The love of God is truly a great Bible truth. Some things we shall explore in this material are what does the phrase "love of God" mean, what is the meaning of love as applied to God, and how can we observe God's love.
The love of God. The phrase "love of God" is somewhat ambiguous in that it can either mean God's love for man or man's love for God (Rom. 5: 5, I Jn. 5: 3). When Paul used the expression (agape theou), he seems to refer to God's love for man. Hence, God's love is "shed abroad in our hearts." We see the love God has for man and we seek to duplicate it (Spirit so influences our hearts , Rom. 5: 5). John manifestly uses the same expression (agape theou) to mean man's love for God. This is made plain by John's added "definition," "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments " (I Jn. 5: 3). The burden of this brief material shall be to primarily address God's love for man.
The meaning of love, as applied to God's love for man. Mr. W.E. Vine makes the following comments on the "two" nouns translated love and are applied in the sense of our study: " expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects " (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Vine continues to point out the type of love God has toward man is not prompted out of self-interest or reciprocity, its only object is the welfare of those toward whom it is directed (my words, dm). Hence, man has done nothing worthy of God's love and God's love is one sided in that man is the beneficiary.
God's unselfish love for man is observed in many ways. The very nature of man's being as created by God is indicative of God's desire for man's well being (Gen. 1, 2). God gave Adam a beautiful, lush home and work to perform so Adam could be fulfilled (Gen. 2: 1-15). The garden offered most of what Adam needed - food, security, beauty, and fulfillment. God saw man needed a counter-part, so He created Eve for Adam (2: 18). Adam apparently enjoyed a relationship with God which will not be experienced again until heaven (Gen. 3). Even after Adam and Eve flagrantly sinned, God offered them hope (3: 15) and made future arrangements (4 ff). Remember, man is unworthy of the love of God. "What is man, that thou are mindful of him ?" asked the Psalmist (Ps. 8: 4). "But God commendeth his love toward us," Paul writes, "in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5: 8, see vss. 6-9).
The wonderfulness and degree of the love of God as seen in John 3: 16. The verse reads, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3: 16 contains a wonderful statement regarding God, his love, and the degree of God's love.
Succinctly stated, John 3: 16 is wonderful because of the one who loved : "God so loved ." It is great because of those whom he loved, "the world" (the enormity of the undeserved nature of the world). Notice how much he loved, 'So loved that he gave his only begotten Son." Greek scholars sometimes argue whether "so loved" suggests manner or degree. Commentator Lenski settles it, I think, when he comments: " in this way and to such an astounding degree" (Interpretation of St. John's Gospel, vol. 4, pg. 258).The Father loved so much that he gave his Son - only begotten Son (see "The Only Begotten" in Archives). God's love is not simply sentiment, it has purpose. The purpose is expressed in the negation "should not perish" and in the affirmative, "have everlasting life." God's love contains a reasonable and possible requirement, "whosoever believeth in him ."
God not only so loves but God is love. I personally believe the love of God especially on its higher levels is incomprehensible to finite man. However, another biblical truth regarding God and his love certainly challenges the greatest thinkers: "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (I Jn. 4: 8). John is not simply affirming the love of God, but that God himself is love! In other words, love is not simply a characteristic of God but the fiber or essence of his very nature and being. Love being the essence of God is the reason God can love unworthy man to the degree he does, I am convinced.
God's love is totally unselfish but does make certain demands of man. As we have seen, love as applied to God (agapao and agape) is without self-interest and is totally motivated out of interest for the well being of those loved. In one sense, God's love is unconditional - "God so loved the world ." However, to appropriate the blessings of God's love, man must submissively obey God (I Jn. 5: 3, 2" 1-6). This is the meaning of "keep yourselves in the love of God " (Jude 21).
Concerned reader, we have explored the love God has for man, but how about the love we are to have for God? Loving God should be easy. "We love him, because he first loved us," penned the apostle John (I Jn. 4: 19). John also wrote, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I Jn. 5: 3).