True Spirituality – 6 – Loving God

When we consider the issue of loving God, it means we have to look into God’s word to see what his “love language” is. Some people think it’s going to church and putting an empty envelope in the offering basket. This presentation looks at scriptures revealing how God wants to be loved.

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 I was watching a TV news program a few weeks ago. I mentioned it some time ago. But there was this horrific story about this guy who began molesting children in public…

He got bolder and bolder until one winter day, he walked into a hotel and abducted a teenage girl at gunpoint. He had a gun in her back and a hand over her mouth as he dragged her from the elevator down this long hall to an exit. He told her that if she struggled, he was going to kill her. After he dragged her outside she saw of her friends and their parents in the parking lot, and she broke free and started screaming and running toward them. The man ran away, and he was caught later. In fact, her incident ended a long, long string of abuses that this man had committed. They committed him to four hundred and some years in prison, because they had so much evidence against him. He liked to video tape his crimes. So the girl was saved. And the reporter who was interviewing her about this terrifying event asked her what she was thinking while he was dragging her out of the building. Did she think she was going to die? And she said she thought he was going to kill her, because there was no one around to help her, and because her father had always taught her and her sisters that, if they ever got in a situation where they were being forced to go with someone against their will, they would most likely be killed. You know, you never get in the car, if you can help it. You never allow the door to be shut, if you can help it. Their father taught them that their best bet was to scream and fight. Well, there was no one in the hall to hear the scream, so she allowed him to pull her down the hall, hoping someone would be outside. And the reporter said, “While he was dragging you down the hall, what were you thinking?” She said, “I was thinking I was going to die, and I love you, Jesus.”

I suppose her thought would turn off some people, because we hear people say, “I love you, Jesus,” all the time, and the words are empty and have nothing behind them. Some people rattle that off like it’s water. It’s just something they say. It’s just something some people spout to affect spirituality sometimes. And I suppose there are some people who would want to know if this girl went to church every week, or if she kept the Sabbath like we do, or the holy days like we do. And I suppose that if the answer to any of these questions were to be, “No,” then they would conclude that she didn’t really love God like they do, because she isn’t doing things the way they do them. And they might be able to pray for her then, like the Pharisee, “Father, I thank you that I am not like this young girl, who says she loves Jesus, but doesn’t have the works to back it up like I do.”

But I want you to think with me about her for a minute. She thought she was going to die! And the main thing she had on her mind before she died was, “I love you, Jesus.” Now I don’t know much about this girl. The program brought out that her father was a pastor, and that she came from a close, loving family. And I don’t need to know very much to know that she was sincere, and that she did love Jesus, because of the circumstances there. You know, people tend to say what’s really on their mind when they believe that they are about to die. So, is it possible that she really did love Jesus?

Some people would have wanted to say goodbye to loved ones first. That would have been on their mind. Some would have cried out for help from God. Others would have wanted to hurt the one that was hurting them. Others would have questioned why God allowed this terrible situation to occur in the first place. But this young girl simply said, “I love you, Jesus.” And that declaration came straight from her heart under the worst kind of duress a human being can experience.

Let’s go to Matthew 22, verse 37. Now we’re talking about what true spirituality is today, right? What’s important to God?

Mt. 22:37 – Jesus said to him – talking to this man that…. We’ve read this many times in this series, because I promised we’d keep cycling back – because all this stuff is interconnected. Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And people might say, “Yes, but it also says that we show love to God by our obedience to God’s Law.” Yes, it does. And we’re going to take a long look at that. The first four commandments show us how He wants us to express love towards Him. We know that. But is also says that we are to love God with all our hearts – with the whole being. That’s what the word in the Bible means. The whole being. And alternately it means “the seat of emotions” – like this young girl did – with emotion, with feeling for God – feeling love for God.

So, right away, we have two sides to this issue. There are those who focus on obedience and their works to show love for God, and there are those who focus on how they feel about God. And the Bible shows us, actually, that both are necessary if we are to love God the way He wants to be loved.

Let’s talk about loving God by obedience. Let’s look in 1 John 2, and verse 5, for a minute, and see what John says about this.

1 Jn. 2:5 – He said, Whoever keeps His word, truly, the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. And he who says he abides in Him, ought himself also to walk just as He walkedThat’s pretty clear, isn’t it? That God wants us to express our love to Him by walking the way Jesus walked when He was here. That is a great way – maybe the important way – by which we express love to God.

Then let’s look in Philippians 1 and see what Paul says about it.

Philp. 1:9 – And this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in the knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. We’re going to come back and look at that again later.

Then let’s read what David says about loving God in Psalms 97, and verse 10.

Psa. 97:10 – You who love the LORD, hate evil. What’s evil? Well, evil is breaking God’s Law in an egregious way. He preserves the souls of the saints. He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. David tells us that the way to show love to God is to be righteous, which is to obey the Law.

There’s a number of places where we could pick what Moses said. One example would be Deuteronomy 7, verse 9, where it says,

Dt. 7:9 – Therefore, know the LORD your God. He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.

So, it’s pretty clear what God wants, isn’t it? That’s how we show that we love Him – by what we do. But there’s a trap that comes along with this. Many people have fallen into it. The laws that we follow to express our love to God become the focus instead of God. God is hard to see. So people tend to think about what they do, instead of God the Being. The Pharisees got sucked into that one, didn’t they? “Father, I thank you I am not like this little girl, who loved you so much that as she thought she was going to be murdered, she said, ‘I love you, Jesus.’ Because I fast twice a week, and I go to Sabbath services, and I tithe all the time, and so on.” I mean, it’s the same exact attitude.

Some of us even focus on church itself more than we focus on God. Our religion is about church, rather than about God. If we go to church, if we wear the right clothes, if we say the right things, if we do the right things, then we get to feel like that Pharisee felt. We get to feel good about ourselves for what we’ve done. And we forget that the greatest commandment of all is to love God! So, when we get in that mode, we’re doing the things that God said to show love, but there’s something missing there in that.

Now, again, why do we love God and want to obey Him? Well, John said it most simply. We love Him because He first loved us. Let’s go to Philippians 1:9 and look at that again, and bring out another part of this scripture.

Philp. 1:9 – Paul said, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. So he brings out a concept here that righteousness – our obedience to the Law – is actually a byproduct, or a fruit, of something else happening in our lives. So all this obedience is to be the result of God loving us, and then us loving God back. Right? I mean, that’s how it works. Our obedience is an outgrowth of His love for us. So, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is the fact that God is illuminating His love to us, and then we respond to it. It’s not so that we can earn our salvation. That’s already been given to us. Our obedience is to be an act of love, rather than our effort to be loved. That’s true spirituality. You know, some people are trying to get God to love them by stopping all the bad things they’ve done, and trying to be good. That’s not how it works. He already loves us.

Now let’s talk about the other side of this issue – that of feeling love for God, like this young girl felt. By the way, I don’t know how “good” this girl was. I don’t know anything about her personally. I just know what she said. And I know that when she said it, she was in a position where whatever she said was going to be extremely meaningful to her. And that’s what she said. That’s where her heart was.

So all those who don’t have any feeling for God, and who try to earn salvation just by obeying rules, who focus on church life as a code that they follow to feel good about themselves, or something they have to do to be in the club, or however we might think about it, think about this – all those folks. Did you know that the longest book in the Bible is all about feeling love towards God? It is. And that’s not an accident. The longest book in the Bible is the Book of Psalms. They are primarily David’s expression of how he felt about God.

Let’s go to Psalm 18. I’m going to read this Psalm to you the way I think David felt this, okay?

Ps. 18:1 – I’m going to love you, O LORD my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my strength, in whom I trust! My shield and the horn of my salvation! He’s my stronghold! I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, so I can be saved from my enemies. The pangs of death surrounded me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. And the sorrows of hell surrounded, and the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called on the LORD. I cried out to my God, and He heard my voice from His temple! And my cry came before Him, even to His ears! Then the earth shook and trembled, and the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry! Smoke went up out of His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth, coals were kindled by it! He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet, and He rode on a cherub and flew! He flew upon the wings of the wind, and He made darkness His secret place. His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him His thick clouds passed, with hailstones and coals of fire! The LORD also thundered from heaven. The Most High uttered His voice, and hailstones and coals of fire! He sent out His arrows and scattered the foes, lightnings in abundance! And He vanquished them. And then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were uncovered at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils! He sent from above. He took me. He drews me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me. For they were too strong for me! And they confronted me in the day of my calamity. But the LORD was my support, and He brought me out into a broad place, and He delivered me, because He delighted in me! He takes care of me because He loves me. And I love Him because He does that for me.

Do you get it? That’s not just following rules. That’s not just going through the motions. There’s some heart there, isn’t there? And unless we have that, we’re missing something. Is that Psalm any different than that little girl in the grip of a murderous pedophile, saying, “I love you, Jesus?” I think it’s the very same thing. I think David felt that he was in the grip of a malevolent enemy, and that God came to his rescue big time in a very profound way. And I think some folks have missed that entirely. So we miss a major part of what it means to be spiritually minded, because God is a spirit, and He said that David’s heart was like His.

When scientists talk about how parents attach to their children, they talk about two things – taking care of the child’s physical needs, and they talk about taking care of their emotional needs. And they separate those two things. Some people…all they can manage is to just take care of the physcial stuff, but they don’t really love their children from the heart. They provide only the physical things. They can change them. They can feed them. They can clothe them. But they are unavailable emotionally. Some of us are emotionally unavailable to God. That’s one reason being a Christian is so hard for some of us.

Now, we said earlier that there’s a trap in focusing on obedience – that of thinking that obedience is more important than love – forgetting that obedience is to be the result of love. But there’s also a trap that comes with feeling love for God only. And that is that sometimes we think that when we say we love God, and have feelings for God, that that’s enough. But that’s not it either. You have to have both of these things.

Here’s what James says in James 2, and verse 14.

Jm. 2:14 – What does is it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you says, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you don’t give them the things they need for the body, what does it profit? You can have all the love and good intentions towards those people that you want, but that doesn’t help them any. It’s fine and well to wish them well, but when they are in need, it doesn’t do them any good. What helps them is to take care of their needs that they can’t take care of. The same thing goes for God. We can say we love Him all the day long, but if we don’t act like we love Him, as well, then the talk is hollow. And that’s what the people who say, “I love Jesus,” need to remember – just like the people that never say, “I love Jesus,” and think that just following the rules is going to suffice.

1 Jn. 2:5 – I want to read this again. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. So there it is.

So there’s a tension between these two things, I think, in life. I was watching the movie, Field of Dreams, the other day. You might remember this. I know nobody here will remember it, because nobody here watches movies, but there’s a scene in it where the young rookie, Archie, is at bat. The pitcher throws two fast balls in a row at his head and knocks him down both times. He walks back to the backstop, and he says to Shoeless Joe, “He tried to put that one in my ear!” And Shoeless Joe says to him, “Okay, the last two were in your ear, where do you think the next one will be?” And he says, “Low and away.” And Shoeless Joe says, “Right. So look for low and away.” And as Archie walks back to the plate, intent on low and away, Shoeless Joe calls out, “But watch out for ‘in your ear!’” I mean, that’s the tension you have in baseball, you know. If you guess right, you’re in good shape. If you don’t, it’s “in your ear.”

God has created life so that there is always tension in the important areas. There’s tension between “low and away” and “in your ear,” and there’s tension between sorting out how to love God with our feelings and how to love God with our actions. Talk is cheap. It has to be backed up with action. And action without feeling love is incomplete.

Two ways to learn about this. Most of the people I know from church started out with the obedience side of it – taught to follow the rules, understand about obedience to the Law of God, know the Law shows us how God wants us to express our love to Him. For a lot of us, it’s easier to obey than to have love in our hearts, because we can’t see God. It’s easier just to follow the rules. So the struggle there is to love God, not only with our mind and our soul in our obedience, but also with our heart, which is where our feelings are – to feel love for God.

So how does that happen? Well, we’re told that if we continue to obey that we’re going to be blessed, because the Law shows us how to live in concert with the laws of the universe. And when we do that, then life is better for us, and we’re blessed. And as we see God blessing us, we have the opportunity to be thankful, and to appreciate what God has done for us, and to love Him in time because of it. If people do nice things for us, eventually we’ll love them. At least, most of us will.

I was thinking about how this works in my own life recently. When I was eighteen, and just learning about God, I learned that I should tithe. And I didn’t make much, so it was very meaningful to me to have to turn loose of ten percent of my meager income that I wanted to save for college. But I knew it was what I should do, so I did it. And God blessed me with this great job and a really fun way to get to work. I just felt like I was taken care of – like God had just worked a couple of miracles for me. You’ve all heard me tell the story so many times I’m not going to tell it again, but I was taken care of. Then, when Elaine and I got married, we didn’t have any money, and we didn’t make much money. We would pray, and God would take care of us, and little miracles would happen and bail us out. After awhile we began to make more money. So for thirty years we didn’t really need that many miracles, because we had a regular paycheck. Now, some people would say that was a miracle. Maybe it was, but it doesn’t have the same quality about it – getting that same amount of money every two weeks in the mail as being really strapped, and then having something handed to you as a gift. That feels more like a miracle. Well, a couple of years ago, we had to give up that paycheck – miracle or not – and we were once again strapped for money. Then right away, little miracles started to happen so that we lacked nothing. What we learned from that is, that God has been there all along watching over us. He just didn’t need to help us the way He did in the beginning, until more recently. And when we needed it, it was right there.

So, when things like that happen to us, it causes us to trust and love God, not only by inspiring more determination in us to follow Him because it works and it pays off, but also to love Him in our hearts, because we know that He cares about us and He looks after us.

Now, on the other hand, some people start out like the little girl, learning to love God with their heart, but they don’t know all the things that they need to know. You can think of lots of people you know that don’t know enough about how to express love to God the way He says to do it, but they do have a feeling for Him. So how are people like that going to learn? Well, the scripture tells us that that love that she has in her heart will lead her into obedience to God in time. Obedience will be the result of what she feels in her heart. Did you know that? That’s true. Some of those who started out knowing what God wanted them to do fret that those who don’t know as much about that are not expressing love to God in the way He wants. But we have a promise about that. Let’s look in John 16.

Jn. 16:12 – Jesus said – He’d been with His disciples for three and a half years – and He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears, he will speak, and he will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me. For he will take of what is Mine, and declare it to you.” God says that the Holy Spirit is going to reveal all the truth that we need. There’s not anybody going to lack anything that they need to know. And that would include the people that don’t know perfectly how to obey God. They’re all going to learn it. It says that the fruits of righteousness are going to be born in people who love God. So we can take that, and we can relax. We don’t have to worry about all the people that might not believe just the way we do about obeying God.

Those of us who are blessed to know more of what God’s wants us to do, that’s great! But we don’t need to fret, or look down on those people who know less. They’re going to be taken care of. God has a plan to teach them. God does’t perfect any of us in the very beginning. It’s not like, “I’m calling you,” and He hits us with a magic wand – doink! – and then we’re perfect. It isn’t like that. Wherever we start from, we have a lot to learn, and we get a whole lifetime to learn it – from the time we’re called. And God uses all of that time, I think, to teach us the things that we need to know. We’re not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. So we kind of need to let God take care of everybody’s salvation and not worry so much about it.

But loving God is a hard thing. Paul said that he wanted to know God like God knew him. That means he didn’t know God like God knew him. So he didn’t know enough about God he said. There are physical limits on us in our relationship with God. Notice here in 1 John 4:12. He has a very profound point to make, but he prefaces it with something that’s really interesting.

1 Jn. 4:12 – He says, “No one has seen God at any time.” That kind of says, “Okay, so that makes what I’m going to say next harder.” “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” We haven’t seen God, but we can do something with other people. “…and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” You know, Thomas had to see the marks on Jesus’ hands, and put his hand in His side where He had been stabbed with that spear, before he would believe. And while he was doing that, Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Thomas, because you believe, but there are going to come people after you who believe without seeing.” And that’s our challenge, isn’t it? Our challenge is to believe in God, and to love God, even though we can’t hug Him, or talk to Him face-to-face, like we’re going to later. It’s easier to love those people we can see, and it’s harder to love God because we can’t see Him. But it’s still possible. How does God accomplish this in our lives?

Let’s go to 2 Peter 3:18.

2 Pt. 3:18 – But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. You see, I think this grace thing has to do with the heart. I think the people that already have the knowledge and follow the rules need to grow in grace. They need to know that God has been gracious to them and forgiven them.

Do you remember the woman that washed Christ’s feet? Jesus asked the Pharisee that was hosting Him…. He told himi a parable about the man that forgave a lot, and the one who forgave a little. And He said, “Which do you suppose would be the one that loves the most?” He said, “Well, I suppose the one to whom the most is forgiven.” He said, “You’ve judged right.” So, if we know that we’ve done wrong, and we’ve been forgiven a great debt – we’ve been extended grace – then we love God, right? I mean, that is what Jesus said.

So, those of us who are good at keeping the rules, we need to grow in grace. And those of us who have that understanding that Jesus loves us and that we love Him, I think sometimes, that we need to grow in the knowledge of how to express love to Him properly. And that has to do with obedience to God’s Law.
I think that grace has to do with our hearts. And I think that God loves us so much that He saved us from our sins. Jesus died a terrible death willingly so that we could live. And He did that because He’s our firend and He loves us. And when we grow into that grace, then we love god with our heart. And when we grow in knowledge, then one of the things we learn is how to express love to God by our actions.

I’ve talked in the past about the five love languages, and how different people like to have love expressed to them in different ways. God is no different. There are certain things He likes. He likes people to meet Him on the Sabbath day. He doesn’t like people to bow down to stone idols. And He doesn’t like His name to be taken in vain. That’s just for starters. A lot of people don’t know how to show love to God the way He wants to be loved.

Both loving God in our hearts and obeying God in our actions is important. They are both important spiritual issues. Loving God and obeying Him for the right reasons are things that have to be spiritually discerned.

Now, so far in our series, we’ve covered six areas of true spirituality. First we did God Knows Best. The idea there was that we don’t know anything about God unless He tells us. The second one is why the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and the Law is so important. The Law is for blessings, and Christ is for salvation – not the other way around. The third one was the need to walk worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. That has to do with grace and realizing that God has treated us graciously, and then we need to walk the walk. We need to be obedient in the way God wants us to. The fourth one is that life is about relationships – to both God and others. It’s not so much about the rules as it is relationships. The rules are the boundaries to make the relationships work. The fifth one was that we need to control ourselves and not other people. And now, this one, in which we’ve talked about how to love God and how to learn to love Him.

As I mentioned in the beginning of the series, these things are cross-connected, so we keep revisiting a lot of the same issues, because they form an inter-connected web of
Meaning. Every time we connect them the web gets bigger. That will be true also the next time, when we cover Love of Others.