Chapter Ten: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in His Causing That Very Love to Arise in Our Hearts, That We Might Have Fellowship with Him in Love
God loved us in Christ so deeply and fully that we, seeing his great love and being overwhelmed by it, could not help but love him and all those others for whom he died; and thus his love became reciprocal, and flourished among his people who had been full of hate and self-interest. We love â€“ both him and his Church â€“ because he first loved us (1 John 4:19-21). Because he loved us so greatly, he loved our love back to him, and he caused that love to him to arise in our hearts, and to ascend to him upon his throne, where he delights to dwell among the praises of his people. He loves to see us delight in him, and so he makes us delight in giving love back to him who gave all his love for us. Now, we are all one as the Persons of the Trinity are one, and we all share in the same fellowship of love (1 John 1:3). God the Father loves us with no other love but that by which he loves the Son (John 17:23); the Son loves us with the same love by which the Father loves him (John 15:9); the Spirit who loves to dwell with the Father and Son loves us and comes to dwell within us too, so that we all might be one. This love is unspeakably great.
1. The love of the Persons of the trinity is by its nature reciprocal
The true nature of love cannot be understood apart from an understanding of the way that the three Persons of the one God who is love display that love to one another; and whenever we are given any glimpse into the most sacred and holy mysteries of triune fellowship and interpenetration, we may see at once that part of the very nature of the love of God is reciprocity. Just as the Father loves to love the Son, so also he loves to be loved by the Son; and just as the Son delights in the Father's love to him, so also he delights to love the Father, and to do those things which are pleasing to him. â€œI delight to do your will, O my God,â€ Jesus announces in the fortieth psalm; â€œyour law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8, ESV). Then, in confirmation of this truth, he proclaimed in his time on earth, â€œI always do the things that are pleasing to the Father,â€ (John 8:29).
But then, even as Jesus delighted to love the Father and manifest that love in his perfect obedience and glorification of him, so also he loved to be loved and glorified by the Father. â€œFather, the hour has come,â€ Jesus prayed before his self-sacrifice; â€œglorify your Son that the Son may glorify youâ€ (John 17:1, ESV). And then, a little later, he delights to proclaim, â€œYou loved me before the foundation of the worldâ€ (John 17:24). So then, because Jesus loved the Father, he loved to obey and glorify him; but also, he loved for the Father to love him too, and to proclaim to him that love before all, and to glorify him for it, even as he glorified the Father. The nature of the divine love is to be flashed back and forth from one Person to another, and constantly reciprocated, and given and received alike. It is more blessed to give than to receive, as our Lord taught us (Acts 20:35); and so the Lord of love delights to give his love to the Father, and he delights to receive it from the Father too, both because he loves that love for what it is, and also because he loves for the Father to have the joy of giving his love to the Son, and thus to know the blessedness of giving himself, even as the Son knows the blessedness of giving himself to the Father, through his perfect obedience and glorification of him.
In the same way, the Father both delights in the love of the Son which is given to him, and is well-pleased with the perfect obedience by which that love is manifested; and he also delights to give love to him, by proclaiming his glory before all the world, and giving him the Name which is above every name (Phil. 2:5-11). And so also, the Spirit loves to be loved by the Father and the Son, which love of them for him is shown by their sending him to become the only Seal and effective Agent of the infinite love of Christ for his Church (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Rom. 8:9; Eph. 1:14; cf. also 1 Pet. 4:14); and he loves to beam back that love by not speaking on his own but proclaiming to the Church what he hears from Christ, and glorifying Christ in her midst (John 16:13-14). The love of the Father and Son for the Church is infinite, as we have already seen, among other things, from the fact that it is the very same love by which the Father and Son love each other; and so, in making the Spirit alone the bearer of that infinite love, in filling up the infinite third Person of the Trinity with the infinite love of the Triune God, they are bestowing upon him as great a love and honor as the Father and Son delight to cast back and forth to each other; and the Spirit loves to receive this love from them, and he loves to beam it back to them, and he loves them by giving himself to securing the eternal good of all those whom they have loved and so elected and redeemed, respectively.
2. The love of Christ raises us up to the fellowship of the blessed Trinity
So we may see, then, that a considerable part of the greatness of the love of God is this, that it is fundamentally reciprocal, and cannot be restrained but flows constantly back and forth between the Persons of the trinity. It is like a fountain that cannot contain itself, but must overflow in its infinite fullness; but even as it is ceaselessly overflowing in vast streams of outpoured love to another, so it is ceaselessly being filled up by vast streams of loved poured back into itself from the very place to which it is flowing. It is like a well-watered garden, that sends forth streams to the sea, which are then wicked up to the heavens by the bright-burning sun of fierce love and pleasure, and poured back in kind upon the first place of origin from which they flowed. This reciprocity is a very significant part of the greatness of divine love.
Hitherto, we have demonstrated the greatness of the love of God for the Church in this respect, that he has loved us with the same love which exists between the three Persons of the trinity; but if we have been loved with this love of the Persons of the trinity; and if the love of the trinity is by its nature reciprocal; then by necessity the love with which we have been loved is a love of reciprocity. We are not merely passive recipients of the love of Christ, although we begin that way, and are acted upon before we act in return â€“ we love, that is, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19); but by its very nature, the love that he has given to us must be returned to him. If the love we have been given does not beam itself back to the source, then it is a different kind of love than the inter-trinitarian love. And if it is a different kind of love, then it is not the love of Christ for the Church, which is the same kind. If we do not love God, therefore, we have not been loved by him in any redemptive way.
But how is it that this love of infinite immensity which is shown to us may be beamed back to God from us, when we are finite creatures? The answer is that, we are brought up to the reciprocal give-and-take of divine love by our corporate union with Christ. From eternity past, Christ has been a Partaker of the fellowship of love within the trinity; but when the fullness of time had come, he humbled himself, and joined to his eternal, divine nature, a created human nature; then, in the pursuit of love, he humbled himself further, even to the unfathomable extent of admitting a momentary fracture, upon the cross, of his ceaseless experience and sense of participation in the mutual flowing of divine, inter-trinitarian love. But he did this, consenting to death and a momentary rupture, as it were, of his active and always perfectly satisfying reception of love from the Father, so that he might be joined to us, who had known the Father's wrath and displeasure. Now, it is not that the Father ever ceased to love the Son; for on the contrary, the Son's sacrifice on the cross was the greatest act of love that he offered up to the Father, and the Father loved that act of love, and glorified and approved of the Son with infinite honors for it. And yet, at the moment of divine dereliction, the Father beamed back to the Son, not the honor and favor which are the subjective elements of such love, but the curse and wrath and displeasure of hatred against the sin that he became for us (see 2 Cor. 5:21). This was so that, having died to sin in our place, he might rise again to the love and approval of the Father, not alone, but with all of us in him forevermore. Christ died as the One, Only-Begotten and Beloved Son of his Father; but he rose as the Firstborn among many brothers (Rom. 8:29); as the Beloved Bridegroom, of one flesh and Spirit with his Bride (e.g. Eph. 5:21-32); as the one Seed in whom are countless multitudes from every nation (Gal. 3:16, 26-29).
This means that, when we were joined to Christ by his great love, we were then brought into the fellowship of the trinity, in him who is our elder Brother and Bridegroom; and in this most sacred and blessed fellowship, we are constantly loved by God the Father as he loves the Son; and we are empowered to love God the Father as the Son loves him. We have been caught up in the broad and rushing stream of divine and reciprocal love, and are ever carried back and forth on its currents, loving and being loved by God in solidarity with Jesus, to whom we have been eternally joined by the power of the sealing Holy Spirit.
In this divine fellowship, we love the Father as Jesus loves the Father; and we are loved by the Father as the Father loves Jesus; and both of these things are made true by the operation of the Holy Spirit. We offer up our love to God as our true Father by adoption, in the same way that our Christ loves God as his true Father by eternal generation; but we do so only in the Name of Jesus, and because of our union with him as our elder Brother and Kinsman-Redeemer; and always by the power and through the ministry of the Spirit. But the love of the Father flows down to us through his Spirit as well; for the Spirit is he who has poured out the love of God into our hearts, that is, his perfect love of benevolence for us as sinners (Rom. 5:5); and moreover, it is the Spirit who is in the process of making us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:17-18), so that the Father's love of benevolence might ultimately be a love of perfect complacency, through the infinite power of the Spirit. We love God, therefore, because of our union with Christ through the ministry of the Spirit; and we are loved by God as he looks upon us in Christ, and this, too, is by the agency of the Spirit, both in his joining us to Christ and in his purifying us and making us perfectly like Christ, a process which he has already begun and will bring through to completion in the eschaton.
3. We love God the Father as Christ loves the Father: in the same manner and through the same Spirit
If, then, we are brought into the divine fellowship of love through our union with Christ, then it stands to reason that we will love the Father even as Christ loves the Father. We have already seen that the Father loves us as he loves Christ, for he sees us in the Beloved now (Eph. 1:6), to whom the Spirit has permanently joined us, and he will one day see us shining in glory as the Son (see Mat. 13:43), when the Spirit will have finished his work of sanctification in us. But that is just one direction in which the stream of divine love is flowing; and the greatness of his love consists in part in its reciprocity, and so that love to us which does not flow back in turn from us would be a lesser love than the same love which does flow back to him from whom we received it; and this lesser love would not be as full and perfect a love as the flawless work of Christ on Calvary manifestly demonstrated and poured out to us.
How, then, does Christ love the Father? For in the same way will we love the Father, if we have been made one with Christ. We may observe, first of all, that Jesus in his life on earth loved the Father by his perfect obedience to him. â€œI do as the Father has commanded me,â€ Jesus told his disciples, â€œso that the world may know that I love the Fatherâ€ (John 14:31, ESV). And in the same way, he taught them a little later, â€œIf you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his loveâ€ (John 15:10, ESV). Just as Jesus showed that he remained in the love of the Father, loving and being loved by him, through his perfect obedience, so we show that we remain in the love of Christ, in which we are brought up into the inter-trinitarian fellowship of love, when we obey him.
But this obedience was not legalistic or offered up in a mercenary spirit of selfish gain; on the contrary, it was obedience motivated by pure love and given for the end of the glorification of the Father to whom it was offered. So Christ said elsewhere, â€œI glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to doâ€ (John 17:4, ESV). Works done in order to gain reward or love from the Father are of a different spirit from the works of Christ, which were done to glorify God; and even that sense in which he offered up his works for the reward of being given a people and eternal glory from the Father were all grounded in the reciprocity of divine love, and flowed from the love which is so great that it must be mutually expressed. This means, for us, that if we work merely in order to earn something from the Father, we are not showing ourselves to be partakers of the love that Christ displayed on earth. We must work because we love God supremely (Mat. 22:37-40), and desire his glory to be displayed among men (Mat. 5:16).
Furthermore, this perfect obedience of Christ, offered up in purest love for the Father, was done always by the power of the Holy Spirit with whom he had been anointed at his baptism. Christ, the Anointed One, did everything he did on earth by the Spirit; by the Spirit he was driven out into the wilderness and overcame Satan (e.g. Luke 4:1, 14, 18), by the Spirit he was guided in all his perfect life on earth, and by the eternal Spirit he offered himself without blemish to God, to purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). So then, all that Christ did to glorify the Father, he did through and by the Holy Spirit. In the same way, no works of ours are acceptable to God unless they are offered up to him through Christ to whom we have been joined, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who has joined us to him. The inter-trinitarian love which accomplished our salvation flows between the Father and Son through the Spirit; and if we have been brought into that fellowship by our inclusion in the Son, then we will offer up all our works in solidarity with him by the power of the Holy Spirit; otherwise, they are not acceptable to God. And if we have no such works and do not abide in this love which works by flowing back to its source through the Spirit, then we are not God's. â€œAnyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to himâ€ (Rom. 8:9, ESV).
A final point we will consider is this, that the Son took on human form specifically to display the glory of God as his perfect image-bearer. â€œThe Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truthâ€ (John 1:14). Mankind was created to display the image of God to all creation; but we never beheld the image of God so perfectly and fully displayed until the very Son of God became a man, and revealed the divine image to perfection. The Son did this out of love for the Father, so that he might glorify the Father by revealing him fully to the Church, and so through the Church displaying his glorious wisdom before all the world. If we would abide in Christ's love, therefore, we must glorify God and display his glory to the world.
This is why we are told to do all things to God's glory. Whether we eat or drink, it is to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), whether we marry or remain celibate, it is to please the Lord (1 Cor. 7), whether we observe a day or esteem each day alike, we do it to the Lord (Rom. 14:6); all that we do is for God's glory, and it is so that God's glory might be seen in all the world. Thus we pray above all for God's name to be held in sacred esteem (Mat. 6:9); and thus also do we perform our good works, that men might glorify the Father who is in heaven (Mat. 5:16).
Part of the way we do this, is by putting on the character of Christ, into whose image we are being re-created by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Rom. 13:14; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:10); but that is not the whole way in which we strive to display God's glory: for God is one God in three Persons, and his glory is more readily revealed by the many persons of the Church living in love and unity than by any individual pursuing holiness as it were on his own. It is not merely individuals that display the glory of Christ, but the whole Church, which has been brought together in one Christ, by one Spirit, to be one in the Lord, having one faith, one Father, one baptism, and among whom there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ (Eph. 4:3-6; Gal. 3:28).
If we have been brought into the divine fellowship of love by our inclusion in Christ, then we cannot fail to love others who have also been brought into Christ. The greatness of the love of Christ consists in part in its reciprocity between all those who give and receive it; and if we have been given this love, we cannot but give it to others who know it and are filled with it even as we; to hate our brothers whom Christ has loved is to prove the absence of his love in our own hearts; for that great love always seeks its own, and cannot be torn away from itself, but is constantly being drawn in to itself by an invincible mutual attraction of all who possess it. The love of Christ is as the gravity of the earth, that by its immensity pulls all other objects of mass and weight into its bosom, and so closer to each other. No matter how long one may forcibly hold some weighty object away from the earth, as soon as he ceases to interfere, the earth will pull it back to itself, and it is impossible that it should ever drift away. So too, all of us who have been loved by Christ are so ceaselessly and powerfully drawn to his breast that, no matter what forces may hold us back, they will never finally overcome, but our hearts will soon and without fail be sucked back into the vast weight of his love, which always attracts all souls characterized by a like love. But as we are all being drawn closer to the heart and bosom of Christ, we are likewise being drawn to each other, and even if we began on opposite sides of the world, yet when we reach our final dwelling place in the burning center of God's glory in Christ Jesus, then we will be united together in perfect love.
We have been brought into the trinitarian fellowship in Christ, so that we might display the image of God even as Christ perfectly displayed it in his human nature; the image of God is displayed in community, that is, in the triune fellowship of love; therefore, we love each other as Christ loved us, and thereby corporately display the inter-trinitarian love we have been brought into (John 17:11, 22-23). Now, Christ himself displayed that same inter-trinitarian love for the Father by his obedience to him. As we have seen, this means that, if we would show our love, it must be by obeying the Father as Jesus obeyed him; this obedience must come from love; and this love must be directed to the glory of God. But what we may further learn from our observations is this: that to display the image of God by a reciprocal love to one another in Christ is the same thing as it is to display the image of God by obeying his commandments with a right motivation.
This is why Jesus left us with one great commandment, that we should love one another. â€œA new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one anotherâ€ (John 13:34-35, ESV). When we love Jesus, we obey his commandment, which is to love each other, and so display the glory of the God who is love. This is in the pattern of Jesus' own life, for he loved the Father, and so obeyed him by loving us perfectly, and thus fully displaying his glory to us. If we do not obey his commandments, we make it plain that we are not his; and his commandments are that we love each other, and so show our love to him by displaying the glory of his love in our very love for each other. Thus Jesus declared that the whole Law and the Prophets, that is, the whole revealed will of God, hangs upon those two great commandments, â€œYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourselfâ€ (Mat. 22:37-40).
In loving each other, we are loving God as Christ loved God, by displaying the glorious image of the divine Trinity to the world. If we do not love each other, then it means that we do not love God; and if we do not love God, then we have not been loved by him, for the nature of his love is to be reciprocal. â€œIf anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brotherâ€ (1 John 4:20-21, ESV).
4. Our participation in the love of God brings us into the fellowship of light
In his first epistle, the apostle John speaks much of the love of God, and how we have been given that love and now abide in it, loving him and each other; and he makes it very plain that there is only one place in which this love can be exercised and mutually given and received; and that is, in the realm of light. â€œGod is light,â€ he proclaims, â€œand in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sinâ€ (1 Jn 1:5-7, ESV). In this world of darkness and evil, there is no fellowship with the God of love and light; so if we are to have fellowship with him at all, it can only be by being brought up, somehow, from this present darkness and into his marvelous light. And that can only be done by our union with Christ.
When John says that God is light, he is teaching his utter separateness from all moral evil and unholiness; God is of purer eyes than to behold evil (Hab. 1:13), and he will not look upon the sinner in his sins. But in Christ, we have been transferred out of darkness and into the Kingdom of Light (Col. 1:13); and in that Kingdom is blessed fellowship with the Father. But if we would continue in our fellowship with him, we cannot be clinging to our old sins and vices. If we would walk with him, we must walk where he is; and he is in the light.
But the essence of sin and darkness is selfishness and hatred; when we do not love God as we ought, then we begin to prefer our own selves, and to hate his just demands, and to work all kinds of evil. And also, we begin to hate his very image, and whenever we see it in his image bearers, we hate them for it, and do evil to them also. We love the evil things we see in fallen men, because they are in darkness, and make us feel as though we are right and natural to be as evil as they; but if they step into the light, and we see the true image of God shining forth from them, we begin to realize how evil we are, our deeds are exposed, and we hate them.
But when Jesus' blood cleanses us from our sin, then we delight to be in the place where that love abounds, in the light of God; and we delight to have fellowship in him, and in that delight, we begin to love people created in God's image, and rejoice to see that image shining in them, but hate and deplore those evil works of darkness that obscure his image. This is why we can know that we love God and are loved by him when we love our brothers who are made in his image, and do not love the things of this dark world, namely, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (see 1 John 2:16) â€“ all these things are darkness, and dwell apart from the love of God.
How great is the love of Christ for us, that he would give himself up so that we might be brought into the fellowship of light, where, being joined together with him, we might love the Father, through the Spirit, even as Jesus loves the Father, and be loved by the Father as though we were Jesus himself; and also, that we might love and be loved by one another as the very image of the most holy and blessed trinity! Being so loved, what manner of people ought we to be in our relationships with each other and the most blessed and holy God, to whom be glory forever and ever?