“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NKJV)
Love is the essential thing. We know it and believe it, but how does it operate? How can we live a life of love?
Love has many meanings. We talk about friendship love, romantic love, sexual love and humanitarian love. All these things have a place but where does the idea of pure love come from, and how can we attain to it? Self-giving seems to be at the heart of all forms of love, and pure love is ministering to the needs of others at whatever cost to oneself, without demanding anything in return.
That is why love begins with God. The word, “agape” is reserved for the highest form of love – the love of God. Only when we get to grips with God’s love can we have an understanding of what love really is. Pure love is radical self-giving without expecting anything in return. Only God demonstrates that kind of love.
God is love. And his love is nowhere more fully revealed than in Christ. God gave his only, his unique Son, so that the world might be saved. But that salvation must be accepted in the form that it is offered. In other words, love freely given must be freely received.
It is important to understand that God’s love can be rejected. If it is forced, and no choice is involved, then it is not love. Faith points to what God has done, hope relates to our certain future with Christ, but it is all about love – what God has done to make it all possible.
We find it difficult to think about love in those terms. What have we done to deserve God’s love? Nothing. Does God have to love us? No. He loves us because he has chosen to do so. Love is not some external force that controls God. Love is his choice. It is his decision. He could have left us to reap the consequences of our own sin. God would have been totally self-consistent to do that.
But he did not abandon us.
God exercised his free choice and set his love on us. This involved the total giving of himself.
He entered his universe in the person of his Son and gave himself for us all. His desire is that we might respond to his love but he does not force us.