How valid is it to assert that the canonical declaration "God is love" not only constitutes the most inclusive statement about God but also conclusively identifies the total essence, function, and ends of God's leadership of His entire creation?
Companion to this question, is another: In what way is all authentic leadership directly related to or fully grounded in this divine framework? "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19, KJV).*
The lexical and the contextual meaning of the word love
A methodical study of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament and their typical usage of the words from which love is translated will indicate that the word love conveyed a range of meanings. In the Hebrew Old Testament, since there was simply one basic root word, ahebh, for love, it was not difficult to determine the intended nuance of the word whenever it was used in a given reference or context.
For example, in the following references it is apparent that in the Old Testament use of the word for love in contrasting contexts there are two differing usages of the word. One is positive, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart" (Deut. 6:5), and the other negative, "How long . . . will you love delusions and seek false gods?" (Ps. 4:2).
The relevant shade of meaning in the word love in each case is to be determined more by the context as a whole, than by its mere lexical definition. To love God with all of the heart is more than light years apart in meaning from loving delusions, and yet the same basic word for love is used in both cases. Accordingly, in what way, other than the con text, is the difference to be determined?
In the Greek New Testament where there was a wider option in the choice of words for love--eros, storge, philia, and agape--the challenge in determining its distinctive meaning was more subtle than the Hebrew Old Testament. Nonetheless, the same principle of the contextual meaning as being the greater determinant of meaning is still very evident, as the following examples will illustrate:
"For the Father loves [phileo] the Son ..." (John 5:20). "The Father loves [agapao] the Son . . ." (John 3:35). "You love [agapao] the seats in the synagogues ..." (Luke 11:43). "For Demas, because he loved [agapao] this world. . . ." (2 Tim. 4:10). ". . . Who loved [agapao] the wages of wickedness" (2 Peter 2:15). "Do not love [agapao] the world or any thing in the world. If anyone loves [agapao] the world, the love [agapao] of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:5).
Love in the context of "God is love"
In John 4:8, 16, the total context for deter mining the particular meaning of love is without parallel, and as such provides a mean ing for love that is as exclusive as it is inclusive. The immediate context of love in the reference cited is the undiminished Person of God that includes, but is not restricted to His self-existence, His omnipotence, His omniscience, His immanence, His eternity, His holiness, His mercy, His justice, His faithfulness, and His perfection. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (John 4:8, 16).
In the context of this declaration, "God is love" conveys the meaning that God and love may be differentiated from each other, while in another sense they may not be differentiated. The best analogy for explaining this paradox is the Trinity, which from the perspective of differentiation consists of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, but who from the perspective of undifferentiation are One. Jesus declares, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).
Similarly, from the standpoint of undifferentiation, "God is love" means that there is absolutely no difference between God and love to the extent that to see and experience one is to see and experience the other. "God is love: Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Yet, from the standpoint of differentiation God and love are as distinct as the Persons of the Trinity are distinct, and by the same token are not interchangeable as the Persons of the Trinity are not interchangeable.
Accordingly, there is no biblical evidence to support the view that since God is love, the converse is also true, that love is God. "God is love" is where the whole and the primary truth begins and ends and to which nothing must be added, subtracted, or juxtaposed.
Love in the context of Psalm 136
Psalm 136 is an exceptionally significant explanation of the consummate biblical revelation that God is love, and as such contributes much to the unveiling of some of its underlying meaning.
First, and most significantly, this psalm emphatically separates the character of God's love from all others. The essential contrasting difference between God's love and other loves is that God's "love endures for ever," while all others are temporal. God's love embraces all eternity while other loves are spatially confined.
The apparently needless repetition of the refrain "His love endures forever," which occurs 26 times in the chapter, is much more than a mere literary device. Rather, it is a perfectly accurate representation of the truth about God.
What is the defining truth about God in Psalm 136? It is that His unique love, that "endures forever," identifies who God is and what He is like, in totality. This includes all of what He thinks and feels and deter mines all of what He does, when He does it, where He does it, for and with whom He does it, and why and how He does it.
In this framework the first three and the final verses of the psalm implore us to give thanks to God (1) for being good, (2) as the God of gods, (3) as the Lords of lords, and (4) as the God of heaven; and it does this with no explanation or reason for doing so, other than the reality that "His love endures forever."
Accordingly, verses 5-9 speak of the creation of the world, including the sun and the moon as being the work of His love that endures forever. Verses 11-14, 16, and 21-25 cover a wide range of His miraculous acts of intervention and deliverance on behalf of His people. There are His acts of emancipating them from Egypt and facilitating their occupation of the Promised Land as well as His providing food for all humankind. For all of these no other explanation is given, but that His love endures forever. Even God's acts of judgment against the Egyptian oppressors and the over throw of the enemies of His people like Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, are seen to stem from His love that endures forever.
The obvious inference is that God's eternally enduring love constitutes His total modus vivendi and modus operand!. Why is this so? Because from alpha to omega, GOD IS LOVE.
Love in the context of 1 Corinthians 13
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.... If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1, 3).
First Corinthians 13 says explicitly what Psalm 136 says implicitly that anything not predicated on God's love that endures forever is, in the end, fruit less and meaningless. Without this love, even celestial eloquence is a cacophonous noise. Even rare prophetic foresight, the mastery of the mystery within a great body of knowledge, and even the exercise of mountain-moving faith, all these, collectively or separately, are without value. The surrendering of all one's possessions to aid the poor and the act of voluntarily giving up of one's body to martyrdom are both valueless, if done without love that endures forever.
To use the analogy of John Donne, God's love is like the continental main in relation to which there are no independent and self-existent islands of value or worth. Accordingly, with out love, everything from angelic eloquence to the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom is as worthless as independent islands, but is full of worth as part of the continental main of God's eternally enduring love.
Love in the context of the greatest commandments and Galatians 5:21, 22
"One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the sec ond is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two com mandments'" (Matt. 22:35-40). "Do this and you will live" (Luke 10:28). "There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:31).
In Jesus' declaration that on these two greatest commandments "hang all the Law and the Prophets" was His acknowledgement that these com mandments embodied all that the sacred Scriptures were about and all that they were saying in essence. In a word, the commandments were say ing nothing less than the entire corpus of Scripture, nor was the entire corpus of Scripture saying anything more than these commandments (Law and the Prophets is a Hebrew idiom for the complete Scripture).1 "The commandments... are summedup in this one rule: 'Love your neigh bor as yourself" (Rom. 13:9).
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and selfcontrol. Against such things there is no law" (Gal. 5:22, 23). In using the two greatest commandments' expansive interpretation of love, Galatians 5; 22, 23 may be summed in one comprehensive metaphor: the fruit of love, of which joy, peace, patience, and the other elements may be described as integral components since their integrity is entirely dependent on their being innately related to love as expressed in 1 Corinthians 13.
Love in the context of Jesus Christ and His cross
In the Person of Jesus Christ, "God is love" became flesh and thus human ly comprehensible and His cross became the symbol of its deepest, widest, highest, and greatest expression. John declares that "the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). "'Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father'" (John 14:9), says Jesus.
In His Spirit-filled and perfect life, in His teaching, preaching, healing, relationships, leadership, compassion, severity against and opposition to wrong, His crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Jesus fully represented the complete configuration and meaning of love with all its multifaceted particularities. It is this Jesus in whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9, KJV), who is the perfect embodiment and definition of love.
In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, what if the life, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ were not totally grounded and expressive of God's love that endures forever; or what if just a mere iota of His life, ministry, or death were predicated on anything but God's love, what then?
The great commandment, the Great Commission, and great leaders
The essential intent of the Great Commission is totally summed up in the two greatest commandments, the commandments of love as illustrated in the total life of Jesus Christ. It envisions fallen humankind breathing in the very breath of love so that we become loving souls. "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5).
"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us" (Eph. 5:1). "Do everything in love" (1 Cor. 16:14). "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Col. 3:14).
"Anyone who does not love remains in death" (1 John 3:14). There is just no higher objective than loving God with one's total self and all others as oneself, while simultaneously experiencing an ever deepening oneness with God and with one another.
It is imperative to realize that there is a direct correlation between the greatest commandments, the Great Commission, and great leaders. For were it not for the consummate greatness of the commandments of love and their all-transcendent value, the Great Commission could not be truly great. And where else, apart from the greatest commandments and the Great Commission, could truly great spiritual leaders be found? The greatest commandments, the Great Commission, and the greatest leaders, of which Jesus Christ is the absolute model, are inextricably bound together.
Great leaders: prescription and description
In the framework of the divine pat tern, great leaders are so rooted and grounded in Godlike love that such love becomes their dominant way of functioning, living, and leading. They reflect Psalm 136 in the sense that like God, all that they are and all that they do are predicated on God's eternally enduring love.
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19, KJV). This is the essential characteristic of effective Christian leadership.
When rooted and grounded in love, which is inextricably tied to being rooted and grounded in God, great leaders are unique and exceptional channels through which God's power, wisdom, knowledge, and grace can flow unrestrictedly, and His purposes be expeditiously accomplished.
Old and New Testament examples of this sort of leadership include Abraham, Moses, Joshua, John the Baptist, and the apostles Peter and Paul. The apostle Paul affirmed on behalf of them all, "For Christ's love compels us" (2 Cor. 5:14).
Furthermore, with great spiritual leaders, not only is their rooting and their grounding in love very secure but the many branches that stem from their grounding also tend to be mature. The more of these branches there are and the more mature they are, the more effective the leader will tend to be. Some of these branches or characteristics of love include peace, joy, faithfulness, humility, goodness, selfdiscipline, gentleness, and patience.
It is clear that Scripture's outstanding leaders were gifted with many or all of the characteristics of mature love, but some of them were particularly distinguished for one or more of them. Job was distinguished for his patience in the severest suffering, Abraham for his exceptional faith in God, Moses for his meekness, David for his humble contrition, and Paul for His extraordinary self-discipline and unyielding commitment.
Great leaders have developed other gifts that are related and complementary to the ideals mentioned. These gifts cover a wide range of cognitive, affective, behavioral, and technological skills that serve to strongly enhance a leader's efficiency and effectiveness. Nonetheless, these, like all others must be grounded in God's eternally enduring love to be ultimately effective and meaningful.
Grounded leadership in the time of the end
Grounded leadership is leadership that is fully rooted in the art and science of divine love. As such it replicates the leadership exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ.
In the first-century Christian church in Ephesus, it became apparent that the grounded leadership provided by the apostles, with its world-shaking results, was being replaced imperceptibly by a passionate doctrinal focus per se. The inevitable results were the loss of their grounding in their first love, and the risk of having their candlestick uprooted from its place unless they repented and returned to that original love.
In the last church, Laodicea, "the ardor of the first love has lapsed into a selfish egotism."2 What is our only answer? "Buy faith and love ... which will enable us to find our way into the hearts of those who do not know Him, who are cold and alienated from Him through unbelief and sin."3
Accordingly, for the remnant church of the Laodicean age to fulfill the imperatives of Revelation 14:6-12, and at the same time fill the earth with the glory of God in keeping with Revelation 18:1, it has no option but to have its leadership grounded in love. This is necessary to see the church through the time of the end. '"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another'" John 13:35).
And for the time of the end to give way to the end of time, with its promise of ineffable joy and uninterrupted bliss, only grounded leadership will do. Therefore, this is the form of leadership that our church and the world must diligently pursue and faithfully practice.
And when the church's leadership that is grounded in God's love will have achieved its inexorable ends, no better words than these can as aptly describe the transcendent Utopia into which our hate-filled world will be transfigured. "The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. ... From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love."4
* All Bible references are from the New International Version unless otherwise indicated.
1 Francis D. Nichol, ed., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1956), 484.
2 Ellen G. White, Manuscript 61, 1898.
3_____ , Bible Echoes, )an. 15, 1892.
4_____, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1888). Revised 1911, 668.