What does it mean to love God? Is it like loving a human being–a father, mother, sister, brother, girlfriend, boyfriend? Is it an either/or situation–does God require us to chose between loving Him and others? Or is our love for God different than any of our other relationships?
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39 NLT)
Jesus did clearly say that if I love anyone more than I love Him I am not worthy of Him, but what did He mean? Do I have to choose? Does loving God push out all other loves? What, indeed, is loving God, and how does it show itself?
Loving God is different than loving anyone else in one important aspect: the fact that I love God by loving others. I cannot say that about my other relationships; I do not love my brother by loving my father, or one boyfriend by loving another–with love for a human being I love that human being by loving that particular human being.
Because God is love; because Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.””
(John 13:34-35 NLT)–because of this, when we love human beings, especially when it’s difficult, we are actually evidencing our love for God.
God doesn’t compete for our love, He multiplies and expands it–exponentially! The converse is true, too. We have not personally experienced how much God loves, and forgives, and accepts us if we hate someone else: “We love because God first loved us. If people say, “I love God,” but hate their brothers or sisters, they are liars. Those who do not love their brothers and sisters, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have never seen. And God gave us this command: Those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.” (1 John 4:19-21 NCV) But is there ever a moment when we have to choose between loving God and loving another? Why did Jesus say we are not worthy of Him if we love someone else more?
It helps to understand what He meant when we recognize the fullness of who God is. Yes, He is a real being–not a feeling or inanimate power–but He is also the embodiment, if you will, of everything good!
The fruit–the result–of the work of God in us through His Spirit is identified as, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT) That’s because, along with other character attributes, this is what God is–loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled. So when someone is kind to you, or gentle, or patient, or loving–that’s the work of God in them towards you!
God hates hate because He is love; He hates lying because He is truth; He hates unwarranted heaviness of heart in us because He is joy; He hates discord because He is peace; He hates impatience and intolerance toward another’s inability because He is patient; He hates unkindness because He is kind; unfaithfulness because He is faithful; harshness because He is gentle; a lack of self-control because He is self-controlled. Ultimately, He hates all sin, because He recognizes it as us falling short of who we could otherwise be, and sees the grief and pain we cause ourselves and others–the life we cheat ourselves of!
Hate is a four letter word, but this kind of “hate” is not only okay; it’s how we should all feel towards that which keeps us from being everything we could otherwise be! We make the mistake of hating people while accepting sin, when we should, in fact, accept and love people but hate sin as God hates it, recognizing it, as He does, for the evil it is and the lives it wrecks. Which bring us to what Jesus meant about loving anyone else more than Him.
There may be times when someone close to us asks us to do something wrong. The wrong may be big or small–that aspect is irrelevant; the point is you know your doing it would be you falling short of who God wants you to be. That is the juncture at which we have to have our loyalties straight–the point at which we choose and cling to that which is right and good above pleasing someone else–regardless of how much we otherwise love them.
They may feel angered or betrayed, they certainly may not be happy; but by choosing right over wrong, good over evil, character over blindly following a friend or loved one, and ultimately by choosing Jesus over them–I haven’t rejected them; I’ve actually chosen Jesus and them! How?!
By showing them ultimate love; love that would rather risk their getting mad at me or not liking me, rather than lying to them about whatever they were doing or wanted me to do! Because when we back down and fail to stand up for what is right, we think we’re not causing waves but what we’re actually doing is hurting the other person, because even though they may feel happy with us at the moment, we’ve misrepresented the situation to them–by going along we’ve lied to them that it isn’t wrong, that it isn’t ultimately hurtful to their conscience and life, too. We’ve been cowardly and not loved them enough to risk having them reject us rather than make waves about wrong.
That’s what Jesus meant when He said we’re not worthy of Him if we don’t love Him most. He wasn’t saying we shouldn’t love the people in our life; He was saying we should love them so much that we should be willing to stand up to them! He was talking about character; about our ability to be the “this far and no further” point in another’s life; about loving and clinging to what is right and good and truthful and decent and kind and gentle and peaceable above anything else; about being so grounded in Christ that even if we’re rejected for it, we won’t sin. That’s what Jesus meant!
Help me recognize that You are everything that is good; help me always choose good in my life! Amen.