Susan Griego’s assignment was fairly simple. She would stroll around the Albuquerque Zoo with her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend until they reached the penguin exhibit. At that point, she was supposed to pull out her phone, offer to take their picture, start recording a video, and her future son-in-law would drop to one knee to the surprise and delight of his girlfriend.
It seemed easy enough.
Susan, however, had some trouble with her phone. After fumbling with it for a while, she eventually borrowed her daughter’s phone, got the video rolling, and the proposal was underway.
Afterward, when they looked back at the video, they found that she did record the entire proposal. Well, she recorded the audio anyway. Susan’s video, instead of capturing her daughter’s reaction, captured an uncomfortably close view of her own excited response to the proposal.
She almost nailed it. She just focused the camera on the wrong person.1
I’m afraid that’s the mistake we often make when we try to grow in our love for our children. We try to love, we struggle to love, we pray for love. But at the end of the day, our focus is squarely on ourselves, on our love. And, in ourselves, we just don’t have what it takes to love. In the previous article, “What is Love?—And Do You Have It?” we observed this important truth: “in order to love our children, we don’t need a minor adjustment of a few degrees. We need a heart transformation!”
That heart transformation is only possible through the God who is Himself love (1 John 4:8). Through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He gives us a new heart, capable of showing the love of God. As we grow in love, we find that our children don’t need us to love them more. They need God to love them through us.
So let’s take some time to closely examine the love of our God for our children.
God is Love
Read again through 1 Corinthians 13:4–8.
You don’t have to read long before you start to realize there is something unique about the love being described here. It’s not normal. It’s not natural. It’s supernatural.
That is because the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is actually divine love.2 And as we look closer at the love of God for our children, we find that He is very different from us. His love is perfect, selfless, and holy. So what does God’s love toward your children look like?
1. God’s Patience
God is patient toward your children.
One of the most foundational passages about the patience of God in the Old Testament is Exodus 34:6–7. Throughout the Old Testament, kings and prophets quote from these verses.
Here’s how God describes Himself:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 34:6–7).
Did you see God’s patience? It’s found in that phrase “slow to anger” or, literally, “long-nosed.”
Dane Ortlund describes that word this way:
“The Lord is long-nosed. He doesn’t have his finger on the trigger… . His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It’s just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick.”3
When your son manages to break yet another piece of furniture, God is patient. When your daughter’s mood swings are getting out of control, and you’re at your wit’s end, God is patient. When your family trip somehow disintegrates into a whine-fest, God is patient. He wants to show your children His patience—through you.
2. God’s Kindness
God is kind toward your children. This word is often translated “good” in the Greek translation of the Old Testament and refers to God’s posture toward sinful people (see Psalm 25:7–8).
The New Testament repeats this emphasis:
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3–6).
Are your children ever foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures? Do they ever seem to pass their days in malice and envy or hate one another? If so, what is God’s posture toward them? He is kind! He wants to show them His lovingkindness! He even wants to save them from their sin! And he has enlisted you to demonstrate His kindness. God wants to show His kindness—through you.
3. God’s Desires
What are God’s desires when it comes to sinful, broken people? What stirs his heart? In Hosea 11:8–9, we get an intimate picture of God’s heart toward people “bent on turning away.” He responds like this: “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender … for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
When your children have messed up yet again, when they seem bent on making your life difficult, when they seem to lack any sensitivity to the things of the Lord, how does a holy God feel toward them? According to this passage, He feels compassion. He wants to move toward them. He delays His wrath so that they might return to Him.
So, don’t be too concerned about how you feel toward your children. Focus on the love of your God. He desires to show compassion—through you.
4. God’s Demeanor
What is God’s demeanor toward your children? We find out in Scripture that He actually wants to honor sinful people—like your children (see Isaiah 43:9). God doesn’t assign less worth to your children because they are small or immature. In fact, he longs for your children to be restored to the place of honor for which He created them. God wants to show honor to your children—through you.
5. God’s Reactions
God is not quick to react to your children. When they intentionally commit a sin under his all-seeing eye, he doesn’t “lose it” or “lash out.” We saw that in Exodus 34. Instead, God is slow to become angry toward your children. And he doesn’t keep track of their forgiven iniquities (Psalm 130:3). He wants to show your children this part of His character—through you.
6. God’s Emotions
How does God respond to your children? Unlike the cranky, tired dad at the end of a day at work, God wants to rejoice over your children! When He sees what He is doing in their lives, He actually wants to sing about it!!
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zechariah 3:17)
God wants to show your children His joy—through you.
7. God’s Endurance
God will never stop loving your children. Your love will fail, but His will not. Your love will sour and wane. His will not. God wants to keep loving your children—through you.
Complete the Circuit
So, how does this work? How does God love through us?
According to 1 John 4:7–13, it has everything to do with the ultimate manifestation of God’s love: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (v. 9). When you trust Jesus, not only does God give you eternal life, His Spirit actually comes to live in you! At that point, something amazing happens. Listen to how John explains it:
“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (vv. 12–13).
That word “perfected” carries the idea of completion. Colin Kruse rephrases it like this: “The circuit of God’s love is completed when we love one another.”4 When God’s Spirit comes to live in you, the current of His love begins to pass through you. This “circuit completion” bears fruit as you listen to and walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
Does God’s Spirit dwell in you? Have you placed your faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ for salvation from sin? There is only one way to show real divine love to those around you. Your heart must be transformed through a relationship with God.
If you have trusted Christ, are you allowing Him to love your children through you? Do you seek to daily walk in His Spirit?
The passages we’ve looked at today just scratch the surface of the love God has for you and your family. You need to keep looking at His love.
Consider starting a daily journal in which you capture the love of God revealed on the pages of Scripture. The Gospel of John is a great place to start. You could even call your journal something like “God’s Love for My Family.” Jot down every instance of the love of God for people. Think about His love. Then, pray for His help to show that love to those around you.
In his explanation of this passage, Leon Morris states, “Whereas the highest concept of love before the New Testament was that of a love for the best one knows, the Christians thought of love as that quality we see on the cross. It is a love for the utterly unworthy, a love that proceeds from a God who is love. It is a love lavished on others without a thought whether they are worthy or not. It proceeds from the nature of the lover, not from any attractiveness in the beloved. The Christian who has experienced God’s love for him while he was yet a sinner (Rom. 5:8) has been transformed by the experience. Now he sees people as those for whom Christ died, the objects of God’s love, and therefore the objects of the love of God’s people. In his measure he comes to practise the love that seeks nothing for itself, but only the good of the loved one. It is this love that the apostle unfolds” (Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians, 174). ↩
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, 148. ↩
Colin Kruse, The Letters of John, 162. ↩