Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 16, 2012
 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
-- John 3:16, ESV
The study of the Bible is indeed a labor of love. Some form of the word “love” appears over 800 times in over 700 verses. It appears as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. All of the Old Testament writers use the word, with the exception of four of the Minor Prophets; and, every New Testament author writes with “love” in multiple passages.
The first time “love” appears in the New Testament is speaks of the love God the Father has for God the Son at His baptism (ref. Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The last time “love” is mentioned in the Bible it is used negatively, to describe all the lost and condemned people of all time who “loved” the wrong things and failed to trust in God and the gospel (ref. Revelation 22:15). That verse was among the last verses written by the Apostle John. But, speaking of John, the first time the beloved Apostle chose to use the word “love” he wrote what has become the most familiar verse in the entire Bible. And, if we can choose only one verse to talk about the greatest thing, then we must talk about this great thing called “love,” from John 3:16.
Love is defined by God
As part of his preacher act, Elmer Gantry defined love by saying, “Love is the mornin' and the evenin' star.” I’m still not sure what that huckster meant by that.
When some children were asked to define love, one of them said: “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too. That's love.” That’s right.
Musicians have tried to define love with song titles from the 1930’s “Love is Like the Flu” and “Love is the Cure for Everything,” the 60’s “Love is Groovy” and the 70’s “Love is Funky,” and the back-to-back hits “Love is a Four Letter Word” and “Love is a Five Letter Word.”
Actually, love is a five letter word in the Greek language of the New Testament: agape. It is a most interesting choice from a most illustrative language. Three words were available to God and God’s messengers, including the Apostle John. They were “eros,” “phileo,” and “agape.”
Eros is defined as selfish, sensual love, sought or stolen simply because it feels good. While this seems to be the spirit of love in our age as well as the Roman era that birthed the New Testament, no New Testament writer inspired by the Holy Spirit chose to use this word to define love. Phileo is a friendly, brotherly love, which inspired the naming of the city of Philadelphia. This kind of neighborly, I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you’ll-scratch-mine, mutual kind of love is fine and often found in the New Testament. But far and away the most common word God chose to define the kind of love He gives and desires is agape.
Agape is never selfish and not contingent on what the recipient can do for the giver. Agape is a choice to give love to another person, willingly, totally, unconditionally, selflessly. Agape is the most beautiful and bountiful way ever recorded to define love, at least love as it pertains to God and those who are the children of God. “For God so loved …”
Love is demonstrated by God
With agape, love, as His defining motive, God took action to demonstrate His love to the multicultural, multiethnic, multifaceted people of the world He created. You see, agape love always demonstrates itself in sacrifice. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son …”
If you are a parent or the child of a parent (I think that’s everybody), consider the sacrifice it takes to raise a child. A 2011 report by the USDA revealed that the average cost to raise a child from birth to age 17 is $234,900. Now for a fleeting moment, let us parents look at our child, especially if he or she is a teenager, and ask ourselves, “What could I have done with $234,900?!” Of course, the answer is “nothing, absolutely nothing, any better than raising this child!” How can we say such a thing and make such a sacrifice? Because, we love them.
Well, it is one thing to love your child enough to give them a good life. Could you love someone enough to give up your child to a cruel, merciless, painful, death, even though and especially when the person you give your child to die for is absolutely unworthy? The Apostle Paul’s classic response to the Apostle John’s classic verse is, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ref. Romans 5:8).
The heart of John 3:16 reveals the loving heart of God. “He gave His only Son.” “He gave” a gift He did not have to give. God is completely sufficient in His tri-unity with Himself, His Son, and His Spirit to enjoy fellowship with Himself as He lords over all creation, and He did not need to redeem any fallen human beings to enjoy His infinite life. “His only Son” refers to a gift like no other, a person unparalleled, fully human and fully divine, sinless, spotless, infinitely superior in every way to everybody else, sent to live a life of poverty, anonymity, incredulity, injustice, persecution, and martyrdom.
I don’t mind sacrificing $234,900 for Christie, Ashley, Emily, or Courtney Grace. Each one of them is worth it, and more. But the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sinners such as I, whom God did not need and who in no way compare to the worth of Christ, is the greatest love ever known.
God defined love on His divine terms then demonstrated it with the gift of Christ upon the cross. Now, He deserves and demands this kind of love in return.
Love is demanded by God
God’s unconditional love is actually conditional, and that’s no more an oxymoron that to say that Jesus Christ is a man and Jesus Christ is God, or that the Bible was written by God and the Bible was written by forty-something human authors. To receive the love of God and loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ for salvation, there is actually a requirement. “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Faith, or belief, is the demand, to be sure. There must be intellectual, emotional, volitional belief that results in corresponding behavior. But, there must be a motive behind both the belief and the behavior. That motive must be agape, love.
If you do not love God, unconditionally and unreservedly, then you cannot be a recipient of His unconditional, unreserved salvation and eternal life. You cannot come to Christ because He offers absolution, or a reservation in Heaven, and certainly not because you think He will guarantee health and wealth in this life on earth. You must come to Him because you love Him, you are willing to serve Him, you give your life and all that you have to Him, and you place Him above all other loves in your life. This love is defined, demonstrated, and demanded by a holy, holy, holy God. From where does such love come?
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you …” (ref. John 15:16). “We love because He first loved us” (ref. 1 John 4:19). “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (ref. Romans 5:5). “He saved us, … by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (ref. Titus 3:5).
If you are a Christian, it is because God loved you and chose you even before He created the world (ref. Ephesians 1:4). For you, God defined and demonstrated what love really is in the person and work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And you have been able to love, believe, and repent, because the very thing that God demands, God Himself delivers. Yes, Christian, God put love in your hearts so that you would love Him, believe in Him, and enjoy Him forever in everlasting life. This is love, and being in a loving, saving, personal, and covenant relationship with God is what life is all about.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org