Defining God’s Love + An Illustration

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God is love. Maybe more than any other statement this has been used to identify God’s basic essence. But if we consider God’s love apart from the totality of God’s nature, our understanding of God will be dangerously skewed. So what does God mean when He says that He is love? Pastor John Piper offers a helpful definition:

Biblical love is the overflow of joy that God has in Himself, spilling out on unworthy people to draw them into the greatest experience in the world, namely knowing, tasting, enjoying, praising, being swept up into the glory of God.

(“The Pleasure of God in Election,” sermon preached on February 22, 1989 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis)

This definition may sound unusual to many because it places God, not people, at the center of God’s affections. It almost seems prideful or selfish of God. And it would be, if God were not truly worthy of all honor and praise. But He is glorious beyond measure, and our happiness can only be realized through Him! Hence, the “God-centeredness” of God becomes an everlasting fountain by which He can freely and continually give of Himself to His people. More than 100 years ago, Pastor Alexander Maclaren, said the following concerning God’s love:

I do not do this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy name’s sake…(Ezekiel 36:22) The foundation of all God’s love to us sinful men…lies not in us, nor in anything about us, not in anything external to God Himself. He, and He alone, is the cause and reason, the motive and the end, of His own love to our world…the love of God—a love that has no motive but Himself…by its very nature must be pouring out the flood of its own joyous fullness forever and ever.

(Sermons Preached at Manchester, copyright © 1902, pages 29-30)

Here is an idea for illustrating this “God-centered” definition of love to children. You will need a jar of blowing bubbles and a wand. Begin to enthusiastically blow bubbles toward the children. Encourage them to enjoy the bubbles. After a minute or two, stop blowing the bubbles. Hold up the bubble jar and wand and comment:

This jar and wand belong to me. I enjoyed blowing the bubbles. But did I keep the joy of the bubbles just to myself? Did I try to hide them from you, or keep them out of your reach? No. I aimed them toward you on purpose so that you could enjoy them, too. I shared my enjoyment with you.

This can help us to understand God loving Himself most of all. God’s love for Himself, “spills out” and overflows to others so that we can enjoy Him, too—just like my bubbles spilled out and overflowed to you so you could enjoy them.

God is not selfish with His joy, keeping it all to Himself. He gladly shares His joy so that we can enjoy Him also. That is love.

Furthermore, you could go on to connect this illustration with Jesus’ death on the cross:

And to show just how great His love really is, God the Father gave up His greatest treasure—Jesus His Son—to die so that we might be able to have lasting joy in heaven with Him.

(Photo courtesy of Chrisroll at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Written by Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson is a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and author. She has taught Sunday School for over 20 years and writes God-centered curriculum for Children Desiring God.

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