One of the things that every person you talk to will affirm is that God is love. It just doesn’t matter if that person is a Christian or an avowed atheist, the fall back is, “God is love.” The quick follow up to that is “God loves!”
Truthfully speaking, God loves, is a profound reality that we cannot possibly ever explore to its end. Yet, the frequency of the recitation of this truth has led to a dumbing-down of what it means to say, “God loves.” As the old saying goes, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt.”
In the Proverbs God has communicated to us that it is His glory to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search that matter out. Instead of simply reciting that God loves, I want to suggest that this is one of the concealed matters that we should be searching out.
Moreover, the more we mine the depths of this profound reality, the more we will be humbled by it. Consequently, the more humbled we are, the more it will impact our efforts to Advance The Gospel into the world.
God Loves Humanity!
Perhaps the most oft quoted bible verse of all time is John 3:16. Years of watching Minnesota Viking football games alone drilled this verse into my head. There was once a time when a man would sit in one of the endzones during home games holding a sign that simply read, “John 3:16”. It has been a bit since I watched a professional football game. It has been even longer since I have seen that sign during a game.
We have come such a long way that even Tim Tebow taking a knee to pray in the endzone is seen as controversial. Controversy aside, people are still fully aware that God loves people. Years of that same recitation of John 3:16 and asserting that God loves all people equally has led to a complicated “tary”-morass of theological debauchery.
God Does Love
God does love. Furthermore, God loves certain people in certain ways. To some extent His love for humanity is manifested in the fact that we have not been wiped from the face of the earth yet. Certainly, God did hit the reset button, if you will, in Genesis 6. However, God’s love was extended to humanity through the sparing of Noah and his family. God’s love was not manifest in the millions upon millions that were drowned in the flood.
Later, God would manifest His love for mankind by calling Abram out of Ur and promising to deliver the Savior through the seed of Abraham. This promise was an echo of the promise given in the Protoevangelium from Genesis 3 when God cursed mankind because of the sin of Adam.
All-too-often, modern understanding blurs the lines between the overarching beneficent and merciful love of God for humanity versus how God loves His elect. His salvific love if you will.
God Loves Who You Say?
My contention is not that God does not love humanity. However, I do contend that God does not love each segment of humanity in the same way in the same scope. Now some of you would argue that this contention is based solely upon conjecture on my part. I feel the need to recognize that from the outset.
If we watch the redemptive story carefully we will see the intertwining aspects of how God loves throughout that history. As I already mentioned the promise of the coming messiah in Genesis 3, and the calling of Abram and the promise to bless many people with the seed of Abraham. I also spoke of the flood and how God manifested His love for mankind by not wiping all men off the face of the earth then. Yet, these accounts are not the only places we see this intertwining.
God Loves Through Others
We can see how God loves in His working through the Hebrew people. He makes grand promises to Israel that He did not extend to other nations. Yet, those grand promises to Israel work to benefit other people as they come to sojourn in the midst of Israel or glean from the riches of Israel.
In some cases, we see nations and peoples benefit from how God loves His people by raising up mighty kings to come against Israel for their sins. These peoples benefit for a time, but it is due to how God loves His chosen ones. When God finishes chastening Israel, in many cases those that were not His people are in turn wiped from the earth.
This is not a sometime event that happens only once in Scripture. It happens frequently. There is maybe no more powerful example of this than the story of Esther.
God Loves Who the Most?
Subsequently, when I meet professing Christians I tend to want to ask them probative questions. These questions are not meant to ambush people, but they are meant to compel thought. Frequently, the answer I receive to the question reveals much about the person I am interacting with.
The first question I like to throw out most often is, “What is the Gospel?”
A dear brother that I met last year while I was preaching in Lanesboro made a bee-line for me and asked me that exact question. Hi Ezrah! The person who professes Christ but refuses to answer that question or answers in accurately; will not be embraced in fellowship by me.
The second question I like to ask most often is, “What is the greatest commandment?”
The answer to this question is also quite revealing. Often, the answer is some form, “Love your neighbor.” While this is close, it isn’t the greatest commandment. I will often use that answer to launch into a clear teaching on the greatest commandment and then preach the Gospel.
The third question I frequently ask, “Who does God love the most?”
God Loves Me The Most
Almost without fail the answer from every person I meet is, “God loves mankind most.” Moreover, I will often hear, “God loves me the most.” I know that sounds ridiculous to my normal reader. However, I have heard this very answer too many times to count.
If you are paying any kind of attention to me at this point you may see where this is going.
The three questions I just gave are not merely probative and thought provoking. They are perfectly intertwined. To preach the Gospel you must know the Gospel. To know the Gospel you must know who God loves the most.
My answer to that is God loves Himself most…
How Can You Assert God Loves Himself Most?
Let us consider the question put to Jesus by the Pharisees in Matthew 22? In an attempt to trip Jesus up which was their normal routine, they asked Jesus what the greatest of all commandments was. Thinking that Jesus would parse all of the commands and come out with one over all others, they thought they had him in a trap. They figured that they would catch him in an act of blasphemy. But no, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6 and stops their mouths.
Jesus asserts that the greatest of all commands is to love God with all of the heart, soul and strength. However, He does not stop there. He then goes on and commends love for neighbor as the second greatest. Yet, Christ wasn’t content to let that hang in the air without explanation. He tells the astounded crowd that all of the law and prophets were contained in those two great commands.
“Buuuuut Todd,” you are wailing at the moment, “How does this prove that God loves Himself most?”
God Loves In The Law
We know several things about God. One of them is that the Ten Commandments, the Eternal Moral Law of God, describe God as He is in His character. When He gives a command it is to point us to what perfect moral righteousness looks like. When God gives a command such as “Do Not Commit Murder.” it is because He does not murder. He is incapable of such an act.
Thusly, when God commands us to love Him above all else with every fiber of our being, He is commanding us- pointing to Himself as the model for this. God can command such a thing because He loves and values Himself above all else.
The first table of the law commands us to love God as He loves.
God Loves His Own Glory and will not Share it!
The Scriptures are replete with example after example of how God has loved His Glory and guarded it jealously.
Isaiah 48:9-11 makes it clear that He will not give or share His glory with another.
Isaiah 43:6-7 shows us that God has created mankind for his own glory.
Jeremiah 13:11 shows us that God raised up Israel out of nothing for His own glory.
Romans 9:17 has Paul telling us that God raised up Pharaoh for destruction for His own glory.
1 Samuel 12:20-22 God spares Israel for His own glorious namesake.
Matthew 5:16 shows us Jesus telling people to do good works for the sake of God’s Glory.
John 12:27-28 shows us Jesus suffering to the glory of God.
And in one simple verse, John 17:1, Jesus proves His divinity (not that it needed proving) by asking the Father to glorify Him as the Father is glorified.
Romans 15:7 has Jesus welcoming us into fellowship for the glory of God.
Romans 1:22-23 shows us that we are justly condemned for failing to properly honor the glory of God.
Also in Romans 3:23 makes that same statement far more personal about each individual.
In Acts 12:23 God strikes Herod dead for refusing to glorify Him.
In Romans 9:22-23 Paul tells us that God uses His wrath to make His glory known.
On and on we could go. Make no mistake the principle is more than a mere concept. God is jealous for His own glory and loves it with ferocity. He demands that all people glorify Him and there are staggering consequences for failing to do so. He will not be robbed of what is rightly His.
This is the ultimate act of self-exaltation. If a mere mortal were to act in this way it would be a grievous sin.
God Loves Himself As Only He Can and Thus The Christ
There are in some ways, degrees and gradations of sin. As several teachers I enjoy hearing from like to say, if I threaten my neighbor with harm, it is criminal. If I threaten a local politician it becomes even more heinous. Consequently, if I threaten the president, it becomes more than just a crime to be handled by local authorities.
Therefore, we are to look at how we relate to God in the same way. He has given us the totality of the second table of the law to teach us how to relate to one another. However, Jesus has summed up the entire first table of the law for us. He tells us that we are to love God above all else with all that we are. Paul has defined sin as falling short of the glory of God.
We cannot love God in the way that He loves Himself. We are incapable of loving Him and exalting Him the way that He has exalted and loved Himself. This self-exultant reality existed long before God ever created. There was mutual and reciprocal love amongst the Triune being of the God-head. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit loved each other unfailingly.
God Loves In Commands
Then the God-head created all that there is for God’s own glory and love. He created man and commanded man to love Him the way He loved in the perfect communion of the Trinitarian essence. Subsequently, man falls into sin and breaks that command.
So, God, being concerned for His own glory and for the sake of His pre-existent love of self, breaks in to man’s wickedness and promises to redeem fallen humanity for the sake of the glory of His name.
Therefore, only God alone could accomplish the perfect exultation of Himself to redeem man!
God Loves Himself Thus The Gospel
I realize that for some that read this, this is incredibly difficult for us to process or read. In a society where secular culture is replete with commands to self-esteem and self-love it has become clichéd in Christian world to push against such thought. On the other hand, Christians have also begun to incorporate such debased language into their vernacular.
I recently had cause to meet a local “pastor” of a United Methodist Church. In passing she said that her biggest struggle is teaching her congregants to love themselves first. Had the circumstances been conducive to the conversation I would have asked her to exegete Philippians 2 for me. I will contend that broader society is not lacking in self-love. I would even argue the second great command is not stated as “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” to endorse self-esteem and love for self. The second great command is stated that way because love for self tends to lead us to want only the best for ourselves. Thus, loving neighbor as self means that we want their best above all else.
Loving God Completely
For the Christian, loving God above all else with every fiber of our being and then loving neighbor as self means that we proclaim Christ crucified for sinners. We should frequently and with fervency compel them to consider if they love God above all else with every fiber of their being. No one can answer this question in the affirmative. In just that one moment we have already worked condemnation upon ourselves.
This is the situation into which Christ condescended to become man and despised the shame of the cross not counting equality with the Father a thing to be grasped. This is why we can preach the Gospel for forgiveness of sins.
It is this that required Christ be the propitiation for sin. Only the God-man who loved and obeyed God the way God commanded and the way God loves Himself, could be the perfect sacrifice for sin.
God Loves Truth
This is Gospel truth. This should be what is on your mind when you seek to proclaim Christ to the lost and dead world. Do not shy away from the self-exalting God of Scripture. Declare His love for Himself and His jealousy for His own glory to a world that rejects Him. Declare that God loves Himself and that this is what compelled Him to demonstrate His love to us, so that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. The very people who will reject this message and would dare to call God a narcissist for this, are the same that consider it impossible to love others until we have learned to love ourselves.
Remind them, that we only love because God loves first…
Soli Deo Gloria!