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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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In the language of the Bible, as in most other languages, the word ‘love’ has a very broad meaning. It may apply to God’s love for people (Deuteronomy 7:12-13; John 3:16), people’s devotion to God (Psalms 91:14; 1 Corinthians 8:3), pure sexual love between a man and a woman (Proverbs 5:18-19; Song of Song of Solomon 2:4-5), impure sexual activity such as in prostitution (Jeremiah 4:30; Hosea 2:12-13), love between members of a family where sexual feelings are not involved (Genesis 22:2; Ruth 4:15), an attitude of kindness towards others, whether friends or enemies (Leviticus 19:17-18; 1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:16; Matthew 5:43-46; John 11:3), or the desire for things that brings pleasure or satisfaction (Proverbs 20:13; 1 Timothy 6:10).

Where the Bible gives teaching about love, the centre of love is usually the will, not the emotions. Such love is a deliberate attitude, not an uncontrollable feeling (Matthew 5:44-46Joh_13:34; John 15:17; Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4; 1 John 4:20-21).

Christian love does not mean that Christians try to create certain feelings towards others, but that they act towards others the way they know they should (Luke 10:27; Luke 10:29; Luke 10:37). The reason why they so act is that God’s love rules their lives, making them want to do God’s will (Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 John 4:19). The more they act towards others in love, the more favourable their feelings will become towards those people.

Divine love

The love that God has for the sinful human race originates solely in his sovereign will. He loves people because he chooses to love them, not because they in any way deserve his love (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 John 3:1; 1 John 4:10).

This was seen clearly in Jesus Christ, who throughout his life helped those in need and by his death saved helpless sinners. Salvation originates in the love of God, and that love found its fullest expression in the cross of Jesus Christ (Matthew 14:14; Mark 10:21; Luke 7:13; John 3:16; John 15:13; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:4-7; Ephesians 5:25; 1 John 4:9; see also MERCY). Jesus Christ could perfectly express God’s love, because he and the Father are bound together in a perfect unity in which each loves the other (John 3:35; John 10:30; John 14:31; John 15:9; John 17:24).

So much is love the dominating characteristic of the divine nature that the Bible declares that God is love. Everything that God says or does is in some way an expression of his love (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16).

If we find this statement hard to understand when we think of God’s wrath and judgment, the reason is probably that we misunderstand the nature of love. God’s love is not an irrational emotion divorced from justice and righteousness, but a firm and steadfast attitude that earnestly desires the well-being of his creatures. God has such a love for what is right that he reacts in righteous anger against all that is wrong. God’s wrath is the outcome of his love (Habakkuk 1:13; 1 John 1:5; see WRATH).

God wants to forgive sinners, but because he is a God of love he cannot treat sin as if it does not matter. He cannot ignore it. His act of forgiveness, being based on love, involves dealing with sin. At the same time, because he is a God of love, he provides a way of salvation so that sinners need not suffer the punishment themselves. He has done this by becoming a human being in the person of Jesus Christ and taking the punishment himself on the cross (John 1:14-18; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 4:10; see ATONEMENT).

This same love causes God to discipline, correct and train his children, so that they might grow into the sorts of people that he, in his superior wisdom, wants them to be. God’s love towards his children is an authoritative love; their love in response is an obedient love (John 14:15; John 14:21; John 16:27; 1 John 2:4-5; 1 John 4:19; 1 John 5:2-3). God’s chastisement may seem painful rather than pleasant, but to ask God to cease his chastisement is to ask him to love us less, not more (Hebrews 12:5-11; see CHASTISEMENT). Love desires perfection in the one who is loved, and will not be satisfied with anything less (Ephesians 5:25-27; James 4:5).

Christians should accept whatever happens to them as being in some way an expression of God’s love and as being in accordance with God’s purposes for them (Romans 8:28; see PROVIDENCE). God’s gift of his Son is the guarantee that all his other gifts will also be an expression of his love (Romans 8:32). His love is everlasting and measureless. Nothing in life or death can separate believers from it (Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:35-39; Ephesians 3:18-19).

Human love

Those whom God created have a duty to love him with their whole being. They are to be devoted to him and obedient to him (Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Psalms 18:1-3; Matthew 22:37). As a result of such devoted obedience they will learn more of the meaning of God’s love and so will increasingly experience joyful fellowship with him (Psalms 116:1-4; John 14:21-23; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 8:3; 1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:19).

Love for God will at times create difficulties. Conflicts will arise as people put loyalty to God before all other loyalties, desires and ambitions (Matthew 6:24; Matthew 10:37-39; John 3:19; 1 John 2:15-17). Genuine love involves self-sacrifice (Ephesians 5:25; cf. Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Faith and obedience are just as basic to a relationship with God as is love. If people claim to love God but do not trust in him or obey him, they are deceiving themselves (John 14:15; John 14:24; Galatians 5:6; James 2:5). Likewise they are deceiving themselves if they claim to love God but do not love their fellow human beings (Romans 13:10; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:17; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:20). Christians must have the same loving concern for others as they have for themselves (Matthew 22:39; Philippians 2:4). Love is a characteristic of those in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells; for when they receive God’s salvation in Christ, the Holy Spirit fills them with God’s love (John 15:9-10; Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 3:17-19; Ephesians 5:1-2).

Christians should exercise this love towards everyone, and in particular towards fellow Christians (John 13:34; John 15:12-17; Galatians 6:10; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 3:16-17). Such an exercise of love provides evidence that they really are Christians (John 13:35; 1 John 3:14) and helps them grow towards spiritual maturity (1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:17). The church of God is founded upon love and builds itself up through love (Ephesians 3:17; Ephesians 4:16). A unity of love between Christians will be clear evidence to the world that the claims of Christianity are true (John 17:20-23).

Although love for each other is something God demands, people should not practise that love solely as a legal requirement. They must act sincerely and display right attitudes, even when they feel no natural affection for the person concerned (Exodus 23:4-5; Leviticus 19:17-18; Romans 12:9; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; 1 Timothy 1:5). Good deeds may be worthless in God’s sight if they do not arise out of sincere love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Revelation 2:2-4).

Steadfast love

In the Old Testament the special love that God had for Israel was signified by the Hebrew word chesed. It is difficult to find an exact equivalent of this word in English. The RSV translates it mainly as ‘steadfast love’, the GNB as ‘constant love’, and the older English versions as ‘mercy’, ‘kindness’ and ‘loving kindness’ (cf. Genesis 32:10; Genesis 39:21; Psalms 100:5; Psalms 118:1-3; Isaiah 54:10; Hosea 2:19; Micah 7:18).

The distinctive feature of chesed is covenant loyalty or faithfulness. A covenant is an agreement between two parties that carries with it obligations and blessings, and in the case of God and Israel this covenant was likened to the marriage bond. The two parties were bound to be loyal to each other (Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 7:12; Nehemiah 1:5; see COVENANT). God exercised loyal love and covenant faithfulness to his people, and this was to be the basis of their trust in him (1 Kings 8:23; Psalms 13:5; Psalms 25:7; Psalms 103:17; Psalms 136:25; Hosea 2:19; Micah 7:20). Yet so often the people were not faithful to God in return. Their covenant love vanished (Hosea 6:4; Hosea 11:1-4).

This chesed – this faithful devotion, this loyal love – is what God most desires from his people (Hosea 6:6). It also shows the quality of love that God requires his people to exercise towards others (Proverbs 3:3-4; Hosea 12:6; Micah 6:8).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Love'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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