How do we Love God?

2018 Dec 15

We are commanded to love God:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Jesus in Luke‬ ‭10:27 NIV quoting Deuteronomy‬ 6:5‬).

But what does this mean to love God? What does loving God look like?


Note:

  • This is NOT a command to a feeling.
    • We are not commanded to feel like we love God.
  • This is NOT a command to an emotion.
    • We are not being commanded to be “in love with” God.
  • This is NOT a command to desire.
    • We are not being told to want to have God.
  • This is NOT a command to experience.
    • We are not being told to seek an encounter with God or have an experience of God.
  • This IS a command to a completely wholistic response.
    • Our love is to completely involve our being, our feelings, our reason and our actions. note

Note that it certainly isn’t wrong to have feelings, emotion, desires or experiences about or with God. They are most likely to be a part of the context as you love God. But these are not the measure or indicator of loving God. They are not what it is to love God.

In the context, Jesus put this command together with “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew‬ ‭22:36-40‬ note). Together these actively fulfilled everything God had previously told the Jews to do in the law and prophets. (Romans‬ ‭13:8-10‬ note) The Jewish law was certainly something that demanded action from people. The prophets reenforced this call to an active love (Hosea 6:6 - caring for people). Therefore from the law, loving God necessarily demanded our physical action.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Romans 13:8-10 NIV

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

“Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””

Matthew 22:34-40 NIV

Interestingly by implication of what Jesus said, if you only love God without loving your neighbor, you will not fulfill the law and prophets. Both loving God and loving neighbors are commandments. When these two commands are done together as a pair they fulfill the law. From the perspective of law, not loving your neighbor is breaking the law - an indication of your lack of love for God. Therefore, you can’t really love God if you do not love your neighbor. note

Note that this was a logical argument about law. Also note that I am not arguing that we are bound and responsible to the Jewish covenant law because Jesus came to free us from the law. However...

If you accept the point 1) that only loving God without also loving your neighbor does not fulfill the law and prophets, then you can see that likewise 2) loving your neighbor without loving God won’t fulfill the law and prophets. In practice this is because you can’t have real love for your neighbor if you do not love as God does. Loving God is an important part of becoming able to love like him.

Maybe you doubt the point 1). Maybe though you would agree that refusing to love God will then fail to fulfill the law and prophets. Failing to obey just one command makes you a law breaker (James 2:10). Loving your neighbor is part of the law, therefore also, failing to love your neighbor makes you fail the law.

If we try to come from the perspective of law however, we have a problem. Love and law are not parallel domains. Law exists to establish specifications for acceptable behaviors. However love is not a behavior. Some behaviors can result from love, but love as taught and demonstrated by Jesus is a value, not a behavior. (Love values others at sacrifice to self.) Therefore it is impossible to compel love. You can’t make people love, and you can’t make them forgive. Love has to be voluntary.

It is well-understood that if we love another person, this love results in loving actions toward them. This is important because we as humans all need interaction with other humans, and we need their help. We live best in community together, and this depends on care and love.

Now then, loving God would pose a problem because God doesn’t need anything from us. God doesn’t need our interaction, our help, our worship, our praise, our anything. God doesn’t need us! We are completely unlike Him because we need other people. And we need love.

What does it mean to love? To answer this we have to look back to God and the example of Jesus.

  • God is love. (I John 4:8 note)

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8 NIV

  • God best communicates to us through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3a note), and Jesus best exemplifies God to us (Matthew‬ ‭11:25-27 note).

“At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. “All things have been committed to me by my Father.

“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Matthew 11:25-27 NIV

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. ...”

Hebrews 1:1-3a NIV

  • God in the person of Jesus came into our human context because of love.
    • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John‬ ‭3:16‬)
  • Jesus made common ground between him and the people around him - through shared experience and conversation.
    • (This common ground also extends to us through time - at a reduced level of immediacy.)
  • Jesus helped the people in need around him (with conversation, food, rescue, health, touch, etc).
  • He forgave us where we offended him, personally taking up the cost of those offenses on himself (through the cross).
    • “...your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” ‭‭(1 John‬ ‭2:12‬)
    • “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us...” (1 John‬ 3:16‬)
  • Jesus asks us to live in manner like him in these things.
    • “... Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:37‬)
    • “...And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:16‬)
    • “...go and make disciples of all nations...” (Matthew‬ ‭28:19)

As we can see, the way God the Father expresses His love is by loving people. And the way Jesus as God expresses his love is by loving people. The way Jesus as a human expressed his love of God was by loving people (John‬ ‭15:9-14, 10:17-18, Matthew‬ ‭26:39). This all shows that love produces physical actions and results. So if we follow the examples of God and especially of Jesus, the results of our love toward God should be loving actions by us that are beneficial to other people.

There are some things that humans do away from other people to try to show love of God. We may say or sing things to God, however, our words and music do not impress God. We may do rituals or disciplines (such as prayer, reading, etc), but these do not impress God. We may study theology deeply, but God is not impressed by any of this knowledge. Again, God does not need anything from us. It is therefore impossible to demonstrate our love of God without the context of other people.

If we are with other people it might be that our words, songs, rituals, disciplines or knowledge could impress them. However, impressing other people is no indication of love for God. In fact pursuit of these things might derail us from loving God!

The only way that we can give our love of God to Him is by loving other people. The only way that other people can see that we love God is when we love people. Jesus commands us to love other people as a matter of remaining in His love. (John‬ ‭15:9,10,12) note And, at the end of time, God will judge our love of Him by how we loved other people. ("Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew‬ ‭25:40‬)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John‬ ‭15:9,10,12-14 NIV

Melanie & I were discussing these verses and she said something profound: She used to think that we were Jesus’ friend if we were willing to give our lives for Him. However now she sees that we are Jesus’ friend if we are willing to lay down our life for other people - the same people for which Jesus has already laid down his life.

We are commanded to love God. And how do we love God? We love God by loving His people.

 


Some of the ideas on this page are based on the work of Darren Twa, pastor at Life Fellowship and author of several books including God's Value System.

2018-12-15 updated 2021-01-24   © 2021 Larry Grove