It’s a word that carries great meaning, and at the same time has lost almost all meaning. We use it so frequently, that we don’t even realize that the myriad nuances we assign it have muddied it nearly to the point of obsolescence. I’m talking, of course, about the word love. In the same breath I might say that I love my husband, love fall, love a Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte, and love the color of your sweater. In each of these cases, I’m using love to say something different, from enjoyment, to appreciation, to unswerving devotion. While the English dictionary contains roughly 170,000 words, giving us an extensive vocabulary with which to express ourselves, it seems to fall short in helping us express love. You probably know that ancient Greek used three different words for this: agape (true sacrificial love), phileo (fondness, friendship), and eros (erotic/sensual love). However, since we don’t speak Greek, that’s of very little use to us as we read an English text. Therefore, we use love to describe our feelings for everything from family members and friends to football teams and french fries. Because of this, the concept of loving God is maybe not as elementary as it sounds.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6, known by its first Hebrew word, shema,
is arguably the most pivotal text in the Old Testament. Even if the reference
doesn’t ring a bell, the command it contains surely will.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” Love God. Every command in the Bible could be summed up in this, the greatest commandment. Yet, it’s deceiving in its simplicity; and I don’t mean just that it’s difficult to obey (we knew that already!). I mean that even defining it is tricky. We’re so familiar with the concept that perhaps we haven’t even realized that pinpointing just what loving means is easier said than done. While this will hardly be the definitive work on the subject, let’s see if we can sharpen our focus in defining this somewhat fuzzy word.
Regardless of how I use the word love, one thing I nearly always communicate is that I have affection for the object I love. However, that again can be a bit “fuzzy” due to overuse. I guess to define it bluntly, this means that I like God—a lot. That’s what affection is. An online dictionary says that affection is “a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.” I hope you don’t think that I’m irreverent in saying that to love God is to like Him. I know that it’s basic, but that doesn’t mean we do it well. If I were to ask you, “Do you like God?” You would probably say “yes” without hesitating. But what if we add in the rest of the command: Do you like him with all of your heart, soul, and strength? Now things might get a little more complicated. To find the answer, we have to look at our other affections and confront tough questions head-on. Questions like these:
- Do you like God more than you like your free time?
- Do you like God more than you like your money?
- Do you like God more than you like fitting in?
- Do you like God more than you like attention?
- Do you like God more than you like control?
- Do you like God more than you like avoiding confrontation?
- Do you like God more than you like your secret sin?
- Do you like God more than you like your comfort?
- Do you like God more than you like likes on Facebook or Instagram?
Yikes. Suddenly I’m realizing that there are a lot of other “likes” in my life. Yes, I like God, but I like Him in His place alongside my other likes. This doesn’t mean, of course, that I’m not allowed to like anything else. It means that my affection for God must supersede and direct my affection for anything else. For example, if I truly like God more than I like fitting in, I won’t have a problem sharing Christ with a coworker. If I truly like God more than money, I will generously and cheerfully use my money to further His kingdom. And if I truly like God more than I like control, I will hold my agenda for my day, my year, my life with an open hand and trust Him when He makes changes I don’t particularly like. To love Him with every fiber of my being means that my affection for Him outshines every other affection.
Loving God not only means that I like Him; it means that I enjoy Him. I know how to enjoy an ice cream cone or a good book; but how do I enjoy God? The answer to such a difficult question has filled volumes, so I cannot do it justice in just a couple of paragraphs. However, I will attempt to at least point us in the right direction by offering three thoughts.
First, to enjoy God is to be satisfied in Him. John Piper famously says that when we are most satisfied in God, then He is most glorified in us. If that’s true, then we must get this right! The psalmist of Psalm 42 says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” The psalmist recognizes that only in the Creator will he find the satisfaction he craves. Ecclesiastes expounds extensively on the dissatisfaction of earthly pleasures. Solomon had it all, from wisdom to wealth to women; yet when he reached the end of his life, he called it all empty and concluded, “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). One of the complaints God issues against Judah is that they “hew for themselves…broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). Only finding satisfaction in God, enjoying Him, will quench the thirst of our souls. Everything else is like carrying water in a colander.
Second, to enjoy God is to delight in Him. Spending time with God, getting to know Him, communing with Him, and worshiping Him are all things that bring a smile to your face if you’re delighting in your heavenly Father. Take a walk through the Psalms, and you’ll see this idea on nearly every page. David claims that one day in the courts of God is better than a thousand days outside (84:10). He claims that the “blessed” or happy man whom people look at with envy delights in the law of God (1:2). Skim through Psalm 119 and notice at how the psalmist delights in God’s Word. He can’t wait to spend time with the God revealed in Scripture. In fact, his love for the Word directly affects his delight in God. If we read the Word with an eye toward the greatness of our God and what He has done, how can we help but grow in our delight of Him?
Finally, to enjoy God is to thrilled or exhilarated by Him. For
many of us, we can probably think of about six hundred things that exhilarate
us more than God. Roller coasters, suspenseful movies, and page-turning novels
can all seem much more thrilling than God. I don’t like the sound of that any
more than you do, but I think we both know it’s true. Romans 1 gives us some
insight as to why:
“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen” (v. 25).
The reason we’re more thrilled by a day at the beach than by the Creator of the ocean is that we’ve traded in the greatness of God for the greatness of what He’s done. God has given us some pretty amazing things, but they serve a purpose. They’re not merely for our enjoyment. They’re to help us enjoy Him even more. Author and songwriter Matt Papa puts it this way:
To be a Christian means we don’t look from the world, and we don’t look to the world. To be a Christian means we look through the world.
Idolatry looks at the world in amazement.
Worship, true worship, looks through it in amazement. To its source. To the One who is infinitely more amazing.
These things God has made—these shadows, these scattered beams, these shallow streams—are good. And God is better. This is what the universe is all about. This is the end of idolatry. This is the glory of God.
Finally, loving God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength means that I swear allegiance to Him and only Him. Many gods compete for our allegiance every day, and they’re not as easy to spot as we’d like to think. They’re not made from wood, gold, or ivory. We don’t make pilgrimages to worship them in their temples. No, they reside unseen in our hearts, enticing us to worship them with every choice we make. And they’re sneaky because we often don’t realize that we’re worshiping them until we’ve already done it. Let me see if I can explain what I mean.
You’re driving home from work happily bebopping to a favorite song on the radio. The sun is shining, and you can’t wait to walk through the door, greet your family, and spend an enchanting evening with the people dearest to you. Suddenly, BAM! You’re jerked out of your reverie by an unsettling noise, and you notice that your car has lost all power. You quickly flip on the hazard lights, and pull over, hoping the damage isn’t too severe. “Great,” you think as you slam your hand on the steering wheel. “This is just great. We can’t afford to get this hunk of junk fixed again! And this is the one evening that I could actually go home early and spend time with the family. So, of course this would be the time that the dumb car would break down—again!” Whoa. What just happened? Where did this anger come from? You just offered a sacrifice in the temple of control.
James puts it this way: “You lust and do not have; so you
commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel”
(4:2). To paraphrase his words, you got mad because you wanted something that
you didn’t receive. In this scenario, you wanted your car to run smoothly; you
wanted the money to stay in your bank account; and you didn’t want your evening
to be interrupted by car problems. You wanted your agenda fulfilled without a hitch.
Of course, none of those things are evil desires in and of themselves. However,
you know that you’ve worshiped an idol when you sin (in this case, by
displaying sinful anger) when you don’t get what you want; or you sin in
order to get what you want.
Our hearts crank out idols like Hollywood cranks out superhero movies. To love God completely means that we must smash those idols by submitting our desires to God. No, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a quiet evening at home with family. But can you submit to God’s plan for your evening—even if it means a ride in a smelly tow truck and a big fat bill you didn’t expect? Consider the words of James once again: “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit, therefore, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (4:6-8a). Submission, devotion to God alone: that’s what loving God means.
“Hear, O Christian! The LORD is our God. The LORD is one!
You shall like the LORD your God, enjoy the LORD your God, and be
devoted to the LORD your God with all your heart, all your
soul, and with all of your strength.”
 Look and Live by Matt Papa, pg. 105 (Nook edition).