The Greatest of These Is LOVE

October 14, 2015

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
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I recently touched on this point in another blog and in a few podcasts, but I felt it deserved a post of its own. It’s one of those topics that cannot be overstated or addressed too often. 

I became convinced of this after listening to Dr. Jerry Walls presentation titled, “What’s Wrong with Calvinism?” (Which can be found on YouTube)

In this presentation (at the 57:45 mark), Dr. Walls argues:

“In a nutshell, our case against Calvinism is that it doesn’t do justice to the character of God revealed in Scripture. It does not accurately portray the holy One who is ‘compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love’ (Ps. 103:8), the God for whom love is not merely an option or sovereign choice, but who is such that his eternal nature is love (1 Jn 4:8).”

Walls goes on to make a case that God’s very nature is love therefore it is not even an option for Him to “not love His creation.” For example, we would be repulsed by someone who breeds puppies for the purpose of torturing any of them. Likewise, we would consider it evil for a father or mother to hate any of their own children who they chose to conceive. And, in the same way, it would appear to be evil for God to hate those who He chose to create. Walls argues:

“God cannot fail to be perfectly loving any more so than He can lie. You don’t have to have children, but if you do you take on an obligation to love them. God’s freedom was in the freedom to create, or not. He didn’t have to create. But once having created, as a necessarily good and loving Being, He cannot but love what He has created. Love is not an option with God…It’s not a question of whether or not God chooses to love, it is WHO HE IS…HE IS LOVE.”

This is not a weakness of God, Walls insists, but His greatest and most self-glorifying strength. Would you consider it a strength or a weakness that my character will not allow me to be cruel to my pets?

Is it a weakness that I am unable to willingly strangle one of my own children to death, as Walls argues? No! That is a strength!

God’s inability to be unloving is not a short coming of God’s strength and power, but the greatest most glorifying characteristic of His eternal nature! To declare God’s universal self-sacrificial love to the entire world reveals God for what makes Him so abundantly glorious!

Love.

Therefore, the question Calvinists are asking is backwards. Instead of asking, as John Piper does, “How does a sovereign God express His love?” We should be asking, “How does a loving God express His sovereignty?”

Thoughts?

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D. Morgan

Well done. Now, let me get the popcorn started.

Ron F. Hale

Leighton …you have shared a …good word!

1 John 4:8 (HCSB)
The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

MarkO

Does Professor Flowers have insurance? That is exegetical malpractice. When he says, “Love is the greatest of these” meaning supreme among God’s attributes he is misusing 1 Cor 13. In context that statement is simply comparing “faith, hope and love” not the entire scope of God’s attributes

    Ken P.

    MarkO,

    Regardless of the merit of your post, The condescending and sarcastic response is uncalled for. This is a big reason why Traditionalist don’t care for Calvinist or Calvinism.

      Steve Williams

      Ken,
      The condescension and sarcasm cuts both ways. For you not to acknowledge that is shortsighted, narrow-minded and disingenuous. I just wish there was more a civil discussion taking pkace. And dont try to pin it all on “Calvinists.” One would think that those who hold to a Reformed view are a bigger threat to the church than any other.

      So I ask, “Where has civility gone?”

      The article speaks of “love” as a primary virtue of God. Are we to speak lovingly only to those who have the same convictions as us?

      If you want to see examples of condescension and sarcasm, read responses on here to those who hold a Reformed, Calvinist view.

        Ken P.

        So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

          Steve Williams

          You made my point.

            Ken P.

            Actually I think you made mine.

              Steve Williams

              How so?

                Ken P.

                Sorry, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

                  christian

                  Ken P
                  Wow. Well thank you for proving Steve Williams’ point lol.

                  Steve Williams

                  No other examples required. You perfectly illustrated the condescension and dismissive spirit so often displayed on here. Is a civil discussion even permitted? Ad hominem attacks are usually made out of desperation.

    Leighton Flowers

    I don’t believe I ever referenced 1 Cor 13 in order to draw that conclusion. You linked my title, which certainly plays off of Paul’s indication of love being a greater attribute, but no exegetical link was made between that text and the points I presented in my article.

    I’m sure everytime a Calvinist uses Lazuras as an example of spiritual deadness (an exegetical link that cannot be made), you call them out for it, right?

    How about any title of any sermon which plays off a popular biblical quote or phrase? Do you dismiss every Calvinistic creative sermon title as “exegetical malpractice?” I doubt it. Why? Because your bias, like many from both sides of this issue, have clouded your objectively in dealing with the actual point of the article.

    Scripture does say “God is love” and regularly speaks of God as being a benevolent creator. Can you point to the verse that places sovereignty (defined as “meticulous deterministic control over mans moral choices” is God’s greatest attribute? Of course not.

    So you dismiss my point based on what your bias sees as lack of sufficient connection between a play off of Pauls words in 1 Cor 13 and the biblical fact that “God is love” (there’s a common belief that love is a greatly glorifying attribute), so as to hold on to an unfounded presumption that “sovereignty” (read as ‘God controlling mans choice to accept or reject His appeal to be reconciled’) is a HIGHER attribute than that of self sacrificial love for all.

    Why is the Calvinistic article title “How does a sovereign God express his love” more exegetical than the question, “How does a loving God express his sovereignty?”

      norm

      LP:
      Thank you for your brief, but exceedingly concise post. When I moderated this blog, I hit upon the theme that you have so superbly articulated/presented in only a few words. Bravo. Since the essence of God is love, then his love is not as much an activity but an attribute of his character. He can do nothing else but love. It is who he is. Love is what he is. True, discipline/judgement are also expressions of love. We also embrace that.
      Deus caritas est! — norm

    Scott Shaver

    No need for insurance against the errors of Calvinism. The Bible is sufficient. Like a lion doesn’t need defending…turn it loose and it defends itself.

    Sam

    No malpractice here. Love is not simply a characteristic of Love, it is His essence. God is love.

Clay Gilbreath

– “Therefore, the question Calvinists are asking is backwards. Instead of asking, as John Piper does, “How does a sovereign God express His love?” We should be asking, “How does a loving God express His sovereignty?”

Oh my! Awesome, awesome, awesome! Viewing everything through “Calvinist glasses” cause many to miss this elementary truth that scripture shouts out from cover to cover – God IS love! Thank you sir!

Lydia

I have listened to Walls a time or two and he really brings it to the “kitchen table”, so to speak. The reality is that what Calvinists describe as “love” is a really a form of hate. They redefine love, too. This is dangerous stuff. Yes, they have it backwards concerning the attributes of God.

There is another side to this that is devastating to living out the kingdom now. When we do not have free will (inability) and yet as professing new creations/ believers inflict wrong doing, evil on to others and do not seek basic justice, then we are not really responsible in any real or spiritual way. That is considered normal in Calvinistic thinking. It could be because of a false dichotomy of sinless perfection OR evil. Which is impossible with imputed guilt so evil is the normal.

When we have free will, we are responsible. Not God. He created us to make choices. Wasn’t the original intent we grow in maturity and wisdom with Him? I tend to see that we are more fully human (Image of God) when we are striving to live as Christ. We are less human when we are doing evil to others or using others for our own selfish purposes and blaming God. (Like Adam)

Rick Patrick

The more I think about our present debate, the more convinced I am that it boils down to one’s view of the Father. Thank you, Leighton, for identifying the crux of the matter.

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell…abhors you… His wrath towards you burns like fire… You are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours.” — Jonathan Edwards

“God is love.” — The Apostle John

    norm

    If Finney had preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” he’d been accused by Calvinists of psychological manipulation.

Christian Johnson

Does God love those in Hell? Did God love the the rest of humanity when He sent down the flood? Did God love the citizens of Sodom when He incinerated them?

Will Jesus love all when He comes down from Heaven with a sword out of His mouth to destroy his enemies and make them a foot stool for His feet?

Just because God created us means we are all His children. Jesus called some children of the devil and 1 John 3:8 ppl who practice sin are of the devil.

Matthew 7:22-23

    christian

    Sorry I meant to say in the last sentence just because God created us doesn’t mean we are his children.

Lydia

Chris,

If your own child was a murderer sitting in prison would you cease to love them while you weep over their life choices?

    Christian

    That is deep…yes I would, but what is even deeper is two of the Father’s creations fell from grace-Man and Satan for one he prepared a place Matt.25:41; 2 Pet.2:4;Jude1:6, but as for me and you He came down to be our Redeemer..on the Egyptians He closed the Red Sea on them, He destroyed there 1st born but to us…a Son has been given. When we appeal to emotions it must always be framed by the Scriptures and not man’s thoughts alone.

      Lydia

      “When we appeal to emotions it must always be framed by the Scriptures and not man’s thoughts alone.”

      But your ST does appeal to emotion with the determinist filter you read it through. What is non emotional about a wrathful god randomly choosing some (by default) for destruction before the world was formed and Adam sinned?

      The emotion argument does not play with me anyway. All thoughts have emotion attached to them whether they are based on feeling or logic.We tend to only ascribe emotions to outward behavior. The coldest calculating Nazi was operating on emotion when they closed the gas oven doors. It might have been pride in following orders. I will concede that some outward emotions are more acceptable than others depending on the culture.

    Steve Williams

    So, God’s holy wrath is poured out on the objects of His love, and He condemns them to an eternal hell, which was prepared for the devil and his angels?

    Is His wrath a loving wrath, or a holy wrath?

    Is wrath poured out reluctantly, or is it an eternally anticipated, decreed event that honors our Triune God, when the Father makes his enemies a footstool for the Son?

      Christian

      Well I believe God’s predominant attribute (If He has one) is His Holiness. What will we sing in heaven? Love love love? Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God All mighty for all eternity.

      God’s Holiness makes sure that His Wrath,Judgment, Mercy, Love etc. is Holy. If not then He would use his other attributes in an unholy way.
      So when God wipes out the rest of Humanity from the flood. Do we say God is Love? I would say God is Holy.
      God used His Wrath, Mercy, judgment, and love in Holiness.

      God chastises his loved ones but not all are His loved ones. Like what was said earlier Does God love those in Hell the same way He does in Heaven? If so then we need way more than the love of God to be saved from hell.

Lydia

Steve, your deterministic God “chose” his enemies by default of not “choosing” them for rescue before the world was formed. He sounds eerily similar to Allah.

IOW, his enemies had no choice to begin with.

Steve Williams

Lydia, you assume much, and didn’t address my question at all. Quite remarkable, avoid answering a direct question and go directly to questioning the character of God. Yes, God IS love, and thankfully so. But He is first and foremost Holy. It is from His holiness that His other attributes flow.

That’s fine, Lydia. Move directly to your “deterministic god” idea. Your condescension and arrogance is on full display, while thinking this Holy God is much like you. You diminish His nature, even the nature of His love, with such comparisons as you made.

Johnathan Pritchett

God can love and hate someone at the same time.

God can not love and not love someone at the same time.

The latter is a contradiction, the former is not.

Why is God expressing wrath or condemning people to hell “not love” for God? It seems to me that could just as much be guilty of “human thinking” or whatever projected on to God as claiming God doesn’t love punished and dned people.

I don’t know why a holy wrath is set against a loving wrath. I see little reason to express wrath at all if love doesn’t stand behind it somewhere. Otherwise it is a silly and capricious wrath.

Of course, love, along with light and life are the only three nouns in Bible ascribes to God…holiness, an all the others are adjectives.

Finally, we don’t need to redefine words and make holiness perhaps mean things it doesn’t. Different, sacred, etc. does not mean “foreign.” That is the path to liberalism where if we try to make God so foreign, words, including the ones in Scripture, become meaningless and hence, so does talking about God. Sometimes Calvinists come very, very cl

    norm

    Is it not appropriate to see God’s love as a two-sided coin: mercy/grace & wrath/judgement?
    A parent can hug a could and discipline a child. Correctly done, both are expressions of love.
    So, a parent can hug and love as well as discipline and love.

      norm

      TYPO:
      A parent can hug a *child* and discipline a child.

      Steve Williams

      But, is there not a difference between discipline, which is meant to correct behavior, and wrath, which in the day of the Lord, is poured out on all those who are not His? Christ delivers those who are His from wrath, but those who are His ARE subjected to discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Lydia

Steve, I don’t answer framed questions. And yours seemed to assume the PSA theory of atonement for which I do not subscribe. I am trying to figure out how Holy excludes love. Could be differing definitions.

    Steve Williams

    Lydia, holiness doesn’t exclude love, and I made no such assertion. The “framing” was meant to illustrate that all of God’s attributes are “framed” by His holiness: holy love, holy wrath, holy wisdom, etc.

    By PSA, am I correct that you are referring to Penal Substitutionary Atonement?

    And please, understand that I know that I don’t have everything figured out. There is still much in that i hold in “tension” as I study. Butbthis type of tension can be what holds things together, much as a bolt hold two pieces of metal together. The finite seeking the Infinite, the redeemed fallen longing for the Holy One, “to know Him…..”

    Please don’t dismiss my remarks, responses or questions. They are coming from a heart that is truly seeking to know Him as He is, not as I think He is, want Him to be or desire Him to be. Simply “to know Him.”

      Lydia

      “Please don’t dismiss my remarks, responses or questions. They are coming from a heart that is truly seeking to know Him as He is, not as I think He is, want Him to be or desire Him to be. Simply “to know Him.”

      The best advice I ever received from a Christian who was not a professional and walked the talk was to look to Christ as our example. It is less confusing and mysterious when we look to Him. He is the full representation of God.

        Steve Williams

        He IS the one to whom I look. Therein lies the source of the tension. Not contradictions, mind you, but tension, in that there are things difficult to reconcile. There are numerous examples if anyone is interested.

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