“Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13

Sonny didn’t look much like a hero. He looked pretty much like a typical, middle-aged guy who had a great smile. But, we all know what a real hero is supposed to look like: just turn on your TV or go to a movie and you’ll have no doubt what a real hero is.

Sonny loved his wife and children. He worked hard for them to provide for them. He nurtured them and protected them. He was in love with them.

And, after I talked on the phone with his widow, I could not speak.

Sonny had been at home when the gunman came in. The gunman brandished his sawed-off shotgun and threatened to kill Sonny’s family, but Sonny wouldn’t allow it. He put himself between his family and the man with the gun. He stalled for time, and finally said, “if you’re going to kill someone, go ahead and kill me.” His family had time to escape out of the back of the house as the killer raised his gun to Sonny’s chest and squeezed the trigger. Sonny crumpled in a pool of blood. He was dead.

Sonny loved his wife and children.

What is love? We have a lot of misconceived, distorted, and perverted notions of love. Most of them are way off target. Our culture tells us that real love occurs in bed, and that it is all about sex. (Sex in marriage is a beautiful thing; human sexuality is a good gift from God, but it is not the essence of love.) We think that if we love someone, that person will love us. We use the word “love” often without meaning and without action. We use “love” as a weapon to inflict pain or exercise control; it is conditional. Love, we think, is something someone else does for us. Love becomes a selfish thing: it is all about me.

True love has its roots in the heart of God. If you want to know what love is and what it does, look at God and his display of love in the Bible. God is love, he is the source of love and he is the ultimate example of love After Jesus came, the idea of love was changed forever, and the ancient world had to coin a new term for this unimaginable love, the word “agape”. Agape love is used throughout the New Testament for the love of God and the love of his followers. The Bible demonstrates well the qualities of God’s love, which is true love, the measure of all love.

1. True love gives, and gives sacrificially. God’s love for us cost him the life of his Son, Jesus Christ, and for Jesus to show his love to us, he willingly gave his life for us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 )

2. True love demonstrates itself. It acts and doesn’t just talk. It is observable, obvious, and measurable. We see real love in action, and we know when we have seen it.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
“For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone
would dare even to die.”
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

3. True love uses words as well. God tells us that he loves us. He speaks kindly and gently to us. He wants to be absolutely sure we don’t have any doubt about his love. He wants us to be certain that he loves us, so he acts and he speaks clearly to us in his Word, the Bible, to explain his actions.

“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness (steadfast love).” (Jeremiah 31:3).

4. True love is not conditional. God loved us while we were sinners, enemies, and rebels; he loved us when we were helpless, needy, unlovable, and ugly. Real love doesn’t love because the one loved deserves it, has merited it, or is either lovely or lovable. We cannot make God love us more, and he will never love us less. The love of God is not used as a weapon of control, manipulation, or pain. God loves us without conditions. There is nothing in us to attract or require God’s love; in fact, the wonder of God’s love is that he loves us even though we, in our sins, are absolutely repulsive. We never merit his love, nor does he love us for the potential we think we have (see Romans 5:6-8 above.).

5. God’s love forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13,14)

Because Jesus died for our sins and took them and their punishment upon himself, God forgives us for our offenses against him. Our offenses are real, and much worse than we imagine; they are sins of actively transgressing God’s law, and sins of passively just simply not doing what we should have. They are external and internal sins. And, the worst of it is that we have offended God in a personal way and rejected his love. We have damaged our relationship with God beyond anything we can do to repair it.. But, God, for Jesus’ sake, forgives us and tells us so. He no longer holds these sins against us and, in Christ, we are free of our guilt and our guilty feelings . But, he goes far beyond that and makes us his children. Knowing that the God of the universe holds nothing against us is of infinite value. If God can forgive us, how can we withhold forgiveness from others who have offended or wounded us?

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

6. True love initiates and pursues the loved one. God does not wait for us to come up with a plan of self-salvation, or for us to be worthy of his love, or for us to get our acts together; he does not even wait for us to love him. We cannot save ourselves, we will never be worthy of his love, we are unable to reform ourselves, and we will not love God until he first loves us. He pursues us and moves toward us because he knows that we will never move toward him otherwise. And, all we can do is to receive his love as a free gift, which means believing God and his promises made to us. Jesus died to give us the free gift of salvation.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
“We love, because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19)

7. True love is life-giving, not life-killing, smothering, stifling, or enslaving. God’s love gives us life, freedom, and joy that we can never experience otherwise. It opens life up for us. His love for us is never constricting.

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9)
Jesus, said, “… I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

8. True love is committed. God has committed himself to us, and has promised to never desert us, forsake us, or abandon us, no matter what. We can be secure in his love. He has already committed the life of his only Son, Jesus for our good and salvation. He will never back out on us.

“… for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU, “ (Hebrews 13:5)

9. God’s love is immeasurable and far beyond abundant. The best human mind cannot fully comprehend it, and no one can really express its vastness. He freely and liberally lavishes upon us his love, mercy, grace, and goodness.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,
in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

God is infinitely rich in every way, and he delights in giving these riches to his children. He gives us what we need to live here on earth, for he knows that we are human and he knows what we need to live physically. But, much more than that, he showers us with the riches of his love, mercy, grace, goodness, and kindness. He delights in giving himself to us in a deep Father-child relationship.

10. God’s love is eternal. God is eternal, and love will always be wherever God is. “Heaven is a world of love,” said Jonathan Edwards. And, nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35,36,39)

Have you ever been loved by any human the way God loves you? Even the best human relationships reveal only a faint glimmer of the way God has loved you. It is hard for many to believe that there is, anywhere in the universe, a love like the love of God. Too many have been abused by those who supposedly love them, or have been abandoned and deserted by fathers, mothers, or spouses. Too many have been manipulated by those who say they love, when all they want is self-gratification or control. Too many have been choked emotionally by those who “love” them. Too many have been loved only under certain conditions, which, if unmet, have resulted in withdrawal of “love.” And, far too many have experienced the kind of love that talks well, but does not result in actions that prove real love. Finally, some have been loved, but have never had anyone tell them that they are loved. Humans have grossly perverted our “love” for each other. What passes for love is a sad statement about our condition, and the fact that we often accept it shows how desperate we are for real love.

Yet, God’s love is more than a theory, an ideal to strive for, or a model. His love is real, factual, and demonstrated. We can experience the love of God through knowing Jesus Christ.

“…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

The Holy Spirit of Christ tells us that the promises of God in the Bible are true and that the love of God for us is certain. We experience his love as he pours it out into our very innermost beings. We know God loves us, and we can’t miss it.

As we experience his love through the Holy Spirit, the love of God changes us. As we are filled with his love, we find we love others in ways we never thought possible. We take on the family traits of God, the family likeness, and we find we love from our hearts. We love both God and other humans, and our love looks to an increasing degree like the love of God described above. The quality of our love changes not by self-effort or self-discipline, but because the love of God has been poured out (or shed abroad) in our hearts, not in a miserly or stingy fashion, but with great liberality and generosity. Once we experience this love, we cannot stay the same. Secure in the love of God, we want to share it, and don’t fear the rejection of others or the sacrifice it may cost us. Our lives gradually take on the qualities of love befitting one loved by God.

So, when we are told to love one another (John 13:34), to lay down our lives as a demonstration of love (John 15:13), and to show others that we belong to Jesus by our love (John 13:35), we are not instructed to work ourselves into a state of love. When Paul tells husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), this does not occur as a result of grim duty or self-improvement. Love becomes a part of who we are as people who have been flooded with the love of God. And, it is a love that has the loved one’s best interests at heart. It is a love that sacrifices, that initiates, that gives, that is freeing, that is unconditional, and that pursues. It is a love that is committed for the long haul, and a love that forgives.

God is love. He is the definition of love, and he continues to show us what real love is in each generation. Our perverted, distorted, selfish, whittled-down versions of love are nothing like the love of God. Jesus came to give us love, life, and joy. Because of him, we can offer real love to others…… even if it means taking a bullet for them.

If you desire to know the love of God and to be transformed by it, please see “The Ultimate Solution.”

Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this article as long as the wording is unchanged and there is no charge for the distribution.