How Shall We Measure Love for God?
Matthew Lesson #136
September 18, 2016
“Father, You have given Your Word to us that we might come to understand who You are and who we are, and how to have a relationship with You for eternity—have eternal life, that we may live forever— and that is through faith alone in Christ alone.
You’ve demonstrated to us Your love, and we are expected to emulate that as Your image bearers.
Father, as we continue our study in this passage in Matthew where Jesus summarizes the whole of the Law, there is much for us to reflect upon and to think about in terms of our own life and in terms of a lot of issues that surround us in our world today.
As Christians we need to think profoundly and deeply and reflect upon these things because God the Holy Spirit is teaching us to change the way we think and to change the way we live. And we must be reminded constantly that the only solution to personal problems, family problems, the only solution to social problems: national and cultural problems, is Your Word.
That it is Your Word alone that is going to supply any real stability and any genuine solution. Ultimately what that depends on for us is our submission to Your Word and our application and implementation of what Your Word says.
And we pray that we would be responsive to Your Word this morning. In Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew. We are in Matthew 22:34–40. In this section, what I have done two weeks ago is to look at the breakdown of the basic exegetical components of the Scripture.
When we study how to read the Bible or how to study the Bible there are three elements—three components—to Bible study methods. One is observation, the second is interpretation. And the third is application.
Many of you have heard me teach on this many times.
Observation is basically learning what the text says. That’s a lot of what goes on in a Bible class in our study of the Word is first of all, we have to understand what the text says because sometimes it’s not as readily apparent or a lot of the nuances of the text are not that clear.
As Howard Hendricks pointed out when I had him as a professor many years ago in Dallas Seminary, the problem with most people is they jump to application. They spend about 2% of their time on observation and about 1% of their time on interpretation, and then they jump into application.
If we spend the right amount of time in observation which is roughly 80%, then the interpretation becomes pretty obvious.
But if we don’t do our work in observation—in other words, when it comes to a Bible study, when it comes to a sermon—if we don’t spend enough time really analyzing what the text says, then we’re often going to misinterpret it, and then we were really out of bounds when it comes to application.
That’s one reason I spend as much time as I do going through the backgrounds of the text. But we have to look at application and sometimes there are passages that are just pregnant with significance.
This is one of those, so I’m slowing down a little bit because I want to unpack some of the significance of these passages in light of the exegesis that we have done.
Today what I want to do is take a little more time to think this through and maybe set up a framework, a structure for application, as we think about this.
As we know from looking at this passage the last couple weeks, Jesus is asked by an expert in the Law, a scribe, a member of the pharisaical party, what the greatest of the commandments are.
Jesus responds that the first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Now that’s the topic here.
Then He goes on from there: the second is like the first, and since the first is about love, the second is about love; that’s how they connect. What we’ll see this week and more next week is that these are two interdependent commands, as Jesus sets them up.
You can’t do the second if you don’t understand the first; the first is the foundation for the second. Those who are attempting to do the second without the first are just going to create a massive problem—and that’s where our world is today.
So I wrote down some things just to summarize these thoughts by way of introduction:
First of all, love is essential biblically to any human relationship, whether it’s a relationship to God or a relationship with other human beings.
Love is foundational because God created us in His image and in His likeness. Since God is love—as we saw last time in 1 John 4, twice John states clearly God is love—if we’re created in His image and likeness, then we are to reflect that love.
But we have to understand what love is. If there’s one concept that is grossly misunderstood by fallen human beings, it’s the concept of love—that’s where we started last time.
Love is essential to any human relation: first our relationship with God, and the relationship with others.
Second, we have to understand that love is not autonomous or independent—it’s not just some abstract concept.
As Scripture teaches, love begins with God, and we as image bearers have to reflect that. If you want to be a better lover, you have to be a better theologian. If you have to want to be a better lover, you have to understand what the Word of God teaches about love.
You can’t go to Webster’s Dictionary. I learned that years ago. If you go look at the word love in a Webster’s Dictionary to find out what it means, and they are way off base. They start off, “Love is an emotion.”
Well, that’s not what the Scripture teaches. So at the very get-go we see this contrast between what the Bible teaches of what man thinks. That is the root of numerous problems.
Third point is that love in God—God’s love—is not something that occurs in a vacuum. This is a problem we often see, especially with liberal humanistic theology, that which came out of the perversion known as 19th century Protestant liberalism. It’s an emphasis on the love of God, without reference to any of His other attributes.
We break out 10 attributes when we study the essence of God. What we see there are these different attributes of God that we study independently, but in the Person of God, they’re all interdependent and interconnected. You can’t separate the love out as if it acts independently.
One of the implications we need to think through on that, as we go through the next couple of weeks is that, as we hear in our society—we hear a lot of buzzwords on many different things—but a couple of the buzzwords we’re hearing a lot over the last few years are terms like “social justice” or its opposite “social injustice,” “social inequality.”
People—politicians, athletes, movements, and organizations—are using these words a lot. If you’re reading the papers, if you’re paying attention to the controversy surrounding athletes and whether they’ll stand up or not stand up for the national anthem, what they are doing is protesting social inequality.
Whenever you see the word “social,” you better start thinking biblically and start thinking with the concept of love, because that’s going to be inherent if we’re going to properly analyze anything related to society. We have to start at a biblical basis and not at a human viewpoint basis.
Terms like this often sound good to the uneducated masses. But the problem is they’re loaded with worldview presuppositions that are contrary to the Word of God. They have a populist appeal, especially to minorities or those that view themselves as socially oppressed or economically disadvantaged.
In some cases they may have a case, in other cases they may not have a case, but at the core of these terms, we have to understand and think through these concepts very carefully.
What does it mean to have love for other human beings? If that is essential in this command—and that’s what we see in the second command that Jesus emphasizes, coming out of Leviticus 19—we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves.
In 19th century liberal thought, that was divorced from the first command: everything becomes oriented towards some sort of social justice and social reparative therapy—if you look at it from a psychological worldview.
It’s divorced from what it cannot be divorced from, if it’s going to be effective, and that is love for God, because the two are connected. Love for God comes first, love for one another comes second, but it can’t be divorced from righteousness and justice.
When we use terms or you hear people talk about, and politicians especially talk about terms like “social justice,” and we have to hold to righteousness.
Righteousness and justice all relate to a standard. What is the standard? Where are we going to get this standard?” When we talk about, “Well, that’s not just or that’s not fair,” what’s the standard that we are appealing to? Where do we get that standard?
If we’re not going to the Word of God and the character of God to determine that standard then we’re just off floating in space just chasing our own tail.
We have to understand what righteousness and justice mean and we have to understand how God’s love relates to His justice and His righteousness, because they are equally part of God’s eternal character.
What happens coming out of 19th century religious liberalism again—which was heavily influenced by the late 19th century, early 20th century with false views of the kingdom of God, that man could somehow bring about the Kingdom of God—that was known as post-millennialism, and it also borrowed heavily from Marxism, which is a Christian heresy.
A lot of people say, “Well, how is Marxism a Christian heresy?” Because Marxism is built on a philosophy of history, and it borrowed and stole the idea of linear history from Christianity. So it’s a perversion of Christianity, and a lot of things flow out of that.
As we look at those first three points I just summarized by way of introduction, we have to really think through this, and the starting point for all of us as Christians has to be God: it has to be the Word of God.
That’s why I said if you want to be a better lover, you have to be a better theologian. I don’t mean that in an abstract sense, I mean that you need to understand God because that’s the starting point. That’s where I ended last time, talking about the love of God has to be understood as it is demonstrated at the Cross.
Fourth thing I want to bring out in terms of this introduction, so that we can think about this as I develop these points over the coming weeks, is that we need to think in terms of solving some core social problems in our culture.
These aren’t going to go away, they get worse and worse every year. But in order to do that, we have to understand some basics about solving problems and basic solutions.
Part of what I’m covering today is that we’re going to focus on something that the Bible emphasizes again and again: we can measure how we love God. Being able to measure how you love God is going to impact how you love others, but we have to focus on our love for God first.
That’s what we’re looking at today in terms of what is the biblical metric for loving God, because that’s going to impact our biblical metric for loving one another.
We have to recognize that the Bible presents these two opposing ways of evaluating everything. There is man’s way, which I often describe as the human viewpoint solution. By human viewpoint, I don’t mean man’s finite way of looking at things, I mean a way that is opposed to the way God looks at things. It is a summary of human attempts to solve man’s basic problems without reference to God or His revelation.
The Bible calls it the world’s way—this is the way of the world. The Greek word is KOSMOS. It’s an orderly system, but it’s not just one, it’s made up of a lot of, in many cases, mutually contradictory approaches.
Whether they are religious, whether they are philosophical, whether it’s Eastern religion, whether it works-oriented Western religion, whether it’s some sort of idealistic philosophy, such as Platonism or Cartesian, or whether it is some sort of empirically based philosophy such as Aristotelianism or the empiricism of Berkeley, Locke, and Hume—they all have a creation-based starting point, a finite reference point, not God.
This is always opposed in Scripture to God’s way. The proverb says “there’s a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof is death”. When we’re operating on human viewpoint, it feels good. It seems to be the right solution.
We can’t understand why it doesn’t work, but the endgame is destruction. We always have to understand that: that the wrong solution, no matter how good it makes us feel, no matter how right it appears, it always ends in self-destruction, in cultural destruction—we can’t avoid that.
God’s way is the divine viewpoint solution, and it’s the biblical way. Now the two ultimate characteristics, as I’ve pointed out many times, of the world’s way is arrogance, starting with arrogance.
Man elevates himself to be the ultimate reference point, and man thinks that he can come up with a solution on the basis of his intellect alone and His ability to interpret the details of life.
We see this from politicians and people and editorialists all the time, and they ignore the divine solution. We see this coming from any number of pastors who haven’t done their homework in thinking about what these ultimate solutions have to be.
The second characteristic of human viewpoint is it always leads to an antagonism toward God. Because man is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, it leads to hostility towards God. Man in his fallen state—or when he is walking according to the sin nature—is always hostile to God.
When Christians come along and offer a Bible-based solution, what’s the reaction going to be in a pagan culture? It’s going to be anger, resentment, hostility. “Somehow we’ve got to stuff the Christians along with their God back into a hole somewhere and cover it up and put everything we can on top of it, so they can’t get out and make any more noise.”
The biblical way is always going to be grounded on humility, and humility is going to be manifested in love; so these are polar opposites. It’s one way or the other way in Scripture.
When you are thinking through a lot of things—and we have not so good choices this year politically in a lot of ways—we have to think in terms of what the Scripture teaches about what ultimate real solutions are.
As we are confronted day in day out with stories in the news and people who are upset, it just gets worse and worse, our whole culture is fragmenting and falling apart and has been for 20 years. It has just gotten to the point now where almost nobody can deny it, unless they’re just living in a bubble somewhere.
This gives us a bit of a framework for understanding what is going on here.
As we look at this, Scripture does give us a metric. That metric is going to be found in Galatians 5. This is the fifth point: in Galatians, Paul gives us an insight into measuring, evaluating, or identifying the source of various solutions.
It’s interesting that this section begins with Paul quoting Leviticus 19:18 in Galatians 5:14, the very verse Jesus quotes in Matthew 22: “love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s his starting point.
In this section—there’s a section break—Galatians 5:14 on is going to help us understand as believers how we can actually fulfill this command, how we can implement this in our lives. The command is given there in Galatians 5:14.
Galatians 5:16, Paul begins with command to walk by the Spirit. He says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” He’s juxtaposing walking by God the Holy Spirit on the one hand, or you’re fulfilling the lust of the flesh on the other. Those are the only two options.
Once again, the Bible presents this black-and-white opposition: you’re either one or the other. You’re either in divine viewpoint or you’re in human viewpoint. You’re either walking by the Spirit, or walking by the flesh. You’re either operating consistently with Satan’s worldview or you’re operating on a biblical worldview. There are no other options: it’s one or the other.
So how do you know? If you look at the next verses, Galatians 5:17–18, Paul goes on to say that there’s this war that goes on, that the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. There’s this conflict that always goes on, it’s one or the other.
Then he gives us a metric—but I’m going to skip to the positive metric first.
In Galatians 5:22–23, he says when you’re walking by the Spirit the Spirit’s going to produce character qualities. These character qualities reflect the character of Christ. “The fruit of the Spirit is love.”
How did we start this section? We started in Galatians 5:14 saying that you are to love your neighbor as yourself. So that’s his focal point in Galatians 5 is how to develop love.
It doesn’t come by just saying, “I’m going to love people,” and generating it up, reaching deep inside you and saying, “I’m just going to be different. I’m going to love people, and I’m going to get all emotional about them, and sentimental about everybody, and be concerned about that.” It’s the product of God the Holy Spirit.
Notice what this fruit looks like—and notice, it’s not fruits. He’s not looking at these in terms of separate individual components, but as intersecting components that make up the fruit—or the product—of the character that’s manifested in a believer.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
The point to look at here is when we’re looking at solutions that are being proposed, if it’s a divine viewpoint solution based on Scripture, which is what we as Christians are to be focusing on, the end game is not going to be divisiveness. It’s going to produce harmony.
When we look at these different worldview attempts that are proposed by politicians—many of which have become more in the forefront over the last 30 years, primarily through progressivism, which is just another term for Marxism—it’s led to more and more division.
We have seen this country fragment more and more over the last 30 years, and it’s not going to improve. That’s because we’re not applying anything close to a biblical solution. A biblical solution doesn’t manifest in that way.
In fact, when we see an individual or culture operating on sin nature control, we have the following results: “… adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery,” which is the use of drugs. It was originally the use of hallucinogens in occultism; that’s why it’s translated sorcery. The Greek word there is PHARMAKEIA.
Notice in verse 20, it says, “… hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions …”
If you just watch the news, this characterizes our culture: we’re in total meltdown. That’s because we’re operating on human viewpoint solutions that will never, ever work. No matter how moral they may be, no matter how good they may feel, no matter how well you can argue for them, the end result is that it fragments the culture and leads to all kinds of divisions and hostility and anger and resentment.
Read social media sometime: is that manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, or does that manifest the works of the flesh? This is our metric right here. This is how we evaluate where things go on and whether they’re based on a divine viewpoint solution or human viewpoint solution.
That’s a framework that I want us to think through as we talk about what Jesus is saying in Matthew 22 in relation to these two great commandments.
Matthew 22: just to remind you of the historical setting, the last week before Jesus goes to the Cross, this is probably two days before, He has the last supper with His disciples. He’s confronted with the Pharisees, as He has been, and they asked three questions.
They’re set-up questions and they’re an attempt to trick Him into somehow criminalizing Himself in the eyes of either the Jewish religious leaders or in the eyes of the Roman authorities.
The first question had to do with whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. The second, they set up a bogus hypothetical from the Sadducees ,who didn’t even believe in resurrection, dealing with the death of the several husbands of a woman who marries in terms of levirate marriage.
One husband dies and she marries his brother, then the brother and the next brother, and then they asked the trick question, “Well, whose wife is she going to be in the resurrection?” Well the whole thing’s bogus, and Jesus was very sophisticated in the way He answers these things.
The third question in verse 34, “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him.”
That’s the key word all through this—that’s what they’re doing, they’re testing. They’re trying to trap Him; it’s a set-up situation.
In terms of summary: the setting is described in Matthew 22:35, “Then one of them, a lawyer ...” It’s not a lawyer like you think of a lawyer. It’s an expert in Torah, an expert in the Old Testament, and he’s called a scribe in the parallel in Mark.
He asked the question, testing Him and says—and here’s the trap—“Teacher, which is the great commandment of the law?” A lot of discussion about just how this is handled—although we don’t have specifics on it—but it probably relates to a controversy within the Pharisees at the time.
He’s trying to get Jesus to criminalize Himself, at least in the eyes of the religious leaders, to somehow commit blasphemy in doing this is.
He’s asking which is the great commandment in the Law. It is an interesting Greek phrase because of the way he uses the word “great.” It’s an idiomatic use that is used as a superlative. What’s greater than all of the others?
Jesus gives a two-part answer. Part one is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”
We have a fuller answer in the Mark parallel as we’ve seen, but this isn’t the kind of passage where you’re going to break it down and say, “This is the heart, this is the soul, this is the mind.” That would miss the point.
The point is every aspect of your created being that is in the image and likeness of God is to be fully and totally engaged with a loving God all the time. That’s His point. This is the first part.
The second part is like it, in that it also focuses on love, but it shows it’s dependent on it, and that is, “You’re to love your neighbor as yourself,” which is a quote from the second part of Leviticus 19:18b.
I thought about just putting the second half of the slide up there, but it’s important to look at the first half that says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people.”
See, the Bible always teaches in terms of opposites. It juxtaposes truth with errors: it helps you understand white by comparing it to that which is off-white, so you can see the clarity of what the Scripture says.
Loving your neighbor as yourself completely eschews any form of vengeance or any kind of anger or resentment or bearing a grudge towards anyone else.
When we get involved in some of the intense political discourse we’re seeing today, that’s really difficult to do, isn’t it? That’s why it’s the work of the Spirit because you and I just can’t generate it from our own being.
So Jesus draws a conclusion. He says, “On these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets.”
What He means by that is that everything in the Scripture is built on these two presuppositions. Everything in the Scripture—all application—is built on these two foundations.
In Matthew 7:12—which also is a passage we’ll look at in reference to the second commandment—He also talks about loving one another.
He concludes in that section and says, “Therefore;” this is a summary. Many of you may have learned this when you were a kid, if you were old enough to be in school when they mentioned the Bible. This is the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Notice it’s the same summary—by “the Law and the Prophets”—He’s referring to two divisions of the Old Testament. The first five books of the Old Testament, what we call the Pentateuch, which is referred to technically as the Torah, although that word “Torah” is used of all the Old Testament. It simply means “instruction,” although it has a more technical meaning of law.
Then the prophets—those who wrote the former prophets, the latter prophets—we refer to those as the historical books. Then the major prophets. It is a summary term for the Scripture as they had it in terms of what we called the Old Testament of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Mark 12:32–34 records the response—this isn’t in Matthew—the response is that the scribe who is trying to entrap Him is convinced by what He says, and says, “ ‘Well said teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ Now when Jesus saw that he”—that is this scribe, this lawyer—“answered wisely, He said, ‘You’re not far from the kingdom of God.’ ”
“You’re getting close to understanding the truth,” is what Jesus is saying. Then it says after that, “No one dared to question Him anymore.”
It goes back to Deuteronomy 6:4, which is in the Law. It’s called the Shema, and in Judaism, it is always cited. It is viewed as the great commandment.
Mark has Jesus quoting from the whole passage, which is what He would have done because He’s laying the groundwork in that opening command, “Shema, Yisrael: Yahweh Eloheinu Yahweh echad.” “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” is how it should be translated. I’ve covered that the last few weeks.
This emphasizes the starting point for personal love for anyone. If we’re going to love other people, it has to start with understanding this. That is in both Old Testament and New Testament.
So last time, I started looking at how we learn to love God and pointing out that in the essence of God, part of His essential attribute is that He is love.
We also have passages in Scripture that talk about the fact that God is righteous and God is just, but we have a number of passages, such as in 1 John 4 that talk about God is love.
Our conclusion from that, we need to be reminded before we build on it, is that therefore, we must understand divine love if we’re going to understand love in any sense whatsoever.
If you’re married, and you tell your spouse you love them, is that a love that is predicated on an understanding of God’s love, or is that just a love that is predicated on the world and how the world looks at things? That’s a very important question to ask.
That’s something that you parents and grandparents need to be teaching your little grandchildren because the more you frontload their thinking with biblical concepts when they’re 3, 4, or 5, the better it’s going to protect them when they’re 15, 16, or 17.
If you wait till they’re 15, 16, and 17, it’s too late. They’ve already sucked up the world’s thinking on what love is.
That led to the next point: “What is divine love?” We have to understand this.
Point 1: This is where I ended last time—The pattern, the paradigm, the picture for divine love in Scripture is in the Cross.
The more I teach, the more I go to the Scripture, the more I understand how important is that we need to think about the Cross. We need to think about all the dimensions of soteriology because this helps us to understand the love of God, and how His love is manifest to us.
We looked at these passages last time:
John 3:16, “For God loved the world”—literally, “in this way”. It’s the Greek word HOUTOS, which doesn’t mean “loved it so much”; it means God loved the world “in this way”. Then he tells us how God loved us: He sent His only begotten Son, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
This is echoed by Paul in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
It’s a love that is not focused on who we are or what we’ve done. When we say. “I love you,” so often we’re looking at a person and we’re saying, “There’s something about you that makes me feel better.”
Often I joke that if I were accurate in my wedding ceremonies, I would have the bride and groom look at one another and say, “You make me feel so wonderful and so happy that I’m going to give you the opportunity to make me feel like that for the rest of my life.”
We all understand how selfish that is and how self-centered that is—that’s just the opposite of love—but that is so often what characterizes relationships today.
What we see in the Scripture is God’s love—the pattern for what our love should be—isn’t dependent or conditioned on the character, the qualities, the behavior, the actions of the person that’s loved. It’s based on God’s character, not our character.
That means that we have to understand more about God’s character, and that’s where His righteousness and His justice come to play, because His righteousness and justice give us that understanding that this love is a love that is predicated on character: it’s predicated on integrity, it’s not predicated on the ephemeral and mutating attributes of the object of love.
Point 2: God’s love for us is not based on our actions, our character, our successes, our failures, our morality, our lack of morality, or any other human factor—including what political party we’re affiliated with. I just thought I’d throw that in to wake people up and get a chuckle.
It’s without conditions on our part. That’s what real love is. So if we’re going to love God, it comes as a response. Scripture says we love Him because He first loved us.
He initiates, we respond, but as we respond to His love, it’s because we understand His love and the integrity of His love, and only that gives us the real ability to love one another.
That’s not just in the relationships that we have as in romantic relationships of a man and a woman, or in family relations of parents to children and children to parents, but also relationships outside the home: relationships to those who are classified in Scripture as our neighbor.
We’ll look at that in the next couple of weeks, but as Jesus says, it involves one another. In those passages, it’s primarily focusing on others in the body of Christ, but the constant repetition in the Scripture of Leviticus 19:18 also emphasizes love is to those who are not believers, those who aren’t in the family of God.
To begin with, we have to understand that our love reflects God’s love; and God’s love is based exclusively on His character and has nothing to do with our character.
Ultimately, if you want to be a better lover, when you say to your spouse or to your children or your friends that you love them, that consciously in our minds has to be predicated on “I love them not because of who you are”.
I can’t even say I love you because of who I am. I love you because of who God is. And my love for other people has to be built on my understanding of the integrity of God.
Point 3: God’s love for us was such that He devised a solution for our greatest problem. Our greatest problem isn’t your bank account. Our greatest problem isn’t the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Our greatest problem is sin.
Everything else flows from what happened when Adam disobeyed God in the garden and plunged the entire human race into corruption and rebellion against God.
But God has the only solution to that, and the consequence is that if God solved the greatest problem we’ll ever face, then God can solve all these other problems. The only way we can solve all those other problems is if we start with the divine solution and not the human solution.
Because the human solution is a result of the work of the flesh, and the work of the flesh leads to hatred and anger and resentment and divisions and fragmentation, along with numerous other things. So we have to really understand that the starting point has to be a biblical solution.
As I’ve observed different people talking about all kinds of different things that have been going on in our culture in the last few years—you hear a number of theologians, you hear a number of pastors—come out with their solutions, you can break them all down.
There’s one group of pastors who understands the divine solution of grace and a Bible-based solution, and there are a lot of others who are just looking for any sort of other solutions.
We live in a real world, we live in a world that is dominated by a lot of unbelievers; and sometimes, in political solutions, we have to reach pragmatic solutions. There are certain solutions that we that we have to deal with on a practical level, but we as Christians understand that’s not the ultimate solution.
That solution only will work if it is somehow part of an ultimate framework that focuses on the divine solution. That’s not always easy to discern, but that’s what we have to learn to think through.
Point 4: God’s love for us involves His whole essence. It was perfectly compatible with all the other attributes, specifically with His righteousness.
If we’re going to ever talk about social justice and social righteousness: I despise those terms because they are freighted, they come with a lot of baggage, and the baggage that they’re carrying is Marxism and Leninism and progressivism, and these are all antithetical to anything that’s taught in the Word of God.
The Bible does talk about justice, and it does talk about righteousness. Righteousness is His standard—the standard that God has—and it’s based upon His character, not some external abstract characteristic of righteousness that God subscribes to and we should also.
It’s His character, so we have to really know God and really study His works in history to understand what righteousness actually is. The solution has to be consistent with His righteousness and justice as well.
Justice is the application of His righteousness, the righteousness that is His standard. Justice relates to the application of that standard.
In both Hebrew and Greek, the words that are translated righteousness and justice are the same words, because they are two sides of the same coin. One side is the standard of God’s character. The other side is the application of that standard to His creatures.
So righteousness and justice go together, and neither of them is juxtaposed to His love. Both function with another characteristic: His omniscience. He has a solution that is based on His complete and thorough knowledge of every dimension of every problem.
God understands all, whatever the social problem is—whether it’s the social problems of the Egyptians in the ancient world, or the Romans in the ancient world; or whether it’s the social problems of Russia or the social problems in Islam, or the social problems in America—God knows it’s the same solution for every one of them.
In His omnipotence, He was able to solve all of the problems, that there’s no sin that’s too great for the love, the grace, and the power of God.
This is one of the problems you have in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, is that they have failed to understand eternal security. If there’s no eternal security, then you don’t have a God who can really solve your problems, and that gets into a really deep, profound conversation, but it always works itself out in practical realities.
This is why you’ve never had anything approaching the stability of the West in Eastern Christianity. It is because they have a false view of God and His power and His ability to solve problems. It’s better in the West, and then its highest form in the 19th century under English language-based theology, you had the greatest—the high watermark—of Christian influence in history and culture.
That doesn’t mean they were perfect. We’re never going to have perfection in this world. That’s the lie that’s offered by Marxism and progressivism. It’s a utopianism that is completely contrary to the Word of God, so you’re never going to get there.
In fact, that was understood by our Founding Fathers. Our Founding Fathers did not set forth in the Constitution that they were going to form a perfect union—it’s a work in progress.
They said they were going to form a more perfect union—“more” is a relative term. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a work in progress that must be predicated on divine viewpoint, and their thinking was, for the most part.
God’s love is compatible with these other aspects of His character, and they all work together—they all intersect together.
Point 5: God’s love is also described in terms of faithfulness and loyalty.
The Hebrew word is the word chesed. You may have heard the word “Hasid” or “Hasidic Jews” or “Hasidim”—it’s the same word. The original Hasidic Jews, not related to the ones we know of today, were a sect that probably gave birth to the Pharisees after the return from Babylon, that they wanted to go back to being faithful and loyal to God.
So they took this word that is primarily used in the Old Testament as a characteristic of God and His faithful loyalty to His people based on His covenant.
When God says to Israel, “I love you,” is that a romantic love? No. Is that an emotional love? No. Is it a contractual love? Doesn’t that sound romantic? But that’s what it is, it’s a contractual love.
That’s the same thing that you did with your wife when you stood up in front of a pastor or a member of the legal profession or judge or someone. You swore on a contractual basis that you were going to love your spouse whether things were good or bad, whether you were healthy or sick, whether you were in prosperity or adversity, whatever the conditions were. And then you signed a legal document: you made a contract, a covenant.
So this is what love is: it’s based on loyalty to a covenant. This is what Chesed is, and it’s translated that way, in passages such as Deuteronomy 7:9:
“Therefore, know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy”—there’s the word, not “keeps covenant” but “mercy;” that’s often translated “mercy” or “loving kindness.”—“and mercy for a thousand generations for those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
Notice the connection: love is measured by keeping His commandments.
Point 6: God’s love is sufficient to solve the greatest problem we’ll ever face, and therefore, it solves whatever sin problems we face.
We all live in the devil’s world, which means it’s a corrupt, unjust place. Every one of us faces injustices. Every one of us faces inequities. Every one of us faces hostility from other people for whatever reason.
But it is God’s solution that enables us to surmount whatever those individual problems may be and be able to respond in biblical love to those who are in opposition. When we’re operating on a human viewpoint solution, it’s not biblical love, and it will always manifest as some kind of divisiveness and hostility.
Point 7 takes us back to understanding our response to God. “We love Him because He first loved us,” 1 John 4 says.
Personal love for God is our response to God’s initiating love.
Point 8: Love for God, therefore, is based on knowledge and knowledge of God, who He is and what He’s done for us.
We learn to love God by learning who He is and what he’s done for us. It doesn’t happen overnight.
As children—think about your relationship with your parents—you had a child’s love for your parents. But as you came to know your parents, and you lived with them and grew up as childhood adolescents, that love matured, but it was based on knowledge until you became an adult.
The same thing is true in the spiritual life. The love that we have when we’re brand-new Christians is different from the love that we have when we’re mature believers, because we grow in the knowledge of who God is and what He’s done for us.
1 John 4:8 says, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
If you are operating on the sin nature, then the Holy Spirit is not going to be producing love in your life. If you don’t love, then the opposite is that you don’t know God—there’s no spiritual growth.
Not knowing God doesn’t mean you’re not saved. In John’s language, not knowing God means you are ignorant about who God is: you’ve never grown, you’ve never learned the Word, you’ve never come to understand who God is.
So love for God is based on knowledge. We have to know the Word of God. That’s our priority. We have to read it.
For the last year we’ve had a lot of people reading through the Bible, and that’s great. Now some people are starting a second time—they’ve read it through all the way, they’re starting a second time.
Now, probe a little more deeply. Think about questions like, what does this tell me about God? What am I coming to learn about God? About how God relates to His creatures; and what God provides for those, both those who are obedient to Him and those who are disobedient to Him. What are we learning about God? That is going to develop our love for Him.
Point 9: Love for God is first of all based on knowledge, not emotion. It is not to be confused with sentiment or even gratitude.
I’ve seen this happen sometimes with couples. For whatever reason their initial attraction is that one has provided something for the other one, and the response is gratitude, and they confuse that with love. Then they get married, and then they have problems.
Love is not gratitude. Gratitude may be a component of love, but don’t confuse the two. Love isn’t a sentiment; it’s not how you feel. It may produce some sentiment, but don’t confuse the two: they’re different. Love is not romantic; it may involve that, but don’t confuse the two.
So how do we know if we’re loving God? 1 John 5:2 says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.”
Well, I’m going to love other people. Wait a minute. Not if you’re not loving God and His commandments. The Bible doesn’t allow us to separate love for others from love for God.
So that’s part of the metric, is how do we love God? We see it in how we love others.
Deuteronomy 5:10 says, God shows “mercy to thousands,” He says, but “to those who love Me and keep My commands.”
There’s always this connection in Scripture, that loving God is measured by obedience to God. It’s not measured by how you feel, it’s not measured by how you sway when you sing Christian choruses. It’s measured by your knowledge of Scripture and your application of Scripture.
Jesus says this in John 14 several times. As we read that this morning, you should’ve counted four positive ways, one negative way in which Jesus stated this principle in those verses.
In John 14:15 He says, “If you love Me keep My commandments.” That’s the metric. “If you love Me keep My commandments.”
That implies that you have to know His commandments—you have to know the Word. We have to know the Word, we have to have the Word embedded in our soul before we can understand how to obey Him. Obeying Him is how we reflect that love that we have for Him.
John 14:21–22, Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” Implication is if you’re not keeping them, if it’s just abstract knowledge, and there’s no application in your life, then there’s no real love for God. It’s just talk. It’s just emotion.
John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is He who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him and manifest myself to him.”
This is an increase in fellowship, the deepening and strengthening of fellowship.
John 14:23, Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to Him and make Our home with him.”
That’s fellowship again. That deepening relationship is related to loving God, keeping His Word.
The negative is expressed in verse 24, “He does not love Me does not keep My words.”
So the one who doesn’t love God, doesn’t keep His words, doesn’t know His words; doesn’t care about His words.
1 John 4:20: After reflecting on this for probably 40 or 50 years, John wrote, “If someone says ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother ...”—that’s the greatest commandment, and the second is like it: to love your brother. If you say you love God “and hates his brother, he’s a liar; for he who does not love his brother, for he who does not love His brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
You can’t disconnect those two commands. This is what has happened in the social solutions that are predicated in this country that grow out all of the human viewpoint worldviews—whether it’s progressivism, Marxism, socialism, liberal Protestant Christianity—is they’ve separated and made the priority out of loving one another without grounding it in the ultimate solution, which is loving God first.
When you do that, it’s no longer a work of the Spirit, it’s a work of the flesh, and the end result is the destruction of an individual and his spiritual life, or the destruction of a family, or the destruction of a company, or the destruction of the nation. Any society fragments when the foundation is on human viewpoint.
Point 10: The metric for love for God is obedience.
1 John 5:2, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.”
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to think about some fairly profound ways in which what Jesus has said impacts the culture around us, the circumstances we find ourselves in in this nation, and maybe even in our own personal life and in our own families.
The solution, the divine solution, always has to start with You, and the solution has to start with the Cross. But it doesn’t end there: we have to grow, we have to know, we have to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have to obey the Scriptures.
Only as we walk by the Spirit and the Spirit produces this character transformation in us, can we see the end result that we really wish. But if we try to do it on our own, divorced from Your grace and who You are, then the consequence is just what we see around us: it’s self-destructive.
Father, we have to be reminded again and again that the only solution is Your solution. The only solution is the grace solution and the divine solution.
Father, we pray that if there is anyone listening today that has never trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior that they would recognize that that’s the starting point of the solution. Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. He paid the penalty for sin, so that by trusting in Him and Him alone, we could have eternal life.
It’s simple, it’s based upon Jesus doing everything, and we do nothing. But it secures eternity, transforms us from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive, and we are justified and redeemed with the salvation that can never be lost.
Father, we pray that You would help us to implement what we have learned today, that we would think about it, that we would reflect upon what Your Word says, and that it would have a transformative effect through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.
And we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”