The Bible says that we love God because he first loved us. In fact, according to Romans, it’s the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. This is contrary to most people’s idea of repentance. Sometimes people have to see the futility of this temporary life before they can see the joy of eternal life, but ultimately, it’s God’s love that draws each person near.
It’s time to recognize the goodness of God. Why do people stray? Often times it’s the false belief that something better is out there somewhere. Everyday life testifies to this. We’ve all heard the saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.” When we get on the other side, we find the benefits we expected aren’t there. We must recognize that God desires what is good for us. Only then will we understand the value of trusting Him. The Lord understands our human perspective and gave us His promise to look out for our good. Consider this passage from Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
This passage was given to Israel before they were taken captive by Babylon when the Lord’s people chose to follow other gods instead of Him. When they chose to follow pagan gods, the Lord allowed the pagan nations to rule over His people. Even in the midst of their judgment, God made it clear that His thoughts were for their prosperity and good. The Old Testament is written in Hebrew, and the original Hebrew word means, thoughts, plans, or purpose. God’s plan is to bless and pour His love into their lives, and the same is true for any who will trust Him today. Look at the wonderful promises of Psalm 36:7-9
7 How precious is Your loving kindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.
8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
9 For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.
Follow the flow of thought in this amazing passage. It begins with trust. Those who trust God draw near and rest under the shadow of His wings. The picture is a mother hen protecting her brood. Jesus used this illustration when He wept over Jerusalem and cried, “How often I desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not come.” God still gives the same cry over his people today. It is His desire to gather us near Him, show us what it means to have true intimacy with God, and give us the plans He intends for us. But this is only found under the shadow of His wings – and only those who trust Him will come.
Look at the promise given to those who will come. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of His house. What does it mean to be abundantly satisfied? The picture is to overflow with abundance. It’s to have more than enough to satisfy our hearts. Does God want you to be deprived? No. God wants you to drink from His river of pleasures. His river is a fountain of life. The love of God reveals His plan to abundantly satisfy our lives, but it requires trust, and answering His call to come.
The world has a river, but it’s polluted with corruption and sin. It seems good, but only because we have never tasted the fresh waters of God’s river. Proverbs 10:22 says that the blessing of the Lord adds no sorrow with it. The same cannot be said for sin. On one side, we are trusting in our own actions to satisfy our desires. On the other side, God is calling us to leave our ways behind, trust Him, receive his love, and experience what it means to have fullness of joy. Until you believe the promise, you won’t trust God enough to leave the world behind.
The first step is to see the love of God, then receive that love. Once the love of God is poured out in our hearts, we will then have the power to love others. I cannot love the people I’m convinced don’t deserve it. Or perhaps the better way of putting it is that I can’t love those I feel deserve judgment. Yet, this is exactly what God commands me to do.
The Bible doesn’t command us to love with philia (friendship) love. This is because we naturally love those who return our love. I always feel love toward my friends. God doesn’t need to command us to love with eros, or affection. Think about marriage. When my spouse is affectionate, I don’t need to be commanded to return that affection.
The Bible repeatedly commands us to love with agape love. Since God has poured His agape love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, He has also empowered us to show that same love to others. By nature, agape is to love those who don’t deserve it. I am commanded to take the love God has given me, and pass it on to others. I’m called to take God’s undeserved love toward me, and love others without measuring their worthiness to be loved.
This is why Jesus said the second command comes from the first. I love God by establishing myself in the love He has given me (remember, we love God because he first loved us), and then I am loving my neighbor with the same love God has given me. In my human nature I cannot love my neighbor as myself. I will never take food off my table and feed a stranger while I starve. In truth, my natural reaction is to hoard extra while my neighbor is in need.
Like the rich young ruler, I cannot philia love my neighbor as myself because human nature lacks that capacity. I can, however, agape love my neighbor as myself. Philia love is natural to man and is given in response to what has been received or expected to be received. Agape love comes from the Holy Spirit within us and is not dependent upon our needs or self-centered desires.
Because of God’s love shown to me, I can take my underserved agape – given to me by the Spirit – and give it to my neighbor without measuring their worthiness. To understand this fully, take a look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
When the love of God is poured out in our hearts, it flows outward. Our self-will is the only thing that stands between the love of God in us and the love of God shown to others. When I’m acting according to selfish human nature, I see the need of others and the Spirit within me calls me to reach out. When I’m acting selfishly, I may resist the call of God and withhold love. Anger, disappointment, and other human emotions can rise up and tempt us to withhold God’s love. When we submit to human nature and resist the love of God, we are acting in the flesh and pushing against the love of God.
We all do this from time to time, but as we mature in the faith, we begin recognizing the value of allowing God to reign freely and discover a world of agape love that flows through us and toward others. Often we mistake philia love as agape, but it is not. Agape calls us to love even when we don’t feel like it. When it flows unhindered, the Spirit within us becomes a fountain of life. When agape love is hindered, life begins to stagnate.
Consider the attributes of agape love:
Agape / Love is patient
Does not envy
Does not lift itself up
Isn’t puffed up – or selfish
Is not provoked
Doesn’t think evil
Endures all things
Hopes in all things
With these things in mind, we can identify the source of our love. If I require something in return before I can love, it isn’t agape. If I must be praised in order to stay motivated to show love, it isn’t agape. If being provoked or wronged causes me to cut off my love, it isn’t agape. Agape keeps giving without expectation – other than the hope of God being glorified through the love He has given me.
When we are provoked, human nature attempts to arise and take over our hearts. However, when we understand the command of God to love without condition, I can choose to resist human nature and submit to the love of God. It is not me producing agape. It is me submitting myself to God’s agape love so the Spirit flows outward from my life to others.
This is why understanding love is easy; but keeping the command to love is difficult. If it came natural, it wouldn’t require a command. Loving the loveable is easy; therefore we are not commanded to love with philia love. Loving with agape is difficult. By its nature, agape is not self-seeking; therefore, we must abide in the love of God and not allow our human nature to rule our hearts. As we move forward we’ll discuss how to put these things into practice. For now, we must understand that we keep ourselves in God’s love so we can remain empowered to love others. Consider this passage from Jude 1:20-21
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
The next chapter will discuss faith in detail, but keep this passage in mind. As we build our lives upon our faith, we keep ourselves in the love of God and by this, we are able to love each other. Faith is important in this discussion. When I trust God, I believe in the command to love my neighbor. Though living out the love of God may cost me, I also have the assurance that God will fulfill His promise, and I will be abundantly satisfied in Him.
I am not looking to people as my source of fulfillment. God alone holds this role. I love because I am first loved, then because I have been commanded. I keep myself in his love knowing God will more than make up for anything I sacrifice. I can’t out love God. Nor can I sacrifice more than God will give. If I truly believe God, I can love when I don’t feel appreciated and give to those who are unworthy – just as God also gave to me when I was unworthy.
Excerpted from Simple Faith
 1 John 4:19