Karl Barth, considered by many to be the leading theologian of the 20th century, is said to have been asked by a student at the University of Chicago during his trip to America in 1962, “Can you summarize your whole life’s work in theology in one sentence?”
Barth, 76 at the time, is said to have answered, “Yes, I can, in the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”
And He’s right. Understanding, not with my mind but with my heart, the fact that God loves me is the foundation of the gospel and thus of my life. This is more than a feeling; it is settled assurance, deep inside, that Daddy is there with His arms around me, protecting me, providing for me, proud of me, and enjoying me every day.
That love does not waver in the slightest, no matter what I do, though in the midst of my juvenile, immature screw-ups He is chuckling like a Daddy over his three-year-old as He says to me, “Don’t worry, my adorable child. Relax. In due time I’m going to take care of that!”
The Apostle John was intoxicated with this love, and he could write of little else. In his first epistle he writes, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). However, the Nestle-Aland Greek manuscript, utilized by many of the newer translations, and whose variations from the older New King James manuscript are foot-noted in the text, omits the “Him.” The verse then reads, “We love because He first loved us.”
This omission of “Him” better fits the context of the verse, which comes just before an admonition to love the brethren. John is saying that we not only love God because He first loved us, but until we see that truth with our hearts we can’t love anybody!
Paul further elucidated this idea in his famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. There he says that all the brilliant theological insights Bart and other great theological thinkers may have, all the electrifying spiritual gifts charismatic leaders may genuinely possess, and all the money and time I may donate to helping others are all worth nothing. They are of no spiritual value whatsoever, and are but a noisy, pretentious distraction—if I have not love.
So, if “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” where does the Bible tell me that?
1 Corinthians 13 is generally considered by Christians as the passage that tells me the quality of the love I must have for others, and that is true. However, if what we have discussed is true, primarily, more importantly, and more fundamentally, it is the quality of the love God has for me, right now, writing (in your case reading) this blog! Did you know that right now God is “rejoicing over you with gladness, He is quieting you with His love, He is rejoicing over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Has anyone ever done that over you? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” God is, right now!”
I want to go through this description of agape love, looking at the verses from the perspective of God’s love for us. It will blow your mind!
Since the very definition of God is love—it is His very essence—we can rightfully say, as John did, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), thus substituting agape love with its synonym, “God,” in the following verses in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
“God is patient and kind” – He does not get frustrated with my slowness to “get it,” particularly with my reluctance to really believe He loves me and therefore be able to completely trust Him with everything. He waits patiently for me to do so with a bottomless well of kindness that never runs out.
“God is not jealous or conceited or proud” – No, He is not jealous of my worship of my idols or my lack of commitment to Him. The righteous, legitimate, judgment I deserve for my idolatry has been poured out at the cross, and the perfect worship of Jesus. the Son of man, has now been credited to me! God is not arrogantly, proudly hogging all glory for Himself, but eagerly giving it away to me. Jesus prayed to His Father, “ And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one” (John 17:22)!
“God is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable” – Since the beginning, God has been about giving away who He is, infusing man with His very life, and He has not been hurt or ticked that we have disdainfully rejected His gift.
“God does not keep a record of wrongs” – I love the amplified spin on this phrase – “God does not take into account a wrong suffered.” My sin in no way affects Him. Yes, He sees my sin, but His love needle doesn’t move.
“God is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth” – He is not satisfied with my sin; He is satisfied with truth, which is this: I am incapable of recognizing and then doing anything about my own sin. This is His job, to do in His own time and in His own way. Therefore, He is perfectly satisfied with me, today, where He has me in that process!
“God never gives up on us; His faith in us, His hope for us, and His patience with us never fails” – This last phrase is for those who as yet have not seen with their hearts the overwhelming, irresistible love of God that He has for all HIs children. If that is you, read the phrase again, substituting “me” for “us.” You can relax, because God’s love never fails. When the lights come on, an exciting, unending journey is beginning.