Loving God (1)
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6.4, 5
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.” Matthew 22.37, 38
Of gods and men
In this section of our study on “Which Works?” we will be considering how the Law of God helps us grow in and express our love for God. But we don’t want to take anything for granted, just as God did not want Israel to take anything for granted as they made their way toward the land of promise.
In a lengthy chapter of The City of God, Augustine pokes fun at the Roman belief in the plethora of deities that made up their pantheon. The Romans acknowledged a single, overarching god, whom they called Zeus. He was the ruler of all the other gods, and was considered to be sovereign in the affairs of men and empires. He had at his disposal a seemingly endless array of lesser deities whose job it was to do the will of Zeus with respect to his servants, the people of the Roman world. These lesser gods were highly specialized. There was a god for the nose, the mustache, the eyes and eyebrows; a god for the ears, a god for the rain, a god for this, that, and everything else. Augustine chided his Roman readers, wondering why they had so many gods. Wasn’t one sovereign deity enough? And if not, what made him worthy of his post?
More important than this, however, is that Augustine showed that the basic relationship between Roman pagans and the gods they served was one of obeisance and service. They were forever trying to keep on the good side of the gods, because they knew their deities to be fickle, demanding, and capable of bashing people who didn’t offer them the right sacrifices or prominence in their daily prayers. The gods of Rome did not love their servants, and there was no sense in which the pagans of Rome could be said to have loved their gods. They barely trusted them. Mostly they tried to placate them in one way or another, or to buy their support against some rival by adding an extra offering along with their request.
The idea of loving a god was not part of Roman religion. Indeed, it’s not part of pagan religion generally, where the basic goal of religion is to keep the gods placated and on the side of the worshiper. The same was true of the pagan peoples who occupied the land of Canaan. All they wanted from their gods was a life of security and sufficiency; and to keep their gods happy and producing for them, they went to extraordinary lengths to placate them, including slashing themselves and offering their children in the flames.
It’s hard to love a god who demands so much, whether that god is Baal or Moloch or one’s work or wealth or personal power.
Which makes it all the more important we understand God’s greatest commandment to Israel – and through Jesus, to us – and take up whatever practices will allow us to nurture and express our love for Him.
Why, precisely, ought we to work hard to love God with all our soul and strength?
Creator and Sustainer
We cannot catalog all the reasons why loving God and always seeking to increase in love for Him makes perfect sense. But I want to mention four.
First, God is our Creator. We are not here by chance. We are not merely the highest link in the chain of some merely mechanical process that has given rise, over billions of years, to our species. Christians do not accept this view of who we are and where we’ve come from, and while they don’t always agree on the details of our provenance, all believers understand that God is our Creator. He is our Creator in a general sense, in that, in the beginning, He created the heavens and the earth and all things (Gen. 1). And He is Creator in the more specific sense in that He is ultimately the One responsible for each one of us being conceived and born into life (cf. Ps. 139.13-16).
We live, we love, we delight and enjoy our lives, and we seek to make the most of our opportunities in the life our Creator has given us. He loves us enough to have brought us into this world; it makes sense, therefore, that we should love Him supremely.
Moreover, not only has God made us, but He sustains us day by day. All that we are, along with everything else in the vast cosmos, is upheld in its being by the Word of God, even our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1.3). In Him all things consist and hold together (Col. 1.15-17). The fact that we enjoy new day after new day, and all the goodness and wonder those days contain, is only because God Who loves us keeps, sustains, and provides for us in every aspect of our being. He is for this reason to be wholeheartedly and mightily loved.
God is to be loved because He is holy. His holiness consists of the perfection of all virtues and attributes, including love, goodness, beauty, truth, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and more. Those who truly know God as holy delight to contemplate Him, to look upon His beauty, gaze upon His glory, and rejoice in His Presence. He is everything most to be desired and enjoyed, and He invites to know, love, and enjoy Him at all times, in all we do. Such a God is to be loved for the unfailing virtues and endless delights of which His holiness consists.
And this Creator, this sovereign and holy God, has made it possible for us to know Him, to commune with Him, to enjoy, love, and glorify Him by giving His Son, Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sins. God did not have to redeem us. But His love for us is so great, so constant, and so personal and intimate, that He simply would not let us go to eternal destruction, the consequence of our own foolish choices. Instead, He came among us, laid out the path of righteousness into the Presence of God, took away the debt of our sin, and sent His Spirit to dwell in all those who believe in Him for salvation.
Surely these are good reasons for loving God! And they are just the merest sketch of the greatness of God and the enormity of His love for us. As we grow to know God, we should expect our love for Him to increase. And as our love increases, we will never tire of discovering new ways to show this great and loving God how much we love Him.
And, happily, He has shown us precisely how we can fulfill that longing.
1. What does it mean to you to love God? Why do you love Him?
2. If it were possible to love God more, to love Him more constantly, and to delight more in loving Him, would you want to do that? Explain.
3. What do you hope to gain from this study of how we as Christians may improve in loving God?
Next steps – Preparation: Spend time in prayer reviewing before the Lord the four reasons given here for why we should love Him. What others come to mind?
T. M. Moore
For additional insight to the contemporary relevance of God’s Law, download the three studies in our Scriptorium series, “The Law of God: Miscellanies” by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.