Is God’s Love and Favor Unconditional? #284
A most wonderful Tuesday to you, dear friends! Some interesting Bible readings today. In 1st Kings 9, we find that Solomon might be a bit of a cheapskate, awarding his faithful friend King Hiram of Tyre 20 worthless towns for all of the work that Tyre had done for Solomon. In Psalms 90 we find out the rough lifespan of people during Moses’ time: 70, maybe 80 years. In Ezekiel 39 we see what might be an apocalyptic vision of the last days and in our Ephesians passage we are instructed in spiritual warfare, resisting the enemy, and standing firm. Given the opportunity, I would almost always focus on spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6, but we have just recently (“What are the weapons of Christian warfare?“covered that, so our focus today is in 1st Kings.
A bit of a warning. This is a 1500 word article, and it forms the basis of a 25ish minute podcast. That is NOT NEARLY enough time to deeply discuss the nature of the love of God. Consider this a bare intro. To go deep into this subject would take hours, so please allow me to challenge you with the question we are discussing today. Answer it through your own diligent study of the Word of God, because I suspect my answer to today’s Big Bible question is not quite the answer you might expect.
Something quite important is brought to light in 1 Kings 9: God’s conditional favor. Solomon is told that God will always keep one of his descendants on the throne if they are faithful, BUT IF Solomon and his descendants turn away from God and worship other Gods, then God’s favor will turn away also:
6 If you or your sons turn away from following me and do not keep my commands—my statutes that I have set before you—and if you go and serve other gods and bow in worship to them, 7 I will cut off Israel from the land I gave them, and I will reject the temple I have sanctified for my name.
1st Kings 9:6-7
Let’s go read the full passage and then consider Agape, unconditional love and God’s faithfulness. Does the Bible teach what we think it does?
In this passage we see God make a promise to Solomon that is repeated over and over and over in the Scriptures – God promising to bless and prosper those who are faithful and promising to discipline those who turn away from Him. This might seem very strange to you, and it might not fit into your image of a kindly old grandfather God sitting on His rocking chair watching all of the peoples of the world and loving them all and laughingly shaking His head at their sin…but this is not the picture of God we are given in Scripture. Instead, we are given a far more passionate picture of God. Yes, God is love (1 John 4:8 and others) but He is also a JEALOUS God. Consider Exodus 34:
for you shall worship no other God, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
God’s NAME is jealous and He IS jealous. How about that? In fact, the Bible tells us over a dozen times that God is jealous. This means that there are massive consequences when people are unfaithful to God, as we see in God’s words to Samuel here.
Agape is a word that lots of preachers talk about – so much so that it is almost certainly one of the two or three best known Greek words among most Christians. I used to pastor a precious church for over ten years called Agape. It was always funny to get phone calls from people who weren’t familiar with the word and its odd pronunciation – Agaype, Aga-Pay, Agape-y, etc. I’m not worried about the pronunciation too much, but the meaning of the word is worth considering. Many/most Christians believe Agape means something like, “unconditional love,” or ‘God’s love,’ or something along those lines. Oddly enough, that is another one of those preacher myths we have talked about for quite some time, and it is pretty easily dispelled by a quick look at the use of Agape in the Bible:
“This is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19
“Woe to you Pharisees! You love the front seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” Luke 11:43
“because Demas has deserted me, since he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” 2 Timothy 4:10
“42 Nevertheless, many did believe in him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, so that they would not be banned from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than praise from God.” John 12:42-43
4 uses of the word Agape in the Greek, all translated as ‘love’ in the English, and none of those mean unconditional love or God’s love, or anything of the sort – and there are many more examples. I actually find the Greek use of Agape in the Bible remarkably similar to the English use of ‘love.’ Sometimes the word is used in situations of great weight and import, and other times in a much less weighty and Godly way, sort of like, “I love French Vanilla ice cream!”
So – the word Agape doesn’t mean unconditional love, but doesn’t God love people unconditionally? Well…, that is kind of a complicated question, actually. Would it be too squirrely and political to say, it all depends on what your definition of ‘unconditional love’ is. Let’s consider some Bible truths and see how they illuminate our question.
First, let us see how God speaks of Himself – consider the second commandment in Exodus 20:
Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6 but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands.
God is jealous, bringing the consequences of sin onto multiple generations, BUT also showing faithful love to a thousand generations. Does this sound like unconditional love? It doesn’t to me, but it sounds like a kind of faithful love that is strongly weighted in the direction of compassion and mercy. I think it very significant that the consequences reach down to 4 generations, but the mercy down to a thousand generations. If you are doing the mouth, that is 250x more powerful, which is probably making more out of a non mathematical statement than I should do.
Consider Psalms 103:11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him. AND
Psalms 103:17: But from eternity to eternity the Lord’s faithful love is toward those who fear him, and his righteousness toward the grandchildren
Where is the fullness of God’s love directed? Towards those who fear Him.
Consider this contrast – an almost paradox that, when taken TOGETHER, gives us the full answer to our question – which is far from simple. Does God love His people unconditionally? I suggest we find the answer in the tension between these two beautiful truths about God:
Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you—if you remain in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
11 This saying is trustworthy: For if we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13
So let’s close with the fullness of the Gospel in the most famous Bible verse there is. Does God love the World? Absolutely as John 3:16 and other passages affirm beyond question! Is God love? You better believe it, and Scripture tells us this time and time again – God is love and the one who remains in love as their lifestyle remains in God. Does this mean that all will enter into eternal bliss with God? That His love will rescue everybody, even those who refuse and reject Him? Absolutely not…as we see when we continue to read John 3:16
14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
Believe on Jesus and be saved, dear friends and take His Good news to a lost and dying world in desperate need of hope and rescue.