Ah, love… it is the theme of more songs, poems, and books than any other topic.
My Facebook timeline is filled with beautiful pictures adorned with poetic sayings to inspire us to love.
Love is a universal desire. Everyone longs to experience some form of love.
But what is love really?
In the English language, the word love is used as a catch-all phrase for many different expressions of love. People love their spouse, their children, and their car, and Taco Tuesdays, and Star Wars, and their iPhone.
However, many other cultures have a variety of words to express different types of “love”. A brother in our fellowship recently got a tattoo of a cross with the word love written inside in 14 different languages to emphasize this.
It seems to me that the idea of love is a very muddled thing in our culture today.
How can we sort all of this out?
“For the two of us, home isn’t a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.”
~ Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss
Well, since we are part of one new man (third race ;-)), let us look to the Head, Jesus Christ. He is the fount from which all true, divine love flows. He is love’s home.
Love is His essence. In fact, Jesus is the reality, the embodiment, and the source of true love. (1 John 4:8)
It seems fitting then that any idea or definition of love should start with Jesus.
In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul prays that the church would “have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” (Ephesians 4:18)
Let’s take this verse as our foundation to gain a glimpse of the scope of God’s love for us in Christ.
How wide is God’s love?
It is as wide as Jesus’ arms were stretched out on the cross as he buried us with Him so that we might also be raised to new life in Him. He removes our sin-stained clothes as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). But this was not an exclusive offer. Jesus’ life and mission were radically inclusive. Jesus brought a Jewish tax collector, Matthew, who the Jews would have looked at as a traitor because he took their money on behalf of Rome, into His closest circle of friends. Not only that, Jesus invited Judas into His closest circle knowing that he would give in to temptation and betray Him. He spoke freely with people who were taboo and off limits, like the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He associated so closely with “sinners” (thank goodness) that he was called a drunk and a glutton. Jesus had mercy on the adulteress woman that was thrown before Him. I believe you will absolutely be surprised at some people who pass into God’s eternal kingdom.
This is the width of God’s love.
How long is God’s love?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6, NASB, emphasis mine)
We see here that we were hand chosen in Christ before the world was even created, and that we are destined to be (“would be”) holy and blameless before Him for all time. God’s love for us reaches from before time began to beyond the limits of time.
God’s love endures. It is eternal. His love for us is unshakable.
Think about this: There has never been and never will be a time in all eternity that God has not loved you.
This is the length of God’s love.
How high is God’s love?
Again, we find a glimpse into the height of God’s love in Ephesians:
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.
(Ehesians 2:4-6 NLT, emphasis mine)
Because we are united with Christ Jesus, God has raised us up to the highest heights. Has lifted the Bride of the Son into the heavenly realms to be seated with her Groom. And where is Jesus seated? He is also in the heavenly places, and He is at the right hand of God, “far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.”
But that’s not all. Notice that it says that God has seated us with him. Saints, this has been accomplished already and it is your spiritual reality. Oh that the church, the body of Christ, would realize where she is seated in reality, far above any rule, even death, that would challenge the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
This is the height of God’s love.
How deep is God’s love?
Even though we were sons and daughters of disobedience and obeyed God’s enemy instead of God Himself, and “even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.”
Through Christ, God lowered Himself from the heavenly places into the realm of brokenness and death. Yet as He did in the very beginning, He breathed life into His creation. And He breathes life into His creation and into His body today. (Note that the term often used for Spirit in the Scriptures can be translated as “breath”.)
Why did God do this? Because He “is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much“.
Without this emptying and lowering of God to us in Christ, there would be no third race. There would be no new creation.
This is the depth of God’s love.
What are we to do with this view of God’s love for us?
We allow His Spirit in us to love Him back. We worship and adore Him. We behold Him. We yield ourselves to Him so that this love – His love – may flow through His body and His bride.
I am intentionally emphasizing that we cannot even love God back from our own effort or human will. If we want to love in this way, we must give up ourselves and let the Lord’s love blossom.
Many have sought in vain to follow Jesus in his life of love and could not, because they neglected what was essential — denying self. When self is not denied, but follows Jesus, it always fails. It cannot love as he loves. ~ Andrew Murray
Questions for discussion:
~ Can you share a story in which you experienced one of these aspects of God’s love?
~ In what way might this view of love change your idea of what love is?