September 9: This Is How We Know Love
“I love you.” Three simple words which can be world changing—or meaningless. They are words which people overuse and under-demonstrate. Whether we are judging the worth of these words in terms of human love or divine, this anthem wonderfully sums up the bedrock truth: “This is how we know love; not because we first loved You, but because You first loved us . . .”
It is an oft-quoted error that the Old Testament is a book of wrath while the New Testament is a book of love and grace. The love of God is fully revealed throughout the record of His dealings with individuals and His chosen people, Israel (just as His judgment and wrath are fully acknowledged in the New Testament). No matter how stiff-necked and disobedient they were, God’s steadfast love was displayed. They were not a nation that decided one day to seek God; just as our anthem states, His love came first. He chose Abram to love, and from him brought forth a people to love, as well. Moses told them, “Yet the Lord set His affection on your forefathers and loved them, and He chose you, their descendants, above all the nations” (Deuteronomy 10:15; see also 4:37, 7:8, 23:5).
So deep was their understanding of the special love that God had set upon them that their most profound worship of the Lord centered around the phrase, “The Lord is good and His love endures forever.” As many displays as they had experienced of His mighty power on their behalf, it was not His power, or even His holiness, that sent them to their faces in worship, but the understanding of His goodness and His love toward them. It is a phrase that is repeated around fifty times in the Old Testament.
The magnitude of God’s love for His wayward people is recorded in Hosea 3:1, where He tells Hosea: “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.” And listen to the tenderness and compassion God expresses in 11:3-4: “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck, and bent down to feed them.” This is how we know love!
Sometimes modern Christians shy away from the books of the prophets because they are so full of judgment and wrath, but they are also full of expressions of God’s steadfast love, despite our sin, such as is found in Isaiah 63:9: “In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” And from Jeremiah 31:3: “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.'” This is how we know love!
No, the love of God for His people is not new, but the revelation was manifest in Jesus. “For God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” These verses might be so familiar and the message so simple that it could be easy to miss the impact of the truth, “He has shown us with the cross how far love would go . . .” If there was any way short of the death of His own beloved Son, wouldn’t God have taken it? The cost of our sin is unimaginable to us, but God understood it fully. Can you grasp how much you are loved that Jesus would willingly veil His glory, restrain the legions of heaven who would have stormed the earth on His behalf, endured the tearing of His flesh and the forsaking of His Father, to suffer horribly and die for your sin, and mine? This, friends, is how we know love!
But do we know it? Have we deepened in our understanding and experience of this love as we have grown in the faith? Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know this love that surpasses all knowledge, that they would know how wide, long, high, and deep it is. Paul prayed this because he knew that we don’t gain this knowledge by intuition. Understanding the love of God is something that we need to intentionally put our heart and mind into, and even then we will only truly know through the power of God at work in our spirits. We know in relationship as He reveals these awesome truths to our hearts which we cannot begin to comprehend with our minds. This is how we know love.
In God’s lexicon, love is defined by the selfless sacrifice displayed by our Lord. It is the standard by which all other loves, even our own protestations of love, are measured. This is how we know love. May we desire to know it more!
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries