Why do we need to study the doctrine of love? Is love not an affection that is instinctive in man? Why spend time and effort to study the topic of love?

The Scripture presents at least four reasons why a Christian should have a thorough understanding of the doctrine of love:

First, the Bible teaches us that God is love. This truth is emphatically declared twice by the Apostle John in the same epistle. John first teaches, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:8) He then proclaims, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (1 Jn. 4:16) Love is an attribute of God. It is a quality which describes the essence of His being. Thus, if we are to grow in the knowledge of God, we must grow in our understanding of what love is and dwell in this love.

Second, the Christian is commanded to love. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mk. 12:30 -31) We cannot fulfil this command to love God and fellow men if we are not thorough and exact in our understanding of love.

Third, it follows that a Christian is characterised by love. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; 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.” (Jn. 13:34-35) It is the knowledge and practice of this love that sets the church apart from the world.

Fourth, the Bible teaches that a Christian must grow in his love. In Ephesians 3:14-19, the Apostle Paul prayed, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

We further observe from the passages above that true love is not something that is natural or instinctive to man. Only a man who knows God and His Word can truly love. Consequently, we cannot love apart from God and His Word. True love is biblical love.

The Danger of Not Understanding Love
The world has much to say about love. Some define love as a satisfaction that results from some chemical reaction in the brain. Others define love in a manipulative self-centered way where a person needs to satisfy their cravings and desires in order to earn their love. Thus, a person may seek divorce from his spouse as “there is no love anymore, because there is no more feelings, no more affection. You no longer do anything to satisfy me. And so let us part.” TV, movies, videos and social media also impart their own brand of sentimental, sensual love. Love is depicted as pure unrestrained sexual passion. One-night stands are glorified. Nothing shall stop a man or woman from seeking her lust to be fulfilled.

These philosophies and definitions of love are rooted in an unbelief of the one living and true God of the Bible. Nevertheless, they worm their way into the church, corrupting the church’s understanding of what true love is. Consequently, the church grows weak in presenting a pure witness for the Lord Jesus Christ because the world can no longer see biblical love being practiced among the disciples of Christ.

Carson has stated well the danger in his book, Love in Hard Places: “Applied to God, the sentimental view generates a deity with all the awesome holiness of a cuddly toy, all the moral integrity of a marshmallow… Applied to Christians, the sentimental view breeds expectations of transcendental niceness. Whatever else Christians should be, they should be nice, where “niceness” means smiling a lot and never hinting that anyone may be wrong about anything (because that isn’t nice). In the local church, it means abandoning church discipline (it isn’t nice), and in many contexts it means restoring adulterers (for instance) to pastoral office at the mere hint of broken repentance. After all, isn’t the church about forgiveness? Aren’t we supposed to love one another? And doesn’t that mean that above all we must be, well, nice? Similarly with respect to doctrine: the letter kills, while the Spirit gives life, and everyone knows the Spirit is nice. So let us love one another and refrain from becoming upright and uptight about this divisive thing call ‘doctrine.’ …

“If Christians are not nice, they are not really loving and that means they are hypocrites. And all of us know with shame that the church has generated its share of hypocrites, don’t we? So hearing the scorn, not knowing quite how to answer, we are tempted to hunker down in our holes and resolve to be a little nicer. If the truth be told, the pressure along this line will as often come from inside the church as outside. The temptation to retreat into ‘nice’ silence is immediately augmented.” (12)

On the other hand, the proliferation of false concepts of love may pivot some to the other extreme – to avoid the topic of “love” as taboo or some mere theoretical concept. This can result in a lack of practice of love in a congregation. The Scribes and Pharisees knew the command to love God and fellow men from the Scriptures (c.f. Deut. 6:5; 10:12; Lev. 19:18) and yet chose to embrace a legalistic, loveless religion which seeks a pre-eminence among men. The Ephesian church started off well but soon became a loveless church (Rev. 2:1-7). Thus, the study of the doctrine of love must not be treated in a mere academic fashion but engaged in faith and humility. When one submits to the doctrine of love, he will practice true love.

The Depth of the Doctrine of Love
Moving on, we need to understand the depth of the subject we are considering. Carson rightly notes the following ways that the love of God is manifested in the Scriptures:

1. The love of God within the Godhead
A. The love of the Father for His only begotten Son (Jn. 3:35; 5:20)
B. The love of the Son for the Father (Jn. 14:31)

2. The providential love of God over creation
A. Creation and sustenance of the universe (Gen. 1:31; Col. 1:16-17)
B. Providence for all men, even His enemies (Matt. 5:45)

3. God’s Redemptive Love
A. The offer of the gospel (Jn. 3:16)
B. The desire for redemption (Ezek. 33:11)

4. God’s Elective Love
A. God electing Israel (Deut. 7:7-8; 10:15; Mal. 1:2-3)
B. God electing His children (Eph. 1:4; 5:25)

5. God’s Conditional Love
A. Love conditional to obedience (Exo. 20:6; Jn. 15:10; Jud. 21)

Thus, in this coming church camp (December 4-8), we will seek to gain a quick understanding on what God means when it comes to love. How does God love and what does God love? We will also examine the various aspects of love as taught in the Scriptures. Lastly, we will examine what the Scriptures teach on how believers should love.

May we through this camp get a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to love God with our all.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew