Facets of Love
A. E. Long, Nutley
JOHN HAS JUSTLY BEEN DESCRIBED as the apostle of love. Five times in his Gospel he shelters behind that delightful anonymity 'that disciple whom Jesus loved'. John first learned that lesson when reclining on 'Jesus' bosom', 13. 23, the place of affection. His attitude went deeper than he knew, because it brought him into the Father's affections, even as the Son was ever 'in the bosom of the Father'. It is fitting, therefore, that John should write much of the Father's love and of those other love-relationships which stem from it. The world apart, there are six aspects of love described by John which we purpose to consider.
THE FATHER'S LOVE FOR THE SON
'Thou lovest me before the foundation of the world', 17. 24b. The phrase 'in the bosom of the Father', 1. 18b, was always true of the Son, for the Father's love antedated time. There was no beginning to it; it was eternally true. 'The foundation of the world', as distinct from the creation of man, may well have taken place aeons ago, but before the material creation the Son was the Father's 'delight' (cf. Prov. 8. 30) from all eternity. Other statements reveal the implications of the Father's love for the Son, 'The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hands', 3. 35 (see also 13. 3a). He is God's heir; 'all things' are His by virtue of His heirship (wonderful thought that we are 'joint-heirs', Rom. 8. 17!). Isaac was heir to all Abraham's wealth, 'unto him hath he given all that he hath', Gen. 24. 36b. Abraham 'was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold', 13. 2-24, 35. All these were made over to Isaac as his heir, 25. 5, his 'only begotten son', Heb. 11. 17b, type of the only begotten Son of the Father'.
In chapter 5. 20, in answer to His critics concerning the healing of the impotent man on the sabbath, the Lord said 'the Father loveth (Gk. phileo) the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth'. The Lord was concerned to shew that His action was not inconsistent with the author of die sabbath. If Christ worked on the sabbath, it was because the Father did, 'My Father worketh even until now, and I work', v. 17. He had not acted independently of the Father, violating the sabbath as they alleged. What He had done was only an extension in time of what He had seen the Father doing in eternity. 'The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner', v. 19. 'Greater works' than this were to come, in the raising and quickening of the dead, of which Lazarus was a sample, v. 21; 11.44.
In His discourse on the Good Shepherd, the Lord assigned a reason for the Father's love to Him, 'Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. This commandment received I from my Father', 10. 17, 18. He was under 'authority' in the matter of His obedience to the Father's will in His death and resurrection; 'obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross', Phil. 2. 8b. Obedience was part of life's discipline for Him; 'he learned obedience by the things which he suffered', Heb. 5. 8.
THE SON'S LOVE FOR THE FATHER
Although this facet of love is everywhere evident in the Son's relationship with the Father, it is, nonetheless, one to which the Lord rarely alluded. He docs so, however, almost incidentally, in chapter 14. 31, 'but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do'. He observes, therefore, the greatest reticence in speaking of His own love for the Father, although, unlike our love for the Lord, which, like Peter, we are apt to protest, there was never any doubt about the quality of His love. We do well to imitate Him in this reticence. We observe that He associates the doing of the Father's 'commandment' with His love for the Father, for there can be no love without obedience, just as He had previously stated of His disciples in relation to Himself, 'If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments', v. 15. Doubtless the Father's 'command -ment' related to the cross (cf. 10. 18).
THE SON'S LOVE FOR BELIEVERS
' Jesus . . . having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end', 13. ib. The feet-washing episode was proof of His love, but a greater demonstration was near in the cross. That was the ultimate measure of the love of Christ for 'his own' - 'love to the uttermost'. The Son's love for them was an extension of the Father's love for Him, indeed, it was a love of the same quality and measure which marked the Father's love, 'Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you', 15. 9a. This was a personal and individualizing love, as John's repeated phrase 'that disciple whom Jesus loved', expresses.
'Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus', II. 5. This was indeed apprehended by them, for the sisters, in sending for Jesus, had said, 'Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick', v. 3. The bystanders at the graveside were made aware of the fact 'Behold how he loved him', v. 36. Paul enshrines his own appreciation of the personal love of Christ in unforgettable words 'the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me', Gal. 2. 20b.
THE FATHER'S LOVE FOR BELIEVERS
'For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me', 16. 27a. The Father's love to believers is therefore consequent upon their love to Christ. Not to honour the Son in this way is to incur divine wrath (cf. Psa. 2. 12). To honour the Son is to know the Father's love. This facet of love is underlined in chapter 14. 21, 23,'... he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father ... If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him . . .'. The quality and measure of the Father's love appear in the Son's words to the Father on behalf of His own, 'thou . . . lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me . . . that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them . . .', 17. 23, 26.
So dear so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be; The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me.
Small wonder that John should write 'Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God, and such we are', 1 John 3. 1.
THE BELIEVER'S LOVE FOR CHRIST
'For die Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me', 16. 27. This is the most positive statement in John's Gospel concerning the disciples' love for the Lord. It is put on a basis of friendship (Gk. phileo); Christ had called them 'friends', 15. 15. He was to 'lay down his life' for them as such, v. 13. Peter, despite his protestations of unswerving allegiance, had thrice denied the Lord, as He had predicted, Mark 14. 29. In resurrection, the Lord thrice put the question to Peter 'lovest thou me?' Three denials and a thrice-repeated question touching those very denials. In the first two questions, the Lord used the word for divine love (Gk. agapao). To each of these Peter responded 'Thou knowest that I love dice', using the word for friendship (Gk. phileo), understandably hesitating, in the light of his denials, to use the stronger word. In the third question, the Lord used Peter's own word 'Lovest (hast thou affection for) thou me?', which grieved Peter, not because the question was thrice repeated, but because of the Lord's use of Peter's word for a lesser love than his own protestation had suggested.
The proof of our love for Christ is the keeping of His commandments, 'if ye love me, ye will keep my commandments ... if a man love me, he will keep my word', 14. 15, 23. This is not exhortatory, but factual.
THE BELIEVER'S LOVE FOR FELLOW-BELIEVERS
This is plainly dealt with in John's first epistle. He teaches that it were idle for us to pretend to love God if we do not love our fellow-believers, 3. 17; 4. 20. The Lord put this responsibility in the form of a 'new commandment'. 'A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another', 13. 34, 35 (cf. 15. 12). A 'new command' presumes an 'old'. The old commandment was defined by a certain lawyer, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself', Luke 10. 27. Thou shalt love thy neighbour 'as thyself was at the heart of the law, Rom. 13. 8. The law did not require more than 'as thyself' love. The 'new commandment' went beyond this, as Christ's words 'even as I have loved you', indicate. His love for them was more than 'as thyself' love, for it took Him to the cross for them, 15. 13. This was to be the yardstick of their love for one another. Thus writes John: 'he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren', 1 John 3. 16. This is an obligation -an 'ought'. 'These things I command you, that ye may love one another', John 15. 17. It is the only demonstrable thing among believers which will convince others of their disciple-ship, 13. 35.