In ordinary speech, “love” is commonly used in ways that run far afield from its actual meaning. These erroneous usages range from the banal (“I love burritos”) to the self-centered (“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”) Yet the true meaning of love entails sacrifice: giving, not receiving; focusing on others, not one’s self. The greatest exemplar of love is the Lord Jesus Christ, who demonstrates the reality of the Bible’s teaching that God is love. Christ reveals love in its variegated splendor by showing its generosity, loyalty, and purity.
A Giving Lover
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13
The great love of the Lord is seen in the unlimited knowledge of God that He offers to those who seek Him. He gives His commandments, thereby revealing the divine will (Jn. 15:12, 15.) “In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), and He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), who manifested God the Father by His every action and word (Jn. 1:14; 5:17-21; 14:9.) Knowing His will offers one entrance into a relationship with the living God (1 Jn. 1:1-7.) He gives this eternal life to those who receive Him as their Lord and Savior (Jn. 1:12.) Most of all He demonstrated the riches of God’s grace when He died for the world – paying the sacrificial redemption price when we were still His enemies (Jn. 3:14-18; Rom. 5:8-11.) When one receives the Lord Jesus by faith, the benefits of His death on the cross are put to their account. Thereafter, they enjoy a living relationship with God, and have full forgiveness and justification through Christ’s shed blood. They also have the Holy Spirit residing within them to sanctify them – that is, they receive new power to live for the Lord’s pleasure, resisting sin and living righteously (Heb. 10:16-18.)
A Loyal Lover
“A man of too many friends comes to ruin[i], But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24, NASB
The second word for “friend” in this verse carries the sense of “lover.”[ii] It is a strong word and is elsewhere used to describe Abraham as “the friend of God.” It also depicts the friendship-love of David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:1, 3.) Unlike the latter who ultimately died on Mt. Gilboa with his father Saul, the Lord Jesus remains faithful, and will never leave His beloved friends (Heb. 13:5.) As one author explains:
“Ultimately, however, even the closest of friends may back away when trouble comes. ‘All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone’ (Prov. 19:7). At such times, only Christ will refuse to abandon us (Matt. 28:18–20; Heb. 13:5–6). Thankfully, Jesus delights to call us not only servants, but His friends (John 15:13–15)!”[iii]
Fallen people do not deserve His love, but in grace, He loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20.) C.H. Spurgeon expressed this beautiful truth in his own inimitable way:
“But our Lord Jesus never can forsake those whom once he loves, because he can discover nothing in us worse than he knew, for he knew all about us beforehand. He saw our leprosy, and yet he loved us; he knew our deceitfulness and unbelief, and yet he did press us to his bosom; he knew what poor fools we were, and yet he said he would never leave us nor forsake us. He knew that we should rebel against him and despise his counsel often times; he knew that even when we loved him our love would be cold and languid; but he loved for his own sake. Surely, then, he will stick closer than a brother.”[iv]
One of his contemporaries added:
“There is no sympathy, no love, no gentleness, no tenderness, no patience, like Christ’s! Oh how sweet, how encouraging, to know that Jesus sympathetically enters into my afflictions—my temptations—my sorrows—my joys. May this truth endear Him to our souls! May it constrain us to unveil our whole heart to Him, in the fullest confidence of the closest, most sacred, and precious friendship. May it urge us to do those things always which are most pleasing in His sight. Beloved, never forget—let these words linger upon your ear, as the echoes of music that never die—in all your sorrows, in all your trials, in all your needs, in all your assaults, in all your conscious wanderings, in life, in death, and at the day of judgment—you possess a friend that sticks closer than a brother! That friend is Jesus!”[v]
During his last illness, John Owen meditated upon this great aspect of the Lord’s love: “Christ is our best friend and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.”
A Pure Lover
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27
The Lord Jesus showed true love by giving Himself to die for His bride, the Church. He purchased her from her bondage to sin’s chains (Acts 20:28) in order to purify her and present her unblemished and spotless to Himself. As Moule says: “What a standard for the man’s conjugal love, in point of elevation, holiness, and self-sacrifice!”[vi] At the consummation of her nuptials, the bride will be arrayed in fine, white linen – suitably arrayed to spend eternity with the “glorious bridegroom of our hearts.”[vii] He wants to cleanse[viii] sinners, so that He can make them beautiful and have them live before His face for eternity. The beautiful life is the one lived in the sunshine of His presence. As a 19th century commentator wrote:
“The love of Jesus for his church, at once the motive and the measure and model of the husband’s love for his wife, is the precious doctrine of our Scripture…In the exercise of that love for his church, Christ gave himself for her that he might set her apart for himself in holiness, having cleansed her with the washing of water by (in connection with) the word, that he might present her to himself all glorious ‘within’ (Psalm 45:13), having no spot, no wrinkle, nor any such thing, but that she might be holy and unblemished. So has his love moved him to prepare his bride for the purity and blessedness of his heavenly home. In every stage of progress in this cleansing and adornment, how profound has been his interest; how wise his agencies; how full of love and sympathy his watchful heart; and how sublime will be his joy in the final consummation—a glorious church, of stainless purity, of ineffable beauty and glory—all due to the love of her great Redeemer!—Let us not omit to note the ravishing view of this adornment of his bride which the revelator John has put (Rev. 19:7, 8): ‘The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife hath made herself ready; and to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.’ “[ix]
The believer has a loyal lover who gave Himself in unparalleled grace and will not cease working on His beloved until she stands gloriously complete before Him.
[i] Many reliable translations follow this understanding of the Hebrew verb (e.g. JND, ASV, ESV, NET, etc.), as do the KJVmg. & NKJVmg.
[ii] “ʾahab likewise describes the deep love that friends can have for each other. This is not sexual in nature, but attests to the deep abiding love that only God can provide. This is the love that Saul has for David (1 Sam. 16:21) and that David shares with Jonathan (18:1, 3). This can be called a familial or brotherly love.”
William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 425.
“a friend] Heb. a lover. It is a stronger word than that translated ‘friends’ in the first clause of the verse; and is used of Abraham when he is called, ‘the friend of God’ (2 Chron. 20:7; Is. 41:8; comp. 1 Sam. 18:1; 2 Sam. 1:26). See 17:17. Here again is a proverb which only reaches its goal in Him, who says to His disciples, ‘I have called you friends.’ John 15:15.” T. T. Perowne, The Proverbs with Introduction and Notes, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1899), 127 [boldface original.]
[iii] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary. (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 408.
[iv] C. H. Spurgeon, “A Faithful Friend,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 3. Originally preached on March 8, 1857. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1857), 109.
[v] Octavius Winslow, Christ’s Sympathy To Weary Pilgrims, quoted on the blog: http://octaviuswinslow.org/2010/04/01/what-a-friend-what-a-savior/ Accessed on April 1, 2010.
[vi] H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Ephesians, with Introduction and Notes, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891), 140.
[vii] C.H. Spurgeon, Hymn: “Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands.”
[viii] E.Y. Mullins defines “sanctify” in Eph. 5:26 thus: “‘Sanctify’ means to set apart to God’s service, or to purify by moral and spiritual cleansing. Here probably the word carries both meanings, since both the beginning and the outcome of the sanctifying process are given, and since also it is described in its ceremonial meaning as well as in the sense of a moral and spiritual process.” Studies in Ephesians (Nashville, TN: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1935), 125.
[ix] Henry Cowles, The Shorter Epistles; Viz: Of Paul to the Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; Thessalonians; Timothy; Titus and Philemon; Also, of James, Peter, and Jude (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1879), 105.