“God loves us by connecting Himself to us in a life-giving way.”
Thoughts from daily Bible reading for today –July 7, 2023
Guest writer Tom Ashbrook
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” Matthew 22:36-38 …But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
Amen! Everyone loves love! We Christians love the idea that God loves us, and non-Christians love the word just as much. We all love lots of things and cherish the freedom to do so. Yet I question whether or not we Jesus followers really take love seriously.
For example, several years ago, I taught a class for pastors, spiritual directors, and church leaders. In one of the sessions, I asked them to reflect on what they would like to happen to those who came to their churches and participated in their ministries. The brainstorming surfaced dozens of great outcomes, such as salvation, peace, self-acceptance, biblical understanding, fellowship, forgiveness, etc. Strangely, however, not one person mentioned love. While most of us quickly agree that love is great, we can just as quickly move on to things seemingly more important. Why? Most biblical scholars would agree that love (agape in Greek) is the most important word in the New Testament. The word “love” appears over 500 times in the Bible! Why, then, would we pass by it so easily? I believe there is a good reason, and that reason accounts for the decline in the percentage of our population who profess faith in Christ as well as the weak and fragile faith of so many Christians.
Before we go on, I’d like you to get a personal feel for this problem. Try this short spiritual exercise. Prayerfully imagine yourself being loved by God right where you are right now. What does that look like to you? How do you picture it? What does it feel like?
I’ve found that most people struggle with this spiritual exercise. So, if you find it difficult or too abstract, you’re not alone. Maybe, for most of us, the Bible’s use of the word “love” simply doesn’t make sense. Let’s take a deeper look. A dictionary, in almost any language, defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection, a great interest, and pleasure in something, self-sacrificing generosity.” Now let’s apply that definition to our opening texts for today. Why would Jesus say that affection for God stands as the most important thing we can do? Does God need our affection or our generosity? What button would we push to make ourselves love God?
Further, why would Paul say that spiritual gifts prove useless if we don’t love? Do we have to feel affection for the people we teach, heal, or share prophecy? Why is love more important than faith or hope? Faith receives forgiveness and salvation; hope holds on to that faith! We Christians would never say that Jesus or Paul don’t know what they are talking about, but when we don’t understand something, it is easy to just pass it by with the courtesy “of course.”
So, why is love/agape the most important biblical word? Let’s ask the apostle John that question. While John talks more about love than any other gospel writer, he only tells us what Jesus and the New Testament writers mean by agape love in his first epistle.
In 1 John 4:16, he writes, “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
In this one sentence, John makes sense of the whole Bible’s use of the word love! First, he says that the Greek word agape doesn’t refer to a feeling at all but the very person of God, His nature, and His essence. God is love! Second, John tells us that God relates to us, “loves us,’ by “abiding” in us and inviting us to abide in Him; in other words, God loves us by connecting Himself to us in a life-giving way.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Now we can see how these commandments about love make sense. If we don’t love God, we’re not connected to Him in a life-giving way; we don’t have anything. The spiritual gifts couldn’t possibly work if we’re not connected to God. Love stands greater than faith and hope – because God is love!
Ok, this may sound like a lot of Bible study, but I’d like you to get a taste of why LOVE is so important in your own life, practically. Try another short spiritual exercise. Take a few minutes and prayerfully imagine God connecting with you in a life-giving way right where you are right now. What does that look like? How do you picture it? What does it feel like to you? Imagine yourself receiving that connection. What does that look like? How do you feel? Did you have a different experience than your first spiritual exercise?
In the coming two weekly reflections, we’ll explore what it’s like to be wonderfully connected to God in a way that really does make us more alive. Then we’ll look at the amazing joy of connecting with neighbors, other believers, and even enemies in even greater dimensions of abundant life!
Jesus, I do want to experience what it means to be your beloved. Please help me more fully receive your life-giving connection.
Consider a deeper dive into the topic of God’s love and loving others by checking out Tom’s new book, Connected.
We the Kingdom feat. Maverick City Music: Child of Love
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