So I’ve written a few things on the subject of love, namely God’s love for us as believers in Christ, and learning to live and walk in the midst of and out from the center of that love which God the Father has for us. Much of the emphasis has been on living from grace and not from works, or ‘law,’ living from a place of approval and not for approval (which we already have in Christ Jesus).
But there is another side to this coin. As believers we put our trust and hope in the saving grace and power of God to protect and keep us. We have an expectation of His love and goodness towards us. In the same way, God has an expectation concerning us. Put simply, if we truly believe that He is God, if we truly trust in Him, in His goodness, His wisdom, His love, then He expects us to follow Him and His ways, to obey Him. In fact this is how God says we can truly demonstrate our love to Him: through our obedience to Him and His ways.
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 10:12
“But be careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to keep His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Joshua 22:5
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 15:10
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3
My young son actually takes delight in doing the things his mommy and daddy require of him. Yes, he has his willful moments; but at his core he really goes out of his way, most times, to demonstrate his love by obeying us. Why? Well, I’d like to believe (and hope that it is true) that he is living from the center of the love that we lavish on him. As believers and followers of Christ Jesus, we are called to be like little children as it pertains to Kingdom living (cf. Matthew 18:3; 19:13-14). To love God is to obey Him. We are called to live from the center of His love. To “live” implies action. We aren’t called to just sit around and “feel the love, man!” God desires for us to live, to walk in His ways. The Love of God requires that we love Him back, demonstrated through loving obedience to His commandments.
So, what is it, exactly, that love requires? I almost hesitate to say this because it sounds redundant. Love requires us… to love. Listen to what Jesus says:
“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
Now it’s interesting that the command to love was not new to the Jewish people. This command is found in the Old Testament law (cf. Leviticus 19:18,34; Deuteronomy 10:18,19). So why did Jesus say that the commandment was new? It is not just that we are to love others, but that we are called to love others like Jesus.
“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.” John 15:12-13
No one had ever demonstrated love in the way that Jesus has done; no one had ever demonstrated love in the self-giving, sacrificial way in which Jesus had. On several occasions Jesus taught His disciples that the greatest in the Kingdom of God is the one who is the least, the highest is the lowest, the servant of all is greatest (cf Matthew 18:1-4; 23:11,12; Luke 9:48). In John 13 Jesus Himself demonstrated this at the last supper when He robed Himself as a humble slave to wash the disciples feet, setting the example of the greater serving the lesser, the example He meant for them to emulate.
I wrote in an earlier blog how that all the gods of the foreign lands were burdens to their followers. They had to be borne about by their servants. But the God of the Hebrews says that He is the One who carried His people, bore His servants (see my blog who’s carrying who?…) In the same way, there has never been any other God who gave Himself up in sacrificial death to rescue and redeem a people from death and destruction… until the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul expounded upon this in Romans 5(:6-8)
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is the love of God, and this is how Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him, in expressing love by living and giving sacrificially.
“So does that mean we’re to literally lay down and die!?” Well, for some, yes, this may be true. History tells us of thousands who have literally given up their physical lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. I personally believe it is something that every disciple of Jesus must be ready and willing to do, if it comes down to it (and can only be done by the power of the Spirit of God within us). But for most of us, I think it entails being, what the apostle Paul calls, a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2). This basically means living, not to ourselves, but totally given over to the will and purposes of God, to “die” to the selfish expression of our lives, in surrender to the good and perfect will of God. Frankly, that is quite possibly harder to do than actually giving up your life: to be a living sacrifice, dying daily, as Jesus put it (Luke 9:23-24).
So… how does this work out practically? I like nice and neat systems and lists. Give me “the ten steps to loving sacrificially.” But I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple. Though there may be some specific directives for specific circumstances and situations, for the most part we’ll find that God gives us principles and directives for the heart to follow. In one sense, living by “steps 1, 2, 3, etc”, would be easy. Learning to live day by day by the Spirit of God (ie., walking in grace) is not as easy as one might think at first. Oh, it’s not complicated; but it is not always easy. It requires the conscious and willing laying aside of our own ways for God’s ways on a day to day basis… something that we in our human nature really don’t like to do. But I’m getting a bit side tracked here. There is a principle, and commandment, that I have found that really brings it down quite succinctly. You will find it expressed throughout the Scriptures in many ways, and you will find it perfectly expressed in the way that Jesus lived; and it’s found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Micah. The prophet reveals what it is that God is looking for and what He is not: Not, necessarily, outward forms of piety; not merely conformity to rules and regulations; and not solely extreme forms “sacrifice.”
“With what shall I come before the LORD,
And bow myself before the High God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
“Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
“He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:6-8, NKJV
To do justly: to do what is right and fair and good according to the commandment and character of God.
To love mercy: Merriam-Webster.com dictionary defines mercy as “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power… compassionate treatment of those in distress.” Or, to put it another way, to give to an offender what is needed rather than what is deserved in the spirit of compassion.
To walk humbly with God: to live with the understanding that we live and move and have our being totally by the grace of God and not by any goodness we can muster up; to live in gratitude for that love and mercy that was bestowed upon us.
Seriously, I can do none of these without the constant help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Though I personally have a strong sense of justice, it usually wants to take a turn downward, desiring vengeful retribution instead of true justice. And often doing the ‘real’ right thing will put you at odds with the status quo, doing what God says is right when the rest of society opposes you. Loving (to do) mercy is even harder. Working within “the public sector” I am constantly reminded that we live in a fallen, depraved, selfish, sinful world. Mercy is not the first thing that comes to mind when someone is treating me contemptuously or with disdain. I may desire to give them what (I think) they deserve, but love and compassion will give them what they really need. In light of these, I have to walk humbly before God, because I find that I can very easily become no better than the ones I accuse. As the old saying goes, “but for the grace of God, there go I.” This is also the reason why it is imperative that I learn to live from the center of God’s love for me, because I can only give what I have, and I want and need the constant supply of God’s love in me so I am able to give it to others.
But some might say, “But I thought God’s love was unconditional? By saying that love requires something of us, is that not saying love has conditions?” Let’s look at it this way: the love that I have for my children is most definitely without condition (as much as it can be in a human being). But that doesn’t mean that I will not require things of them. It is my deepest desire to raise them up to be the best that they can be, which means I must, without condition, train and instruct and correct and discipline them, out of the love that I have for them. Yes, God loves us unconditionally, and because He does, He will, without condition, do everything He can to bring us up to maturity, to bring us into conformity to His will, to bring us up into Christ Jesus. If God is the greatest good, then the most loving thing He can do for us is to make us more like Him, whatever the cost.
I wish I could say that I am walking in all this perfectly. I wish I could honestly say that I walk in this a lot. But to be honest, I fall short… often. I’m still learning to live out of the center of God’s love for me. I struggle to believe that it’s really that good. And I have often misunderstood His dealings with me, not always recognizing that all that He does concerning me is out of the motivation of His Divine love for me. I have often floundered when it comes to walking in His way, His commands. But I still have hope, because He keeps giving hope to me. He’s not going to let me go that easily. He loves me much too dearly for that. And you as well. Let’s learn to live, to walk, out of the center of His love for us. And from this place let’s learn what it is that love requires, and by His power and grace, walk in that way.
copyright September 2014, Lemuel C. Dees
(All Scripture references from the NIV except where otherwise noted)