In reading the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, I cannot help but draw one fundamental conclusion about the essence of God: God is love. From Genesis to Revelation, the pages of the Bible sing forth that God is love. If this is true, then we must conclude that the primary characteristic of God’s kingdom is also love. While we speak about God’s kingdom coming in power, it is in the power of love that God’s kingdom transforms the world.
This begs the question as to what we mean by God’s love. We know that God loves the world, the entirety of humanity, but what does this love mean? To answer this question we need only look once again at the person of Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is the manifestation of God, and thus Jesus is an expression of God’s perfect love for the world. Over and over the New Testament tells us that God’s love is conveyed to us by the coming of Jesus. Yet, we might understand this expression of God’s love in Jesus in two related ways.
In one sense, Jesus’ coming to the world, and his sacrificial death on the cross, is the demonstration of God’s love for the world. The incarnation event is the act that expresses God’s love. Yet, another implication of God’s love revealed in Jesus is the example Jesus gives to show how humans ought to emulate God’s love. If Jesus is our example, then how we live should reflect how he lived, and particularly how he demonstrated the love of God in the world.
But what did it mean for Jesus to express God’s love to the world? More important for us, what does God’s love mean for how we love others, friends and foes? While these questions may have multiple answers, we can see crucial aspects of Jesus’ manifestation of God’s love that define what it means for followers of Jesus to share the love of God in the world.
Jesus expressed God’s love in action. God does not simply feel love for the world, God has demonstrated God’s love in a real event; the Christ event. We often view love as an emotion, but the person we love can only experience such love when we express it through our actions toward another. This means that love is not love until it is proven through action. But this point leads to a second significant truth about God’s love.
Jesus also revealed God’s love through sacrifice. Jesus defined his death as a sacrificial service to the world. Giving his life for us was the greatest of all actions one could complete. But in the context of his speaking about his own death, we find that Jesus very often defines for his followers that true faith and discipleship require great sacrifice. In other words, if God has chosen to love us through a sacrificial act, giving God’s own son, then we are also called to love others sacrificially.
Jesus also demonstrated God’s love without limitations. No scriptural statement communicates this thought better than John 3:16. “God so loved the world.” God loves all of creation, and particularly every human being on this earth. Jesus showed this love through out his life, often choosing to love those consider unlovable in his society. In response to his model of love, we must reach beyond our own comfortableness and love not only those we consider loveable, but also those we consider unlovable, including our enemies. Yet, such love requires something most of us cannot bring ourselves to consider.
Jesus also showed God’s love through his becoming vulnerable. In loving us, God chose to face life as we face life. God became not only flesh; God also became vulnerable. We do not often like to think of God as vulnerable. But God’s great power is seen foremost in God’s vulnerability. Indeed, without this vulnerability, God cannot truly love us, for to love another is always to become vulnerable. Our love for the world must reflect the love that God has for the world, and this certainly includes the possibility of our being vulnerable to those we love.
Martin Luther King wrote, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” God’s love in Jesus is transformative, and when we, as God’s people, live out our love through sacrificial actions and vulnerability toward both the loveable and the unlovable, then we will see the transformative power of God’s kingdom come in and through us.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He blogs at Wilderness Preacher.
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Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.