Articles From Our Bulletins
Truly Loving God
Do you love God? If so, do you love God simply because He loves you, cp. 1John 4:10 and Matt.5:46-47? Or, do you love God because of what He has done and continues to do for you, cf. 1John 4:9-10? How do you know? To answer this question, we must first be sure we accurately understand “love” and its motivations.
I’ve previously said many times that biblical, or divine love, “creates rather than requires a value.” That when we “love” someone in this way, they become valuable to us because we love them, rather than us “loving” them because they are in some (usually physical or emotional) way valuable to us. If we only “love” someone because and as long as they present some value to us, this is actually closer to lust rather than love because it is selfish rather than selfless. Furthermore, I’ve supported this concept with Rom.5:8 showing that God “loved” us (mankind) when there was no value to Him because we were yet “sinners” and even “enemies” (v.10); so much so as to give His Son to redeem us.
While I still believe these things to be true, I’ve concluded that some clarification is also needed. Agape (love), agapao (to love), and agapetos (beloved), upon further research, have included in their definition the notion that the affection and its compulsory actions are “based on sincere appreciation and high regard” according to the Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, by J.P. Louw & E.A. Nida. How can this be, if, as I’ve thought and taught that such love “creates rather requires value”?
Let’s go back to Rom.5:8,10. That we were “loved… while yet sinners” and “while enemies… were reconciled” cannot be denied and should not be doubted. It is also true that in such a state we possessed no apparent value to God. We were not, at that point, praising, glorifying, or serving Him in any way- let alone “loving” Him. But His “love” for us was not dependent upon those apparent outward values, but the inherent internal value He placed in each one of us: that eternal part of Himself called the soul/spirit, Gen.1:26-27; 2:7; Jas.4:5. Thus, God did see and appreciate “value” in us that was worthy of His love, but it was inherent internal value rather than being derived from apparent outward service or benefit to Him.
What effect does this have on my previous conclusions and efforts to define and describe why and/or how we “love” someone else? In the main, it doesn’t. We “love” like God when the motivation for our love (which in turn makes this person valuable to us because we love them) is not selfishly based on service or benefit to us, but inherent within them as a person created by God and possessing a soul that is valuable to Him, and thus to us. In this way, we are able to “love” our enemies and “those who persecute” us as in Matt.5:44, rather than just reciprocating “love” derived from selfish motivations of service or personal benefit(s), Matt.5:46-48. But how does this revised understanding affect how/why we love God?
Let’s look at John 14:15 and (re)think how and why we “love” God. There is a definite link between loving God and keeping His commandments (and loving the children of God), vv.21,23,24;1John 5:2; 2John 6. But, do keeping His commandments and/or loving His children necessarily mean we love God? Perhaps so, in a foundational way, until our love for Him can grow and mature from greater understanding or appreciation. Or, does first loving God allow/motivate us to then keep His commandments and love His children, cf. 1John 5:3; 2John 2:6? Note carefully 1John 2:4-5 for a more specific answer (note the word “perfected” - we’ll come back to it later). While keeping His commandments is a necessary “requirement” of loving God, it is also true that one can be motivated to keep His commandments by guilt or fear rather than love, cf. Dan.4:29-36,37, and thus keep His commandments without actually loving God. Likewise, heathen unbelievers can love (at least some of) God’s children without loving God, cp. 1John 4:20. So, though loving God unavoidably requires keeping His commandments and loving His children (i.e. brethren), it does not necessarily follow that keeping His commandments and/or loving His children always mean that we love God (though again, there is a definite link, John 14:21). In these regards, as in other applications, motivations matter. Think of a young child. Initially, their “love” of their parents is reciprocal (because they love him/her) and based on external value (they meet perceived needs). Thus, they learn to “love” and obey, and also “love” their siblings. But eventually (and hopefully!), their “love” matures in greater understanding of who and what their parents are internally. Now their “love” has been perfected, cf. 1John 2:5; 4:12,16-17 (“perfected” is from the Greek word teleioo- to carry through completely; add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full). It is no longer merely reciprocal, or based on the external value(s) of them supplying needs and wants (i.e. things).
All of which brings us back to our central question and point: How do you know whether or not you truly love God, or whether our love for Him has been “perfected” or yet remains infantile and incomplete? Perhaps these questions will help to clarify both our understanding of what it really means to love God, and know whether or not we do:
- Is our “love” of God just reciprocal- because He loves us, 1John 4:19?
- Is our “love” of God selfish- because He blesses and benefits us, cf. Job 1:9-22?
- Or, do we “love” God because we understand the inherent/intrinsic/internal value of who and what He is as “God”? Not just because He loves us- of which even the heathen are capable and do; and not just because He blesses/benefit us- which is selfish; but because He is “God” and intrinsically “good”… and we, according to the definition of agape, have a “sincere appreciation and high regard” for Him as such?
- If the answer is “#3,” then loving God produces our keeping of His commandments and love of His children rather than being just a product of them. It is a “horse and cart” issue, but one in which it is vital to understand which is the “horse” and which is the “cart” (“Which precedes and produces which?”). If we get this backwards, we’ll probably never really understand or experience true love for God.
So, how do we discover or develop a love for God that is not just reciprocal, and produces obedience to His commandments and love of His children (our brethren)? The answer is actually quite simple: Get to truly know God. How?
- Read His Book- not just to understand His requirements of us, or to discern all the benefits for obedience and liabilities for disobedience (here or hereafter), but to discover who He is, 2Pet.1:3. Then our love for God can be selflessly “based on sincere appreciation and high regard” for His intrinsic value rather than being selfishly motivated by His love of and blessing us.
- Talk to Him- not just to ask Him for physical things, but for spiritual understanding and wisdom, Jas.1:2-5. Our prayers so often consist mainly of asking for the (again, physical) things we want that we fail to avail ourselves of the spiritual guidance to understanding what we need: true knowledge and understanding of Him!
- Get to Know His People- again, not just to be blessed by their association, but as visible/earthly manifestations and reflections of Him. Start with His Son, Jesus Christ, John 1:18; Heb.1:3; 1John 5:20; but also learn from His children, as they are born of and therefore manifest His traits/characteristics, 1John 4:12-16; Matt.5:13,14,16.
- Walk with Him- It has been often said that “To really know someone, walk in their shoes.” While we cannot “walk in God’s shoes,” walking with Him greatly enhances our comprehension of Him, Mic.6:8; cf. Luke 24:13-31.
Now, “Do you love God?” If so, then “keep His commandments” and “love one another.” If not, back up and make sure you “know” Him- for, as the saying goes, “to know him is to love him!” But while you’re doing so, keep His commandments and love His children (the brethren) as these are also part of the process!