“If you love me, keep my commands.” - John 14:15
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” - John 14:21
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” - John 14:23
On and on it goes. The repetition of this idea that love for Jesus is expressed through obedience makes an emphatic point. But “love” and “obedience” are not words we typically put together. Much less would we say they have a beautiful relationship with one another. So how can that be?
I would suggest we consider the idea that Jesus isn’t proposing two actions here, but one singular action that contains two parts: love and obedience. That is, they go together. An illustration might help.
Our church is engaged is a “space stewardship” project where we are moving from pews to auditorium style seats. This allows us to increase our seating capacity without knocking down walls or building new ones. When we were first exploring this idea, I met with a gentleman named Ryan who has been working with church seating for sixteen years. He came for a visit and I proceeded to listen to him talk about space stewardship for two solid hours. He was a wealth of information and stories and experiences. I was duly impressed.
Ryan loves his job. His love for his job has produced something very interesting. He has internalized the laws, codes, and principles of space stewardship. He radiates conformity to what his job does and requires. Listen to how Jesus says it…
“I do as the Father has commanded me so that the world may know that I love the Father.” - John 14:31
Jesus doesn’t obey the Father begrudgingly in order to convince the world he loves the Father. Jesus has internalized the ways and character of the Father so thoroughly that obeying the Father’s commands is what naturally comes out of Jesus.
The beautiful compatibility of love and obedience is this: love is the invisible obsession that leads to it’s visible expression, obedience.
In my previous post, I contend love has become “god.” That is, we have our self-made definition of love and we shape our understanding of God around it and hold him accountable to that particular definition. But in the final analysis, we must insist “God is love.” He himself provides the essence and definition of love. This likely means our definition of love is going to be found wonting.
Let’s press into this farther and explore the notion that God loves God.
“This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
“The Father loves the Son…” (John 3:35; 5:20).
“The reason my Father loves me…” (John 10:17).
“…you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
“I have made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
“…I love the Father…” (John 14:31).
It is impossible to overstate the affection the Father has for his only Son and the love the Son has for the Father. God loves God.
Now, as one actor put it, this seems to be about “ego.” Is God egomaniacal? That assessment would work if we’re talking about another human being. To love oneself sounds like vanity. But we’re talking about God. Think about it: once there was only God. For millions and billions of years, there was only God. “I’m better than everybody else” deserves to be on his business card. The moment we stack up the infinite, transcendent, omniscient, holy God against any human character, to accuse God of being an egomaniac is going to fall short and appear just plain silly.
Admittedly, I’m still in process on this and all the implications that fall out of it, but there’s another thought-provoking idea to consider. What if God’s love for himself is his supreme love? What if God loves himself more than he loves anyone or anything else? Don’t hang up the phone, stick with me.
Let’s say there’s a good, moral atheist out there who demonstrates tremendous care and concern for other human beings. But in all his actions, he does not acknowledge God - he is an atheist. Would we not say that by caring for people sacrificially, but failing to even acknowledge God, they are stuck in idolatry? Or to put it differently, to love someone or something other than God more than God, is idolatrous. Why would it be any different with God?
If God loves any aspect of his creation more than he loves himself, would we not say he has become an idolater? “God must love and delight in his own beauty and perfection above all things. For us to do this in front of the mirror is the essence of vanity; for God to do it in front of his Son is the essence of righteousness” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, 29).
Like I said, I’m still in process on this, but if this is right, it’ll cause a dramatic shift in the tectonic plates of our understanding of God’s love.
God is love.
Love is god.
Look at those two short sentences closely. Take a minute to do so.
I believe the juxtaposition of those two statements summarizes the fraying taking place within the broader Christian community. The implications of this are quietly, perhaps invisibly, enormous. Journey with me on this musing.
When God’s Word says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), it’s NOT saying there is this thing out there called ‘love’ and God measures up to it. There is no external, standard of love to which God is accountable. God himself provides the essence and definition of love. So, if it was possible, dictionary writers ought to study God first then provide their definition of ‘love.’
But this is not how things are done in the “real world.” Rather, we human beings possess a perpetual drift towards self-declaration. The result is autonomous definition writing. We come up with our own understanding of things and pronounce them good or bad. This is one of the many consequences of the Eden travesty.
Such is the case with the concept of ‘love.’ Once we’ve put a period on the end of our definitional sentence, we are then positioned to say things like, “As long as they aren’t hurting anyone, we should accept…” Or “If God is loving, then surely he wouldn’t…”
But notice what is happening. We have our definition of love and we are holding God accountable to it. Love, our concept of it, has become god.
The remedy to this gross distortion is simple: we need to go before the God of the universe and ask him to tell us what he is like. We need to ask him to define love for us. His answer may surprise us.