What is love? Part 3

D. A. Carson, in his book entitled The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, identifies 5 different ways in which the Scriptures speak of the love of God:

  • The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.

  • God’s providential love over all that he has made.

  • God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world – Jesus expressed this aspect of God’s love very clearly when he said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This aspect of love runs contrary to our tendency to evaluate relationships and decisions based on maximizing profit. Carson explains that the term “world” as John uses it speaks “primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God” (p.17). In other words, Jesus was saying that God loved this morally corrupt and stubbornly rebellious world, not because of the profitability of such a love, but in spite of its cost. God’s love for the world is not based on any inherent lovable-ness in it, and so this aspect of his love is especially difficult for us to understand. Though God stands against the world in judgment, he offers mercy to all who will repent, “’As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live’” (Ezekiel 33:11).

  • God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward the elect – God sets his love on his people in a way in which he does not set his love on others. Moses told Israel in Deuteronomy 10:14-15, “Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it. The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day.” In this way, God’s love is discriminating between his people and all others, and this is also expressed in the NT in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” A husband offers love to his wife in a way that he does not offer to any other person on earth, indeed, to offer the same love to another individual is immoral, and this discriminating love leads one to give of himself for the benefit of another. This aspect of God’s love is specifically declared to be isolated from any sense of merit on the part of the elect. Paul states in Romans 9:13, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’” Yet this determination by God to choose Jacob instead of Esau was done before birth, before either one had done good or bad. Seen in this way, God’s love carries no potential for buyer’s remorse or prospect of renegotiation, and as such it is offensive to our way of thinking. Rather than dissolving his commitment to those he has chosen and seeking a more worthy recipient, he steadfastly commits himself to the object of his love.

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