Love and Self-Love: What They are and are Not: Part I
1 John 4:7-12
Introduction: This seven-part series: Love and Self-Love: What they are and are Not defines and clarifies what each means from God’s perspective. These words are commonly misunderstood, distorted and misused. Love is a common, simple, four-letter word that is so misunderstood. The culture talks about lovers when referring to fornicators and adulterers. Others speak of the love of the game or the sport. These people are referring to affection for and even to devotion and allegiance someone or some thing. Some psychologists speak of love as chemical reaction meditated by neuropeptides.
Moreover, objects of love may be people, animals, activities, and objects. The idea of the word love also carries the idea of attraction, desire for, wanting, and feelings – often warm and fuzzy ones. So often a term is used without defining it. Many would say that everyone knows what love is. If that is your starting point, you will miss God’s definition given in the Bible. God love is supernatural. It begins with Him and flows from Him. The noun and verb are linked and at times are inseparable.
Too often, Christians have bought the culture’s concept and brought it into their understanding of God and themselves. A common refrain among some in the Christian community is God’s love is unconditional. They may be referring to love as a noun. God is the Lover no strings attached. Or they may refer to love as a verb suggesting that love is God’s business and is so busying loving that He does not get angry or judge people. Most don’t know what the phrase means. In fact, it is difficult to track down the origin of the phrase. The term unconditional love is not used in the Bible so it has an extra-biblical origin. But words and terms do matter. Christians must be careful when they use terms that convey a low view of God and His Word and a high view of man.
In common parlance, the term suggests that the “lover” does not care about the condition of the one receiving love or affection or overtures or interest. This raises the issue of the purpose of love and loving. Unconditional love carries the idea of giving with no strings attached. Rather as we shall see, God’s love has one sole purpose: it loudly and clearly proclaims His glory. In that sense, strings are attached!
The cross is a reflection of God’s love. But what did the Triune God do at the cross? He loved unlovely rebels and enemies. These people were unlovable by human standards and certainly unlovely. God saves a people who don’t deserve to be saved (Romans 5:6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). God defies the wisdom of the world at the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Many people take umbrage to this picture of God. God loves to show His glory by bringing about a change in people – creation and re-creation are liked. Both demonstrate supernatural power, love, and wisdom. He is zealous for His honor and He loves people into His Kingdom. In love and in spite of the person, He moves His enemies into His family. His former enemies become His family members. In this way love is conditional. God knew exactly the object of His love. He knew the ones He loved were destitute, enemies, and child of darkness and deadness. God’s love is based on who God is and not on who man is. In that sense, God’s is conditional – based on His essence.
Many wrongly interpret God’s love as unconditional. The idea that God loves in spite of Himself and in spite of the one loved is unbiblical. God’s love is informed – it is intelligent. God knows himself fully and completely. God knows His creatures. We need to unpack the idea that God’s love is conditional or unconditional or perhaps both depending on one’s definition by searching the Scripture. Scripture has much to say about God and love. One defining text is found 1 John 4:7-12:
v.7: Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
v.8: Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.
v.9: This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
v.10: This is love; not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
v.11: Dear friends since God loved us we ought to love one another
v.12: No one has ever seen God; but if we love another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish love as a noun and as a verb. The phrase God is love defines love as a noun and God as the supreme Lover. As such, He loves eternally; here love is a verb. From John, we learn that God is love – a noun (v.8). It is of His essence, His nature, and His Being. Therefore, to correctly understand the concept of love, one must begin with God. Most theologians consider love as one of God’s moral perfections. It is included under the heading of God’s goodness. The fundamental idea of God’s goodness is that God is, in every way, everything that He as God should be. God is perfection in every aspect of His Being. He is and sets the standard. God is perfect in Himself and in His goodness. His goodness begins with Him as the Triune God and moves out to mankind. He is good in and of Himself. He is good for and to His creatures. He is the only and highest good. Goodness and love are linked. Because God is good He is love and He loves. Rightly understood the word love is a mini-definition of God. He is love and He defines love. If God did not exist, there would be love. The presence of love in the world is a testimony to God’s Being.
Love at the very least involves relationships and action. In this sense we can and should say that biblical love is conditional. Love and loving rests and begins with the Triune God. Love is conditioned by the character of God. His love of Himself is conditioned by who God is. If God is not Triune, He can’t love Himself. If there is no God, there is no love either expressed as a noun or as a verb. From John’s first letter we learn that love is Intratrinitarian. All persons of the Godhead are Lovers and are loved. There is love within the Godhead. What this love looks like we do not know. We were not there in eternity past.
We do know that there is perfect knowledge, harmony, and functionality within the Godhead. Love involves knowledge and it is conditioned by God himself. Therefore love is conditional. He can’t help but love! It is an absolute necessity for Him to love and He starts with Himself in eternity past. He has always been love and he has always loved. He will never stop. He can’t. It is His very nature. Those facts are a relief for sinners!
Intratrinitarian love is impossible for man to comprehend. John makes this point in verse 12. The Church and the world get a glimpse of God and His love of Himself by His love of others – both His children and enemies. Believers give the world a glimpse into the nature of God when they love other believers and especially when they love their enemies (John 13:34-35; Matthew 5:43-48). Again love and loving is conditional. They are dependent on the very nature of God.
Since love is an action there is evidence of it. Notice that the term or concept of feelings has not entered into the discussion. Generally and properly it is taught that the ultimate demonstration of God’s love to mankind is sending of Christ (John 3:16). Christ himself explains the Father and demonstrates that love is supernatural and conditioned by the nature of God. It is interesting that the Bible emphasizes the evidence of God’s love to mankind. This in itself is a loving action. Trying to comprehend God’s love of himself may be impossible for man, fallen or unfallen. Therefore God would have believers look at the cross (John 13).
1. Contemplate the Triune God’s love of Himself. What are your thoughts and how do they influence your love of others?
2. How do you define love? What is the significance of the fact that God is love?
3. Consider mankind’s fallen state: why should God love a rebel?
4. How is it possible for Him to do that very thing?
Love and Self-Love: What They are and are Not: Part II
God’s Love: Conditional or Unconditional or Both
Our subject is God’s love and its conditionality or un-conditionality. We began with God because the Bible begins with God (Genesis 1:1-2). The Triune God is love (1 John 4:8). That statement can’t be said of any other being. Others may love but they are not love and their love is not God’s love. He is the eternal God. God’s love of himself is eternal, complete, relational, perfect in knowledge, and active. God loves himself and His creatures because He is love.
God is known by mankind but not as He ought to be known (Romans 1:18-23). This limitation is in part due to effect of sin on man’s thinking and wanting and because of who God is. Therefore, God’s love of himself is beyond human comprehension. We know from nature and the Bible that God is the Revealer and that He has created man as His image bearer. Therefore, man is a revelation receiver, interpreter, and implementer. God desires to be known and accurately. If God’s love of himself is beyond human comprehension, how then will mankind know God and love? John gives the answer in 1 John 4:8: v.12: No one has ever seen God; but if we love another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (see John 13:34-35). Jesus gives a similar answer in another venue: John 14:8-9. He told Philip that if the disciples have seen Jesus they have seen the Father which was one reason for Jesus’ coming – to explain the Father (John 1:18).
Why would the Triune God spend so much blood and effort proving to sinful mankind that He is love? Number one, as we have noted, the love of God for himself is beyond human comprehension. But God comes down to man’s level. Sinful mankind needs to hear this simple but profound truth repeated and repeated! Number two, the love of God is conditioned by the very nature of God and the nature of fallen man. God is love and man is unlovely. The contrasts between God and man are astronomically. To know God properly requires a new birth – from above (John 3:3-8). To truly know God occurs by way of His love. To know God requires to have been loved by God. To know God is to honor Him. Imitating His Son in thought, desire, and action honors the Triune God. Knowledge of God and of self will motivate the believer to love God and others. Number three, love of enemies is counterintuitive and countercultural. It is humbling and requires supernatural activity in a person to grasp it and own it.
od loves himself, the perfect Being. How do we grasp that truth as finite and fallen creatures? In a sense, God stacked the deck. To say that God loves His friends seems palatable and reasonable. To say that God loves His enemies will get a Whoa. Many have a higher view of man than God did such that loving mankind was “no big deal.” Another person may ask how it was possible for God to love His enemies. Some answer by saying it was Jesus’ job or God is love! However, it gets even better and deeper; in some way, God loves His enemies with the same love that He loves himself. That seems impossible but it is a reality. It is a reality only because God is love and His love is conditioned by who He is and who man is.
God’s love is conditional because it depends on His very nature and does not depend on man. Salvation is a reality only if God loved hell-bound, self-loving, and self-pleasing rebels. There would be no salvation if God was not love. Again, God’s love and loving acts are conditioned on God’s nature. No other love or Lover could save man let alone desire to save man.
Fallen man was and is in danger, lost in guilt, and condemnation. Misery awaits him in this life and the next unless God supernaturally intervenes. We speak of God’s supernatural intervention as salvation and redemption. We must remember that God is love and He loves independently or perhaps more accurately in spite of man’s fallen condition and estate. It is as if mankind placed itself and was placed in the worst possible condition so that salvation would be a WOW activity. God’s love is conditioned by His very nature and nothing in man. In fact, sober judgment would say don’t love the unlovely. Yet God does. God’s love of the unlovely is in stark contrast to the Triune God’s love of himself – a perfect Being loving a perfect Being!
To say that God’s love is unconditional is imprecise if not incorrect. God himself conditions love. His nature is to love and the clarity of His love is shone most clearly when the object of His love is an enemy. The phrase, God’s love is unconditional, misses the point of God’s nature. The word suggests that God is a love machine and that it is His job to love with no strings attached. It suggests that God loves everyone equally and in a saving way.
God’s saving love must be differentiated from his common kindness. God sends the rain on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:43-47; Acts 14:17). He even prospers His enemies, those unsaved, materially. In addition he brings calamity on those that are His – for instance, Jesus and the cross and Job. He does not want anyone to perish but to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But according to His sovereign will and plan, all won’t bow the knee to Him.
If the person uses the phrase (unconditional love of God) to emphasize the facts that God’s love is unselective and independent of anything a person can do or say to earn it, the Bible would agree. If the person using the phrase is saying that God loves everybody without distinction because of something inherent in the person, the Bible vehemently disagrees. It is precisely the opposite point! Everything in fallen man points to leaving him alone. He is dead, defiled, and debased (Romans 8:5-8; Ephesians 2:1-3) In contrast, there is something in God not man (God’s is nature is love) that demands Him to love. He loves people in a saving manner in part because man is God’s image bearer. The fact that God loves himself perfectly, completely, and eternally does not in itself motivate fallen man to praise God and humble himself before God pleading to be loved. Apparently God’s love of himself had no impact on the fallen angels.
It is true that God’s love is conditioned by His nature and is highlighted by the state and character of fallen man. There is no condition that any one person can bring to bear on God in order to force him to love that particular person. Even the fact that fallen man is still the image bearer of God does not force God to love that specific individual. The person is the recipient of God and His love in spite of himself. He does so because God is love and not because he deserves it. He has and is nothing by which to bargain with God. Fallen man has no bargaining chip to force God to redeem him. That last sentence assumes that fallen man wants to be loved by God. On the contrary, Paul says fallen man wants no part of God (Romans 1:18-23; 8:5-8). This fact about man makes the love of God even more amazing.
Once loved by God, there are conditions on the one loved in terms of duty, privilege, and blessings (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 5:3-4). The loved one is expected to change his thoughts, desires, and actions toward God, self, and others. The personal cost to be loved by God is zero. God saves. Once a person is saved, there are costs – 100%. Man denies himself his own self in order to love with all his heart, soul, mind, and body (Matthew 22:37-40). God expects a return on His investment. He gave his all-in-all and the believer is to give all of himself daily, 24/7. Growth in love of God and others (neighbors and enemies) is part of the believer’s spiritual DNA.
1. Clarify the terms conditional and unconditional love.
2. God’s love is conditional: agree or disagree and why?
3. God’s love is unconditional: how is that a dangerous concept? What truth may it carry?
Love and Self-Love: What They Are and Are Not: Part III
God’s Love: Conditional
From 1 John 4:7-12, we learned that God is love. Because He is He loves. God loved and loves himself eternally and perfectly. There is no defect within the Trinity. God’s love of himself is beyond human comprehension. The New Testament speaks of the Father’s love of the Son and the Son’s love of the Father and by implication the Holy Spirit’s love of the Father and the Son. Simply, there is a love fellowship between the three persons of the Godhead (The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all: 2 Cor. 13:14 ESV).
As a consequence or a fruit of Intratrinitarian love, God expresses a common goodness to all His creatures (Matthew 5:43-48; Acts 14:17). But He loves only His own in a saving way. It is a wonderful truth that God’s love is conditional: it is dependent on His very nature. It is good that the condition for God to love does not rest with man.
From man’s perspective one may correctly say that God’s love is unconditional. There is nothing in man to warrant God to love him. The fact that man is made the image of God is his only claim for God to exert kindness – not saving love – to mankind. As Creator, God does extend kindness to men for a time. The fallen angels had no salvation or offer of it. They were not image bearers of God. Post-fall the Bible paints a picture of, about, and in man that warrants only God’s wrath as if man should never be loved by God. However, I repeat, God’s love is conditional: it is conditioned by God himself.
God loves simply because He is love. Thank God that he loves His enemies. One object of God’s love is unlovely people. By man’s standards they are un-loveable. Yet God loves His enemies. There is nothing in a person that forces God to love him or her (Romans 5:6-10; John 17:9, 14, 20-24). But we must note: God loves them with a purpose – to bring a people to himself. God’s agenda is for them to become like His Son. There is nothing in man to force God to think and act in a certain way. There is much in man that requires God to act in judgment on mankind. Yet God loves His enemies. There is everything in God that motivates him to love His enemies (Genesis 18:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)! Therein is love, that God loved first (1 John 4:19). John was speaking to believers. God loves His people in a saving way.
Christ demonstrated Triune love by His perfect obedience before the cross and His perfect death on the cross (John 3:16-21). In addition, we don’t see God but we see others. When self-pleasers, even believers, are kind to others, the world and especially the Church is presented with an insight into God’s love of himself (John 13:34-35; Matthew 5:43-48). Love is more than kindness but love includes kindness. I repeat: if the true God does not exist there would be no love!
The ultimate expression to the world of God’s love is the estate of humiliation of His Son which includes the cross. The cross is the fullest manifestation of all that God is. In eternity past, the Triune God planned and designed the what and the how of salvation. He then put that plan into action. By it, God loves those who don’t deserve to be loved. Rather they deserve wrath and condemnation. This act of sacrifice on the part of the Triune God points to God as the true Lover. The cross defines supernatural love and pushes the believer toward heaven. There he gets a glimpse of Intratrinitarian love.
Seeing Jesus and witnessing His teaching and miracles does not match the cross in terms of revealing the nature of God (John 14:6-9). But even the cross must be seen from eternity past and the love that the Triune God has for himself. God loving God deifies definition. What does Intratrinitarian love look like? Certainly we see harmony and unity within the Godhead. The Holy Spirit came and led the apostles and His people and Church in discovering and enjoying the full testimony by the Spirit of Christ (John 14:17; 15:26-27; 16:13-15). There is no hint of competition or jealousy within the Trinity! Without, love and loving each person of the Godhead, the Trinity would not be God.
Humanly speaking, love can be defined as: God gives; He meets a need, no matter the cost; with the correct motive; and by His standard (John 3:16; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25). God’s love of himself is displayed as He loves the unlovely (Romans 5:6-10). You might wonder and even say that God has a need to love. In a sense that is true. His very nature is love! You might ask: why the cross? One idea: loving a perfect Being seems “easier” than loving an enemy! We must be careful when speaking as if God needed something let alone from sinners and rebels. We do not want to think as the culture and psychology thinks as they have no problem attempting to bring God down to man’s level! God has no need as if He was lacking. God loves because He is love. He gives of Himself to each member of the Trinity in terms of functionality. But He lacks nothing. He deserves His creatures praise and worship. His love highlights that fact and it makes it possible. He is zealous for His name and glory (Exodus 20:4-6).
It is on the basis of God’s very Being that John tells his congregation that they are to love one another – it is a necessity (v.11). Moreover, believers are to love one another because love comes from God (v.7). John sets forth several non-negotiable truths: 1. God is love and He is the fountainhead or source of all love. 2. Only believers can love. Unbelievers cannot love because they are not born of God; they are not regenerated. 3. Loving one another is not a suggestion; it is rooted in who God is and who the believer is in Christ. 4. Loving one another is a testimony that God is love, that His love is radical and supernatural, and that the true lover of others is one who is loved by God and loves God (1 John 4:12, 19).
1. In your thinking, clarify where God’s love originated. What significance does that have?
2. What are the conditions on God to love?
3. What are the conditions on man to love? How is it possible for man to love?
4. Loving others is an expression of being loved by God.
a. What did it cost you to be loved by God?
b. What did it cost God?
Love and Self-love: What They Are and Are Not: Part IV
God’s Love: Unconditional Revisited
John told his congregation that God is love (1 John 4:8). Since God‘s nature/Being is love, love characterizes all aspects of God’s Being: His holiness, justice, righteousness, mercy, and goodness. Again love must begin with the Trinity. Salvation is an Intratrinitarian activity that is steeped in the very Being of God. In eternity past, only the Godhead existed. He existed in perfect wisdom, harmony, and functionality. When we speak of God’s holiness, anger, righteousness, and justice, we are to understand that God, in and through love and holiness, placed His righteous judgment and wrath on Christ at the cross. Lovingly toward sinners, He poured out His anger on Christ. He judged Christ thereby He judged all believers who are in Him.
In love, Jesus took the anger that every believer deserved. In that sense, sin as a noun and has been given its due. At Jesus’ expense God punished and destroyed sin – its guilt and condemnation. In love, an angry, righteous God was working for each believer as well as himself. Christ went to hell on the cross. God loved His enemies through His Son. In His anger, God lovingly placed Jesus on the cross as a substitute for each one of His people. Moreover, the Holy Spirit indwells the Church and the believer to disarm the sinful disposition of self-pleasing through personal lawkeeping – one aspect of sin’s power. The unbeliever is too busy with self: self-pleasing, self-grasping, and self-exaltation (Romans 8:5-8; Galatians 5:16-18; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 4:1-3). The Holy Spirit is at work enabling God’s people to become more like Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit brings about changes in a person: his desires, attitude and actions and his belief and behavior. In contrast to the unbeliever, the believer is able to please God rather than self. Therefore a believer loves both God and others because he has first been loved (1 John 4:19).
Let’s consider again the term unconditional love. Is God’s love unconditional? From John, we learned that God is love. His love and its expression are conditioned on that which He is – He is love. We rightly expect God to love – it is His nature. However, too often, we begin with ourselves as recipients of God’s love. We must begin in eternity. As discussed in earlier blogs, the first evidence of the fact that God is love is within the Trinity. He loves himself totally and perfectly. Who else was there to love? One can only be amazed that He moves outside of the Trinity to find objects of His love. In marked contrast to loving His perfect self himself, He loves those who are undeserving and unlovely (Romans 5:6-11). Therefore, God’s love is not conditioned by anything in man, about man, or what man can do. There is nothing inherent in fallen man that makes him lovely. Although he is still the image bearer of God, he is lost until saved/loved by God.
God’s love is based on the simple and profound fact that God is love. Although this fact is expressed most clearly within the Trinity, God would have us look to the cross for a clear picture of Intratrinitarian love. God loves himself because of himself. Therefore, God loves fallen men in spite of themselves and in part, because they are the image of God. As mentioned in other blogs, God meets man where he is. The creature, fallen or not, does not comprehend God and the fact that God is love. God meets mankind at his level. Fallen man does not deserve God’s love – he deserves God’s wrath. Yet God, in His holiness, justice, righteousness, goodness, wisdom, and power, loves unlovely people.
Contrast the two objects of God’s love: the Triune God and fallen sinners, rebels. What a contrast! God presents himself as the Lover par excellence. God’s love of His enemies does not simply point to the cross but to Him. If God was not God, there would be no love. If there was no love, there would be no cross. If there was no cross, there would be no salvation.
Look to the Trinity, then to the cross, and then to your love of others, friends and foes alike. You will begin to discover that God is love, conditioned by His very nature and independent of man’s condition. In fact to love “good” people requires very little (Matthew 5:39-42, 43-48; Luke 6:29-30). By the Bible’s definition, that is not love.
John 14:8-9 records Jesus’ short conversation with Philip. Philip wanted Christ to show (demonstrate) the Father to them. Perhaps Phillip wanted a theophany or a spectacular revelation. As all Israel claimed to want, Philip asked for a sign. Jesus was the Sign – a living Sign. The Messiah was standing before Phillip. If Phillip had seen Jesus with spiritual eyes, the Father and the Triune God would have been seen as well. Christ revealed the Triune God and the true nature of love. Do you see Him?
1. Meditate on God, His love, and the object of His love. Write out your response.
2. How does the fact that God is love and that you have been loved as a believer influence your relation to God and others?
3. What is the big deal about having a loving God such as yours? Be specific.
4. Think through the fact that you have been loved to and through death: Christ’s death and your spiritual death to self, sin, and Satan. By virtue of the fact that God is love, He has invested more in you than you have invested in yourself or in him.
a. What significance do those facts have in your life; why and why not?
b. Now, as one loved, you are called to love as you have been loved. Consider this working definition of love: give of self to meet a need in order to please God. Write out specific ways that you have been or can be a true lover.
Love and Self-Love: What They Are and Are Not: Part V
Love: Is Self-Love God’s Way?
The movement of self-love, self-image, self-worth, and self-esteem has been in the rave reaching a climax even within Church in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The concept was touted in his book Self Esteem: New Reformation by Robert Schuller. The one common denominator in the terms is self. The key was to look to self for a better view of self based on a subjective standard of worth chosen by the person and verified by his feelings. This view followed Maslow’s need theory that taught self-actualization is man’s greatest needs and it is on based on self, self, and self. The concepts are still around, but have lost some of their steam. However, it is proper for Christians to ask if there is a command to love and if so, is there a godly way to love self. In addressing the issue of self-love, consider these five facts:
• One of the Bible’s presuppositions is that man loves himself (Matthew 22:37-40)
• The Bible’s declares that God loves Himself (1 John 4:7-8);
• Man is the image of God and therefore was initially designed to think about himself, others, and God in God’s way (Genesis 1:31);
• The fall and God’s judgment corrupted man and man’s capacity for true concern for self (Romans 1:18-20; 8:5-8);
• Matthew and John bring love of God, neighbor, and self together in Matthew 22:37-40 and 1 John 4:7-12, 19.
In this blog, I address the first two truths.
First, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:25-37 summarize the dynamic of love by including a twofold exhortation (not three commands) which summarizes the Law and the Prophets – the whole Scripture up to that point (Luke 24:25-27). In each case, Jesus summarized the essence of the Christian duty and privilege with the words: love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. Sadly, the teaching of Jesus has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. This misunderstanding has led to the false teaching that Jesus gave three commands; that without love of self, one can’t possibly love God and others; and that love of self precedes any other activity (Maslow’s jargon). In essence, self takes center stage and self-pleasing and getting becomes the lens by which the person interprets God, self, others, and life (actually those events that God brings into a person’s life).
In each portion of Scripture mentioned above, Jesus gave only two commands. Jesus presupposed that man already loves himself. Love is an interesting and pregnant word (agape). It indicates a wide range of attitudes including benevolence, loyalty, allegiance, affection, and devotion. It includes movement in a certain direction.
The Holy Spirit reinforced the presupposition that man loves himself in Ephesians 5:28-29, 33. The husband is to love his wife as he loves himself and his own body. In these passages, Jesus and Paul highlighted the intensity, fervency, constancy, and quantity of love which was considered a verb. An object of love is assumed. By design God is to be that object. He deserves and demands to be loved. He is the only being with the credentials to justify those facts. God has designed man to glorify Him by loving Him and to be in His presence forever. Biblically, love as a verb is the act of a person giving himself to another out of welfare for, loyalty to, and respect for another. It is a devotion word. In contrast, when self is the object of the word, self-love is defined by giving self to self for self by self. This activity can take many forms.
Second, John in 1 John 4:7-8, writes that God is love and the Lover. Intratrinitarian love teaches the believer how he is to love God and others correctly. Does John intend to include self? Whom did God love? Initially, He loved himself from all eternity! Love involves knowing, giving, and enjoying. God gave Himself to Himself. He withheld nothing. Intratrinitarian love focuses on each person of the Trinity. Each person has revealed Himself completely, totally, and comprehensively so that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit know and are known by the other completely and perfectly. God holds nothing back from Himself. Therefore, God’s love is exhaustive, knowledgeable, revelational, and relational.
Love of man by man is to follow the Intratrinitarian pattern. Man is to move outside of himself to the other person. Being known by God and knowing God are prerequisites for properly loving God and others. How does love of self fit in? Did Adam and Eve love themselves? Were they called and even ordained to love themselves? Definitions matter! They were called to serve the Lord thereby loving God and “loving” self. Loving self always began vertically and moved to the other person. Self was in sync with God and others in Eden pre-fall. It was most logical for Adam and Eve to love self. They were designed to do that. However, the motif was always giving as opposed to getting. Post-fall, self took center stage and love of self became getting. Self-love as advertised by some so-called pundits is selfishness and dishonors God.
Love is considered an aspect of the goodness of God. A fundamental idea of the goodness of God is His worthiness. God in every way answers in all parts to the ideal which He is in himself. God sets the standard because He is the standard. God in every way is all that God should be. There is no part of God that is lacking; there is no part of God that is not good. Since God is good in himself and for himself, He is good for and to His creatures. He is the highest good and the fountain of all good (1 John 4:7-8). His goodness is revealed in His common kindness to both friend and foe alike; in the salvation and sanctification of his people; in His mercy, and in His long-suffering. God out of and from love graces His people.
The love of God is a specific aspect of His goodness in which God eternally communicates himself not only to himself but to His creatures. He gives himself in word, deed, and person. The Triune God gave himself in Christ, the living Word (John 14:6). God through the Son, the Scripture, and the Holy Spirit is the Revealer of himself (John 17:17). Motivated by love, God desires His creatures to know Him and to enjoy Him, now and eternally. God moves from the Trinity toward fallen creatures. God has a proper self-focus. God loves himself but that love moves from him to others. He is best honored and served when His enemies become His children and serve and honor Him.
1. How are love of God and love of self linked?
2. How is it possible for any being including God to love?
3. What was one effect of Adam’s sin and God’s judgment regarding the dynamic of love?
Love: Is Love of Self God’s Way? Part VI
In last blog in the series: love and self-love, I considered two foundational truths in the study of self-love. The first consisted of the command to love God and neighbor even though every person is steeped in self. A second truth focused on God the Lover and source and model of love. In this blog I consider a third foundational truth.
Third, Adam and Eve were created as image bearers of God and very good (Genesis 1:26-28, 31). They were designed to live in God’s world His way for His glory and for their own good. Their good was linked to God’s glory and the benefit of all mankind. They were designed to properly love God. By loving God they would be doing what was best for them. Pre-fall they were properly related to God and to each other. Concern for self could be termed self-love rightly understood. Self-concern was proper because they were in proper relationship to God and viewed life vertically – from God’s perspective and how they fit into it. Proper relationship with God and each other meant that a proper self-relationship existed. In fact, the place of self fit logically into God’s design for mankind. Concern for and love of self was based on a true knowledge of and a proper orientation to God, self, and others. It was proper and best for Adam and Eve to love God and each other. Concern for self was not an issue.
If we agree that Matthew 22:37-40 teaches two commands and only two, and a proper translation of the passage’s final words is: as you are already loving yourself, then there must have been a proper self-love. The way to properly love self is by loving God which led to properly loving each other. Self took back seat. Sin distorted man’s thinking and wanting and marred man’s ability to properly love God, others, and self.
It is proper to call a person back to the pre-fall state and to heaven where there was and is proper love of self. Proper love of self requires a person to view himself from the same perspective as God did and does. Man is the image of God and as such God loves mankind, some in a saving way and others as an act of kindness. God loves man for His own sake. One theologian wrote: God loves in mankind Himself. God loves himself first and most, completely and perfectly. That is a source of comfort and joy for all believers. Since God loves himself as part of His very nature, so, too was man designed to love self because man is an image bearer of God in the Garden free of sin and sinners. Pre-fall, man was in proper relationship to God, others, and self. Therefore, he was able to imitate love of self as modeled by God’s love of himself. Even then, for Adam and Eve there was an order to be observed: God, others, and self. Initially, Adam had a right concern about himself and Eve as they were in proper relation to God. A denial of these pre-fall facts distorts God’s original creation. Post-fall, love of self actually may be self- hatred which has drastic consequences (Proverbs 8:32-36).
Biblical love is factual, relational, and revelational. Therefore, self-love involves proper knowledge of self as a whole person – body and soul, and proper application of biblical truth. The goal for man is to return himself to God daily as he prepares for eternity. Eternity is bound up in the heat of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). God calls all mankind to give an account of who they are and how they have responded to the duty and privilege of rightly loving self. Rightly loving self will be demonstrated in proper love of God and others.
Proper self-love looks away from self to God. Every person is to return to God that which is due God. That something is the person – all of him! The believer is equipped to please God. Jesus pleased God throughout His life (John 4:31-34; 5:19-30)! He calls the believer to do the same when He exhorted the disciples to deny self, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Matthew 10:32-38; 16:24-28; Mark 8:31-9:1; Luke 9:22-27; 14:25-27; John 12:25-27). Self-pleasing can only be equated with biblical self-love when love of self considers God and others first and from God’s perspective. In pleasing His Father, Jesus was practicing and modeling Intratrinitarian love. He was modeling biblical self-love. Jesus was consumed with pleasing God and therefore loving himself. He had a proper view of self-love because He had a proper of the Triune God and others.
In eternity past the Triune God covenanted to save a people dedicated to Him which was a most loving activity (John 6:35-43; Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:28-30). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are self-lovers and God-pleasers par excellence. Proper self-love is linked to pleasing God. In fact, proper knowledge of self leads to proper knowledge of God; a proper knowledge of God leads to a proper knowledge of self. If there is no God, there is no love, only selfishness and sinful self-love. There is only selfishness and misery follows in this life and the next.
1. What is the significance of the truth that God is love for you?
2. Love is factual, relational, and revelational: explain.
3. Properly loving self is first focused on the Triune God, His nature and commands and secondly on your neighbor. How should you and will you apply these truths to you?
Is Love of Self God’s Way? Part VII
In this final blog: self and self-love, I cover two additional truths that help to clarify the biblical doctrine of self-love.
Fourth, Jesus understood the effects of the curse of sin. Post-fall, the two underpinnings of love – proper relationship and proper knowledge of God and self – were lost. As a result of the fall and God’s judgment, man was and is out of proper relationship to and with God, others, and self. As a result, man suppresses and resists the truth of God and self (Romans 1:18-25). He then functions as a truth exchanger and an idolater. This mindset and lifestyle continues unless God supernatural intervenes.
Self-love and idolatry are almost synonymous. The capacity to properly love – God, others, and self – has been corrupted. Proper self-concern was eliminated and replaced by selfishness. Self takes center stage. Following satanic counsel became mankind’s modus operandi which took the form of self-pleasing via self-worship. Man became an idolater! He served and serves himself at the expense of pleasing and serving God. He attempts to bring others into his web. This is true of unbelievers all the time, and the believer too often. Proper biblical love of God and neighbor became non-existent. Consequently, the sinner used God and others to get for self.
Fifth, 1 John 4:7-12, 19 is a summary of God’s explanation for reversing the effects of the fall in the area of self-love. It builds on Matthew 22:37-40 and the parallel accounts in the gospels. John presupposed sinful self-love and highlighted God’s solution. He began with God as the fountain of all love – God is love and he loves (v.7-8). God is Lover par excellence. In response to God’s love of him, the believer truly loves. Only the believer can properly love. He is and will grow in loving God, others, and self God’s way.
Man’s capacity to love is derivative and initially it was properly directed toward God and others. Once God judged Adam and with him the whole human race, the capacity to love was directed toward self for self away from God and others. Upon regeneration (born of God – v.8), the believer can truly loves because he has been loved by God (v.19). The believer was regenerated, in part, so that he could love God and love others God’s way. As a result, self-love begins not with self but with God and others. The biblical view of love including self-love destroys the validity of all psychological theories. Proper self-love looks away from self to God and others. With that, we have come full circle and are back to a Matthew 22:37-40 and a proper understanding of love.
1. Define love.
2. How does your love model God’s love of Himself?
3. How is it possible to self-love?
4. What does godly self-love look like and from what does it spring?