Summary: Love must be described from God down.
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said: ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:30)
We have come again to Valentine’s Day, a day in which we reflect upon love. Much has been written or said about love. We can think of Henry Mancini’s theme for “Love Story.” We can think of another song written by Neil Young and sung by Linda Ronstadt called “Love is a Rose.” Decades ago, Duke Ellington reflected in his Mass upon the current theology which stated: “Love is a four letter word for God. God it a three letter word for love.” Love is God, and God is love. Although it is quite true that the Bible does state that “God is love,” it does not state that God is love. The problem with “love is that it is an abstract noun which has no agreed definition. So one can see love as a trick of chemistry meant for reproduction of the species and the nurture of young. Could anyone really be inspired by such a definition? But other definitions also fail to describe love any better, especially when it ascribes love to that which God has deemed sinful. Love has to be defined from the top down. What is love? What does the Bible say?
In approaching this subject, the Bible does indeed provide examples of love. I think it correctly said that love is an action verb rather than a state of being verb. Love has to be described by the action it inspires. The Bible demonstrates the love of a mother for her children in Proverbs 31 where it describes what the virtuous woman does to provide for her family. One can see the love that Isaac had for Rebekah when she was brought to him. We can find all kinds of useful Scripture on the topic of love as well as examples of the opposite. However, this is not the top down approach I intend to take.
It might seem odd, that I am starting with John 19:30 where the word “love” is not even mentioned. It is next to the last words Jesus said from the cross. It is a good thing to see the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the ultimate example of love. But why not start with John 3:16 which states that: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….” But when we look a little deeper, we shall se how profound John 19:30 really is.
We hear the words “It is finished.” But what exactly is it the finish of? It is the finish of the suffering of Jesus on the cross, for sure. But if we look further into the Greek text, we will see a much more profound meaning. Christians already sense there is a deeper meaning. It is a translation of a single Greek word, tetelestai. It is the perfect form of the verb teleo which has the basic meaning “to bring to completion.” It is related to the noun “telos.” The noun in English is used in the compound noun telescope which is to see something far off more clearly. Telos is often translated “perfection” in English, but this definition falls somewhat short. In fact, it is hard to describe the Greek “telos” in a single word. Perhaps it is best described as seen in the planning of a building. A plan for a building is drawn up by an architect. The building has certain measurements and is designed for a certain purpose. The plans begin as a vision in the architects head. Then, these ideas are drawn into plans at the macro and micro level. Workers are employed to construct the various sub-assemblies and then to assemble the building. The building is said to come to telos when all the assembly is finished, and the building is functioning as designed.
The Bible says “Christ was slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) God knows the end from the beginning what He planned for creation. A significant purpose (sub-assembly) was the creation of human beings whom He knew would fall and need to be redeemed. These truths existed in the mind of God before the plan of redemption was put into place. The plan of redemption was already telos in God’s mind. God cannot fail like we do. Many times, an architect will undertake a project which in the end fails to achieve the purpose it was designed for. In some cases, this failure is spectacular. But not so for God. So God’s plan is always telos, no matter what stage in time and history the project is at.
Telos is used in John 13:1 where it reads: “Before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that the hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in world, He loved them unto the telos.” The KJV puts it: “He loved them to the uttermost.” This verse finds its completion (telos) in John 19:30. It begins in earnest the journey to the cross which starts with the Last Supper and Foot Washing. It then proceeds to the Farewell Discourses of chapters 14-17. The topic of love is repeated again and again. The disciples were admonished to love each other. “No greater love has this, than a man lay down His life for that of His friends.” Of course, Jesus is referring to His own upcoming crucifixion in which He lays down his life for those He has just called “friends.” Jesus goes on to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane where He commands the Romans not to seize His new “friends” even though one of them had just cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Then at His trial before Pilate, He seemed more concerned about Pilate’s soul than His own life. Everywhere from John 13:1 to His death at John 19:30 is an example of love in action. He loved His enemies who had crucified Him by calling on the Father to forgive them. Paul, in Romans reminds us that Christ died for sinners; he died when we still were at enmity with Him (Romans 5). So what we see in Jesus statement in 19:30 is actually the perfection of the truest sense of love. Love is seen and defined by what Jesus did for us on the cross. This is true love brought to completion.