Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Does It Mean to Love God?

Christians talk a lot about loving God (which is good, since Jesus said that the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that the second is like it--to love your neighbor as yourself). But, how often do we ask ourselves what this looks like? What does it mean to love God?

The Greeks had three words that we translate, love--agape, phileo, and eros. Phileo refers more to a "friendship" love, eros to an erotic love, and agape to a sacrificial, unconditional love.

When we talk of loving God, often we mistakenly think of our love for God in terms of phileo love (or worse yet, eros love). We have nice feelings for God. We like Him. But, agape love is the love with which God loves us, and it is the love with which we have been called to love God and others.

What does it look like to love God with agape love? First John 4:7–12 (NET) says:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
Wolfhart Pannenberg asks some provocative questions about Christian love for God:

If Christian love is essentially a participation in God's love for the world, then we have to ask whether we can distinguish at all between love of God and love of neighbor. Does not true love consist of sharing in God's love for the world? And in the depth of turning to the cohuman Thou, do we not also love God? (Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 187.)
Pannenberg argues that, while love for God and love for neighbor are inseparable, they do not collapse into one another. Jesus seemed to prioritize love for God over love for others, implying at least a subtle distinction. Pannenberg describes love for God:
We love God by letting him be God to us as Jesus let the Father be God to him, by letting him be our God, our Father, and thus by putting our trust and confidence in him. (Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 193.)
Love for God is expressed in faith.


BlayrBear said...

Thank you.

Larry said...

I think "love for God is expressed in faith" is backwards! Did you mean love for God is expressed by faith? Love for God is expressed in obedience to God (Jn 15:10; 14:21, 23).

Faith is expressed in the work of love (Eph 5:6). Also, James says that a person shows faith by somnething done in love, such as visiting orphans, etc.

Without this, justification is by love: since if faith is the expression of love, you must have love, to express it in faith, in this scheme.

Justification is not by love.

Matt said...

Hey Larry,

Sorry it took me so long to respond.

To John, "love for God" is expressed through "obedience to the commandments." But what are Jesus' commandments to John? He's not thinking of the 10 Commandments. To John, the commandments are belief and love for your neighbor (1 John 3:23).

I don't think that "faith" can be collapsed into mere belief. Faith includes belief, but it is bigger than that--it is loyalty to the way of Jesus. You can't have faith without loving your neighbor (James 2:24, 1 John 2:4, 9).

So no, you are not justified by love. You are justified by grace through faith. But faith isn't just belief.

Larry said...

No brother faith is not "loyalty to the way of Jesus." It is what Hebrews 11:1 says it is. It is also what Jesus says it is in Mt 8:10 (cf. Mt 8:8-10).

If faith is "loyalty to the way of Jesus," Gandhi had that! But he did not trust that Jesus would do anything for him whatsoever, as far as we know.

Lots of people proclaim their loyalty to Jesus, yet have no conviction that Jesus has, does, or will save them. As Proverbs says, "many a man proclaims his loyalty, but ...." Man's favorite thing in the sight of God -- Christians, I'm convinced, love to do this just as much as anybody -- is to proclaim his loyalty. Nobody remembers that the disciples did that to Jesus on the night that they fled, and Jesus predicted that they would, and Peter was explicit in his brag.

Matt said...

But if faith is mere confidence or assurance, didn't Ghandi have that as well? Didn't the Pharisees have a lot of confidence in the things they hoped for?

That the Greek word pistis is sometimes translated faithfulness is a clue to what the word means. If pistis means assurance, what is the pistis tou theou ("faithfulness of God")in Romans 3:3? Is Paul concerned about God's confidence, or his faithfulness/loyalty?

Your example of the discpiples is John's paradigm for a lack of faith. It's not about proclaiming loyalty, but actually being faithful to Jesus.

Larry said...

Pistis is translated "faithfulness" in three of the 243 times the word is used. None of the times pistis is translated as faithfulness does it have anything to do with what man must do to be justified, brother. None. But faithfulness is certainly a worthy subject, and worth discussing when it comes to love for God, especially since we have already agreed that we are not justified by love!

1. And that's the subject, what it means to love God. I don't think anyone could disagree that love of God cannot be expressed in actions which are unfaithful to Him. Sins against Christ count as unfaithfulness to Him. We cannot say that an act of sin against Christ is an act of faithfulness to Christ.

2. The question could well be asked, what act or aspect of love for God or neighbor is not also being faithful to God, to Christ, to the commandment to love God and neighbor? Since to disobey God is to be unfaithful to the obligation to obey God, all disobedience partakes of unfaithfulness. (I'm building bridges here, to a common understanding of faithfulness.)

3. We can also say that any act of love for God and neighbor is an act of faithfulness to God, to our obligations to God. This is answering the question in 2.

4. Any sin against God or neighbor exemplifies unfaithfulness to Him, since we are obligated by God to love Him and to love neighbor, and sin against God or neighbor is not love for Him, so it is also unfaithfulness to the obligation, and therefore unfaithfulness to the God to whom we are obligated.

Now to the comments you made in the discussion of faith.

Did Ghandi have confidence or assurance? I'm sure he did: he had faith in something, but it wasn't faith in Christ, as far as we know: he didn't trust that Christ would do anything for him. He merely wanted to do what was right, like Jesus did.

The Pharisees hade a lot of confidence in the things they hoped for! Amen. They had faith! They "trusted in themselves" (Lk 18:9). Yes indeed, the Pharisees had confidence in the things they hoped for, from themselves, "that they were righteous" (18:9).

Romans 3:3 does not contradict Hebrews 11:1. Pistis, in the context of Romans 3:3, is referring to God's faithfulness. As I mentioned, there are three of 238 examples of pistis translated faithfulness, and none of them refer to an obligation for justification. There are plenty of examples of pistis translated "faith" and which do refer to that.

The outcome of 1-4 above is that we must admit that our sins are all examples of unfaithfulness, which cannot be set aside by whatever is left that is our faithfulness, but must be borne by Christ, and received by trusting Him to have borne them for us. His faithfulness can take our sins away; our own faithfulness can't.