Welcome to part 2 of this 6 part series. In part 1 we discussed the content John 3:16, which states that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The Bible says God is love and it is consistent with God’s nature to love.
That wonderful truth is unique to Christianity because Christianity is the only true religion in the world that reflects the true God. The author of all other religions is Satan who has no comprehension of love. They are fearsome, angry, selfish, threatening deities who must be constantly appeased or their temperamental character will motivate them to inflict pain, torture and even death. Never is God’s love more evident than in the gift of Jesus Christ.
A SNAPSHOT OF PART 1
To grasp the character of God’s love in some manageable ways and to begin to understand it, we need to look at three propositions.
1. First of all, God’s love is unlimited in extent.
2. Secondly, God’s love is limited in degree.
3. Thirdly, God’s love is ultimately directed at His own glory.
In part 1 of this series, we considered the principle that God’s love is unlimited in extent. We saw that because it says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.” Titus 3:4 talks about God’s love for mankind. We find in 1 John 2:2 that He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world, because as John 4:42 and 1 John 4:14 say, Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. God has demonstrated that unlimited love by sending His Son to be the Savior of the world.
As we saw in part 1, that unlimited love is demonstrated in four ways. First of all, in common grace. Secondly, it is revealed in compassion. Thirdly, it is demonstrated in His warnings. And then fourthly and finally, God’s universal love is demonstrated in the Gospel invitation, that is in calling all sinners to repent and embrace Jesus Christ. We know that not all the world will come to Him, but He is no less the Savior of the world. Jesus Christ, though not sought by sinners, is nonetheless the official Savior of the world.
Romans 10:13 sums it up by saying, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” “Whosoever will, let Him come,” it says in the book of Revelation. God loved the world enough to provide a sufficient atonement for their sins and to call them all to repentance and faith. The problem is, people are unwilling to come. In John 5:40 Jesus said, “You are unwilling to come to Me that you might have life.” The prophet said, “Why will you die?”
PART 2 … GOD’S LOVE IS LIMITED IN DEGREE
This may come as a surprise, but God’s universal love has its limits. First of all, when that universal love of God is rejected, it turns to hate. In Psalm 5:5 it says, “The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes, Thou dost hate all who do iniquity, Thou dost destroy those who speak falsehood, the Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit. The Lord hates those who do iniquity.” Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence, His soul hates.”
In Psalm 101:3 the psalmist says, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes, I hate the work of those who fall away.” Later on in Psalm 119:104 the psalmist says, “I hate every false way.” Psalm 139:21, “Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord?” Verse 22, “I hate them with the utmost hatred.”
Therefore, in another sense God’s universal love is temporal. It is limited to time and it is not a saving love. He loves them only in this world and when they are fixed in rejection toward Him, His love turns to hate.
There are some people who would like to believe that God will just love everybody so much that ultimately they will all get saved. That’s what prompted the Apostle Paul to write in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.” Literally, let him be damned.
John 13 relates to God’s love for those who respond to the gospel, which is far greater than His love to the world in general. John 13:1 sets the scene, and it is the last Passover meal that Jesus is having with His disciples. The night Judas will go out to betray Him. The next day He will be arrested and executed. And that’s the scene as John writes, “Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father…that’s His death…having loved HIS OWN who were in the world, He loved them TO THE END.”
That little phrase “to the end” is the key to unlocking this understanding. In the Greek it is eistelos, which describes basically a quality or a degree of something. We should be able to understand it when we look at just at some significant meanings.
First of all, it can have the meaning of completely, like when Jesus said on the cross that it is finished. Jesus loves the world but He loves His own perfectly. God loves His own enough to make them equal to His Son, as far as redeemed humanity could bear any equality, because He makes us joint-heirs with Christ to inherit everything that is His, and He makes us into His very image in our glory. And He lavishes us with all of the blessings of eternity. He loves His own with no limits.
Secondly, it can mean to the last. It never changes and will never turn to hate. He is gathered in the upper room with His disciples and He is very much aware of their failures, their weaknesses and of their fear, as they would very soon be scattered all over the place when He is taken prisoner. Their leader will deny Him with a curse. Even after the resurrection, they will be pining away in unbelief and He will have to appear to them to let them know He is alive. Even after they’re able to see Him in His post-resurrection appearance, even after they’ve touched Him and heard Him and seen Him, they will still lapse in to significant disobedience and He will have to confront them in Galilee and restore them and call them back into ministry and even ask the question…Do you love Me? And when He’s hanging on the cross dying for their sins, they won’t be there, with the exception of John and some women.
And as if all that was to come to pass was not enough, at the very supper they are arguing about which of them is going to be the greatest in the Kingdom – blatant pride as opposed to the humility which He had exemplified before them by washing their dirty feet and showing them how to humble themselves. But He loved them to the end.
The third significance to this term, eistelos, is that it can mean eternally. In fact, He will tell them a few moments after this, “I’m going to heaven to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be also,” which is to say I love you to the degree that I will take you to be with Me forever.
The degree of this love is very limited, it is limited to His own. And He is about to make the single great demonstration of that love by dying for those He loved.
“Greater love hath no man than this,” Jesus said, “then that a man would lay down his life for the ones he loves.” And the ones He loves are not worthy or who have somehow earned it. They are the people who by grace have been granted it. “While we were yet sinners God commended His love toward us.” How? “In that Christ died for us.”
It is a love that only those who belong to Christ can experience. It is a love that forgives and saves. It is a love that gives eternity and all its glories.
The best way to illustrate this different degree of love that His own is experiencing, is to go to the Old Testament and look at Israel because Israel was His own people. Deuteronomy chapter 7 verse 6 gives us a very important beginning point. God is speaking about Israel, His chosen people. They are the elect nation called “Israel, My elect, chosen before the foundation of the world to be His nation.” And within that nation many individuals chosen for salvation. But this is His chosen nation. Verse 6, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
You say, “Why was Israel God’s people? Because they chose God?” No, because God chose them.
And then verse 7, “He didn’t love you and He didn’t choose you because you were greater than any of the peoples.” He chose then, verse 8, “Because the Lord loved you.” Why did He love them? Because He chose to love them. “And so He made a promise and an oath which He swore to your forefathers and He brought you out by a mighty hand and He redeemed you.” He loved them first, then He chose them, then He redeemed them.
“Know therefore,” says verse 9, “that the Lord your God He is God, the faithful God who keeps His covenant and His loving kindness to a thousandth generation with THOSE WHO LOVE HIM AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENDS, but repays those who hate Him to their faces to destroy them. He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face.”
God loves by His own will. Out of His love He chooses. He makes a covenant and He will not break it but He will redeem whom He loves.
Now let’s go to Ezekiel 16. This is the longest chapter in Ezekiel’s prophecy. It is the most vivid and the most dramatic chapters in all of Scripture. It is very graphic and distressing. Why? Because it focuses devastatingly on the iniquitous character of Israel. But the chapter is not actually about Israel’s iniquity, it is about God who is maintaining His love toward a grossly sinful people. God has set His love by His own will upon a certain people, chosen them and will redeem them.
This chapter focuses on God’s electing gracious, saving, forgiving, eternal love for those He designates to be His own.
At this point in history Jerusalem is God’s city. It belongs to the nation Israel. It is to be a place for the worship of the true God and the temple is there. But He says Jerusalem is full of abominations. He is referring to idolatry, the worship of false gods and idols. And the Lord says to Ezekiel, you’ve got to tell Jerusalem that I know about her abominations. She is going back to her roots in the land of the Canaanites. They simply scoop up all the pagan idolatrous tribes that were there when Israel arrived. Jerusalem once was in the hands of pagans.
Jerusalem, of course, is a symbol for the whole nation. Notice verse 4, “As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing, you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you, rather you were thrown out into the open field for you were abhorred on the day you were born.” He is talking about Israel. God says that is how they were when He found them in Egypt. Nobody in the world wanted them and they were a slave people. They were defenceless, poor and abhorred by everybody. No compassion. But God decided to set His love on that “child” called Israel.
And then in verse 6, “When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, Live. I said to you while you were in your blood, Live.” I came along and I picked you up out of Egypt and I gave you life. Why? Because there was something lovable? No, this “child” was ugly, bloody and dirty. And here He’s talking about the early period of growth as the nation Israel comes out of Egypt and comes into the promise land and starts to form.
“And I made you,” verse 7, “like numerous plants of the field and you grew up and you became tall and you reached the age for fine ornaments, your breasts were formed and your hair had grown, yet you were naked and bare.” Israel sort of become a nation, starting to grow and develop but there’s no wealth and civilization is very limited. It is still a pretty wild group, nomadic.
Then in verse 8, “Then I passed by you and saw you and behold, you were at the time for love.” Now Israel had reached maturity. And He said, “So I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness.” It wasn’t proper anymore to be naked, you weren’t a child anymore, you were an adult and you had reached the time of love and you couldn’t be naked and so I covered you. That was a custom, by the way, which signified espousal to a marriage. (You can read about it in Ruth chapter 3 verse 9). I not only picked you up out of the field when you were a bloody dirty infant but I carried you until you grew. And then when you became mature enough, I deemed it proper to marry you. “And I swore to you and entered in to a covenant with you so that you became Mine, declares the Lord God.” This is the marriage of God to Israel. He just determined in His sovereign will to love Israel although there is nothing lovable about her.
And then He says in verse 9, “I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.” In verse 10, “I clothed you with embroidered cloth and I put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet. And I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk and I adorned you with ornaments. I put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril.” “I put earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.”
The love here is incredible and absolutely lavish. “And you were adorned with gold and silver,” verse 13 says, “your dress was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil so you were exceedingly beautiful and you advanced to royalty.”
This is what God did when He brought Israel to full bloom. Then came David and the kingdom flourished and it was magnificent and powerful. After came Solomon and it was the greatest kingdom in the world. And the Queen of Sheba came because of the wonder of it, just to see it all and the beauty and the royalty of it was all because of the goodness of God.
And then verse 15, “But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame,” and it continues as from verse 16 onwards … This wife been picked up as a baby, nurtured until she was marriageable and then espoused to God and then wed to God, adorned with royalty and now all of a sudden she is out on the street and she will commit adultery with any person who passes by. And this, of course, has reference to her spiritual harlotries in the worship of idols. When they were wealthy and God had given them silver and given them gold, they used it to buy idols, to form idols, to build alliances with pagan nations. They even took their little babies and they put them on a fire to the god Moloch.
“You also played the harlot with Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, and multiplied your harlotry to make Me angry. Behold, now I’ve stretched out My hand against you and diminished your rations,” and indeed their days of greatness descended. “I delivered you up to the desire of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines who are ashamed of your lewd conduct.”
And then He says something that is just amazing. “When you built your shrine at the beginning of every street and made your high place in every square and disdaining money, you were not like a harlot.” In other words, you didn’t even want money for it. Harlots do it for money, you did not even want money, you just wanted the harlotry. “You adulterous wife who took strangers instead of her husband. Men give gifts to all harlots, but you give your gifts to all your lovers to bribe them to come to you from every direction for your harlotry.” Here the harlot is paying the person seeking harlotry.
You see the degree to which they’ve gone? “Therefore, O harlot, hear the word of the Lord,” here comes judgment. “… therefore behold, I shall gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, even all those whom you loved and all those whom you hated, so I shall gather them against you from every direction and expose your nakedness to them that they may see all your nakedness. Thus I shall judge you like women who commit adultery or shed blood are judged and I shall bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy. I shall also give you into the hands of your lovers and they will tear down your shrines, demolish your high places, strip you of your clothing, take away your jewels, leave you naked and bear. They will incite a crowd against you. They will stone you, cut you to pieces with their swords. They will burn your houses with fire, execute judgments on you. In the sight of many women I will stop you from playing the harlot and you will no longer pay your lovers. I shall calm my fury against you, My jealousy will depart from you, I shall be pacified and angry no more because you have not remembered the days of your youth but have enraged me by all these things. Behold, I in turn will bring your conduct down on your head, declares the Lord God, so that you will not commit this lewdness on top of all your other abominations.”
And that is exactly what happened in the Babylonian captivity Ezekiel predicted in 586 B.C. when Israel was destroyed and the whole nation massacred and the remaining living people carried off into the Babylonian culture to be refined.
In verse 46 to 59 is an incredible section. The were worse than Samaria, and Sodom who was previously destroyed by fire and brimstone. In fact, verse 57 says you have become the reproach of the daughters of Edom and of all who are around here, of the daughters of the Philistines, those surrounding you who despise you. Everybody sees how corrupt you are, even the pagans.
Verse 59, “Thus says the Lord God, I will also do with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath by breaking the covenant.” They started out being the least, they ended up being the worst. And that’s why the end of the chapter is so utterly shocking.
Verse 60, “Nevertheless,” God does not say I will hate you with a holy hatred, I will despise you, He says, “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth and I will establish an ever-lasting covenant with you.” Why not do it with the Sodomites as they are a better bunch? Or why not Samaria, as also they are better? Because these were the people he has chosen to love and with whom He has made an ever-lasting covenant. He love, no matter what they’re like and He will love them eternally. He will love them enough to provide an offering for their sin, because I determined to do so.
Verse 62, “Thus I will establish My covenant with you and you shall know that I am the Lord in order that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation when I have forgiven you for all that you have done, the Lord God declares.” Is that not overwhelming?
Why didn’t He forgive Sodom? Because he did not choose them. Why didn’t He forgive Samaria? He never made a covenant with them. God loves whom He chooses to love and makes an ever-lasting covenant of redemption with them.
God made Israel His own possession. And His love for them is very different in degree than the compassionate warning love that He has for the whole world. This love is complete and saving. This love is eternal. It is this love that caused Him to lay down His life for His own.
Second Samuel chapter 12, points up how that love focuses on an individual. Remember David’s terrible sin with Bathsheba and that he had actually caused her husband to be executed? He then committed adultery with her. God was very displeased and the child of that adultery died. He then married his adulteress and she was very sad because the illegitimate baby, conceived in iniquity, died. But now they’re married. In verse 24 David was trying to comfort her because her baby died. And he went into her and lay with her and she gave birth to a son and he named him Solomon. Look at the next line, it says, “Now the Lord loved him.” The Lord determined to love Solomon though he could not yet believe or not believe. The Lord set His love on him, even though he was a child born of a sinful wicked union.
But when he grew up, he had hundreds of wives. A man is not only an adulterer who does that, he is a fool. And then he had concubines. would the Lord love him? Because the Lord delights in loving sinners. He just loved him because He chose to love him.
Nehemiah 13:26 says, “Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin regarding these things?” Yes, all of his foreign wives brought idolatry and all kinds of things in. Here we are back to the same kind of sin the nation of Israel committed. “Yet among the many nations there was no king like him. He had foreign women caused him to sin, but God made him king over Israel,” and then it says in the middle of the verse, “he was loved by his God.”
All we can say. for whatever purpose exists in the mind of God, He chooses to love whom He chooses to love. And whom He chooses to love He forgives and redeems – the rest are left to the consequence of their own sinful choices. So when we talk about God’s love, there is a love that is unlimited, but there is a love that is limited only to His chosen people.
You may say, “Well, how do I know if I’m chosen?” It is not hard. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe that He came into the world as God in human flesh? That He died on a cross to bear your sins and rose again the third day? Do you believe that He is the only way in which your sin can be forgiven and you can go to eternal heaven if you believe? Then you were chosen.