Mature Christian Love

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

       The apostle Paul wrote the above passage on love to first century Christians living in the city of Corinth.  Reading through the entire letter Paul wrote to his Christian friends, we realize they did not have much love at all.  Paul describes some of them as quarrelsome (1 Cor. 1:11-12), carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3), sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:1-2), with some getting drunk and acting selfishly during their time of fellowship (1 Cor. 11:20-22).  Their behavior was what we might expect to see at a local bar rather than the local church.  Many of the Christians at Corinth were immature and worldly minded, placing an emphasis on spiritual gifts rather than the greater virtue of love.  The apostle Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to grow spiritually and to display love in their behavior toward one another, for love is enduring and does not fail. 

       It is important to realize that Christian love is a reflection of God’s love toward us.  The apostle John writes, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  That’s the order.  And what was our state when God first loved us?  He loved us when we were sinners and in a state of hostility toward Him.  Paul states, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  Paul also says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).  God’s great love springs from His character and not from any beauty or worth found in the object of His love.  God loves because, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b).  God loves because of who He is and not because of who we are.  Mature Christian love is the same.  It is a love that is derived from the source of the Christian’s own godly character and freely extended to others.  It is a love that seeks to meet the needs of others without compensation.  It is a gracious love.  Grace refers to kind acts freely conferred on others, without expectation of return, and deriving its source in the abundance and open-handedness of the giver.  Jesus explained this kind of gracious love when He said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). 

       God’s Word gives us the standard for love, and mature believers will display it in their lives.  But love does not arise automatically in the life of the believer, and it is typically not the first responder in a conflict.  Love is learned, and once learned, it is applied by an act of the will by the Christian who chooses to love others.  Love is not easy, and at times it can be risky because we may be hurt.  This is because the objects of our love can be offensive, and at times may harm us.  Christian love is not an emotion, for we are commanded to love, and feelings cannot be instantly manufactured by an act of the will.  Emotion follows thought.  The mature believer advances to overcome his emotions in some situations and love others according to their needs.  J. I. Packer states:

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion. It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them. It is by their active love to one another that Jesus’ disciples are to be recognized (John 13:34–35).[1]

       This kind of love takes time.  It is the product of spiritual growth that occurs in the life of the believer who is advancing in her/his Christian walk.  Those who know the Lord and walk with Him manifest His character in their lives.  They love because He loves.  They are gracious because He is gracious.  They are kind because He is kind.  They are merciful because He is merciful.  Walk closely with the Lord and love will grow. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] J. I. Packer, “Love” Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

Glory and Love Within the Trinity

      It is important to understand the relationship that existed between the members of the Trinity before anything was created.  The apostle Peter tells us that Jesus Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet. 1:20).  Though He was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” by the other Persons of the Trinity, there was a point in time when God the Son came into the world and took upon Himself perfect humanity in order to make Himself known to sinful men.  God the Son added to Himself perfect humanity (John 1:1, 14; Gal. 4:4), lived free from sin (Heb. 4:15), satisfied every righteous demand of the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 10:1-4), and in His humanity died a substitutionary death for sinners that they might have the free and gracious gift of eternal life because of His death on the cross (Rom. 3:24-25; 4:1-5; 5:6-10; 10:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:2).

     God the Father and God the Holy Spirit were both in agreement with God the Son regarding the salvation-work He would accomplish on the cross.  On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).  These words reflect memories of the glory that God the Son shared with God the Father before the existence of the world; a glory no doubt shared with God the Holy Spirit.  As the time for His crucifixion came near, and knowing His time on earth was ending soon, Jesus said to the Father “now I come to You” (John 17:13).  Jesus’ return to the Father was not only a return to glory, but to a very special relationship of love, of which Jesus declared, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24c).  In our finiteness, we struggle to grasp the significance of God’s love toward us through the cross (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8), how much greater is our struggle to comprehend the glory and love that exists among the Persons of the Trinity; a glory and love beyond the constraints of time and space.  Amazingly, Christ asked the Father that we, as believers, share in their glory and love for all eternity.

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am [in heaven], so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me [into the world]; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:24-26)

     How can this be? How can the perfect Son of God ask that sinful men be allowed to share in the glory and love that belongs intimately to the members of the Trinity?  Certainly that which the Son asks of the Father will be granted to Him. Those whom the Father has given to the Son will, in fact, be with them in heaven and will see the glory of Christ and will share in the love that the members of the Trinity have for each other, and that love will be “in them”, just as Christ is “in them” (John 17:26).  But the problem still remains, how can sinful men be allowed to share in the glory and love that belongs intimately to the members of the Trinity?  The solution to the problem is found in the suffering of Christ (Isa. 53), who paid the price for the forgiveness of our sin through His shed blood on the cross (Eph. 1:7), redeeming us from the slave-market of sin to which we were naturally born (Mark 10:45; Col. 1:13-14), giving us eternal life (John 10:28), imputing His righteousness to us and declaring us justified (Rom. 3:24; 4:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and bringing about our adoption into His heavenly family when we trust in Him for salvation (Gal. 4:5-6; Eph. 1:5; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross propitiated (i.e. satisfied) every righteous demand of the Father concerning our sins (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for our reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).  God’s so great salvation and the riches of His great grace toward us as sinners is made possible because Christ suffered on the cross, bearing the punishment we so richly deserve.  God’s salvation and the riches of His grace are applied even to the worst of sinners at the moment they turn to Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31).  This is the good news of the gospel message, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  (this article is taken from my book, Suffering: A Biblical Consideration, 121-124)

Dr. Steven R. Cook