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Everything in the Bible hinges ultimately on the love of God. The phrase "love of God" is ambiguous in English. It can mean either "the love God has" or "the love one has for God." In the Bible, the first meaning predominates. God's spontaneous, sovereign love for the patriarchs that he later bestows on the whole nation of Israel provides the dominant motif of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:7-10; Hosea 11:1-9; Isaiah 49:14-18). Likewise, God's universal love for all humanity serves as the driving force of the New Testament (John 3:16-17; Romans 8:38-39; 1 John 4:7-21).

Throughout the Old Testament, writers make reference to the particular love that God had for Israel (Deuteronomy 23:5; 1 Kings 10:9; Isaiah 43:4). God loved Israel in the sense that he preferred that nation to all others (Malachi 1:2-3). Hebrew idiom often used the words love and hate to express preference. For example, when comparing two wives in Deuteronomy 21:15, the Hebrew that literally says "if a man has two wives, the one loved, and the other hated" is perhaps better translated, "if a man prefers one of his wives to another." Similar usage contrasts Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29:31 and Hannah and Peninnah in 1 Samuel 1:2-5. The sense is not that Jacob hated Leah or that Elkanah hated Peninnah. They simply had preferences. This linguistic contrast explains the "hard saying" of Jesus in Luke 14:26. Jesus is not saying his disciples should hate their families. Rather, he emphasizes they should not give their family loyalties priority or preference.

Are God's preferences selective, exclusive, or discriminatory? By their very nature, they certainly are. There is no arguing personal taste. "Jacob I loved but Esau I hated" (Romans 9:13). God is a person, and he has his preferences. It would be inaccurate to say that God capriciously or arbitrarily picked Israel to be his instrument of revelation. The Bible portrays God as having genuine tenderness for his people. His love remains mysterious and unmerited, but it is no less real or sincere. God has done special things for the Jews because he loves them. Recognizing this love, some conservative French Christians sheltered Jews from the Nazis during World War II. They reasoned that if God had shown such love to these people, how could they do any less.

In the Old Testament there are two main words for love, ahabah and chesed. Ahabah denotes the election-love described above, a love limited only by the will or nature of the lover. Chesed, discussed in the entry on covenant, is the love of loyalty and faithfulness that does not exist apart from a formal covenant relationship. The miracle and majesty of divine love shows itself in this: Although God alone has the power to choose his beloved and the power to dissolve that relationship, he always remains faithful (Deuteronomy 4:31). Instead of giving up on humanity because of Israel's idolatry and sinfulness, he chose instead to expand his love for Abraham to include every human being.

We take our cue for unselfish loving from God. All of us know by natural instinct how to love the lovable and to love those that love us (Luke 6:32-33). People will die for their beloved family, friends, and country. But God's love teaches us to be loyal even when we don't feel like it. God's love shows us how to live unselfishly and even to sacrifice ourselves for enemies and sinners.

This unique variety of love, expressed in the New Testament by the Greek word agape, finds eloquent description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It really is too wonderful to conceive. Meditation upon this love humbles the ego and drives it to a confession of inadequacy. The agony and ecstasy of the Christian walk consists in striving to model the faithful love of God in all of one’s relationships. Although unworthy of the challenge, Christians have been called to reflect God's character.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 3, 2007 11:10 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Law.

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