In Romans 1:7 Paul describes those to whom this remarkable letter is addressed. He refers to them as those “who are loved by God.”
You may not think that anyone else cares anything at all for you. I don’t believe that’s true, but you may be convinced that it is. Satan is trying to convince you that it is true. He wants you to feel excluded, unloved, uncared for, and unnoticed by others. You aren’t. But hearing me reassure you probably won’t change things. What will change things is your capacity to believe and receive God’s love for you.
Think about that for a moment. We talk about it all the time. We sing about it on Sunday mornings. But God wants you to feel his affection for you. He wants you to be set free from self-contempt and shame and the pain it brings as you reflect on the glorious truth that the God of the universe, the Creator and Providential Lord over all, loves you and delights in you and quite literally sings over you (Zeph. 3:17)!
Does God love everyone in Rome, even those who don’t believe in Jesus? In one sense, yes, but in another sense, no. God’s love for all mankind is seen in his provision of sunlight and rain and food and his sustaining power that keeps them from falling into non-existence and countless other blessings that people enjoy. All those undeserved benefits and gifts that fall under the heading of common grace are expressions of God’s benevolence toward all creation.
But he has a special, covenant love for the Bride of Christ, the church, wherever it may be found, be it in first-century Rome or twenty-first century Oklahoma City. Does it not shock you to hear Paul say that the God of all creation has a special love for this small band of believers who live in a city of 400,000? Paul is saying, “Among all the men, women, and children of every age who live in Rome, I’m writing this letter to those who are loved by God.” In some sense they are loved by God in a way that others are not.
If I say to all the believers at Bridgeway Church, “I love you,” you know what I mean. I actually love you in a way that is different from the way I love non-Christians in OKC. You are my spiritual family. We are in a covenant relationship with one another. And if I say to Ann, my wife of 48 years, “I love you. You are my beloved,” you don’t have to be told that my love for her is special and unique. You would never assume that I love Ann because I love all women, and the only reason why I love her is because I love them.
So it is with God’s love for his people, the Church. There is a special affection and delight he takes in us that he does not feel for those who hate him and reject the gospel. Paul is not saying, God calls you “beloved” because he loves everybody the same, and, since you are part of everybody, you are also beloved.” Here in v. 7 he is speaking to those who are “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (v. 6). In other words, this is not the general or universal love that God has for everyone in his creation. This is the love he has for his covenant people, those he has called to be saints, set apart for himself.
May the Spirit awaken your heart not simply to believe this truth, but to receive it and enjoy it and to feel the passionate affection that your heavenly Father has for you!