“….‘And the greatest of these is love.’ You see, of all that God is, it is most important that He is love. It is His greatest characteristic. He could have emphasized His justice and wrath, He could have emphasized His power, but He chose to emphasize His love. Where would we be without His love?”
The preacher’s voice rand loudly throughout the small sanctuary, almost deafeningly, and several hearty “Amens” echoed back. But some in the congregation knew that the preacher wasn’t quite right. Where did he go wrong? Well, first of all, he was misapplying Scripture, since 1 Corinthians 13 is not teaching that love is God’s choicest attribute. Secondly, the preacher didn’t know God as he should have as a minister in the pulpit, and this is to his shame; for if he were to know the God of the Bible, he would have been unable to bring himself to say what he did.
So, what would he say, if he knew God? Let’s take a moment to introduce our preacher to Jehovah God. This God is loving and wrathful; He is just and merciful; the omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendence of God is side-by-side with His patience and goodness. This God is truth itself, and thus always truthful; He is perfect, He is righteous, He is unchanging, and He is infinite. But, preacher, He is not more loving than He is just, or more merciful than He is truthful. Knowing the harmony of God’s attributes, our preacher can no longer say that any one attribute is the most important. The Lord is not only all of these things, but He is all of these things perfectly at the same time.
Our preacher now begins to think: If God’s love were more important than His wrath, then none would go to hell, for His love must needs be satisfied over His wrath. Now we are ignoring the clear teaching in Scripture that God is just in His wrath and punishment of sin, and that “broad is the way that leadest to destruction, and many there be which go in” (Matt. 7:13, etc.).
Or perhaps, he thinks, On the other hand, if God were all-righteous but His goodness suffered, we could never condemn Him for partiality, but perhaps we would no longer see rain for our crops or a beautiful sunny day or enjoy the luxuries of a warm cup of tea and a cozy couch to snuggle into. God is under no obligation to give these things, but purely in His goodness does He provide them. So in reading several psalms, our preacher is reminded that God is declared to be both good and righteous at once.
Now, thinks the preacher, Suppose God were patient: ultimately patient with us! Yet if He were not all-powerful, what means would He have to remain so patient? If His power knew limits, surely His patience would, too. Yet again, the preacher finds so many words in Scripture to describe the Lord’s might that he begins to list them all, and in his reading sees that the Almighty is very patient with mankind.
Now, thinks the preacher again, what if the Lord were holy and could not endure the sight of sin, as Scripture teaches, and thus must punish sin through His justice, yet what if He did not know all? Surely some secret sin would escape His holy and just punishment, and then He could not be perfectly just, only as just as He is knowledgeable. Then the preacher reads Psalm 139 and sees that the Lord certainly knows everything, even those things that man will never know.
Now I have it! Considers the preacher. Suppose that God’s mercy were His crowning attribute! Suppose that His grace ruled all His actions above His power or His justice…. But should He be even barely less than perfectly unchanging, then He is not a firm foundation. At any moment may appear the single glitch in His mercy, and some poor soul will be mercilessly plummeted into hell. Or perhaps His truth would suffer change and many would find themselves believing in lies that were true before; but thank God that there is no shadow of turning on His dear, true face! (James 1:17)
The preacher concludes now, realizing that no single attribute of God is better than another. He says, “None can be the most important and still leave God as God. He is beyond what I can know, yet I can know some small things about Him as He has written in His Word, and that is enough to convince me that God must be known as a combination of all of His perfect attributes. And for such a beautiful composite of virtues, He is to be praised for all that He is!”
Soli Deo Gloria