This is the last of a couple of posts about The Message of Love, which was published this week.
A flavour of the chapters
Each chapter was a challenge and joy to research and write and gave a distinct contribution to an overall theology of love in the Bible.
What is love? Contemporary beliefs about love. Reasons for the book.
Part I: Love in the Old Testament
Much of Part 1 explores divine love – God’s covenant love for his people. How does he respond to human failure? Divine love and judgement. Chapters 4 and 5 shift to human love: love for God (ch 4) and the Bible’s unrestrained poetic celebration of the joy of sexual love (ch 5).
1. Abounding in love, punishing the guilty Exodus 34:6-7
2. God’s love for the outsider Deut. 10:12-22
3. God, the betrayed, yet persistent lover Hosea 1-3
4. Love the Lord Your God Deut.6:4-25
5. Erotic love Song of Songs 4-5
This sets the scene for interpreting love in the New Testament including the shift to agapē language.
Part 2: The Love of God Revealed in the Mission and Death of Jesus Christ
Given that the sending of the Son is the climax of the triune God’s redemptive action in the world, Part 2 focuses on how the NT talks about Jesus’ mission, and particularly the cross as God’s supreme demonstration of love.
6. ‘You are my Son, whom I love’ Mark 1:1-15
7. God is love 1 John 4:7-10
8. Love and justification by faith Romans 5:1-11
9. God’s great love Ephesians 2:1-10
Part 3: Love in the Life and Teaching of Jesus
Jesus does not talk that much about love, but when he does his words carry enormous weight and profound challenge. Part 3 examines the searching demands of ‘discipleship love’ – utter commitment to Jesus; the command to love enemies; a beautiful story illustrating what wholehearted love for Jesus looks like; and how remaining in God’s love is linked to obedience.
10. The cost of love Matthew 10:34-39
11. Enemy love Luke 6:27-36; 10:25-37
12. A woman’s great love Luke 7:36-50
13. Remain in my love John 15:9-17
Part 4: The Church as a Community of Love
Love only exists in relationship with others. The majority of love language in the Bible is about the church and its calling to be a community of radical, counter-cultural love. Part 4 unpacks the searching character and supreme importance of love; the connections between humility, faith, love and the Spirit; how love is God’s weapon in a spiritual war; and how Christian love within marriage subverts the world’s assumptions about status and power. A major theme in the Bible is idolatry – where God’s people love the wrong things. A final chapter looks at a modern example – the love of money and the relentless persuasive power of consumerism.
14. The searing searchlight of love 1 Cor. 12:31-13:13
15. The liberating power of love Galatians 5:1-23
16. Subversive love: Christian marriage Ephesians 5:21-33
17. Love gone wrong: money 1 Timothy 6:2b-10
The conclusion is a synthesis of themes that emerged within the chapters, outlining a biblical theology of love and the central role of the church as a community of love within his overall redemptive purposes.
Theological, pastoral and missiological questions
Three strands of love and associated questions emerged during writing.
Is God really loving and utterly good? How can God love if he allows such suffering in the world? How is divine love compatible with divine judgement? Is God’s love unconditional? How does God show his love for the poor and marginalised? How is God’s love revealed at the cross?
Human love for God:
Can love be love if it is commanded? How do faith, love and the Spirit connect together? How can the love of money be ‘de-idolised’ within the church today? If love for God requires humility and submission, is Christian love a denial of life and our full humanity (Nietzsche)? How is love for God costly?
Human love for one another:
Why does the Bible overwhelmingly concentrate on love within the community of the people of God? Is loving enemies an impossible ideal? What does the Bible have to say about erotic sexual love? What is the relationship between knowing God and loving one another? What does a loving Christian marriage look like? How is love God’s most powerful ‘weapon’ in a conflict with powers opposed to his will? What is the relationship between love and future hope? Where are you being called to walk in the difficult yet life-transforming path of love?
My prayer is that this book will help to put love where it belongs – at the centre of Christian teaching, preaching, worship, ministry and individual experience.