What is the Love of God?
Words by Dane Ortlund
At the end of the book of Job, Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” (42:5)
That experience is what many of us need to step into in order to get growing again in our Christian lives. If you are stalled out, if your discipleship is not merely marked by occasional stumbling but defined by it, you need what Job experienced. You have heard of divine love. But now you need to see it. And spend a lifetime seeing it ever more deeply, ever more expansively. Your vision of the love of God needs to be not just heard but seen; not just known but tasted.
What is the love of God? To ask that question is the same as to ask, what is God? The Bible says not simply that “God loves” but also that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Love, for the God of the Bible, is not one activity among others. Love defines who he is most deeply. Ultimate reality is not cold, blank, endless space. Ultimate reality is an eternal fountain of endless, unquenchable love. A love so great and so free that it could not be contained within the uproarious joy of Father, Son, and Spirit but spilled out to create and embrace finite and fallen humans into it. Divine love is inherently spreading, engulfing, embracing, overflowing. If you are a Christian, God made you so that he could love you. His embrace of you is the point of your life. I know you don’t feel it. Even that is taken care of. He wants you to know a love that is yours even when you feel undeserving or numb.
The love of God is not something to see once and believe and then move beyond to other truths or strategies for growing in Christ. The love of God is what we feed on our whole lives long, wading ever more deeply into this endless ocean. And that feeding, that wading, is itself what fosters growth. We grow in Christ no further than we enjoy his embrace of us. His tender, mighty, irreversible embrace into his own divine heart.
Perhaps no passage takes us into the endless love of God for messy sinners as deeply as the end of Ephesians 3. Let Ephesians 3 be a strong and gentle friend who leads you by the hand into the most stable reality at the heart of the universe: the love of God and of Christ.
The Unknowable Love of Christ
Paul didn’t pray the tepid prayers we often pray. He prayed God-sized prayers. In one of the most spiritually nuclear passages in all the Bible he prays to the Father “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:16–19)
If we were to pray that reality into our lives and into our churches, what story would we be telling from heaven?
What exactly is Paul praying for? Not for greater obedience among the Ephesians, or that they would be more fruitful, or that false teaching would be stamped out, or that they would grow in doctrinal depth, or even for the spread of the gospel. All good things, things we should and must pray for. But here Paul prays that the Ephesians would be given supernatural power—not power to perform miracles or walk on water or convert their neighbors, but power, such power, the kind that only God himself can give, power to know how much Jesus loves them. Not just to have the love of Christ. To know the love of Christ.
What’s the state of your soul today, as you read this? Consider your own inner life. Ponder Christ. Do you know the love of Christ? Remember, Paul wrote Ephesians to a church. He was writing to believers, to people who had already come to terms, once and for all at the point of conversion, with the love of Jesus for them.
Yet Paul prays that they would know the love of Christ.
Apparently, there’s knowing the love of Christ, and there’s knowing the love of Christ. Verse 19 literally reads “to know the surpassing-knowledge love of Christ.” Paul is praying that they would know what cannot be known. Remember, “knowing” in the Bible is not merely cognitive.
It is profoundly relational. Even sexual intimacy is described as a man “knowing” his wife. As Jonathan Edwards famously put it, you can “know” honey in two distinct ways: you can know the exact chemical makeup of honey; or you can taste it. Both are ways we can “know” honey. But only the latter is the knowledge by which honey is experienced.1
And here in Ephesians 3, Paul is praying that believers would taste the love of Christ. Drink it down. Like Job’s vision of God, what Paul prays for is that our apprehension of the love of Christ would go from audio to video. It’s the difference between looking at a postcard of the Hawaii beach and sitting on that beach, blinking, squinting, absorbing the sun’s warmth.
Content taken from Deeper by Dane Ortlund, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.