After praying that the Corinthian church will experience the grace of Christ, Paul prays that they will experience “the love of God.” It is a simple phrase, easy to rush past. But I appeal to you to slow down, to ponder this prayer, to ask what Paul means when he says, “The love of God . . . be with you all.” How should the model Paul provides here shape our pastoral ministry?
In the Trinitarian structure of this benediction, “God” specifically refers to the Father, the first person of the Trinity. And it is clear that Paul has in mind God’s love for us, not our love for God.
Paul’s closing benediction demonstrates what our prayer should be for those we love and serve: that through our ministry they might encounter the love of God the Father. True pastoral ministry seeks to convince Christians of the love of God the Father for them, a love that is specific, personal, and passionate.
And many Christians need convincing. Over the years I have spoken with many genuine Christians who are not certain of God’s love for them. They tend to think of God as merely tolerating them, often frustrated with them, eager to punish them. Countless genuine Christians are suspicious of God.
How are we to convince these believers of God’s love for them? I believe J. I. Packer gives us wise guidance. In his outstanding book Knowing God, Packer writes,
“The New Testament gives us two yardsticks for measuring God’s love. The first is the cross (see Rom 5:8; 1 Jn 4:8–10); the second is the gift of sonship [1 John 3:1].”¹
We convince God’s people of his love for them by leading them to the cross and by reminding them of their adoption as sons of God.
Let us acknowledge right here that to fully measure God’s love is an unending and impossible (and joyous) task. Who can mark off the height and breadth and length and depth of God’s love for us? Elsewhere Paul prays for the Ephesians that they will “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). When we survey the love of God for us, we are plumbing the unfathomable, measuring the immeasurable. But let us use these two yardsticks, the cross and the gift of sonship, to attempt to do just that.
This post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, excerpted from the chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway.
¹J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 214.