Solo Deo Gloria: Love for the Glory of God Alone

 

…Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or Bends with the remover to remove.
O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
It is the star to every wandering bark,
whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

— William Shakespeare[1]

Though Shakespeare is not a Scriptural authority on love, his definition in fact offers substantial insight into the true nature of love. In 2 Peter 1, the word used for love is agapao, translated either as “love” or “charity” depending on the version used. Though we must consider our definition of love within the context of the passage, I believe it is also useful to examine the roots and history of the Greek word agapao in our study of love.

The Tyndale Bible Dictionary provides us with helpful insight on love, beginning with the Hebrew word hesed found in the Old Testament. Hesed is often translated “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love.” In Hosea, it is hesed which describes Hosea’s unfailing and steadfast love for his wife who repeatedly left him in her harlotry. “Hesed is not an emotional response to beauty, merit, or kindness but rather a moral attitude dedicated to another’s good, whether or not that other is lovable, worthy, or responsive.”[2]

As we move into the New Testament, the word hesed is paralleled by agapao. Agape specifically means to love the undeserving, despite disappointment and rejection.”[3] This definition is further refined as we discover from Weust’s Word Studies that such agapao love must always spring up from the preciousness of the object loved. Therefore, God’s infinite love for us is an expression of the value and worth which He places on us. Such love is evidenced in the sacrifice of His Son.[4]

It is at this point that we must make the distinction between God’s love as demonstrated through the cross as love for sinners or as a love for His own glory. By necessity, God’s first priority is the greatest good, which is His own glory.[5] Everything is about His glory. Isaiah 42:8 states, “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another.” Mankind was created, a tiny, tiny speck in the vast expanse of the universe, for the sole purpose of glorifying and worshipping our great Creator God (Ecclesiastes 12:13). We also realize that worship is the objective for redemption, for apart from redemption there can be no true worshippers.[6] The understanding of God’s love is central to worship as defined by William Temple, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”[7] God does not need our worship or glory, for His very name, YHWH, proclaims His self-existence. Everything is for His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:10). This is not to undermine God’s love for us, as Scripture makes ample reference to God’s love to sinners (1 John 4:9; 1 John 4:16). Love is defined in 1 John 4:9-10 as God’s love for us through the sacrifice of His Son and Romans 5:8, when paraphrased, reads “By the death of Christ to pay for our sins, God unquestionably proved His love towards us.” The testimony of the Word of God leads us to the conclusion that God’s love as displayed on the cross and throughout all ages, was and is directed towards us, sinners though we are. Still superseding this love for mankind is His love and passion for His own glory as seen in Ezekiel 36 where God explains to the nation of Israel that He is redeeming them, not for their sakes, but for the sake of His name (Isaiah 48:10-11; Ezekiel 36:20-28). “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36).

As we prepare to specifically examine love in the context of 2 Peter 1, I believe it would be advantageous to first walk through the love of God as seen in Ephesians. Love, before becoming an issue of our performance, must first be seen in the framework of what God has done for us. Beginning with Ephesians 1, we observe that God has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ.” This phrase, “in Christ” is of key importance, not only to our understanding of love, but to the whole of the Christian walk. These two words summarize the entirety of the Gospel: that God, in His plan of redemption, has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us, so that when He looks upon us, He sees Christ. It was before the foundation of the world that God, in love, chose to adopt us as His children. This theme is echoed throughout Ephesians in phraseology such as “According as He hath chosen us in Him…in love,” (Ephesians 1:4) and “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith he loved us…quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is not to be overlooked that God chose us in love that we should be to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:6, 12), for though it was of His love and by His grace that we are saved, it is first and foremost for His glory. In the second of Paul’s prayers for the saints in Ephesians (Ephesians 3:14-21), we are given a glimpse of God’s heart for believers: that they would be first rooted and grounded in love, and that they would know the love of Christ, “which passeth knowledge.” It is by the work of this love that Christians will be “filled with all the fullness of God” and He will be glorified. The centrality, then, of all Christianity, is love.

It is here in the knowledge of the love of Christ that we see the completion of the fear of the Lord. According to John Murray, “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.” He continues with a definition for the fear of God: “The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains [compels or powerfully produces] adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honor, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise. It is the reflex in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God.”[8] The fear of God starts with reverential awe, and is completed by an understanding of the love of God. The combination of these components is a glorious theology. It is the total essence of a combination of respect for the infinite worth and dignity of God, admiration for His glorious attributes, and amazement at His infinite love. As Ferguson described it, the only true fear of the Lord is “that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what He has done for us.”[9]

As we move from Ephesians 1-3 and the foundation of what God has done for us, we simultaneously gain a new perspective from our understanding of our new position in Christ, thus being enabled to walk worthy of the “vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1). It is here, only after we stand “in Christ,” that performance is addressed. Ephesians 5 specifically addresses the topic of “walking in love,” as seen in Ephesians 5:2, “Walk in love as Christ also hath loved us.” Our lives must be characterized by love, for that is the position from which we have all life. In other words, “You are in Christ, so live like it.” It would not be appropriate for a soldier “in” the Army of the United States of America to behave as a child; no, he must conduct himself in a manner due his position. As members of the body of Christ, we also have the duty to conduct ourselves in love, for God is love and we are a part of His body.

It is within this framework of position before performance that we are equipped to examine 2 Peter 1, lest we assume that the list of principles here are all merely performance-related. For each principle is three-fold, addressing the issues of position, perspective, and performance. As an example, faith begins first in position, or what God has done. For man is unable to come to God on his own; he is dead in his sin (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 8:7-8; Ephesians 2:1). It is only by the grace of God that man can come to faith in God (Ephesians 2:1, 4-6, 8-9). When we understand that we are saved only by grace alone, and are now in Christ, our perspective is changed from trying to “earn” salvation to a point of stepping out in complete confidence in a sovereign God regardless of our circumstances. The performance of faith then is that action of boldly walking forward, because our perspective and understanding of who God is and what He has done has changed. As Jerry Bridges put it, “Faith involves both a renunciation and a reliance. First, we must renounce any trust in our own performance as the basis of our acceptance before God. We trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve earned God’s acceptance by our own good works. But we also trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve lost God’s acceptance by our bad works–by our sin. So we must renounce any consideration of either our bad works or our good works as the means of relating to God. Second, we must place our reliance entirely on the perfect obedience of the sin-bearing death of Christ as the sole basis of our standing before God–on our best days as well as our worst.”[10] Faith is the result of God’s action of “taking out our heart of stone and giving us a new heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 32:25-28). The measure of faith is gratitude, as gratitude is an expression of our confidence in the sovereignty and goodness of God. Our love, then, builds upon the principles of faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, and brotherly kindness as understood in the proper context of position, perspective, and performance.

Here we must return to our discussion of the Hebrew hesed. Tyndale explains the understood implications of this word: “Hesed is not an emotional response to beauty, merit, or kindness but rather a moral attitude dedicated to another’s good, whether or not that other is lovable, worthy, or responsive (Deuteronomy 7:7–9). This enduring loyalty, rooted in an unswerving purpose of good, could be stern, determined to discipline a wayward people, as several prophets warned. But God’s love does not change. Through exile and failure it persisted with infinite patience, neither condoning evil nor abandoning the evildoers. It has within it kindness, tenderness, and compassion (Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:1–18; Psalm 136; Hosea 11:1–4), but its chief characteristic is an accepted moral obligation for another’s welfare.”[11] Our love must always stem from an understanding of God’s love. God is love. “Truly God is love. Love is not something that God may choose to be or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally. As God is spirit, as he is light, so he is love. Yet it belongs to the very essence of electing love to recognize that it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon utterly undesirable and hell-deserving objects. It was of the free and sovereign pleasure of his will, a good pleasure that emanated from the depths of his own goodness, that he chose a people to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The reason resides wholly in Himself and proceeds from determinations that are peculiarly his as ‘I am that I am.’”[12] When we realize the great love which God has shown unto us, our perspective of the world cannot but be transformed. From this flows our love to others. This progression is evidenced even in the “Greatest Commandments.” First, we are to love God, and then we are to love our neighbors (Mark 12:30-31). Tyndale continues the explanation of hesed with the expectation of our performance: “Nevertheless, response was expected. The Law enjoined wholehearted love and gratitude for God’s choosing and redeeming of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:20–25). This was to be shown in worship and especially in humane treatment of the poor, the defenseless, the resident alien, slaves, widows, and all suffering oppression and cruelty. Hosea similarly expected steadfast love among people to result from the steadfast love of God toward people (Hosea 6:6; 7:1–7; 10:12–13).”[13] Love’s foundation is necessarily are in the love of God. It is only by that great love that we even exist. Our love, therefore, must reflect Christ’s love in that we first love Him and then others because of Him. “In Scripture, love is no abstract idea, conceived to provide a self-explanatory, self-motivating “norm” to resolve the problem in every moral situation. It is rooted in the divine nature, expressed in the coming and death of Christ, experienced in salvation, and so kindled within the saved. Thus it is central, essential, and indispensable to Christianity. For God is love.”[14]

Though our love for others should be primarily rooted in the love God had for us, Scripture provides an outline for us of what this love should look like. Often referred to as the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13 follows 1 Corinthians 12, a chapter explaining the various gifts. But though these gifts are fine and good, Paul exhorts us to desire a “more excellent way.” All of the personalities, temperaments and gifts must be tempered with, covered with, and saturated by love. Without love, all our “good deeds” and worship are but noise. It is interesting that the sounding brass and tinkling cymbals mentioned in 1Corinthians 13:1 were the instruments used in the pagan worship which the Corinthian church would have been familiar with. Paul seems to be making the statement that even if we do all the “right” things and fulfill the “religious requirements” of Christianity, that without love, all of these things are no different than the pagan worship. Godliness, or worship directed to God, is empty without love (1 Corinthians 13:2). Brotherly kindness is useless apart from love (1 Corinthians 13:3). Love is action. Love is always relational, looking at other people instead of circumstances or self. Love dies to self by exalting someone else. It is sacrificial to and patient with people. Patience will take anything from man and kindness will give anything to them. There is no timetable on love: it just continues to love, and love, and love, and love. Love does not envy, as Eve envied God or Cain, Abel. Rather, like Jonathan and David, love exalts and esteems the other. Remember Christ: love is not about self or coming to be served, but about serving. Focused on others, love is humble and displays good manners. Arrogance is big-headed and love is big-hearted. The thoughts of love are those of Philippians 4:8, “of whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report,” of virtue and praise. Regardless of appearances, love always wants to think the best; it sees beyond failure and understands potential. Love loves God’s truth. Always with pure intentions and motivations, love never embraces or rejoices in sin. Love supports and protects, stepping in the gap even through hurt and rejection. In love, a bond is created within the body of Christ. Love will never stop loving: there is no option of retreat.

It is a choice to love like this: to unashamedly and unabashedly lay your life down at the foot of the cross and go where Christ sends you no matter the cost. There is no Scriptural claim that love is easy, but as Erwin McManus stated, “If anything, love is the promise of pain.”[15]  

As we look at our love, we must evaluate it carefully. Are we falling prey to the seduction of a fallen world? Is our love that of Christ’s, or do we still exhibit the “love of the world…the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-16)? Remembering that love begins with our position, we must first discern whether we are defined by what we have and what we’ve done, or by what Christ has done?[16] Being defined by our possessions and our identity apart from Christ is a clear indication of our love of the world.

To summarize, love, and life itself, is all about the cross. Our position is found when the cross tells us who we are. The same cross changes our perspective when it interprets the world we inhabit and transforms our view of people. Finally, the cross gives us our life purpose.

 


[1] Shakespeare, William

 

[2] Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. 2001. Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library. Tyndale House Publishers: Wheaton, Ill.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Wuest, K. S. 1997, c1984. Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English reader . Eerdmans: Grand Rapids

[5] Piper, John. God’s Passion for His Glory: The Vision of Jonathan Edwards.

[6] MacArthur, John Jr., The Ultimate Priority

[7] Temple, William. As quoted in MacArthur, John Jr. The Ultimate Priority.

[8] Murray, John. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 25.

[9] Ferguson, Sinclair. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 27.

[10] Bridges, Jerry. The Bookends of the Christian Life.

[11] Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. 2001. Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library. Tyndale House Publishers: Wheaton, Ill.

[12]  Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 10

[13] Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. 2001. Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library. Tyndale House Publishers: Wheaton, Ill.

[14] Ibid.

[15] McManus, Erwin

[16] Mahaney, C.J. Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.

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