Love and God
Imitators of God
“That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 5:1–2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The Bible exhorts us to be imitators of God by walking in love. Our walking in love is received by God as an incredible offering and sacrifice to Him.
There is a wonderful children’s book called Guess How Much I Love You. It is the story of a little brown hare who tries to outdo his big brown hare father in an ‘I love you more’ competition. In the end his father wins because little brown hare falls asleep as his father says “I love you to the moon and back”.
During this series we are going to find out what God means by love. It is nothing like the world’s view. God’s love is wider (as in the biggest ever) and longer (as in forever) and deeper (as in the perfect relationship) and higher (as in the highest form) than anything we
could ever imagine. How incredible it is that God has made that love available to us. Unless we fully comprehend what God means by love, we are going to use the world’s interpretation and miss out on something far more fulfilling.
It is a hard task—how do we imitate that sort of love? How can we who are merely human, imitate God who is love Himself (1 John 4:8) and who by His very nature loves in the most perfect way (John 15:9–10)?
The more we abide in Christ, the more fruit we bear, the more we begin to understand what the Bible means by “the love of Christ”.
List three things you can do to abide in Jesus. Commit to putting them into practice, starting today.
Love and God
Loving Like God
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sister. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Ephesians 4:1–3, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
When we give our lives to God, we become a new creation with a new ability to understand who God is. As we communicate with Jesus through prayer, Bible reading and obedience to His Word, we begin to see our lives transformed. Our lives are no longer lived just to please ourselves, but instead we grow in our desire to please God. We show our love for Him by obeying His commands and following the gentle and loving promptings and convictions of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:3–4). We discover that by living our life the way God intended we are rewarded not only by a sense of security and blessing but also with a greater desire to love God and others. This is Godly love: love for the Father and a love for others in imitation of Jesus. But this does not just magically happen. God asks that we willingly surrender to His way and when we do, we get all the benefits! The world loves in a different way.
Worldly love is based on feelings or considerations of wealth, peer pressure, status, image or selfishness. The love we have must take priority over everything else in our lives. If we do not love as God commands, we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
What integral part of Jesus’ love for others must we imitate (Philippians 2:1–4)?
Love and humility go hand in hand. A humble attitude is self-sacrificial.
Make a list of all the people you interact with in your life. Put H for humble beside those you esteem before yourself and S for self beside those you do not. Ask God to help you have a humble attitude toward the S people.
Love and God
Power of God
“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
—1 John 3:18
Luke 6:27–36, ““But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Perhaps one of the people you marked as an S in yesterday’s list has done something that God would not approve of and you no longer respect them. Perhaps they are just being grumpy and difficult. It is easy to look out for the interests of another if they love us, if they are friendly or if they respect us. We find it much harder to love those who have disappointed or hurt us. But we are called to be imitators of our Lord and sons of the Most High. He is kind to the un–thankful and even the evil. He wants us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who spitefully use us. This requires an act of our will. But we have this incredible power within us that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)! God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). God’s love provides the power that enables us to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and love the unlovely.
Read Matthew 18:15–17. How do you reconcile Jesus’ command to love our enemies with His call to treat a believer who sins and refuses to listen to correction like a “heathen and a tax collector”?
Read James 4:4. How can we love our enemies without becoming friends of the world?
Love is an act of the will, not a feeling prompted by emotions.
Look back at the list you made yesterday and choose one person with an S beside their name. Make a list of at least five things that person does which annoy you or cause you concern (and make sure you keep the list in a private place!). In the next column (being as honest as you can) write down what your reaction has been to the things that have annoyed you or caused you concern.
Read through the verses below.
Choose one of the ways you have reacted that does not line up with God’s exhortation to love others. Pick one verse that particularly spoke to you and pray through it asking God to change your behaviour so that it lines up with His Word. Think of one practical way you can put this into practice and do it.
“… who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” —1 Peter 2:23
“Repay no-one evil for evil … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” —Romans 12:17a & 21
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” —John 15:13
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled …” —Hebrews 12:14–15
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” —Proverbs 15:1
“Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour,’ for we are members of one another.” —Ephesians 4:25
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” —Ephesians 4:29
“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” —Luke 6:31
“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” —Matthew 10:42
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tender–hearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this that you may inherit a blessing.” —1 Peter 3:8–9
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” —Philippians 4:8
“Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well being.” —1 Corinthians 10:24
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” —Mark 8:34b–35
“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” —Matthew 5:39
“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” —2 Corinthians 9:6
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” —James 1:19
Love and God
Focus of God
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Luke 15:11–24, “And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Have you ever said, “I don’t feel loved by God”? Whether we experience a warm fuzzy feeling inside is actually not the point. If God’s love was based on feelings, it would have disappeared long ago because of how much our sin had disappointed Him. Our focus needs to come off how we feel and instead we need to pay attention to what God has done for us. It is here that we will notice His love. Our Heavenly Father wants us to understand His love because it will have such a profound influence on the way we act and ultimately how we feel! Agape love is being prepared to love even when we don’t feel like it.
In The Parable of the Prodigal Son, the son was immediately reinstated to the position of beloved son when he returned home. He had lost his inheritance but his father’s love was not dependent on what the son had done. There was no “You’ve done it now, I wash my hands of you” attitude. No “You’ll have to pay back what you’ve wasted if you want to come back and live here.” Rather, there was celebration! The second son found it difficult to understand how the father did not focus on the wrong but only on the humility. Jesus told this parable to help us understand that He wants us to learn to love Him so much that we would leave behind our sin to follow Him in love and humility.
Read Romans 12:19. What reasons might there be for leaving vengeance to God?
When you forgive, you are freed of the burden of winning or losing. God’s love makes it possible to sacrifice the battle in complete peace.
Look again at the list you made on Tuesday. Is there anyone against whom you have been bearing a grudge? Ask God to take the burden from you and deal with the situation. Put your faith in Him and trust that He will. Release your burden to Him and put into practice at least one way you can bless the person.
Love and God
Actions of God
“But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favouritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.”
Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
It is easy for us to love our closest friends and our children or our sweet and loving grandmother. I recently heard the story of a friend’s neighbour who every Sunday morning without fail would bake scones for their family. She would knock on their door and present her hot and tasty offering for the family to enjoy. We can imagine the love that this family had for their neighbour!
In another neighbourhood there was a cantankerous old lady who did nothing but complain about the noise the children made in the backyard, the dog that always barked and the visitors who were always parking on her grass verge. It is a little harder to imagine loving this neighbour.
Let’s pay attention to God’s actions: it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. There is not one of us who can say we are innocent of breaking God’s laws if we were to stand before Him without Jesus as our Saviour on Judgement Day. How then can we presume to act any differently than Jesus has acted toward us? All Christians have the ability to love as God loves, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The question is, how obedient are we being to the Holy Spirit’s leading?
How did the unforgiving servant fail to love impartially (Matthew 18:23–35)?
A partial love is a subtle form of playing God by making an assumption that you have the right to judge who is worthy of love and who is not. Such love is based entirely on external circumstances.
Look again at the list you made on Wednesday. Choose another one of your reactions that does not line up with God’s exhortation to love others. Pick another verse and pray through it asking God to change that behaviour so that it lines up with His Word.
Love and God
Sacrifice for God
“He who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
Matthew 10:34–39, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
How did you get on with the actions we asked you to take this week? We did say that they would take you out of your comfort zone! We want to give you some encouragement to keep putting love into action, so think on these things:
Love is extremely important to God and if it is important to God it has to be important to us. How do we know this?
1 Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second to love your neighbour (Matthew 22:37–40).
2 Jesus gave a new commandment to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34).
3 Love is the first fruit of the Spirit mentioned by Paul (Galatians 5:22), from which all the others flow.
4 Love is the only gift that is eternal (1 Corinthians 13:8).
5 Love is the greatest gift (1 Corinthians 13:13).
When we are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, God will give us all we need to express agape love even in the most trying circumstances.
What did Jesus mean when He said that He did not come to bring peace but a sword?
During this Lent period we are giving up our right for revenge, for pay back, to be self-righteous, to treat people as they deserve, to put ourselves first. We are giving up these rights to instead put Jesus and His desires first. This includes desiring the highest good of others.
Pray that God will help you to put Him first above all else, prompt you to love others as He loves you and help you to be obedient to His leading. If you find your desire to put love into action falling away during the day, take some time to come back to the Father of love for refreshing.