Various Kinds of Love

Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay (January 2011)

I received the following question on the basic characteristics of the Christian faith:

QUESTION: “I wish to gain more clarity on the following matter: The faith of the Muslims is largely based upon discipline, while Christianity is mostly based upon love. If we wish to determine the integrity of the Christian faith with reference to Islam, how can we show that Christianity has certain truths which Islam does not have? I know that Jesus Christ is one example, but I am more interested in what happens in people’s lives today. Is there a certain wonder which Christians have in their lives, which Muslims will never have? Did the Lord Jesus make certain promises to His disciples that do not apply to any other people? (I do not refer to promises on the end-time here.) Does the Lord’s Spirit take control of your body and enable you to see things which other people cannot see, or do you merely put your trust in historical events which your eyes have never seen? What gives Christians that divine power which non-Christians will never possess or experience? If your answer is love, then please define it because all people have love (Kevin).”

ANSWER: There are basically two kinds of love in the world, i.e. natural love and divine love. It is imperative to make a clear distinction between these two kinds of love since, apart from certain similarities, there are also important differences between them. When investigating these differences we should also pay attention to ways in which people practise acts of lovelessness emanating from inclinations towards evil.

Natural love

Natural love is a characteristic which is shared by all people because they are born with it. This love can take on different forms depending on the nature of the relationship between people, e.g. between a man and a woman, between parents and their children, between members of kin groups and cultural groups, etc. In a more generalised sense natural love may be defined as “humanism” which is a disposition towards recognising the dignity of all people, often leading to humanitarian efforts to render assistance when people suffer or when basic human rights are denied to them.

There are various humanitarian or charitable organisations which have committed themselves to showing love and compassion to those in need. Examples of such organisations are the Round Table, the Rotarians and the Red Cross. Most governments also have programmes for social work and the relief of distressed people. In this way a moral commitment is recognised towards helping those who are less privileged or afflicted by disasters.

The inclination towards evil

Unfortunately, love is not the only moral inclination with which people are born. All people also have certain negative inclinations in their character, e.g. selfishness, craving for power, greed, hatred and vindictiveness. People everywhere are faced with the challenge of promoting the inclination to doing good and suppressing the inclination towards evil. People in whose lives the positive characteristics of love and charitableness prevail are described as good people, while those who continuously yield to evil inclinations are referred to as bad people. Many of the latter group end up in prison as society generally does not accept the fact that some of its members commit evil deeds which are to the detriment of others.

There is a mixture of goodness and evil in all people, and for that reason none of the natural, unsaved people are entirely charitable and doing good works (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). There is also a dark side to their lives, much as they might try to hide it. Attitudes of selfishness and the love for bad things such as wealth, power, adultery, drunkenness and dishonesty are all part of fallen man’s character. Even if he succeeds in suppressing it to a certain degree, it still inherently remains parts of him and he will not succeed in setting himself free from it. It is therefore impossible to justify all who are doing good and showing kindness to others, as we do not always know all of their character traits and moral inclinations.

The role of religion

The different religions are all in their own way engaged in promoting the good in people and resisting evil. They further extend the concept of good and evil by adding more rules to whatever they regard as being right and wrong. In a certain sense, all religions emphasise love in various ways since they all want their followers to find happiness and live together in harmony and peace.

Various forms of punishment are meted out by all religions to those who are evil and refuse to devote their lives to good causes. Some religions are more militant than others and even resort to military means to impose God’s judgements upon offenders, e.g. by waging “holy wars” against their opponents. In the Koran (Surah 5:51,54 and Surah 9:5) all people are regarded as idolaters who do not worship Allah as the only God and accept Mohammed as His prophet. They also reject Christians and Jews.

However, most humanists who are zealous for good works either reject all religions or regard them as co-equal. To them, human beings are inherently good and do not really need religion in their lives.

The uniqueness of the Christian faith

The Christian faith is unique and can in various instances be distinguished from the non-Christian faiths. The true, Triune God is the God of love (1 John 4:8). His sublime, agape love is exalted above the imperfect, human love. Divine love is intent on the salvation and sustaining of all people, and that is the basic reason why God sent His Son to the world to offer us the gift of true love: “In this the love of God was manifested towards us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9).

The uniqueness of the Christian faith is manifested by the fact that Christ does two things for us which no other religion can do for its followers:

Firstly: Because God loves all people and does not want them to perish (John 3:16; Acts 17:30, 2 Pet. 3:9), He sent His Son as a ransom for our sins: “God loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). We should clearly understand that God is not only a God of love who wants to save and care for us – He is also a righteous God who hates sin and will judge unrepentant sinners. All people have sinned and are under the wrath of God: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. 6:23). There is no other religion in the world in which atonement has been made for the sins of the wicked, and for that reason they have no basis for forgiveness and salvation.

Secondly: The divine agape love which gave rise to the incarnation and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus is also offered to us to enable us to live in accordance with the principles of the new life in Christ: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). This special love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), thereby enabling us to live like Jesus and follow in His footsteps. It is our calling and duty as followers of Jesus to walk in the light in every aspect of our lives: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

Christians have within them a pure, divine love wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit, which the followers of other religions do not have. For that reason, the good works which we do will have more meaning and depth than the good works done by humanists or the followers of other faiths. We should love all people, including our enemies, with the love of God by proclaiming the gospel of salvation to them. Humanitarian aid programmes aimed at supplying in people’s material needs will always be secondary to us, and therefore not our first or only priority. The spiritual needs of people are the most important. To what avail would it be if a person receives good medical care and education, as well as food and clothes, but spiritually he is still lost and on his way to hell? Obviously, we have to supply in people’s secondary needs if we can, but that will only be a means to a greater end, namely to reach their souls.

The quality of divine love

A Christian should, in his spiritual life, not only abide by salvation but strive after a perfect walk in the love of Christ. Many Christians do not comply with this standard and act uncharitably and insensitively in many respects. That is not what the Lord expects of us. Paul says that we who have been rooted and grounded in love should endeavour to fully comprehend the width, length, depth, and height of Christ’s love, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-19). This love must control our whole life so that we may be able, as far as possible, to execute all the biblical commands towards holiness and service to the Lord: “Whoever keeps His Word, truly the love of God is perfected in him” (1 John 2:5).

Christians have a unique message to a perishing world. They also have a divine life which should be lived on a much higher level than their former way of living. That is the new life in Christ, the very life that we should offer to the world. We do not primarily live for good works but we proclaim Christ – the One who was crucified for our sins. While doing that, we should also lend a helping hand to those in need as the Lord Jesus wants to supply all people’s needs according to the riches of His grace.