the future. Here is Paul’s intent—Christ speaking to the Father: “The insults of those who insulted you, O Father, they fell upon me, your Son, when I was on the cross.” Paul read these words as spoken in the past by David but containing a real future conversation between the Father and the Son as facilitated by the Spirit that looks backward in time on the cross. According to Matthew Bates: “The Son loves the Father so much that the Son, speaking via the Spirit in the past as if the cross is a fait accompli, tells the Father that he voluntary bore in the passion the reviling insults that the godless cursed the Father with. According to this verse the Son is willing to suffer intensely not because He loves humanity per se, but because He loves His Father so much that he wants to shoulder the hostile words aimed at Him.”1
It is the self-sacrificial nature of this love—poured out for our sins—that woos us to accept Christ, to be reconciled to God, to experience regeneration and begin the life of faith in community with others in the body of Christ (John 1:12; Romans 5:1,2; 1 Corinthians 12:10-12).
It is the love of God in Christ that not only accepts us but transforms us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our human love undergoes a transformation, through the power of the Holy Spirit, from being me-centred to becoming God and other-centred (Romans 5:5). We now have the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, and we begin the lifelong journey of growing in Christlikeness (Galatians 5:17). Paul reminds us that faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). Love energises faith so that it works! Love at its best motivates us to engage in works—service and ministry—to honour God and help others.
In this regard, then, love is a verb. It is action-oriented and other-centred. And it is so, because God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:6,7).
Dr Kayle de Waal is PhD, MA course convenor and associate professor of Avondale Seminary.