We human beings are obsessed with identifying things and then measuring and analyzing them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a lifeless hunk of rock, or a living thing. If it exists, we can’t be satisfied until we figure out what it is, why it is, where it came from, what it does, and what we should call it. Our obsession is actually a good thing in many ways. It has led us to a multitude of helpful discoveries, not the least of which is an almost endless list of gauges, devices, mechanisms, and processes we’ve invented with which to measure them.
No Trust, No Value ~
When I think about measuring things, I think about a tire gauge I have in my toolbox. I should have thrown it away a long time ago because it can’t be trusted. It seems to be afflicted with some kind of mechanical version of “political-speak”. If I push it from one side to the other, I can get it to read whatever pressure I’d like to have. The problem is that none of the answers it produces can be trusted, and I don’t really know any more after I apply it than when I started. Sorta sounds pretty much like listening to career politicians and mainstream media “experts” explaining some of the foolish and insane policies inflicted on us lately, doesn’t it?
In the case of my tire gauge, the impact of its failure to provide an accurate measurement has only been a little inconvenience, plus the cost of a new gauge. But . . . a faulty gauge in a steam locomotive actually cost my paternal grandfather his life — at a young age and leaving a young family behind. The device designed to indicate how much water was in the engine’s boiler failed to reveal that the tank was almost empty. When the engine pulled under the water tank to be refilled, no one suspected that there might be a problem. With the gauge indicating that all was well, there was no way to know that the nearly empty water tank was red-hot. When all that cold water hit the super-heated steel, the locomotive exploded like a huge hand grenade, killing my grandfather and three of his fellow crew members. The importance of gauges has everything to do with what they’re designed to measure and the potential consequences of their failure to perform.
Everything God Ever Wanted ~
Of all the things we have sought in vain to clearly define and fully analyze, and of all the things we have failed to measure reliably, “love” would almost certainly head the list. The grandest beneficial achievements we’ve ever accomplished and the most precious moments we ever experience in life have their motivational roots in that one concept, yet in spite of that, we have no accurate gauge to measure it. When asked which of God’s commandments was the most important, His response was immediate, and the implications are profound. Quite simply, love encapsulates everything God ever wanted from those He created in His image.
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 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 the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35–40 NKJV)
One thing is clear about this passage. It isn’t “about” God’s love being directed toward us. It’s about our love being directed back to Him. Reflecting on God’s love for us is a theme we never tire of exploring, and that’s a natural thing. The extent and power of His love are simply majestic, and our search for ways to declare it never ends. Books are written about it in every genre every year, and new songs and praise choruses are added in every musical classification. Devotionals declare it, group studies explore it, sermons proclaim it, online memes highlight it, T-shirts announce it, bumper stickers encourage it, tattoos illustrate it, artists depict it, filmmakers dramatize it, spontaneous personal testimonies individualize it, and all of us celebrate it. God’s love is an inexhaustible source of blessing and encouragement, but we can become so absorbed in His love for us that we fail to address the other perspective. Do we, in turn, love Him? And how do we know that we love Him?
More Questions ~
Finding ways to measure God’s love for us is easy. The trail of evidence begins in Eden, winds its way through a history of failures followed by undeserved deliverance. The path eventually led to a stable in Bethlehem and ultimately to a torturous death on a blood-stained cross that culminated with a glorious exit from an empty and powerless tomb. Given the history of sacrificial love that God has extended to us, the fact that He would be acutely interested in how we react to such love is certainly reasonable. Whether to love Him back is not the question that troubles us. It’s how to love Him back, and whether our efforts are really pleasing Him that often get confusing. As we might expect, Jesus didn’t leave us lost in that dilemma. He gave us a kind of “gauge” to measure our individual love for Him, and it is neither theologically complex nor confusing. That doesn’t mean, of course, that checking on the status of our personal love for God is always going to feel good, but this isn’t the time to be focused on how we feel. This time, love is all about Him, not us. There’s a way to give love back to the One who loved us first, and Jesus showed what it is and how to evaluate it. He said:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15 NKJV)
He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21 NKJV)
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3 NKJV)
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9–10 NKJV)
No Ambiguity ~
Jesus gave us a concise definition of God’s “love language”. It’s authoritative, reliable, and disturbingly clear. God’s interpretation of our love for Him is a matter of obedience, plain and simple. But Jesus isn’t issuing a call for more legalism.The Pharisees had shown how oppressive and futile it can be when pleasing God depended on keeping an endless list of rules. God’s heart isn’t moved by our religious performance. Conducting religious rituals and mouthing affirmations to creeds doesn’t impress Him. The kind of obedience that says, “I love you” to God isn’t the result of ecclesiastical affiliation or religious coercion. Jesus was suggesting something entirely different and much more positive and fulfilling.
In considering the things Jesus said about this issue, we tend to focus on the concept of “commandments” and ponder what it entails. That isn’t the word we should be focused on. The word that grips the heart of God isn’t “commandments” — it’s “love”. Love is the ultimate issue at hand; obedience is simply a means of expressing it. If a man gives a woman a bouquet of flowers, the issue closest to his heart isn’t botany, it’s what he feels for the woman standing before him.
There are tendencies that are natural to love as God designed it. One is that it cries out for proximity and togetherness. When love is expressed between people, a unifying bond begins to form, along with a natural willingness to make sacrifices to protect and secure that unity. Love between God and us is no different. It’s tragic when we get so lost in what kind of flowers to put in the bouquet we want to give Him that we lose the magic, miss the wonder, and fail to feel the power in the love that the flowers were meant to convey.
These are tumultuous times. Fear, uncertainty, and depression are rampant and there’s a tendency to become even more self-absorbed than we normally are. As we culminate our “Love Month” series, let’s shift our focus away from us and back to the One whose love has sealed for us a glorious heritage that nothing can take away. Who knows? Maybe returning the love He gave us by living out those things that are important to Him may just be the key to help to turn this “upside down world” right side up again.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Of all the things we have sought in vain to clearly define and fully analyze fully, and of all the things we have failed to measure reliably, “love” would almost certainly head the list.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The grandest beneficial achievements we’ve ever accomplished and the most precious moments we ever experience in life have their motivational roots in the one concept of love, yet in spite of that, we have no accurate gauge to measure it.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Reflecting on God’s love for us is a theme we never tire of exploring, and that’s a natural thing. The extent and power of His love are simply majestic, and our search for ways to declare it never ends.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “God’s interpretation of our love for Him is a matter of obedience, plain and simple. But Jesus isn’t issuing a call for more legalism. He was suggesting something entirely different and much more positive and fulfilling.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Love is the ultimate issue at hand; obedience is simply a means of expressing it. When love is expressed, a unifying bond begins to form, along with a natural willingness to make sacrifices to protect and secure that unity.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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