What is love? Is it a euphoric feeling? An emotion? Or is it something that requires that little bit more. Perhaps, a manifestation or a commitment?
This question becomes more difficult to answer when we try to relate it to the unseen or the spiritual.
When we say we love God, when we profess our love for Jesus, what do we mean? Is this love too an emotion, a euphoric feeling? Or does it have a manifestation that demonstrates our love to the one we profess it to? By our feelings, by our words, by our actions does the one who we say we love, know and feel this love? Does Jesus know your love? Does he feel it? Does he experience it?
When we say we love God, when we profess our love for Jesus, what do we mean?
Tough because if our understanding of what love is and what the divine mean love to be is markedly different, we have most probably failed to communicate our love.
You see, the general human consensus is that love is an emotion and it arises out of our feelings, usually the good ones, for another. Humanity has constructed love as something felt in our hearts – that warm fuzzy feeling we get when we think of someone or when we are around them. That’s always been the case. That’s the way we find ourselves appreciating our love for God, Jesus, and perhaps even the church. That feel-good, Jesus-loving feeling that we communicate to him by the way we think about him and feel about him. Or better still, communicated in the songs we sing in worship and the prayers we say in concert. When we, the billions of Christians gather in amphitheatres and congregations around the world to worship, praise and pray, we are showing God and Jesus just how we love them. No doubt.
Except that there is doubt. Loads of doubt. Why? Well, because going by scripture, Jesus’ perception of love differs completely from what we have come to institutionalise as our demonstration of love.
Allow me to explain.
Come with me to the gospel of John. In John 14:15 and John 15:10, Jesus describes loving him as an act – an act of obedience to what he says or better still what his father has asked him to say. To him and to his father love was not complete until it was manifestly visible in the things we do; showing that the way we live and the choices we make in everyday life are influenced by the instructions that he has handed down to us. To put it plainly, emotions and words have nothing to do with the divine definition of love.
Emotions and words have nothing to do with the divine definition of love.
In his words:
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them… Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:21-24
This brings me to the parable of the two sons. Matthew 21:28-32 One said he would do what his father asked but never did it, and the other said he wouldn’t do what his father asked but ended up doing so. The conclusion of which was that obedience was demonstrated by the act of doing and not in the words either son said. Quite frankly, their words didn’t matter. Only their actions did.
The words of Samuel the prophet seem apt for this moment – “Obedience is better than sacrifice and submission than the fat of rams”. 1 Samuel 15:22
So if my understanding of these passages is correct and if we see love and it’s expression as an outburst of emotion, there is probably a disconnect between what we think and do to show Jesus that we love him and what he actually sees us give or do to show our love. If all we do is to pray, sing songs, go to church and tell others about Jesus, we are yet to communicate our love for God to God. We are merely making sounds that carry no substance.
What then is the substance? What instructions are we meant to be obeying? What has God asked of humanity that we are meant to be doing to demonstrate our love for and commitment to him?
If all we do is to pray, sing songs, go to church and tell others about Jesus, we are yet to communicate our love for God to God.
In Micah 6:8 God asks a question “O man, what does the Lord desire of you?” and kindly gives us the required answer – Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Put simply, honour God with your worship and service AND be good to your fellow man. Love God, love your neighbour. It’s not an either/or scenario. It’s a combined requirement.
In Isaiah 1:11-18, God chided the people for giving him ceremonial worship and leaving out the care and concern for their fellow human beings. Because of that, their ceremonial actions were unacceptable! When Peter was sent to the home of Cornelius, it was because the man’s prayers and alms had ascended to the heavens, the combination of which was a sweet smelling sacrifice to God. Acts 10:30-31 Also, in one of his numerous parables on the kingdom of heaven, Jesus told a parable of a judgement scene where some were told that they had ignored Jesus by ignoring the needs of those in around them and some were told they had cared for Jesus by caring for those around them. Matthew 25:40 The criteria for entering into the Kingdom was not what they professed or confessed with their mouths. It wasn’t how many days they spent in church or ceremonial activity. It was how they sacrificed of themselves to care for a person in need of their compassion, attention or resources.
When we care for those that are unable to care for themselves, we are seen as doing this to or for God, and by so doing, demonstrating our love for him. When we give of ourselves and sacrifice that which we have to make sure that the next person finds peace and comfort, we are showing our concern for others, but more interestingly, we are directly impacting God. Jesus said so in the parable we just discussed and the preacher alluded to this curious mystery when he said;
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD…” Proverbs 19:17
I dare say that justice and judgement, or what we describe as charity, are of greater value to God than the ceremony of service! This makes it abundantly clear that professing a love for God only becomes visible to God if and when we begin to go out of our way to make life easier for others, denying ourselves for the joy and comfort of another – to really and truly love them. In 1 John 3:16-18 we are encouraged to love like Jesus, and as he laid down his life for us, we should be prepared to make sacrifices to alleviate the suffering of others.
Professing a love for God only becomes visible to God if and when we begin to go out of our way to make life easier for others, denying ourselves for the joy and comfort of another.
If we, the Christian church, remain fixated on building epicentres to house our growing numbers so that we can gather each Sunday to praise and worship God and think that by doing so we show him that we love him, we err greatly. Let us remember that the temple Solomon built was recorded to be the most glorious ever seen. 1 Kings 6 God allowed it to be destroyed. 1 Kings 9:8, Ezra 5:12, Jeremiah 52:17-23 He didn’t care for it. If we continue to funnel our time, money and resources into elevating the ceremony of service and have not, do not and will not funnel the same or even more amount of time, money and resources into alleviating the suffering of the people around us, we are merely boosting our egos and not showing regard for the instructions of God. God is not mocked.
For the church, the stakes are much higher than discussed so far.
You see, in the gospel of John, Jesus discussed the coming of the Holy Spirit; the gift of another comforter to the disciples he was leaving behind. We have come to describe this discussion as the “promise” of the Holy Spirit to the church, but with the benefit of a closer read, we can see that this is not a blanket unconditional promise. It comes with an often unacknowledged and overlooked condition. In John 14:16 where these famous words of Jesus are recorded, he says;
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”
The sentence starts with the word “And” which means that it is continuing a previous thought or sentence. So let’s read the previous verse.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
Take a moment to read both verses together and let the meaning sink in. When read together, Jesus is saying that the giving or coming of the Comforter / Holy Spirit is dependent on our ability to demonstrate to him that we love him – by keeping his commandments. Love by obedience, again. This means that every person, church or relationship with God, irrespective of size, wealth or prosperity is judged worthy of the Holy Spirit by their obedience to God’s instructions.
It follows then that gloriously decorated cathedrals and amphitheatres, filled with crowds of people and flowing with awesome praise and worship should not be the parameters by which we try to determine the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is only given and can only abide with a congregation that loves God and walks with him in obedience by impacting the lives of the less fortunate in society.
Every person, church or relationship with God, irrespective of size, wealth or prosperity is judged worthy of the Holy Spirit by their obedience to God’s instructions.
I don’t profess to know what spirit, Holy or otherwise, that operate in most churches, but one thing is abundantly clear – a congregation or church that struggles to obey the words of Christ, especially those words that incline the institution to seek social justice and alleviate lack/poverty around it, will without a doubt struggle to welcome or house the Holy Spirit.
If we are sincere in our quest for a relationship with God we, as individuals and collectively as a church, must put more effort and resources into ensuring that our love for God is not expressed in words alone. 1 John 3:17-18 Our love for God must be manifestly visible in the way we treat those around us, especially the poor and less fortunate. As Jesus himself put it, we must learn to love like he did – he laid down his life for us and loved without consideration for himself. Sacrificial love. John 15:13
We are called and expected by God to do the same.