John 3:16, “For God so LOVED the world that He GAVE His only Son…”
John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have GIVEN me because you LOVED me before the foundation of the world.”
Galatians 2:20,” The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who LOVED me and GAVE Himself for me.”
Ephesians 5:1, “Christ LOVED us and GAVE Himself up for us…”
Ephesians 5:25, “Christ LOVED the church and GAVE Himself up for her.”
God Is Love
What is the act of love? What does love do? It’s one thing for someone to say, “I love you” or “I love God” or “God loves me” etc. etc….but love is proven upon action, and my question is, what is the form that love takes when it is kindled from potentiality into actuality? Again, what does love do?
The name of this post has already given away my answer, but let me take a few moments to consider with you a bit more fully the nature of love in action.
Everyone agrees that love is good. Liberals and Conservatives, Atheists and Deists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Heretics and Orthodox – everyone would affirm the goodness of “love.” However, this is only possible because everyone has their own definition of love. Therefore, if we want to examine the nature of love in action, there is only one place for us to look, God Himself – the Definer of all things.
It’s important to realize that “love” is not some external, eternal standard to which God perfectly adheres; there is no such thing as “love” apart from God. Scripture tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This means that there is an essential reality within the Triune Persons of God which, when it comes into contact with created beings, is called “love.” In other words – within the Biblical worldview – the word “love” is simply a way to refer to a quality inherent in God, which is shared (in various degrees of sinful disarray) by His image-bearing creatures.
What Does Love Do?
So, back to our original question: What does love (this inherent quality in God) do? Well, let us get help answering that question by looking to the greatest act of love: the cross of Christ.
Often times the words “death” or “suffering” or “sacrifice” come to mind when I consider the cross, however, I find it interesting that in the passages quoted above Christ’s death is referred to as a giving of Himself. It seems to me that “gift” is a definition for what happened at Calvary that swallows up all the others. What is death if not the whole and unreserved giving of oneself? What were Christ’s sufferings if not the result of His giving Himself for us? And is “sacrifice,” not just a more nuanced way of talking about Christ’s giving Himself to the Father in our place? I think the same could be done for any other words we associate with the death of our Lord at the cross – The true “Giving Tree” is planted on Golgotha.
Love gives, and we see this most clearly when the One who is Love gives Himself – in the person of Jesus Christ – to His people on the cross. Consider the staggering glory of what was happening on Calvary that day….because Jesus is both God and Man, it is not wrong to say that – in the flesh of Christ – God Himself was hanging on the cross. The Infinite Creator of all things gave up His hands to iron spikes, His body to public shame, and His soul to wrath’s holy fire. Just as Mary broke the alabaster jar of ointment and poured it over Christ’s head, so too the “jar” of God’s incarnate body was broken so that He Himself might be poured out in love over the heads of His rebellious creation. Wholly and without reserve, God gives Himself to us for our life and for our joy at the cross….this is Love in act.
There are two quick implications that can be drawn from considering the cross as an act of giving.
First, because God is Trinity, He has eternally been giving Himself to Himself in an un-beginning, un-ending feast of love and joy. A monad God (like Allah or the God of Jewish people who have not yet seen Jesus as their Messiah) cannot eternally be love because He has no one to love. Love demands at least a Lover, the Beloved, and Love….this is what we find in the Triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit: the Father and the Son have eternally poured themselves out in love to one another through the Spirit, who is Love. At the cross, then, this intertrinitarian love “goes public.” The self-outpouring love that God has always had within Himself is “turned outward” and aimed, as it were, at His creatures. As the Father has loved the Son, so – in His life, death, and resurrection – has the Son loved us (John 15:9). Eternity will be the ever-staggering, ever-gladdening exploration of the gift given us by Love at the cross.
Secondly, this definition of love in act should inform the way our own love acts. “Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 John 2:6). If we follow a Risen God and King who has loved us into eternal life by giving Himself wholly and unreservedly for us – we ought to be a people marked by that same love….we ought to be a people who do not chafe or grumble when we act on our professions of love and are called upon to give….a people who do not put up fences of privacy and comfort when the love that emptied our God beckons us to empty ourselves…a people who are ready to give – time, plans, money, effort, food, laughter, blood, tears, and life itself – if love should demand it.
As we look to the cross, as we marvel at God poured out for us, as we revel under the torrent of Love’s Gift of Himself, may He make us a people in His own image….may we be Givers. And may our love-fueled giving start at home with the dishes and the vacuuming and the interruption of our perfectly planned evenings, and may it carry us even to the torture chambers and the bloody blades of ISIS, should that be our Shepherd’s path for us.
Help us, Lord – Amen.