By Peter Amsterdam
September 4, 2018
In the book of 1 John we read that God is love1 and that in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.2 While the phrase God is love isn’t found in the Old Testament, we read of God’s love throughout it. The most commonly used Hebrew word to express God’s love in the Old Testament is chesed, which is translated as steadfast love (ESV), lovingkindness (NAS), faithful love (CSB), and mercy (KJV). Of the 194 times this word is used, it refers to God’s love 171 times.
When God revealed Himself to Moses, He called Himself:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.”3
Twice in this verse He referred to Himself using the phrase steadfast love, and when repetition was used in ancient Hebrew, it was for the purpose of emphasis. Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to His steadfast love:
The LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.4
As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.5
The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children.6
From Genesis through Malachi, God is portrayed as the One who faithfully and eternally loves. And the New Testament states outright that God is love.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as being His Father’s love for humanity.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.7
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.8
Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.9
Jesus was God’s love manifested on earth, and He instructed those of us who love Him and believe in Him to follow His teachings so that we will abide in His love and reflect His love to others. In order to help us do this, He sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.10 One of the fruits of the Spirit is love.11
It’s helpful to understand that there are a few words that are translated into English as love, but which have different meanings in the original Greek of the New Testament. One of these Greek words is eros, which expresses the “being in love” feeling as well as sexual love, and is not used in the New Testament. Another word translated as love is phileo, which is used for fondness, a close bond of deep friendship, love for fellow human beings, compassion, and brotherly love. A third word is storge, which relates to the love and affection people have for members of their family, especially parents for their children.
The fourth and the most commonly used word for love in the New Testament is agape. As used in Scripture, it means the love of God. For example, in 1 John 4:8 when it says God is love, agape is the original Greek word. Everything God does is motivated by and flows from His love. Agape also refers to the love we have for God,12 and the Christlike love we are to show others:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.13
When we read about love (agape) in the Gospels and Epistles, we see love which chooses to put the needs of others before self, which accepts being inconvenienced, which voluntarily suffers for the benefit of someone else while not expecting to receive anything in return. It is a love that shows goodwill, faithfulness, commitment, and strong character. It is the love that Jesus displayed and that motivated Him to lay down His life so that we could live with Him forever.
Agape love is the sacrificial love that Jesus manifested and that we are called to imitate.
Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.14
It’s the love that Jesus said we are to give one another as Christians.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.15
It’s also the type of love we are to show to those who persecute us.
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.16
In the King James Version, agape is often translated as “charity,” which helps us understand that this love is a giving, unselfish love. It does to others those things that you would want done for you. The call to imitate Jesus’ love is a call to love not only those we are close to and comfortable with, or those whom we think deserve our love. It means loving those we don’t feel are deserving; who think, believe, and act in ways we don’t agree with. After all, Jesus told us to love our enemies and those who wrong or mistreat us.
The apostle Paul put skin on love (agape) when he defined what love is and does and how it is manifested in 1 Corinthians 13, which is often referred to as the “love chapter.” Most of us are quite familiar with this passage in the language of the King James Version, so I’m including four other Bible translations here in order to take away some of the familiarity we may have with it.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.17
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.18
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.19
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.20
This challenging list is a good touchstone for us if we desire to emulate Jesus, as Jesus embodied this love through his outgoing, longsuffering, self-giving, self-effacing love.21
Jesus instructed His disciples to love one another.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.22
These things I command you, so that you will love one another.23
He gave examples of the kind of love He was speaking about and how to demonstrate love in our daily lives.
Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.24
Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.25
The book of 1 John echoes Jesus’ commands by focusing on love.
This commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.26
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.27
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.28
If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.29
Having and exhibiting love is vital when trying to live a life that reflects Jesus. In a sense, all the ways in which we try to be more like Jesus have love at their core. In looking back at the articles in this series, we can see that love for the Lord and others are the basis for the attributes which help us move toward Christlikeness. Compassion, honesty, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, patience, self-control, hope, humility, joy, peace, gratitude, holiness, and faithfulness are all rooted in love. Making the decision to develop Christian character, to put off the old self and put on the new self,30 as the apostle Paul wrote, is also rooted in love. We love God because He first loved us, and based on His love, we want to live in a manner which glorifies Him. We make the effort to change, to renew our heart, will, mind, soul, and spirit because we love the Lord and want to be more like Him, to reflect Him—even if that reflection is only a dim glow of who He fully is. But as dim as that glow may be, it shines in this world of darkness and gives glory to the one who made, loves, and saved us, and with whom we will spend eternity.
As we conclude this series, my prayer is that it has in some way helped you grow in Christlikeness, better reflect Him to others, and has drawn you closer to Him. May God bless you in your efforts to become More Like Jesus.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 1 John 4:8.
2 1 John 4:9.
3 Exodus 34:6–7.
4 Deuteronomy 7:9.
5 Psalm 103:11.
6 Psalm 103:17.
7 John 3:16.
8 1 John 4:8–10.
9 John 15:9–10.
10 John 14:26.
11 Galatians 5:22.
12 Mark 12:30.
13 John 13:34.
14 Ephesians 5:1–2.
15 John 13:34.
16 Matthew 5:44.
17 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 ESV.
18 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 NIV.
19 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 NLT.
20 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 NAS.
21 Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 594.
22 John 15:12.
23 John 15:17.
25 Luke 6:35–38.
26 1 John 4:21.
27 1 John 3:16.
28 1 John 3:18.
29 1 John 4:12.
30 Ephesians 4:20–24.