Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who was infatuated with a person who did not necessarily share the same sentiments. In fact, it was not certain what the other person really desired in their relationship. I will not mention anything more about this situation out of respect for those involved. This situation has caused me to do a lot of thinking about love, what it is, and what it entails. It seems to me that for true love to be genuine it must be reciprocated. That is, it must be accepted by both individuals in the relationship. We can learn a lot about love from God’s triune relationship.
I. Love is reciprocated in the Triune relationship.
When attempting to explain the triune nature of God, Norman Geisler uses the example of the genuine spirit of love to explain this difficult theological concept. Geisler’s illustration is not original to him; rather he took it from Augustine of Hippo. The following is Geisler’s depiction of love in the triune relationship of God:
“Augustine suggested an illustration of how God is both three and one at the same time. The Bible informs us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Love involves a lover, a beloved, and a spirit of love between lover and loved. The Father might be likened to the Lover; the Son to the One loved, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love. Yet love does not exist unless these three are united as one. This illustration has the advantage of being personal since it involves love, a characteristic that flows only from persons.”
Seeing that God is love (1 Jn. 4:16), the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a demonstration of perfect love in its purest form. Love is not forced. Love is accepted and flows from person to person. There is a lover—one initiating the love, a beloved—the one receiving the love from the lover, and the spirit of love—a mutual received love between both parties. In the case of the triune relationship, this love is mutually given and received by all three members of the Godhead. We can learn a lot about love from God.
II. Love is reciprocated in human relationships.
God is the perfect demonstration of love as we noted in the previous section. The loving example of the Trinity is carried over into healthy loving human relationships. How so? Healthy relationships involve two people who mutually love one another. Let’s consider a hypothetical example of person A (we’ll call Adam) and person B (we’ll call Barbara). Say Adam loves Barbara and expresses his love towards her. Yet, Barbara does not love Adam in return. Adam tries and tries to make Barbara love him, but she does not return his emotions. Is this true love? Absolutely not! Adam’s love is not reciprocated.
Let’s consider another case. Say Barbara loves Adam, but Adam doesn’t return the favor. Barbara manipulates Adam into a relationship. They get married, but Adam never has the feelings for Barbara that she has for him. This relationship is not one based on love, but rather control and manipulation. True love must be reciprocated.
For Adam and Barbara’s love to be genuine, Adam must express his love to Barbara. Barbara must receive his love. Therefore, Barbara will express her love to Adam and her love will also be openly received. This hypothetical relationship notes how that true love requires a lover (one sending the love), a beloved (one receiving love), and a mutual spirit of love between the two.
III. Love is reciprocated in divine/human relationships.
Since genuine love is seen in God’s eternal triune relationship and that true love is reciprocated between two consenting individuals, then it only makes sense that God instill his love upon us not by force, but by reciprocation. That is to say, God freely offers his love to individuals. He doesn’t force his love on an individual. Remember, forced love is not genuine love! God says through his prophet Ezekiel, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?… Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?” (Eze. 18:23). Jesus says that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn. 3:15). In this case, God is the lover, and human beings are the beloved. But, the love must be reciprocated.
Can individuals seek God on their own? Absolutely not! God’s grace must be extended to them first. This truth is seen in Jesus’s description of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Jesus notes that the Holy Spirit will “convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (Jn. 16:8-9). In this case, we see that God is the lover, human beings are the beloved, and the Spirit working to produce this love is the Holy Spirit. Forced love is not love, though. God does not force a person to salvation. He freely gives his love and his love must freely be received, otherwise, it is not true love.
When I counsel couples looking to get married, I always tell them that if they want to love one another, they must first know God because God is love. Because God is love and demonstrates perfect love, we should not be surprised to find that love is exuded in human relationships when it mimics God’s love. Theological systems need to also accept this understanding of love. Genuine love must have a lover, a beloved, and the spirit of love. Otherwise, a relationship may exist, but it is not a truly loving relationship.
 Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman, 2017).
Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University. Brian has been in the ministry for over 15 years and serves as the pastor of Huntsville Baptist Church in Yadkinville, North Carolina.
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