How You Can Love by Faith – Part 2
This is Part 2 of a 4 part series – How You Can Love by Faith
But what is agape love? How does this kind of love express itself? Paul gives us an excellent description:
“Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.
It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.
All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever.
There are three things that remain – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:4–8,13, TLB).”
In the next chapter the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, admonishes: “Let love be your greatest aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1, TLB).
Let me share with you five vital truths about love that will help you understand the basis for loving by faith.
1. God loves you unconditionally
God loves with agape love, the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. He loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for you, that you might have everlasting life. His love is not based on performance. Christ loves you so much that, while you were yet a sinner, He died for you.
God’s love for you is unconditional and undeserved. He loves you in spite of your disobedience, your weakness, your sin and your selfishness. He loves you enough to provide a way to abundant, eternal life. From the cross Christ cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If God loved those who are sinners that much, can you imagine how much He loves you – His child through faith in Christ and who seeks to please Him?
The parable of the prodigal son, as recorded in Luke 15, illustrates God’s unconditional love for His children. A man’s younger son asked his father for his share of the estate, packed his belongings and took a trip to a distant land where he wasted all of his money on parties and prostitutes. About the time that his money was gone, a great famine swept over the land and he began to starve. He finally came to his senses and realized that his father’s hired men at least had food to eat. He decided, “I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man’” (Luke 15:18, TLB).
While he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming and was filled with loving compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I think the reason he saw his son coming while he was still a long distance away was that he was praying for his son’s return and spent much time each day watching that lonely road on which his son would return.
Even as the son was making his confession, the father interrupted to instruct the servants to kill the fatted calf and prepare for a celebration – his lost son had repented; he had changed his mind and had returned to become part of the family again.
God demonstrated His love for us before we were Christians, but this story makes it obvious that God continues to love His child who has strayed far from Him. He eagerly awaits his return to the Christian family and fellowship.
Even when you are disobedient, He continues to love you, waiting for you to respond to His love and forgiveness. Paul writes:
“Since by his blood he did all this for us as sinners, how much more will he do for us now that he has declared us not guilty? Now he will save us from all of God’s wrath to come. And since, when we were his enemies, we were brought back to God by the death of his Son, what blessings he must have for us now that we are his friends and he is living within us!” (Roman 5:9,10, TLB).
The love that God has for you is far beyond our human comprehension. Jesus prayed, “My prayer for all of them [the disciples and all future believers] is that they will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father…I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one – so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:21,23, TLB).
Think of it! God loves you as much as He loves His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus. What a staggering, overwhelming truth to comprehend! You need have no fear of someone who loves you perfectly. You need never be reluctant to trust God with your entire life, for He truly loves you. And the almost unbelievable part of it is that He loves you even when you are disobedient.
Even on the human level, loving parents display such love. I loved my sons as much when they were disobedient as I did when they were good. For their sakes, because I do love them, I sometimes found it necessary to correct them. So it is in your relationship with God. When you are disobedient, He disciplines or corrects you because He loves you. Hebrews 12 teaches about the love that motivates God’s discipline:
“Have you quite forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his child? He said, “My son, don’t be angry when the Lord punishes you. Don’t be discouraged when he has to show you where you are wrong. For when he punishes you, it proves that he loves you….” Let God train you, for he is doing what any loving father does for his children. Whoever heard of a son who was never corrected?”
“Since we respect our fathers here on earth, though they punish us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to God’s training so that we can begin really to live?
Our earthly fathers trained us for a few brief years, doing the best for us that they knew how, but God’s correction is always right and for our best good, that we may share his holiness. Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it is happening – it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character” (Hebrews 12:5–7,9–11, TLB).
Christ’s death on the cross has once and for all satisfied the wrath and justice of God for the believer’s sin. God chastens and disciplines you to help you mature spiritually.
The early Christians endured persecution, hardships and unbelievable suffering. Yet Paul wrote to them:
“Who then can ever keep Christ’s love from us? When we have trouble or calamity, when we are hunted down or destroyed, is it because he doesn’t love us anymore? And if we are hungry or penniless or in danger or threatened with death, has God deserted us?
No, for the Scriptures tell us that for his sake we must be ready to face death at every moment of the day – we are like sheep awaiting slaughter; but despite all this, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us enough to die for us.
For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are – high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean – nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us” (Romans 8:35–39, TLB).
Such love is beyond our ability to grasp with our minds, but it is not beyond our ability to experience with our hearts.
2. You are commanded to love
A certain lawyer asked Jesus, “Sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others” (Matthew 22:36–40, TLB).
At one time in my Christian life, I was troubled over the command to love God so completely. How could I ever measure up to such a high standard? Two very important considerations have helped me to desire to love and please Him completely.
- First, the Holy Spirit has filled my heart with God’s love, as promised in Romans: “We know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:5, TLB).
- Second, by meditating on the attributes of God and the wonderful things He has done and is doing for me, I find my love for Him growing. I love Him because He first loved me (1 John 4:19).
How could God love me so much that He was willing to die for me? Why should God choose me to be His child? By what merit do I deserve to be His ambassador to tell this good news of His love and forgiveness to the world? On what basis do I deserve the privilege of His constant presence and His indwelling Spirit, of His promise to supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory? Why should I have the privilege – denied to most of the people of the world who do not know our Savior – of awaking each morning with a song in my heart and praise to Him on my lips for the love and joy and peace that He so generously gives to all who place their trust in His dear Son, the Lord Jesus?
I was a new Christian when I proposed to Vonette, who is now my wife. Although she had been an active church member, I discovered later that she was not a Christian at that time. Imagine her distress when, in my zeal for Christ, I explained to her that I loved God more than I loved her and that He would always be first in my life. I failed to explain, nor did I even realize at the time, that it was exactly because of my love for God that I was able to love her so much. Later, before we were married, she too experienced God’s love and forgiveness and became His child.
Through the years He has become first in her life also, and because He is now first in each of our lives, we enjoy a much deeper love relationship than we could otherwise have known. Though my responsibilities in His service take me to many parts of the world and I am often away from her and our home, we both find our joy and fulfillment in Him. The times when we are privileged to be together are all the richer because of our mutual love for Him and His love for us.
The one who has not yet learned to love God and to seek Him above all else and all others is to be pitied, for that person is missing the blessings that await all who love God with all of their heart, soul and mind.
It is natural for you to fulfill the command to love your neighbors as yourself if you truly love God with all of your heart, soul and mind. If you are properly related to God on the vertical plane, you will be properly related to others on the horizontal plane.
For example, billiard balls, rolling freely on a table, naturally bounce away from each other because of the nature of their construction. But if we tie strings to several balls and lift them perpendicular to the table, the balls will cluster together.
When individual Christians are vitally yoked to Christ and related to God and are walking in the Spirit, loving Him with all of their hearts, souls and minds, they will fulfill God’s command to love others as themselves.
The apostle Paul explains:
“If you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself you will not want to harm or cheat him, or kill him or steal from him. And you won’t sin with his wife or want what is his, or do anything else the Ten Commandments say is wrong. All ten are wrapped up in this one, to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements. It is the only law you need” (Romans 13:9,10, TLB).
It is love for God and for others that results in righteousness, in fruit and in glory to Christ. Also, you are commanded to love others because such love testifies to your relationship with the Father. You demonstrate that you belong to Christ by your love for others. The apostle John practically equates your salvation with the way you love others when he says that if you don’t love others, you do not know God, for He is love.
“If someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him—how can God’s love be within him? Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions” (1 John 3:17,18, TLB).
“I demand that you love each other as much as I love you” (John 15:12, TLB).
As a Christian, you should love your neighbor because your neighbor is a creature of God made in the image of God; because God loves your neighbor; and because Christ died for your neighbor. Following the example of our Lord, you should love everyone, even as Christ did. You should devote your life to helping others experience His love and forgiveness.
Jesus also said:
“There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven….
“If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that” (Matthew 5:43–47, TLB).
When Christians begin to act like Christians and love God, their neighbors, their enemies and especially their Christian brothers – regardless of color, race or class – we will see in our time, as in the first century, a great transformation in the whole of society. People will marvel when they observe our love in the same way people marveled when they observed those first-century believers saying, “How they love one another.”
I counsel many students and older adults who are not able to accept themselves. Some are weighted down with guilt because of unconfessed sins; others are not reconciled to their physical handicaps. Still others feel inferior mentally or socially. My counsel to one and all is, “God loves you and accepts you as you are. You must do the same. Get your eyes off yourself! Focus your love and attention on Christ and on others. Begin to lose yourself in service for Him and for your fellow man.”
God’s kind of love is a unifying force among Christians. Paul admonishes us to “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:14, NASB) that our “hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love” (Colossians 2:2, NASB). Only God’s universal love can break through the troublesome barriers that are created by human differences. Only a common devotion to Christ – the source of love – can relieve tension, ease mistrust, encourage openness, bring out the best in people and enable them to serve Christ together in a more fruitful way.
One mother shared that the discovery of these principles enabled her to be more patient and kind to her husband and children. “The children were driving me out of my mind with all of their childish demands,” she confided. “I was irritable with them, and because I was so miserable, I was a critical and nagging wife. No wonder my husband found excuses to work late at the office. It is all different now – God’s love permeates our home since I learned how to love by faith.”
A husband reported, “My wife and I have fallen in love all over again, and I am actually enjoying working in my office with men I couldn’t stand before I learned how to love by faith.”
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