By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
John 13:35

Divine love is the great distinguishing mark of the Christian religion. If I were to write down all of the Scriptures that bear on this subject, doubtless I would have to transcribe much of the New Testament. But this is not necessary because almost everyone confesses that this is the central theme of Christ's message.

Nevertheless, although almost everyone recognizes this love to be indispensable, there is considerable confusion about it. Just exactly what is Christian love? How is it manifest? It should be obvious that this love cannot be like anything found in the world because Paul tells us that it will be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who will be given to us when we convert to God by a sincere repentance. And again, we are told that this love is perfected in the believer by the Baptism with the Holy Ghost. So whatever this love is, we can be sure that it is not the product of man's nature and that its appearance will confound the wisdom of the wise.

Everyone has an intuitive feeling about Christian love. He may not be able to put it into words, but he has a definite feeling about it. Nonetheless I think that I can safely say that his feelings are absolutely wrong. They are no doubt carnal apprehensions of that which is essentially a spiritual quality. This mistake arises because most people think that love is love. They think that human love and divine love are of the same essence. But this is because most people think that God is like man. Therefore, they think that God's love is like man's love.

Let us briefly consider this point. Is God's love like man's love? John tells us that;

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Do you know any man that would give his only and beloved son in order to save a bunch of people that hate him? Of course not. As a matter of fact, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that would give his only son to die for people that really do love him. But the amazing thing is that God did just that. He did exactly what no man would ever do. And He did it because He loved His own creation with a divine love, a love which springs from His own heart, a love that can only be a reflection of His divine character. So it is obvious that whatever divine love is it is not what human love is, seeing that human love springs from the corrupt heart of fallen man.

Is it possible for us to get a reasonable idea of what Christian love is? I think it is. I am not saying that one can ever fully understand it without first experiencing it, because he cannot. But I do think that we can find enough examples in the Scriptures that if we will believe their testimony we can form a reasonable picture of this most important commodity. Nevertheless, we must realize that the unconverted man will neither like it nor agree with it. In fact, the unconverted man can only be in superficial agreement with God about anything. It is for this reason that man is by nature a sinner, i.e., because his ways are not God's ways.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

Let us notice that this love is manifested on three levels. The highest level is love for God. The next level is love for the brethren. And, third, comes love for lost souls. But it must be remembered that the natural man in the first birth can never possess one atom of this divine love in any of its forms. However, unconverted, religious men may often manifest what they consider to be divine love, that is, they will love their conception of God, they will have what they think is love for their brethren, and they will possess a fervent zeal for converting people to their way and for performing good works. But all of this is only human love and can never, under the test, exceed the bounds of that love. Thus, with this love they worship idols, with this love they commit sin, and with this love they burn heretics.

Let us now examine the manifestation of the first category of divine love, that is, love for God. There are all manner of opinions about this, but the Scriptures of truth are very clear and explicit. Let me list some questions pertaining to this, followed by scripture answers.

Question: What is the love of God?

Answer: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. I John 5:3

Question: How can one keep His commandments?

Answer: Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin... I John 3:9

Question: If one loves God, what will he do?

Answer: If ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15

Question: Who really loves the Lord and who does the Lord love?

Answer: If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him. John 14:23

Question: How can we know that a man does not love the Lord?

Answer: He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings. John 14:24

Question: Can anyone love God and the world at the same time?

Answer: If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. I John 2:15

I don't think that anyone can say that these scriptures lack clarity. Could any honest person say that these verses can have several meanings? Could any honest person conclude from these verses that there is no connection between loving God and obeying Him? Could any honest person say that these verses imply that one may love God even while he is disobeying Him? I think that the reader must confess that these scripture verses leave no room to doubt that divine love without obedience is a foolish impossibility.

If my child disobeys his mother, I will never conclude that he doesn't love her. But that is because human love lies in the selfish affections and there is no strict connection between it and obedience. On the other hand, that is not the case with divine love because divine love is centered in God instead of self. Divine love does not spring from the person himself but from the Seed of God that resides in the heart of the converted man. It is not the product of man, but rather an out flowing from the measure of God possessed inwardly by the man of God. Clearly, then, divine love is of a different nature than human love. Divine love places God above all other considerations in the mind of a true believer.

If a man's affections come into conflict with the will of God, his choice will be determined by what kind of love rules his heart and mind. The natural man will choose his natural affections over all other considerations. The man of God, being ruled by the love of God in his heart, will choose obedience to his Maker. For this reason Jesus said that we can never be worthy of Him if we love mother, father, son, daughter, wife, husband, lands, riches, or even our own lives more than Him. This is because divine love, by its very nature, places God supreme in the heart of man. Thus, the man that would put anything else or anyone else before the will of God is not really loving God with a divine love, but merely with an elevated form of human love.

Quite naturally this idea is abominable to the unconverted man. How could it be otherwise? It is not possible for him to love in a totally selfless manner. By the very nature of his natural human love he can only love approximately. And those few who are of sterner stuff and would rather die than bend on certain issues we call heroes. Yet, even they have their price. On some issue they will yield to self-interest: perhaps for a woman, perhaps for money, perhaps for fame. The natural man is repulsed by the idea that God might require him to lose his wife or children for His sake or for righteousness' sake.

In like manner, the Bible has some interesting things to say about the effects of divine love on the mind of a believer as regards his brethren.

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. John 13:34-35

This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whosoever hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. I John 3:16-18

One of the most striking features of the primitive church just after the day of Pentecost, when the love of God was burning hot in the hearts of the new converts, was their fervent generosity one toward another concerning the needs of the body. The love of God was flowing so abundantly that nobody could consider his own possessions to be his own, but he very gladly shared with his fellow believers who were in need. Only the power of God could have loosened their purse strings in this way. And it was this vibrant generosity among the brethren that so awed the watching unbelievers.

The great shame of modern Christianity is the lack of this true love in its advocates. Churches no longer feel the slightest obligation to care for their members. The fact that the members carry various insurances shows that nobody really expects to receive help from his brethren. And if he were to be honest, he would confess that he does not feel the slightest obligation to care for anyone else. His love may be in his head, but it does not get down into his pocketbook where his heart is.

By this I do not mean that we should live communally, having all things common, as they did just after the day of Pentecost. That style of living was a temporary necessity because of the many hundreds of converts who had only been visiting Jerusalem for the feast. After conversion, they very naturally remained there with the new church because this now had become their whole life. They had no jobs, they had very little money, and they had no homes. So the love of God in Christ Jesus moved on the hearts of everyone so that one and all opened their doors and their purses to their beloved brethren. Because the number of converts grew so rapidly and because there were so many needs to be satisfied, they all placed what they had in the hands of the apostles so that nobody would be overlooked. Christian love made each person look at his possessions as not really belonging to himself. In a very real and practical way, each person considered himself to be merely a steward of possessions placed in his hands by the Lord. This is still the feeling shared by true born-again Christians.

Of course, what this means in down-to-earth terms is that modern Christians are Christians in name only. They have a name but they are dead, just dead forms of something that used to exist. Divine love constrains one to wrap up his life into his God and his brethren. A true Christian's life is not broken up into various independent departments: church life, work life, social life, family life. A true Christian has only one department, spiritual life. His church life, his work life, his social life, and his family life are all rolled up into one---his spiritual life with God.

The love of God compels the new convert to abandon all of his old life in the world with all of its departments and to separate himself unto God in a new life in Christ. He has no life in this world apart from his God and his brethren. He becomes part of the community of believers and ceases to be part of the world system. His life is bound together by the love of God with his brothers and sisters, i.e., with them who have the same Father. He has passed from death unto life and he lets the dead bury their own dead. He lives in the land of life with them who possess life.

I realize that this is strong meat and hard for most people to swallow. But there is an incident in the life of Jesus that demonstrates the truth of what I am saying.

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? And who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. Matthew 12:46-50

I believe that this conveys a single meaning. I do not believe that it is possible to gather more than one interpretation from this incident. It is as though Jesus is saying that if you have been born again by the Holy Spirit then you will have left the family of man which is in the fall and alienation from God and will have been made part of a new family, the people of God. Henceforth, they, the people of God, will be your family and your life will be woven together with them by the threads of divine and heavenly love.

Most people will find this idea of divine love to be repugnant. It seems impossible to them that God would require them to turn from their fleshly families and replace them in their affections by another. But again we must remember that God's ways are not man's ways. Let us take a look at another saying of Jesus.

And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27

Now I think it only fair to say that most scholars say that the word hate here is a Hebraism with which the Jews expressed total detachment from something in a very emphatic way. In other words, Jesus is saying that if we want to be followers of Him we must become totally detached from all earthly ties. The world and the people of the world, even our unconverted families, are ruled by Satan. It is not simply that they do not love God, but that they cannot love Him. They are as zealous to protect and to build up the kingdom of Satan, their true god, as true Christians are to protect and build up the kingdom of Jesus Christ, their true God. Once more, this is very hard to bear! But listen again to these words of Jesus Christ.

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:34-37

From this we can easily see that, according to Jesus, the world, being ruled by Satan, is an enemy of God. Our earthly ties will only serve to drive a wedge between God and ourselves. Doubtless this is very unpalatable to the worldly-minded man. But, as I have already remarked above, God and the love of God are not at all according to the expectations of the fleshly mind of fallen man.

I do not wish to imply that the Christian has no obligations toward his physical family and can forget all about his mother and father. This is by no means true. He must honor his father and his mother as saith the scripture. But his affections and his life must and will be wrapped up in the family of God and he must not and will not allow his family to stand between him and his total obedience to the will of God.

Nor do I wish to imply that a Christian never offends his brethren. For in spite of being moved by divine love, unfortunately, he is ruled by an imperfect judgment and a defective personality. Consequently, although the man of God would never intentionally offend his brother, yet, he will find that in spite of his good intentions he is often a burden to his brethren. In like manner, he himself will often be burdened in return by the mistakes and personalities of his brethren. These kinds of offenses, both real and imagined, will be with us as long as we are in the mortal body.

However, the Christian man, having seen the perfections of Jesus Christ and, thereby, knowing and understanding his own shortcomings, will be humbled in his own eyes. Thus, his constant labor will be to offend little and to forgive much. As the great apostle said,

"And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover
the multitude of sins." I Peter 4:8

Christians do not hate. Christians do not fight. Every Christian, having been forgiven much, is ever ready to forgive the offenses of others. The rule was laid down many years ago by his Lord and Master as follows:

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. Mark 11:25-26

Clearly, a true Christian is forgiving and longsuffering with others. Christians bear long with one another in all things. Christians forgive one another all things. Christians labor very hard not to offend one another in anything. True Christians would rather suffer personal loss than be offensive in any way to the least of God's children that were purchased by the Blood of the Lamb. True Christians love one another in deed as well as in word.

Thus, the truly born-again Christian loves God supremely and loves the brethren more than anyone else in the world. Not only would he die for his God and the Truth but also he would die for his brethren. But, what is even more important to do and that which is almost always harder to perform, he will live for his God first and he will live for his brethren second. His brethren will even come before himself or his family in the flesh. At all times he will consider the welfare of his brethren before his own. This is the love of the brethren. This is the love that the unconverted man can never know.

Finally, let us consider the love of a Christian for a lost world. We are told by Paul in his epistle to the Romans that

If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. Romans 8:9

Thus, it is not possible to be a Christian without having the Spirit of Christ. And how can we have the Spirit of Christ without having the mind of Christ? Obviously, we cannot. So, just as Jesus Christ came into the world with a mission to save the lost, every person who possesses a measure of His Spirit will have the same mission engraved upon his heart by that same Spirit. And just as the Lord gave His life to be a ransom for all, true Christians will be willing to suffer the loss of all things for the salvation of the lost.

Nevertheless, one must always remember that God's ways are never man's ways. That is to say, the above in no way implies that the true Christian will be zealously going about the world trying to get converts. This idea is the product of the carnal mind. That is why we see the same kind of zealousness among the religious cults and political parties as well as among the orthodox fundamentalists. Man's religion and man's love create that evangelizing spirit that is seen in Communists, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, Hare Krishna devotees, conservatives, fundamentalists, charismatics, Mormons, health food addicts, Jehovah's Witnesses, racists, peaceniks, etc.

Let us pause for a moment to remind ourselves of the fall of man. What was the principle motive for Eve's sin? It was an inordinate desire to be as God. Consequently, the main result of the fall is that man thinks that he is equal with God, that he has no obligation to be subject to God. Thus, every "enlightened" man thinks that he can save the world. When a man becomes enlightened, when he thinks that he now has the answer, he feels that it is his god-like duty to save his fellow man. Thus, we have that evangelistic zeal that is seen to be common in all human religion and politics.

That is not God's way. As always, the dominant characteristic of divine love is obedience. Jesus always did the will of the Father. He did not begin His ministry until commanded to do so. His only work was to do the will of the Father. God can best work in the hearts and minds of sinners when Christians are the most obedient. Their obedience is not only a measure of their love to God but it is also a measure of their love to the brethren and to lost souls. Thus, just as Jesus had no active ministry until the Father commanded Him to go forth, the true Christian will not go forth nor actively labor without being sent.

One of the most difficult snares to avoid in connection with our love to the lost is the temptation to compromise truth and righteousness in order to save sinners. But this can happen only if we forget that salvation is completely and exclusively a work of God and if we place too high a value on the human soul. God alone saves and He always saves according to His standard. He saves man out of sin into obedience, out of untruth into truth, out of injustice into justice, out of unrighteousness into righteousness. The natural man thinks that the human soul is the most important thing in the universe. Since all fallen men are by nature liars, he places a lesser value on truth. For this reason he would compromise truth to save a sinner. But truth, justice, righteousness, being merely words that express what God is, are uncreated and of greater value than anything created. Thus, truth is of more value than the created human soul and God would never compromise the least part of truth to save all of the souls in the world.

Our love to the lost can be evidenced only by prayer, example, and an unswerving obedience to the directions and leadings of the Holy Spirit. Although a Christian can never save anybody, he can earnestly and fervently pray that the Lord will send laborers into the harvest. For even though a Christian can never save anybody, God almost never saves anyone except instrumentally through His Christian servants. God calls certain men and women into this service, prepares them for it, and empowers them to perform it. Man cannot take this calling upon himself, prepare himself, nor empower himself. This is a work of God and God alone.

In addition to this, the man of God must always remember that a Christian is an epistle of God written to men. The only thing that man in his fallen and corrupt state can know about God is what he observes in the life of God's servants. Of course, the natural man will never like what he sees of God in the true Christian because the very life of the true Christian will condemn him. But this is exactly what he needs to feel. He needs to know that in his sinful state he can never please God.

God loves fallen and sinful man, but He never compromises truth and righteousness in order to save him. God anxiously desires to save all men. It is not His desire that any should perish. But God will never lessen His righteousness for any reason. Although God gave His only begotten Son in order to save the world, He will never yield on one point of righteousness in order to accomplish this purpose, no matter how small that point appears to the carnal mind. This is the way that God is.

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. I John 1:5

He will never change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

For this very reason, that is, the inalterable character of God, if we really love sinners, we will never allow ourselves to yield on points of righteousness. If we yield so that the way will not appear quite so obnoxious to sinful men or if we compromise so that Christ will look more attractive to the carnal mind, then we will only mislead sinners. We will merely deceive them into believing that sinners can go to heaven without truly repenting. This would be a kind of spiritual murder and would put blood on the hands of a Christian.

To sum up all that has been said, we can confidently declare that only when we love God supremely is it possible to love our neighbor as ourselves. Only when we love God supremely, can we love our brethren unselfishly. And only when we love God supremely, can we love sinners as God loves them. All of this is possible only because when we love God supremely we always keep His commandments and His commandments are not grievous.