Should we proclaim that ‘God is love’?

Jun 6, 2018 by

by Ian Paul, Psephizo:

If you had to sum up the core message that we had to proclaim in one idea, what would it be?

My feeling is that, reflecting on things I have read and conversations that I have been involved in, there is a pretty strong consensus amongst Christians and Christian leaders in the UK at the moment that it would be something around ‘God is love’ or ‘God loves you’. The more developed version, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’, developed by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, has been widely criticised, not least in the wonderful Adam cartoon that explores the fate of Jesus’ first followers. So we might well have dropped the ‘wonderful plan’ bit, but we hold on to the ‘love’. God might have a demanding plan for your life, but the main ‘offer’ of the gospel is to discover the love of God, which will both bless you when times are good and sustain you when things are more challenging.

And there are some pretty good reasons for holding on to this core message. Quite apart from its pragmatic appeal (it doesn’t sound too hard as a thing to share with my friends and neighbours), there are some pretty good theological reasons for thinking that this was at the centre of the proclamation of the early church. The best known verse in the New Testament, and probably the whole Bible, John 3.16, focusses on the way that ‘God loved the world, sending his only Son’. Good Anglicans (like me!) are reminded of this every week in the introduction to confession. As I have explored previously, there are serious problems in communicating what the love of God really means, but that need not discourage us from trying to communicate it. After all, the experience of the love of God appears to have been pretty central for Paul. The Spirit is the end-times gift for all who follow Jesus, who makes him real to us, and our primary experience of the Spirit is that he ‘pours the love of God into our hearts’ (Rom 5.5) and enables us to relate to God, as Jesus did, as ‘Abba, father’ (Rom 8.15). Paul is clear that what God has done in Jesus is a manifestation of God’s love; Christ dying for us while we were still sinners ‘demonstrates God’s love for us’ (Rom 5.8), and Paul being the ‘chief of sinners’ must have felt this demonstration particularly personally. Similarly, God made us alive in Christ when we were spiritually dead ‘because of his great love’ (Eph 2.4–5). Not surprising, then, that the centre-piece of Paul’s letter to the warring Corinthians is a eulogy to love—embedded in an exposition of the work of the Spirit. Love is the first of the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ in Gal 5.22.

So if all that is the case, how come we never once hear the proclamation of God’s love as the content of the preaching of the first followers of Jesus? Or indeed of Jesus himself?

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