Almost everybody in this room would claim to love God, including me. It is so easy to say the words and claim you love God, but actions speak louder than words, and our love for anyone, especially God, needs to go beyond mere lip service.
1 John 3:18 (ESV)
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Today I want to examine what loving God is, and focus on practical love. You can say it, you can even believe you love God, but is your love real, is it tangible, is it practical.
A recent NCLS survey concluded that while just over half of Australians surveyed believed in God or a higher power, less than one in 5 go to church at least once a month. It is now even lower due to COVID. According to US studies, 1 in 3 have dropped out of church entirely, and numbers in church are down 30-50%.
The conclusion is that, while many people say they love God, you wouldn’t know it because their love is mental assent at best. There is no practicality to it. There’s no product, you cannot tell if they love God or not by their speech or actions. They might keep Christian laws, but they have no life and no love.
That’s because, for decades, people have been told that loving God is about obeying rules. For decades Christians have have backed that up, and been quick to judge and be legalistic.
Mark 7:6-9 (ESV)
“‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
And legalism is like that. It cherishes outward obedience to certain rules over a genuine relationship. A true relationship with God balances His commandments with relationship experiences, and we need both. Like an egg.
If you have all rules and no experience, you are like an empty shell. But if you’re all about experiences and have no rules or structure, you’re a jess, just egg white gooing everywhere. Neither is wrong, because We need both. Practical love is an expression of both rules and experiences.
THE LAW BOILED DOWN
I love the way Jesus, almighty God, creator of the universe, is so darn practical. He brilliantly managed to boil the entire law, all 613 of what the Jews called the Mitzvot or commandments, into 2 core values…
Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
I HEART GOD AND MAN
Jesus here quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, and He explained logically that if you love God this way, obedience to all the other commandments just flows out of that.
What Jesus is saying here is that God wants true, practical and devoted love, not just devotion to a set of rules. Obedience flows from love, so the primary thing God asks of anyone who truly believes in Christ and receives his spiritual salvation is a devoted love that is expressed with one’s entire being.
Loving God is the vertical aspect. Loving your neighbour, brother, fellow man is the horizontal aspect. Horizontal and vertical… It forms a cross, and or course the greatest example of true and practical love for God and man is seen at Calvary.
PAUL HEARTS GOD AND MAN
Romans 13:8-10 (ESV)
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
So if we claim to love God and yet harbour unforgiveness towards people, get angry, or continually hurt others, then something is clearly wrong. What we need to realise is that our love for people, for our community, for our friends, family, neighbours, church and even enemies, must flow from a genuine, practical love for God. As Paul wrote to the Galatians,
Galatians 5:14 (ESV)
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Jesus said it, Peter and Paul and others said it, and God has said it all along.
PEOPLE CHOOSE RULES
From the Garden of Eden, God has wanted relationship, not rules. He wanted to connect with Adam and Eve, but they chose sin and severed that relationship. But God has always wanted you, not just your outward obedience, you in relationship with Him. He wants relationship, not robotic obedience.
When we talk religious rules, we always get back to the 10 commandments. This is the basis of our Western society and judicial system, because it lays our standards of how we should act both towards God and also man. But let me read the passage of Scripture immediately after the 10 commandments are given…
Exodus 20:18-21 (ESV)
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
God said come closer, draw near, reach out to Me, have an ongoing relationship of love with me, but the people were afraid so they said to Moses, Mo you go and have a relationship with God, and come back and tell us what to do. At that point they chose rules over relationship.
But God continues to seek relationship, so much so that He sent His Son to break the sin that had destroyed relationship. You and I are privileged to be able to
James 4:8 (ESV)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Notice that purity, repentance, getting rid of sin is the prerequisite to truly having a loving, close relationship with God. So let me finish by examining how we can love God with all our heart in a real and tangible way.
As Paul spends a lot of time explaining to the Galatians, Law works by compulsion from without, but grace works by compassion from within. So how are we taught to love God, and what does truly loving God in a practical way look like?
1. LOVING GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART (Gk CARDIA)
This means that God is the source and object of your greatest desires and passions; the core of your affections must be centred on Him. It means that you are completely faithful and devoted to God and that His purposes direct every area of your life. The heart is the centre of your being, and we understand that even in our culture. Loving with all your heart means totally loving with all you are.
Love is not a feeling, it is an act of the will. You may not feel close to God, or feel an incredible longing for Him, but if you decide today to truly love God, start doing it and the feelings will follow. This happens with couples and other human relationships, and it happens with God.
Loving God in this way requires a willingness to do anything for Him. Our practical love for God must be a life-directing love, inspired by his love for us–a love that caused him to give his Son for our sake.
John 3:16 (ESV)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
1 John 4:19 (ESV)
We love because he first loved us.
I want to be the guy who prays, “not my will but yours be done.” I want to be the 100% all in guy, who will do anything because he loves his God. This is the practical outpouring of truly loving God with all your heart.
2. LOVING GOD WITH ALL YOUR SOUL (Gk PSYCHE)
This has to do with your deepest longings, emotions and convictions, which must be focused on Christ and bringing honour to him. The soul could be described as the core of who you are–the real you–meaning that your identity is completely one with that of Christ. It means loving God with every fibre of your being, and yes it involves emotions. Psychology is the study of the soul, the mind, will and emotions.
In our Western world, especially in churches, we don’t readily do emotions. Real men don’t cry they say, and the weird thing is that the person who goes crazy emotionally in front of the football, comes to church and acts like he is made of stone.
God is emotional, after all, He created emotions. We often read of Jesus being moved with compassion in Matthew 20:34, or in Jeremiah,
Jeremiah 32:41 (ESV)
I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
Remember falling in love? You can’t tell me emotions were not part of that! I got so emotional when I proposed to Fiona, I wrote a song and carved “Fiona will you marry me” into a big old mango tree on our property.
So today, despite your Greeko -English stiff upper lip conservatism, I’m going to ask you to boldly go where you may never have gone before with God and just fall in practical love!
3. LOVING GOD WITH ALL YOUR MIND (Gk DIA-NOIA)
This shows that serving him is not just a matter of feelings or emotion. It is a deliberate act of your will. It means serving God with your intellect and seeking to please him with every thought, idea and decision you make. The Greek word DIA-NOIA means thoughts and understanding, so loving God is not blind faith it is informed, researched and well thought out. It means basing those decisions on His Word. Loving God with your mind requires doing what you know is right beyond how you feel or what rejection you might face from the world.
And while I’m encouraging you to feel emotions and fall in love with God,I don’t want emotions to rule your life. We don’t want just an emotional experience. Christianity is built on solid, historically proven facts.
But so often we allow the evil one to influence our mind. If ever you needed proof, look at what misinformation is doing in the world today. Experts, media, governments, opinions, people are so confused today. Loving God with all your mind means guarding what you let into your mind.
Philippians 4:7-8 (ESV)
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Loving God with all your mind means filling your mind with the things of God. It might mean turning off that TV show, not watching the horror movie which is the 6.30 news, not visiting that website, not reading that magazine.
4. LOVING GOD WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH (Gk ISCHYS, Strength, power, ability or might)
This means that your best energies and efforts go into serving God and promoting his purposes, not your own.
Colossians 1:29 (ESV)
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
It also means that you are willing to persevere in your faith when circumstances are challenging or even physically exhausting. Love makes you keep going and not give up.
Psalms 73:26 (ESV)
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Honestly, we invest so much time, money and effort into so many things. We strive to build businesses, our homes, our families, even our bodies and reputations. We work hard and rightly so, but how much energy do we invest into the Kingdom of God. Can you invest 10 minutes a day to read His Word, can you invest a few hours on a Sunday morning or Tuesday night to meet with your God at church?
Loving God with all your strength means giving everything to serve Him, no matter the cost, no matter the pain, and no matter how long it takes. As Paul said,
Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
PRACTICAL LOVE FOR GOD IS WHAT THIS WORLD NEEDS
This confused, fearful, wayward world desperately needs the love of God, but it fails to recognise it because we are so half-hearted about our love for Him that is barely reflects in the things we say and do. They don’t treat the church seriously because they see us as hypocrites, as so we need change and get serious about loving God. Loving God with all your heart and soul and kind and strength is easy to say, but it’s hard do, and do consistently.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (ESV)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Walk in love, with God and with man. With heart, mind, soul and strength totally devoted to God.
Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
I believe God is growing something incredible in this church, as we walk humbly with our God together. I am not here to build a Kingdom for myself but to build God’s Kingdom, to seek His Kingdom and righteousness first.
But like any relationship, you have to keep building it, you have to keep loving with all year heart. Life drags us away, circumstances cause us to doubt and feel God is distant, but He is not, He’s right here, right now.
I know most of you love God, but let’s be honest, sometimes we just drift away. I want to open the altar and invite you to fall in love with the Lord Jesus once again.
Let Him not say of us…
Revelation 2:4-5 (ESV)
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.
It’s time to fall in love with Him again.
WHAT ROLE DO RULES PLAY? HOW CAN YOU OBEY THE RULES BUT STILL NOT HAVE THE RELATIONSHIP?
HOW CAN YOU SHOW YOUR LOVE FOR GOD IS REAL?
HOW CAN YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM TODAY?