Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus replied, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I want to talk about love today. How many of you grew up reading a little book entitled, “I Love You This Much?” It was the story of two rabbits, a dad and a baby, who began competing about who loved who more. The Baby Rabbit began by saying, “I love you to the tip of my ears.” The big rabbit then said,“Well I love you from the tip of my ears down to my toes.” Then the tiny rabbit said, “Well I love you all the way to the top of this tree.” Then the Big Rabbit said, “Well I love you as far as the wind takes the leaves.” The little rabbit not wanting to be outdone said, “I love you as far as the eye can see.” The Big Rabbit said, “That is true, but I love you as far as the eye can see and over the hills.” Finally it was time to sleep and as the little rabbit laid down he looked to the big rabbit and said, “I Love you all the way to the moon.” And then he fell asleep. Then the Big Rabbit smiled and said, “That is very far indeed. But little one, I love you all the way to the moon and back.”
It can be tough to describe how much we love someone and how much we feel loved by someone. The Apostle Paul tried to describe God’s love for us in Ephesians 3:17b-19 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul says we can be rooted and established in the love of God, and Paul prays that the Ephesians will be able to grasp the dimensions of God’s love and be filled to the brim with His love. I grew up hearing a lot about the love of God. Perhaps the first song I learned in church was “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Before I knew there was anything wrong with me, before I was told that sin separated me from God and that God hates sin, before I even heard of Heaven or Hell, I heard about the love of God. I learned that God first loved me. (I John 4:19) I learned that “Nothing could separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 8:39) Early I was moved by John 3:16 that proclaims that God’s great love for the world moved Him to send His Son to die on a cross to pay the price for my sins. Romans 5:8 was seared in my memory as a child. It speaks to the fact that God demonstrated His love for me before I ever took a step toward Him, before I ever even knew who He was, before I even knew I needed Him. When I was a total mess, God demonstrated His love for me when Christ died. I was taught that God’s love had an everlasting quality to it. (Jeremiah 31:3) That it was unconditional. I was told the Jesus would love me no matter what and would be my forever friend.
So, I have never questioned if God loved me. It’s pretty settled, but perhaps a good question for me as a Christ-follower is this: How is the quality of my love for God? Am I preoccupied with Him? Am I pursuing Him in reciprocity of His pursuit of me? What is my motivation for being in a relationship with Him? Is it driven by love for Him or all of the stuff I believe He has to offer me?
In a message on this topic of reciprocating God’s love, author and speaker, Frances Chan said:
“If you could have heaven with no sickness and with all the friends you ever had on earth and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you’d ever enjoyed and all the natural beauties you ever saw and all the physical pleasures you ever tasted and no human conflict and no natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven if Christ was not there? Let’s be honest, you could go to heaven with all of your friends and family today, there would be no sickness and no death, and it would be the most beautiful place you had ever seen, but Christ wouldn’t be there. Would you be happy?”
Think about that? If you made it to Heaven and Jesus wasn’t there, would you miss Him? Would you be disappointed? Heartbroken? Is He the first face you want to see? Is He the desire of your heart? Are you in regular communication with Him? Is there a growing passion to be with Him, to know more of Him? Is our desire for Heaven tied to a legitimate love for Him or is it simply about escaping the flames of Hell? How much do we truly love God?
When asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus replied, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”
As I re-read this in preparation for this message I was struck by the weight of it. The GREATEST COMMANDMENT is that I should love God with every ounce of my being. He should be my passion, my focus, my pursuit. God is supposed to be my Person. Can I say this morning that I love God with everything in me?
We know that love for God is connected to obeying Him. Jesus said in John 14:15-“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” But you and I both know we can obey someone without loving them. We can obey someone and actually have bad feelings toward them. We can obey someone with an ulterior motive because we want something from them. So, just because someone is doing the right things, doing the prescribed things, doing the things the Bible says a Christian ought to do doesn’t mean they are doing them out of love, and if we understand what Jesus is saying in Matthew 22, (SHOW THIS AGAIN-“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”) it wouldn’t matter what we did, if we didn’t do it from a place of love for God, we are still breaking the first and greatest commandment. Does that cause anyone else pause this morning?
Without a pure love for God, our efforts, our actions, our behaviors mean nothing. I think Jesus is saying, “Spend your effort on loving Me well, and the rest will fall into place.” Everything else in a believer’s life, is supposed to flow from this correct love relationship with God. If we believe this, that loving God well is the most important thing we can do, we need to give some thought to what that means. How do we cultivate our love for God?
Love doesn’t grow without time and effort. Quality relationships take time. You’ve got to hang out. You’ve got to talk. You’ve got to share hopes and dreams. You have to disclose your inner thoughts. Falling in love is a process. It requires trust, transparency and truth-telling. You have to let that person know that you appreciate them and why. The words, “I Love You” have to be exchanged on a regular basis, and our actions have to match our words. Just like you get out of every earthly relationship what you put into it, you get out of your love relationship with God what you put into it.
There is a description of a group of people in Revelation 2 who were doing good things for God while breaking the first commandment to love Him with their whole being. Look at these verses from chapter 2, beginning with verse 2:
Revelation 2:2-7 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 REMEMBER the height from which you have fallen! REPENT and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
I think this passage gives us a strategy that can help us re-engage in our love relationship with God if needed. If we have grown cold, if life with Christ has become religious instead of renewing, if our primary motivation to make it to Heaven is to escape the alternative and to be with loved ones rather than to be with Jesus and enjoy God for eternity, how can we fan the flames of our love life with God?
Remember why you began a relationship with God.
I John 4:19 tells us that we love God because He first loved us. We turned to God because God came to us in love. We were moved to accept His gift of salvation because it is the best offer on the planet. It is an extravagant gift. The Holy Spirit helped us see how God had responded in love to a need we had that we couldn’t meet. If you are a Christian today it was because you came to a place where you realized you needed help and the only way to get it was to respond to God’s love.
There is no way we could have comprehended God’s love when we first began, but we started interacting with God as a response to what He had done and wanted to do in our lives. We recognized God as the Provider.
Think of how little babies respond to the hugs and kisses of their parents. Think of the safety they feel when they are in their parents’ arms. Sometimes, they struggle to let anyone else hold them because they feel so loved, so safe, with their parents. Why do babies even cry? In part it has to be because they are assured that a loving parent will be there in response to their need. They aren’t really able to fully reciprocate love to their parents because they don’t know what love is. They just know if makes them feel safe and cared for.
Can you just stop once in a while and remember what it feels like to be loved by God? Remember His promise to be with you in all circumstances and to shield you from enemy attacks? Can you remember that He is the safe One, the One you can always turn to when you need comfort?
Eventually as children grow, they start to express love not out of need but because it becomes their personal desire. How precious are those spontaneous moments when your toddler and elementary kids jump into your lap and say, “I love you, Mommy!” How special it is when they make a card with a big heart on it that holds those same words. As children continue to engage with loving parents their love grows. Eventually, and especially at adulthood, kids look back and have a greater appreciation for the provision, for the sacrifices, for the care-giving and their love grows deeper. Eventually, love isn’t just reciprocated, but it is initiated.
Can we not take time to remember, as Children of God, all that God has done for us? We love God because He first loved us. We love God because of all He has done for us, and the longer we have walked with Him the more we realize He didn’t have to do any of it, the more we realize just how great a price He paid to love us. He loved us when we were unlovable. He loved us when we could care less about Him. He has loved us with an everlasting love.
Christian, do you remember what it was like when you were first saved? You had great joy! You couldn’t wait to get to church. You wanted to tell others about the new Love of your life. You sang along with K-love in the car. You found awesome podcasts to listen to. You bought Christian t-shirts to advertise your love for God. You followed your favorite Christian artists around on tour. You volunteered at church and had so much fun. Remember those days?
No, we can’t live on a spiritual mountaintop, but we can work to keep the fires of spiritual passion burning. We can quit taking God’s love and His care for us for granted. Isn’t that what happens in marriages that grow cold? They take each other for granted? Couples quit throwing logs on the fires of romance. They make each other less and less of a priority. They communicate less. They spend less time together. What happens to the quality of the relationship? It deteriorates. What happens to the quality of their love? It diminishes.
When that happens it is time to remember why they first got together. What were those moments like? What drew them to each other? What was that honeymoon period like? What kind of effort and investment did they personally make in order to make each other a priority. There is a direct correlation between our love for God and our focus on spending time with Him. The church in Revelation was busy doing spiritual stuff, but they had let their love for God grow cold. They needed to remember not only what God had done for them but they needed to remember the love they were giving in return when they first came to Christ and how their priorities had shifted. Do you need to remember some stuff this morning?
Repent from attitudes and actions that have gotten you off track.
What would happen in my marriage to Thom if we were in trouble, but one of us refused to acknowledge that there was a problem? What if our love was growing cold, and Thom wanted to talk with me about it. What if after putting him off repeatedly, I finally caved and said, “Go ahead and talk. I’m listening.” What if after listening to him I just casually said, “I don’t see the problem. I come home every night. I’m not out running around. I keep groceries in the house and cook a few days a week. I clean the bathrooms and kitchen and try to keep down the clutter. I try to look halfway decent most days. I help you remember important stuff. When you text me, I always text you back. Clearly, there is no problem.”
In this scenario, the problem is my attitude. I have reduced my commitment to him to duties and a social contract. Just covering some bases, just checking off some boxes doesn’t make me a lover of my husband. You can share a home without sharing your heart. You can share a life without sharing your love. That isn’t the kind of marriage we are supposed to have, and it isn’t the kind of relationship we are supposed to have with Christ.
God doesn’t just want us checking off religious boxes. “Well, God, I came to church three times this month. I put some money in the offering plate. I’m signed up to help in the nursery. I even walked up to the prayer pots to pray for someone else. I don’t really see a problem here.” So what if I haven’t spent personal time with you, God. So what if I haven’t been thinking about you every day. So what if I haven’t even said, “Thank you” or “I love you, God” this week. It’s not like I am pursuing other religions or something.” That attitude of just checking off religious boxes is a problem. If this is your issue, you need to repent, which means you need to change your attitude about why you have a relationship with God in the first place and what your role is in helping to grow in love with Him.
Maybe attitude isn’t your problem. Maybe your problem is your actions. Maybe you really love God, and you even express that on a regular basis, but your actions don’t match your attitude. Maybe you love God, but He isn’t first. Maybe He is somewhere near the bottom of your list. Maybe you love God, but you love things you shouldn’t at the same time? What would happen in another scenario if we make Thom the villain? What if Thom told me every day how much he loved me, how beautiful I was, and how much he missed me when we were apart, but three nights a week he spent the night with someone else? Or what if I was his one and only romantic interest, but every night he didn’t come home until 9 pm because he had dinner every night with friends and then went to the gym. His actions wouldn’t really be screaming, “I love you” would they? How could he say he had given his heart to me if his heart was parceled out in such big pieces to other people or other things? If our love was going to be properly restored, he would have to repent, which means, he would have to change his actions to demonstrate that his love was more than words.
I tell couples when I do premarital counseling that they need to put away anything that would threaten the exclusivity of their love. Put away anything that would threaten the exclusivity of your love for Christ. After hearing this message today, some of us believers need to break up with the world. For real. Some of us have been trying to share our hearts with the things of the world.
I think many have allowed Hollywood and sports and musical celebrities to impact their love for God more than they would admit. Our hearts are given to statuses and material goods and sensual experiences that mimic the way the world lives. Listen, there is no real love in the world. Real love starts and ends with God. The world’s love is a “here today and gone tomorrow” kind of love. It comes with strings attached. It is about what is in it for me. It’s a disposable, throw-away kind of love. It’s an “I love you” until I don’t need you love.
Listen to me, God will never break up with you. He won’t “ghost you.” If you don’t know what that is ask someone under 21. He won’t stab you in the back. He won’t talk badly about you to other people. He won’t leave you high and dry. You can count on Him. He will stay by your side no matter what. Don’t fall for the imitation love that is found out in the world. Repent from that hollow pursuit. Break up with worldly pleasures, and find the ultimate pleasure in Jesus, the Lover of your Soul.
1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
That doesn’t mean don’t fall in love with someone special. It doesn’t mean don’t love ice cream or puppies. It means, don’t give your heart to the things people without Christ give their hearts to and live for. It means, live for Christ alone.
James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Worldly stuff will lead your heart in the wrong direction, away from God, and away from the good things He has prepared for you, and ultimately it will compromise the love you have to give Him.
Has your love for God grown cold? This morning, have you remembered some good times, some times when you were really invested in your relationship with Him, really growing in love with Him and in your desire to express that with others? Did you recall a time He had seen you through or comforted your soul? Today you can repent. You can have an attitude change and a change in your actions. Today, you can break up with the world and you can Recommit your heart to loving God first.
Many married couples renew their vows after a certain number of years together. Perhaps it is time to renew your vows with Jesus, to let Him know you know you haven’t been engaged in the relationship the way you should, and that today you want to recommit yourself to Him. Today, Let’s reaffirm our vow to love God with all that we are, to grow our love for Him and to stay in love with Him forever.