• Jamie McClanahan

The Nature of God's Love (Part 1)

He straddled the magnificent Missouri and uttered a most-unusual prayer. Most people have never heard of Hugh McNeal, an explorer with Lewis and Clark at the turn of the 19th century. However, as the men traveled up the Missouri River, the river became a creek, and the creek a small spring. On August 12, 1805, McNeal found the creek near the spring head of the mighty Missouri. It is always amazing to me that a river that large could start so small. In fact, when combined with the lower Mississippi, it is the world's fourth longest river system in the world. The Missouri drainage area is 529, 350 miles, one-sixth of the United States.[1]. However, on August 12, McNeal found himself with one foot on one side of the Missouri and another on the other side. His prayer to God was one of thanksgiving and humility. It is said that he thanked his God that he lived “to bestride the mighty and heretofore deemed endless Missouri.”[2]. Later, historians would refer to the spring he found as “the most distant fountain of the mighty Missouri.”[3]

There is not much for us to explore in our country today. During the time of Lewis and Clark, much of the American West was poorly mapped and unexplored. Many often wondered what they would find at the headwaters of the Missouri. Few made the trip to find out for themselves. Even fewer came back from such adventures.

Explorers still exist today. We explore many branches of knowledge, and there is still so much unknown about our world. One thing that has remained constant is man's desire to explore the origin and nature of God. Questions naturally arise in us: Is there a God? Can God be known? If he can be known, what is he like? Is he loving? Is he harsh?

Ultimately, we wonder if there is a visible way for us to "bestride the Mighty," as did McNeal on the Missouri. The answer to these questions is that God does want to be known, and he loves us supremely. His love is revealed through the gift of his Son to humanity for the forgiveness of sins (John 3:16). God speaks through Jesus, and he is the greatest expression of love to humanity. Hebrews 1:1-3 says:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

In I Corinthians 12:31-13:3, Paul laid out the supreme necessity for Christ-like love in the local church. Love is better than all the best and greatest of spiritual gifts. It is to be desired above all virtues. It is better than elaborate speech, exorbitant knowledge, and even bold sacrifice. In I Cor. 13:4-7, Paul begins a discourse on the nature of God's love. He accomplishes this by describing the positive and negative qualities of divine love. We are called to receive this transforming love, embody it, and relinquish it in our earthly relationships. Again, the supreme expression of this love is God's sent Son Jesus, who became a sacrifice for our sins. The Ephesians needed this reminder. In Eph. 2:4-7, Paul wrote, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

This post will address the first and second positive quality of love observed in verses 4 and 7 of I Corinthians 13.

The first positive is given in a simple but dense statement: Love is Patient and Kind. Both patient and kind love are nuanced by the understanding that God demonstrated this type of love to us perfectly. Patient love is long in anger and short in severity or harshness, especially when it is deserved. Patience is two words smashed together in the Greek language. The combination of the words is "long anger." The meaning is that from the point of provocation to the delayed response of anger, which is sometimes justified, there is a large space of patient waiting. In this way, patience is a passive but important quality of love. Furthermore, kind love is active and is initiated by the needs of others. We can think of the Good Samaritan whose kindness was triggered by the beaten man by the roadside. Kindness can also be understood as peacemaking and a unifying agent. In Ephesians 4:1-2 and Col. 3:12-13, Paul encourages the church to exhibit patience and kindness for the sake of maintaining "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Ultimately, we are called upon to apply kindness to love because God did this for us through the gift of his Son Jesus. Eph. 4:31-32 says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." When we live out this kind of love, others will know we are disciples of Jesus (John 15:34-35). We are to be known as Christians who demonstrate patient and kind love.

The second positive quality of the nature of love is found in I Cor. 13:7. It says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." This means that Christ-like love does not give up on anything or anyone ever. Why? For the sake of the Gospel and the good of the Kingdom of God. This bearing love takes on the difficulty of others so the gospel can thrive in them. In I Cor. 9:12, Paul writes, "but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ." Love also believes that God is at work in the world and others, particularly the people in front of us. Therefore, we can believe and trust God's work in their souls is active and unfinished, much like his work in us. Bible Scholar Gordon Fee explains this well. He writes, "This is not about always trusting those around us, who are often not worthy of such trust, but about trusting the one who calls us to love others and living out that love for others as a reflection of our trust in him." The notion of believing God is at work in the present reminds us that he is also working all things out for good for those who love him (Rom. 8:28) in the future. The words "love hopes all things" is a great reminder of future blessing. Love is not stuck in the past or present. Love looks ahead with the sure hope that all our longings will ultimately be fulfilled in the end. Paul gives believers great hope by reminding them to hope for all things, even in the midst of the worst of circumstances. In I Cor. 15:56-58, he says, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." Again, our hope is not fixed on our past or present work, but on the past, present, and future work of Jesus for those who trust in him wholeheartedly. In his commentary on I Corinthians, Roy Clamp emphasizes truth. He writes, "This is not about hoping for the best in those around us. It is about maintaining the hope set before us by the one to whom we have entrusted our lives and our futures, and being empowered by that eschatological hope for our future to take the risk of loving those around us in the present." [4]

The greatest example of who is patient and kind and who bore all things believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things for our sake is Jesus. In Hebrews 12, we are reminded that he "endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." When we struggle with loving others as God calls us to, we are to "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted."

When it is hard to love, we must think of Christ's active love and keep loving and hoping. We can dwell upon the believer's promise of Phil. 1:6. Paul writes, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

[1] https://www.britannica.com/place/Missouri-River [2] https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm9_003184 [3] https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm9_003184 [4] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 650–651.

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