WHO DOES GOD LOVE?
The modern emphasis in almost all evangelical preaching, witnessing usually begins with “God loves you,…”
This emphasis was not part of the early church’s witness …ever!
In the book of Acts, in every single example we have record of in scripture, where a believer (Apostle, Elder, Deacon) witnessed to an as yet unbeliever, there is not even one case where that unbeliever was told “God loves you”. Can it be that this is an omission? Which of these is more plausible?
A) Perhaps the Holy Spirit forgot to inspire any of the early church to use that phrase?
B) Perhaps the early church knew and understood better than the modern church?
Are we to assume therefore, that those who lived with Jesus, knew Him the best – His chosen apostles had the incorrect understanding of truth? That their witness and evangelism was in fact in error? Or that ours is?
As soon as someone turned to Christ in repentant faith however, the epistles are full of declarations of the love of God for His people. This is the consistent pattern of the New Testament. Jesus expressly taught that both the Father and He Himself will love those who believe in Jesus as the Son Of God, and love and obey Him (Jn 14:21,23). He had no problem so qualifying the subject of who God loves.However, many if not most of those who profess faith and love for Jesus as Lord and Christ, emphatically declare to all alike, regardless of their faith/love response to Jesus, that God loves everyone anyway. Who are we to believe here? Jesus? Or His modern followers?
I. Fact: In Acts NO unbeliever was ever told “God loves you”
Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2)
Peter’s second sermon (Acts 4)
Stephen before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7)
Peter with Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8)
Philip with the Ethiopian (Acts 6)
Peter with Cornelius (Acts 10)
Paul, Barnabas with the Philippian Jailor (Acts 16)
Paul before Felix (Acts 24), Festus (Acts 25),
Herod, Agrippa (Acts 26)
Paul with the men on the boat (Acts 27).
None of these examples state that the evangelical witness to an unbeliever included the idea, “God loves you”!
II. God does not love “in varying degrees”
“God can still love the unbeliever and the believer, just in different ways. To a different degree”, someone could say. Such an idea however, creates enormous theological problems for the doctrine of the perfection and immutability of God. “As for God, His way is perfect” (Ps 18:30; 2 Sam 22:31).
When God is good, He is perfectly good.
When He is righteous, He is perfectly righteous.
Therefore, when God loves, He loves perfectly, not in varying degrees. The concept of God loving by degree is absurd in the light of His perfection. He is the immutable God. Meaning, He does not and cannot change for the better or worse.
“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8)
“The Father of light with whom there is no shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17)
“I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal 3:6)
These all speak to the essential truth of the immutability of God. God does not change because He cannot do so! It is not merely difficult, but impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:18). He “cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
This God with whom there is zero variableness, not even a shadow of turning, who does not and can not change, who is the same always, said “Jacob I loved and Esau, I hated” (Rom 9:13).
He loved Esau less?
Some argue this means God loved Esau less than Jacob. “Hate” is not literal here. It is a comparative statement. God loved Jacob so much that by comparison He “hated” Esau. It is a question only of degree (they say). So if this silly idea is true, then how little did God ‘love’ Esau then, so that He could in any context describe it as hate when compared to His love of Jacob? And how is it that the perfect God can love in or to an imperfect degree? And those who say such things think they help their own position here? Which of these is better, or easier to tell someone…
I. God hates you!
II. God loves me so much and you so little, that by comparison, He hates you!
Seriously? The lengths people will go to, to try and demean the truth of God which they find unpalatable! Think this meant God loved Esau less?
Apart from the open contradiction to God’s perfections, look at Malachi 1:3-4 to see how God “hated” Esau! Read the graphic description of the destruction and devastation God says He did on “the people God is angry with forever”! Loves less? Um, ok!
“If anyone does not hate his father, mother, wife or child…”
The Lord Jesus said “If anyone comes after Me and does not hate his family or his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26). So it is commonly argued that God does employ “hate” in a non-literal, comparative way. This is true…when discussing our response to God. Jesus here was essentially saying we are to love Him so much that if push comes to shove, by comparison all other loves -parent, spouse, children are to be considered as hate. Meaning, that we are not to allow any other relationship to keep us from believing in and following Christ. We know from other scriptures that we are commanded to love one another, not “hate” literally. And of course, I fully agree here.
Jesus was here stating in obvious hyperbolic language, what is and must be true of us in our response to Him. However, this has nothing to do with what God can do! Or has done. Obviously, God can and does do many things we are not permitted to do. God can kill, we must not. God can take vengeance, we must not. God can judge. We must not. God can hate and destroy. We must not. Those who cite Lk 14:26 in their attempt to lessen the force of God saying He “hated” Esau have therefore not succeeded because they have assumed that what is required of us by God is or must always be the same as what He can do. This is a significant error.
“Nations, not individuals”?
According to the apostle Paul and the prophet Malachi, God hated Esau the individual brother of Jacob and the “people” who sprang from his seed. Paul uses Esau in the individual personal sense in Romans 9. He speaks of “the twins” and what was decided by God concerning each one “before they were born, or had done anything good or evil” (Rom 9:11-12). Malachi, clearly refers to “Esau” in the corporate sense – “the people God is angry with forever”.
Many suppose they lessen the brunt or force of this statement in Romans 9:11, by arguing that it “refers to nations, not individuals”. The obvious flaw in such an argument is easily seen when we realize that a nation cannot possibly be separated from the peoples which comprise it. God hating an entire nation or nations hardly alleviates the force of the statement! Rather, it only magnifies it. So we see that by such sophistry as this, those who try to lessen or deny the force of God hating Esau, only magnify their problem.
In Christ, God says of Gentiles,
“I will call those not loved, ‘My beloved’” (Rom 9:25-26)