God is love

The LORD’s relationship with the children of Israel is made clear in the book of Deuteronomy where the terms of the covenant that God made with his chosen people is spelled out in great detail. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 states:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

One of the key characteristics of the LORD’s relationship with the Israelites was that God chose them and considered them to be his treasured possession. The Hebrew word bachar (baw-kharˊ) is “a verb whose meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977).

The Hebrew word that is translated treasured possession in Deuteronomy 7:6, sᵉgullah (seg-ool-lawˊ) is “a feminine noun meaning a personal possession, a special possession, property. This noun is used only six times, but it gives one of the most memorable depictions of the Lord’s relationship to His people and the place established for them. The primary meaning of the word theologically is its designation ‘unique possession.’ God has made Israel His own unique possession (Exodus 19:5). Israel holds a special position among the nations of the world, although all nations belong to the Lord. Israel’s position, function, character, responsibility, and calling create its uniqueness (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4)” (H5459).

Deuteronomy 7:8 indicates that it is because the LORD loves his chosen people that he brought them out of Egypt and redeemed them from the house of slavery. God’s love caused him to do something for the Israelites that he hadn’t done before, redeem people from the consequences of their sins. The concept of redemption is centered on the payment of a debt. Leviticus 25:47-55 explains the concept of redemption in the context of a poor man that sells himself into slavery. It states:

“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The Year of Jubilee occurred once every fifty years and began on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:8-9). Leviticus 25:9-10 states, “On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”

A key prophecy of the prophet Isaiah had to do with the Year of Jubilee. Isaiah 61:1-2 states, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LROD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Jesus paraphrased this passage of scripture when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth where he grew up. Afterward, Luke’s gospels states, “And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:20-21). Jesus connected the proclamation of the Year of Jubilee with the preaching of the gospel in order to show that the liberty that was intended for God’s chosen people was the freedom from spiritual death. Jesus told a man named Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

The kind of love that motivated God to give his only Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world is known as agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). This word is broader in its meaning than phileo (fil-ehˊ-o), the kind of love that is expressed through sentiment or feeling (G5368). Agapao embraces “the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.” Phileo implies an instinctive, affectionate attachment; but agapao of a sentiment based on judgment and adulation, which selects its object for a reason (G26).

The Apostle John used the word agapao in his statement, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7). John indicated that love is a part of God’s essential nature and therefore, it should be present in all those who have been born into his spiritual family. The Greek word that John used in his declaration, “God is love,” is agape (ag-ahˊ-pay). Agape is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered…it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver” (G26).

John expounded on Jesus’ statement that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16) by explaining the reason for God’s sacrifice. John said, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). The Greek word that is translated propitiation, hilasmos (hil-as-mosˊ) means “atonement” and signifies “an expiation, a means whereby sin is covered and remitted…Provision is made for the whole world, so that no one is, by divine predetermination, excluded from the scope of God’s mercy; the efficacy of the ‘propitiation,’ however is made actual for those who believe” (G2434). The Day of Atonement, which is described in detail in Leviticus chapter 16, was an annual event that involved the sacrifice of animals and sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat above the ark of the testimony in order to expiate the sins of the Israelites. On this day, the priest confessed all the sins of the people and put them on the head of a goat that was sent away into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:21-22), depicting the process whereby a Savior would one day take away the guilt and punishment of all sin completely by bearing it upon himself.

John concluded, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). The Greek word that John used that is translated perfected, teleioo (tel-i-oˊ-o) means “to complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal” (G5048). John made it clear that God’s sacrifice of his only Son was intended to produce a chain reaction that would result in love being expressed around the world. When Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), he was essentially telling them that they needed to replicate the process of propitiation everywhere so that God’s love could reach all the people it was intended for. 

God promised the Israelites that he would reward them for their obedience. God told them, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:11-13). God indicated that he had broken the bars of the Israelites’ yoke and made them walk erect. This seems to be a reference to God changing their destiny. The Hebrew word that is translated erect, qowmᵉmiyuwth (ko-mem-ee-yoothˊ) is derived from the word quwm (koom). “Sometimes quwm is used in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). An example of this is found in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place.”  After Jacob placed his head on a stone and fell asleep, it says in Genesis 28:12-13:

And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring.”

Jacob’s encounter with God was a part of his plan to fulfill his promise to Abraham. Jacob was unaware of God’s presence in the land of Canaan until he came to a certain place. The place where Jacob spent the night was not only a geographic location, but a spiritual condition that made him open to God’s intervention in his life. Even though Jacob wanted God to take care of him, he was reluctant to make a commitment to the LORD at that point in time (Genesis 28:20-22).

During his ministry on earth, most of the people that Jesus encountered were unaware that he was God’s only son that had come to save the world, but the numerous miracles that he performed eventually made it clear to everyone that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. In spite of this, Jesus was crucified and was even abandoned by his own disciples. John explained that Jesus’ ministry was being opposed by Satan’s demonic forces. John said:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)

John used the term antichrist to describe the spiritual opponent that was trying to keep people from being saved. The Greek word antichristos (an-teeˊ-khris-tos) refers to “an imposter for the Messiah. Antichristos can mean either ‘against Christ’ or ‘instead of Christ,’ or perhaps, combining the two, ‘one who assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ and takes His place” (G500). John encouraged believers by stating, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

John addressed the issue of having assurance of salvation when he made it clear that anyone that has confessed Jesus as his or her Savior has been saved. John said, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:13-16). The Greek word that John used that is translated confesses, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) was also used in 1 John 1:9 where it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (emphasis mine). The base word of homologeo, homou (hom-ooˊ) means “at the same place or time” (G3674). In one sense, when we confess our sins, you might say that we are having a personal encounter with God. It is as if we are talking to Him directly and God acknowledges our communication by regenerating us from within.

John’s repetition of the statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) was probably meant to emphasize the fact that knowing God is all about being loved by him. John said, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:17-18). John described God’s love as perfect love. What that means is that God’s love is able to do exactly what it is intended to. God’s love is able to save us from our sins and to keep us from being condemned on the day when Jesus judges everyone based on his book of life (Revelation 20:12). The result of God’s love is that fear is cast out or you might say ejected from our bodies like an unwelcome guest. We have nothing to worry about because Jesus has once and for all reconciled us to God for all of eternity (Revelation 5:9-10).

A stumbling block

A major concern Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was the influence mature Christians had over those who were relatively new in their faith. The problem Paul pointed out was that those who knew better than to engage in certain activities weren’t setting a good example for others. Referring back to his analogy of laying a foundation for others to build on, Paul stated, “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge, knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (1 Corinthians 8:1). The Greek word translated edifieth, oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) means “to be a house builder that is construct or (figuratively) confirm” (G3618). What Paul was saying was that understanding the things of God should cause us to want to help others to grow in their faith, not hinder them from spiritual growth.

Paul went on to explain that a person’s conscience could be built up or torn down by the behavior of others. He stated:

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one…Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour, eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled…For if any man see thee which has knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? (1 Corinthians 8:4,7,10-11)

Paul’s argument against believers eating food that was sacrificed to idols was that it could make a Christian that was addicted to idolatry think it was okay to continue with his immoral behavior. Even though it might not have been sinful for a Christian to practice idolatry, the demonic beings associated with idol worship were very real and dangerous spiritual forces that could possess and/or ruin an individual’s life. Paul was concerned for the well being of all of the Corinthian believers and didn’t want anyone to suffer as a result of a believer’s careless use of his liberty or freedom in Christ to pursue pleasure (G1658).

Paul warned the Corinthians, “take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). The Greek word translated stumbling block, proskomma means “a stub that is (figuratively) occasion of apostasy” (G4348). Apostasy in Christianity is the rejection of Christianity by someone who formerly was a Christian. One of the reasons I believe Christians renounce their faith is because of the hypocrisy they see in the church. They get turned off by people that call themselves Christians and yet they do not live the kind of life that Jesus taught his followers to live. Paul’s comment, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (1 Corinthians 8:1) was probably meant to point out that charity or the attitude of God toward His Son, the human race, and to believers on the Lord Jesus Christ (G26) should be evident in our behavior toward other believers. “Self-will, that is self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God.”

Walking in the Spirit

Paul’s explanation of Christian living focused on the freedom believers obtained by becoming children of God. He said, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). The Greek word translated liberty, eleutheria (el-yoo-ther-ee’-ah) is derived from the word eleutheros (el-yoo’-ther-os) which means “unrestrained (to go at pleasure) that is (as a citizen) not a slave” (G1658). Slavery was common in the Roman Empire and it is likely that many of the people that Paul preached the gospel to were not Roman citizens. Paul may have used the term eleutheros to describe the effect of salvation as a way of illustrating the complete transformation that occurred when someone was born again.

Paul defined liberty as a choice to love others instead of oneself. He stated, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:13-14). The connection Paul made between love and liberty may have come from the personal revelation he received from the Lord, Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). Paul wanted us to understand that the result of receiving salvation by grace was that the Christian’s heart was no longer to be focused on harming others. Instead, love was to be demonstrated to everyone in need.

Paul identified the essential key to successful Christian living in Galatians 5:16 where he stated, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” The phrase “walk in the Spirit” implies spiritual activity. What Paul may have been thinking of was the daily decision-making that controls our behavior. In connection with the freedom he referred to in Galatians 5:1, Paul seemed to be saying that walking in the Spirit was a continual choice to do what God’s word tells us to. Jesus illustrated this principle in his parable of the good Samaritan who chose to stop and help a wounded man in the road rather than pass him by like the priest and Levite had (Luke 10:25-37).

Paul indicated the result of walking in the Spirit was the development of spiritual fruit. After listing the works of the flesh, Paul said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Even though these characteristics might seem like natural human tendencies, Paul made it clear that they were only possible as a result of the Holy Spirit’s influence on the believer’s heart. Paul’s statement, “against such there is no law” meant that keeping the law would not produce these divine behaviors. It was only by identification with Jesus Christ that a believer could be expected to act like a child of God.