We understand through the Word of God and through the evidence that daily surrounds us that God’s love for each one is the same and that His love for all of mankind is personal. God’s love is not some lofty principle, some immutable cosmic power that envelops the masses of humanity in its inexorable process. God loves each person as an individual and calls all who will respond to His love. He longs to bestow not just blessings but Himself upon all who genuinely seek Him. And He weeps with deep sorrow over those who reject Him and His love. At the same time, He is allowing Satan to gather disciples and to set up his false kingdom, while giving to men the freedom to choose whom they will serve.
It would be wrong, however, for us to imagine that because God weeps and longs for our love, that in any way He has need of us. Here again we have a difference between the God of the Bible and the false gods of the world’s religions. Islam’s Allah is a single entity, who was therefore alone and could not know love or fellowship or communion until he had created other beings. Hinduism’s Brahman, who is the “All,” cannot love or fellowship because it is impersonal and all encompassing. Thus there can be no I-thou relationship. In contrast, the God of Israel consistently reveals Himself throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as one God comprising a unity of three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always fellowshipped, loved, and communed with one another in perfect completeness, and thus had no need to bring any creatures into that existence.
We are the ones who have need, and our problem comes in giving priority to lesser or even false needs. If we love God because we need His protection and care, then we have missed the joy of loving Him for Himself. Indeed, our great need is for God alone. All else is added blessing. Even Christian leaders have been deceived by accepting the “hierarchy of needs” invented by Abraham Maslow, a godless humanist and one of the fathers of the New Age movement. He declared that man’s lesser needs for food, clothing, shelter, etc., had to be met first, and only then could there be any appreciation of the higher ethical and spiritual values. This claim contradicts Scripture (“Seek ye first the kingdom of God. . . .”) and interferes with the love relationship we ought to have with Christ. Yet Maslow’s teaching has infected the church along with much more of psychology’s poison.
Think about what you want from the person you love. Not things, not gifts, but closer communion, more love, more intimate fellowship. Thus it is that we are moved to give ourselves in our desire to please the One whom we now love with a passion. We are told that God will give us crowns and rewards in heaven. It isn’t possible for us to understand what that means because we have such a dim perception of what heaven will be like. Whatever the rewards may be, however, we know that each is an expression of His approval, a declaration that we have in some small way, as He has given grace, pleased Him. Knowing that fact alone is all the reward we could ever desire and will give us joy for eternity. Its anticipation should give us great joy here and now!
It isn’t unusual for Christians to feel discouraged and even depressed. At such times it seems impossible to believe (knowing there is no reason in us for Him to love us) that He could ever be pleased with us. Surely eternity will bring sorrow rather than reward for our miserable failure. We long to hear His “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew:25:23 ), but we fear that it could never be so. Such humility of soul, because it reflects the simple truth of our situation except for His grace, is becoming of a Christian—but at such times we do well to remember the amazing and comforting statement of Scripture:
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Corinthians:4:5 )
Would not such praise give us cause to be pleased with ourselves and thus to imagine that there was something of value in us after all? If so, that attitude would dim the glory of God and rob us of the real joy of heaven. What is that joy? It is not to become something in and of ourselves so that we deserve praise. It is to ever be in a state of wonder and amazement and gratitude that He would take us and make of us a joy to His heart.
We will never be worthy of heaven or of His love. A sense of self-worth would ruin everything by turning some of the attention and glory to ourselves. We will always be sinners saved by grace and bought with His blood, and He will ever be our glorious Savior. Because He has filled us with His love, our passion for eternity will ever be to see Him exalted and praised and to love Him with all the capacity He supplies. His eternal joy will be to bless us with Himself.
Such will be the wonder of heaven. That He should be pleased with us will bring joy beyond the possibility of present comprehension. The fact that every man will receive praise of God does not mean that each will be praised in the same way or to the same degree. Every cup will overflow with joy, but some cups will no doubt be deeper than others. There will be no need for us to recognize such differences, however, even if they were apparent, for such comparisons would be meaningless in heaven’s bliss. All that He is, the full infinitude of His person, will be equally available to all.
David, who knew the Lord very well, tells us the secret of that intimate relationship that he enjoyed: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Psalm:27:4 ). There can be no doubt that knowing God and experiencing the wonder of His love was the continual and intense longing of David’s heart, as so many of his psalms attest: “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee . . .” is the way Psalm 63 begins, and this same passion is expressed in so many others.
In spite of the rejection he experienced by family and friends during so much of his life, David’s heart was filled with the joy of the Lord—a joy that strengthened him for the many trials he endured. He also had a deep understanding of heaven and knew that the joy he experienced in part during this brief life of faith would be realized in its fullness there. It is the anticipation of the heavenly joy and, yes, the intense pleasure of God’s presence that raises our hopes from this earth to heaven. In another psalm, David had written: “Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm:16:11 ).
The apostle Paul indicated that in the last days men would be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy:3:4 ). What an indictment! How it challenges us to reexamine our priorities. How ashamed we will be one day that the pitiful pleasures of this world could ever have blinded us to the infinite and eternal pleasures God has “prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians:2:9 ). What a bad bargain to exchange the heavenly for the earthly!
The hope of Christ’s return has a purifying effect upon those who are looking for it. There is a purity of heart that is required if we are to see God (Matthew:5:8 ). Jesus seemed to drive that point home when He warned, “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delayeth his coming . . .’” (Matthew:24:48 ). It is significant that our Lord associates wickedness with rejoicing in the thought that His return will be delayed—while righteousness is produced by loving His appearing.
Surely He is showing us the importance of holding the hope of His imminent return, the reward for which, Paul tells us, will be “a crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy:4:8 ). Again the implication is that not to love His appearing leaves an opening for evil to invade our lives. It shows a lack of love for our Lord and a love of our own selfish ambitions that would be interfered with by His return. We must ask the Lord to examine our hearts on this point.
Are there things we want to accomplish, places we want to go, even victories we want to “win for God” that are more important to us than being caught up by our Lord into His eternal presence? It is the attitude of our heart that counts. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ,” declared Paul, “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians:15:19 ). The joyful Christian has put his hope in heaven. He is not living for this world and makes sacrifices in this life to please his Lord and to be assured of hearing His “well done” in heaven. The Bible is full of examples of those who, in order to please God, turned their backs on earthly rewards and honors. They will rejoice through eternity for that decision.
Such is the message of Hebrews 11, where we are given a list of some of the heroes and heroines of the faith and are told of their exploits. The outstanding characteristic of everyone on that roll of honor was the fact that their ultimate hope was in heaven. Confronted by a choice between this world and the one to come, they chose the latter.
God is no man’s debtor. The idea that many people have of suffering for Christ and missing out on so much in order to please God is a caricature concocted by Satan. It is certain that no one, when it comes time to die, regrets having missed out on worldly pleasures or treasure or honors as a result of serving God. And how can even those who have lost position and possessions, have been tortured, imprisoned, or killed because of their faith, hold any regret that an eternal reward awaits them? Paul reminds us:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (Romans:8:18 ; 2 Corinthians:4:17 )
We know that as His bride we ought to long to be with Christ, and we are sorry that we don’t love His appearing as we should. How can we awaken our love for Him? First of all, we need to remember that love is not merely a sentiment that sweeps over us and is beyond our control. Marriages are breaking up among Christians who claim to no longer love the other and often have “fallen in love” with someone else. This is not love at all but Hollywood-inspired counterfeit.
Love involves unshakable commitment of oneself to another—thus it involves not just emotions but an act of the will. Christ is our example, and husbands are to love their wives as He loved the church. A Christ-like marriage may well involve one’s suffering hatred and abuse and misunderstanding—and giving love in return. That is what Christ did, and that is the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives.
Not only does love require a faithful commitment, but it is a commitment in response to God’s command: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke:10:27 ). Love does indeed involve deep emotion, but it is first of all obedience to God’s command. We can love our husband or wife or parent or mother-in-law and even our enemy, no matter how much evil we think they have done to us. It simply takes the willingness to let God pour out His love through us.
Christ has committed Himself to us for eternity, and He expects us to make the same commitment to Him. That commitment involves loving others if we truly love Him—for a lack of love for our brother is, according to Scripture, proof that we really do not love God (1 John:4:20-21 ). How much more is the insistence that we cannot love wife or husband or parent a betrayal of the fact that our love for God, no matter how loudly we profess it, is not genuine at all.
There’s another motive for loving Christ’s appearing. It isn’t only that we long to see Him for ourselves, but we also want to see Him glorified on this earth where He has been rejected for so long. What a tragedy that “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John:1:10 ). The hearts of those who love Christ are grieved that this world, blinded by pride, goes about its business building its plastic utopia in complete disregard for the One who longs to rescue it from an eternity of horror that it is bringing upon itself.
If we love our Lord, then we will want to see Him revealed to the world and made known for who He is. We want to see Him honored and praised where He was rejected. We long to see Him rule, whose right it is to rule, and we want to be at His side, singing His praises, pointing men to Him who is the Lover of our souls.
Our relationship with Christ and with God through Him will forever be one of perfect love. When we see Him, faith and hope will have given place to sight. But love, the greatest gift of all, will endure forever.
He desires to have us in His presence even more than we could ever desire to be there. He loves us with a love that will never let us go. And because He has captured our affection, we will be eternally bound by love to Him—a love that not only flows to us from God but which redeemed hearts will return to Him with a purity and joy that will be His eternal gift.
The signs that His return are near are in the world today as never before. The sleeping church may soon be shaken with that cry of which Christ spoke in a parable that is difficult to understand but which could well be fulfilled in our day:
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him!” (Matthew:25:5-6 )
It has been suggested that the unique ability to form conceptual ideas and to express them in speech separates mankind from all lower creatures by a chasm that no evolutionary process could ever span. Although that is true, there is another capacity that separates man even further from animals. Paul explained it thus: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians:13:1 ). To put it in a contemporary context, without love man is a robot—a computer programmed to meaningless reactions. In a word, it is love that makes a human being.
God has given mankind marvelous abilities. Think of the great scientists and philosophers who have probed the mysteries of life; and the poets, novelists, and musicians who have expressed the depth of human experience in compelling ways. We don’t need to argue the absurdity of evolution to be convinced that the ability to look into the mysteries of the atom or to compose or appreciate an opera involves qualities that no animal could acquire by developing a larger brain and a more advanced nervous system. Marvelous as these capabilities are, however, they are not primarily what differentiates between human and animal life. It is love.
What do we mean by love? Certainly not the popular notion portrayed in today’s media. The bumper stickers, “Make love, not war,” reflect an all-too-common trivialization of man’s highest capacity. Love is far more than sex. Animals can enjoy that. And if real love is missing, then sex becomes a mere gratification of animal instincts that cannot satisfy the spirit of man.
Yes, there are similarities between human beings and animals as long as we live in bodies of flesh and blood on this planet. We have certain basic needs for food, warmth, and water. We know hunger and thirst, as do animals. We also experience powerful sexual desires and other fleshly cravings, but God intended these passions to be controlled by love. The will is no match for lust, but God’s love working in man can conquer evil with pure desires.
A failure to be motivated by God’s love brings defeat into our personal lives. There are those who can, for selfish motives such as the praise of others, seemingly conquer physical desires and remain faithful to God. True victory, however, is not necessarily won by those who, from outward appearances, seem to be victorious. If love—which Paul reminds us is the essential ingredient—is missing, then even a fiery death at the stake would be of no value in God’s sight.
Without love, Paul reminds us, we are nothing. That “nothing” doesn’t mean we don’t exist but that we are not what we were intended to be by our Creator. We are not fully human without love, no matter how much knowledge we have or how clever we are. It should be clear why this is the case. We are made in the image of God, who, speaking of Himself, has said, “God is love.” Thus, the very essence of the Creator who made man in His image must be the essence of man in the creature. And it is in the perversion of that essence that we have ample proof that something went horribly wrong.
We do not need to know Greek and the difference between the types of love (for which Greek has separate words) to realize that the love that Paul goes on to describe in 1 Corinthians 13 is beyond anything mankind usually experiences or expresses. There is a divine quality that shines through, a quality that rings true to conscience and condemns us. We cannot quarrel with the standard Paul sets. We know that true love ought to be precisely what he depicts, but at the same time we hang our heads in shameful admission that such love is beyond us. Nevertheless, we also know that somehow we were made for that very kind of love and that our failure to experience it is a defect for which we are responsible and for lack of which we feel a deep loss.
Paul is depicting a love that is not of this world. It is additional evidence that we were made for another world. We recognize it for what real love ought to be, and it strikes a chord in us like the description of a land we have never seen but to which we somehow feel we belong. We need read no other part of the Bible than this “love chapter” to know that man is a fallen creature. We can say, “I love you!” and perhaps not even realize that deep inside we really mean “I love me, and I want you!” Such is the tragedy of present human experience.
Nevertheless, those words, “I love you,” have the power to wonderfully transform both the person who speaks them and the one to whom they are spoken. They are the highest expression of which man is capable, as a creature made in the image of God. Some people find these words difficult to speak, and other people find them embarrassing to hear. What we all find nearly impossible to believe is that the God who created the universe has spoken these wonderful words personally and intimately to each of us. And He has done it in a way that no one else could: by entering into humanity and dying for our sins upon the cross. He has thus so fully proved His love that there is no excuse for our ever doubting it.
It is this unparalleled manifestation of God’s love that makes Christianity what it is. There are many facets of our life in Christ that make it totally unique. Among the most wonderful distinctives is the relationship that each Christian is intended to enjoy with Christ himself—an intimate personal relationship that is not only unmatched by any other faith but is absolutely essential if someone is to be a Christian.
In contrast, for a Buddhist to have a personal relationship with Buddha is neither possible nor necessary. Nor is the practice of Islam impaired because Muhammad is in the grave. It is no hindrance at all to any of the world’s historic religions that their founders are dead and gone. Not so with Christianity. If Jesus Christ were not alive today there would be no Christian faith because He is all that it offers. Christianity is not a mass religion but a personal relationship.
At the heart of this relationship is a fact so astonishing that most Christians, including those who have known the Lord for many years, seldom live in its full enjoyment. It isn’t that we don’t believe it intellectually but that we find it too wonderful to accept its implications into our moment-by-moment experience of daily life.
We are like a homely, small-town girl from a very poor family who is being wooed by the most handsome, wealthiest, most powerful, most intelligent, and in every way most desirable man who ever lived. She enjoys the things he gives to her but is not able to fully give herself to him and really get to know him because she finds it too much to believe that he, with all the far more attractive women in the world, really loves her. And to leave the familiar surroundings of her childhood—the friends and family that have been all she has known and loved—to go off with this one who seems to love her so much and to become a part of another world so foreign and even inconceivable to her is all too overwhelming.
Some of us grew up as children singing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” and found a certain amount of childish comfort in its simple assurance at the time. We never matured in that love, however, because we were not taught to do so. Meanwhile, other loves entered into our lives and were given priority over the love of God.
To be sure, we still read the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) now and then and sing lustily (and at times even with great feeling) such classics as “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. . . .” But we are no longer children, and the simple fact that “Jesus loves me” has somehow lost its power for us. Not because it is intellectually too shallow but because its deeper implications, which we now begin dimly to perceive, are spiritually and emotionally too wonderful.
Like the small-town girl, each of us finds it very difficult to believe that Jesus really loves us. Although we appreciate His blessings, we find it difficult to become intimate with our heavenly Suitor, because it seems so inappropriate that the Lord of the universe should be wooing us. That He loves everyone and that we are included in that great love is too marvelous. My response falls far short of the joy that He intends for me.
Thus the essence of the Christian life—its true source of joy and confidence and power—is missing in so much that calls itself Christian. We can be very fundamental, evangelistic, and biblical, yet not realize that the heart of our faith is missing. This sad fact is then reflected in the way we present Christ to the world.
Unfortunately, as we have seen, the church, early in its history, departed so far from the fundamentals of the faith that the essential personal relationship with Christ lost its importance and meaning. Eventually it was even denied to those who needed it by those who claimed to represent Him. Christ says, “Come unto me . . . I am the door . . . the way, the truth, the life.” The Church, however began to claim that it was the means of salvation and called the world to itself instead of to the One of whom Peter had said, “Neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts:4:12 ).
Not only for Catholics but for many Protestants today as well, joining the church has become a substitute for an essential saving relationship with Christ. Although the Reformation repudiated a host of heresies, it left intact a great deal of “churchianity.” From that base, forms and formulas and attitudes have grown until, within much of Protestantism today, the affection and honor that Christ himself deserves is directed toward pastors and denominational loyalties. The passionate love that the bride ought to have for the Bridegroom is all too often deficient, if not lacking.
The love of God creates love for others whom He loves, thus providing the only true motivation for fulfilling the Great Commission. In preaching the gospel, we are to be messengers of God’s love, expressing and sharing it with the world. In making disciples, we are bringing others into a love relationship with Him. We’re not calling them back under the law but into the freedom of God’s grace. It is love that motivates us to obey in a way that legal obligation and fear of judgment could never do. As Jesus told His disciples: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. . . . If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepth not my sayings . . .” (John:14:21 , 23, 24).
It is a tragedy that we so easily forget the glory and wonder of God’s love, not only as the joy of our lives and the motivation for obedience but also in its relationship to the gospel as well. We can present the truth of John:3:16 , for example, as a judicial act on the part of God and forget that the verse begins, “For God so loved the world. . . .” The work of salvation was conceived and executed by divine love. We can present the gospel correctly and remain true to its basics concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in our place for our sins, and forget—and thus not convey to others—the heart of God, which is the very heart of the message.
Some of the classic old hymns expressed it so well: “Son of God ’twas love that made Thee die, our ruined souls to save. . . .” Another exults, “O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul on Thee. . . .” “O, the wonder of it all!” exclaims yet another. Charles Wesley put it so powerfully:
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
Many preachers attempt to entice the world to “come to Christ” with the popular offer of lesser rewards: health, prosperity, an improved society, and long life upon earth, when the real essence of salvation is to know God and to be partakers of His love and life. A rejection of the gospel, therefore, is the rejection of God himself and His love.
Man’s problem is not that he was driven from an earthly paradise, but that he was separated from God’s presence. That is the great tragedy. Those who seek to recover the physical benefits of Eden, to restore paradise without the missing Presence, to establish a kingdom without the King himself reigning in power and glory, have misunderstood both problem and solution. Our purpose is to reawaken a hunger for God himself and to stimulate the wonder, worship, and love we ought to have for Him.
Knowing that He loves us not because of anything in us but because He is love tells us something else that is very important: God loves all mankind with the same love. There is no special reason why He should love one of us more than another. He is no respecter of persons; there is no favoritism with God. And here we see another reason for rejecting the view that God does not love all mankind enough to want everyone to be in heaven. There is no basis in man (all have sinned and the hearts of all are the same) for God to love some and not others—but neither is there any basis in God for His loving one but not another. Thus we are told that He “so loved the world” that He sent His Son into the world “that the world through Him might be saved.” There is no greater love anywhere!