Do you love God, if so how can you prove it? Chapters fourteen through sixteen of the Gospel of John represents a remarkable section of the Bible where Jesus is laying out what is about to happen next to Him and His followers. Here He lays out how expects His followers to live without Him and the plan for the coming of the Holy Spirit. More often than not it is the part about the Holy Spirit that gets the most amount of attention when people read these chapters but today I want to talk about the concept of love. What does it have to do with us, our relationship with God and our relationships with others.
One of the hallmarks about the life of Jesus that even people outside of the church are not shy to talk about is how Jesus preached and demonstrated the concept of love. Often He is called the preacher of love by others and while that may be true it is only a small glimmer of the total picture. Usually when we think of love we either look at it as being physical love between two people or we see it as family love between parents and a child. When it comes to God and His concept of love it supersedes any and all expressions that we are used to seeing among people.
When it comes to God and His concept of love it supersedes any and all expressions that we are used to seeing among people.
Which is why the Greek word agape is used repeatedly by Jesus rather than the other Greek words for love. Agape (which is theologically connected to the Hebrew word chesed) speaks of selfless, covenant bound, unbreakable, respectful, committed love. Not the kind of love that fizzles out after a couple of years, or the type of love which is conditional on happiness, it is true love from its true source.
The Great Command
In John 14:21 Jesus says something truly astounding, and I will include it here in multiple versions so we don’t miss what is being said.
ESV “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
NLT “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”
TPT “Those who truly love me are those who obey my commands. Whoever passionately loves me will be passionately loved by my Father. And I will passionately love you in return and will manifest my life within you.”
AMPC “The person who has My commands and keeps them is the one who [really] loves Me; and whoever [really] loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I [too] will love him and will show (reveal, manifest) Myself to him. [I will let Myself be clearly seen by him and make Myself real to him.]”
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.”
What Jesus is saying here is that those who claim to love Him are those who have listened and applied His words to their own lives. This love is reciprocated by the Father who will ensure that those people will have Jesus be living and active in their lives. Here we see a love being demonstrated that goes beyond our usual cultural understanding of love. Jesus is not speaking about a love based on meeting someone’s needs/wants, or being attractive enough, or even the type of love which is feigned when one settles for less than they originally hoped for.
No, Jesus is telling us about a love based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect. Think about it how do those who you love treat you? Do your children/siblings have any respect for you or do they see you as a walking shopping mall? Is there an expectation that the other person loves you back and do they do things which confirm that? Do you have an assurance that you spouse equally loves you in return, or are you carrying the entire burden and hoping they don’t run off like a bird that has had their wing repaired? Do you have faith that those people who claim to love you will be there in an hour of need, crisis or pain?
Jesus is telling us about a love based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect.
Think back over these questions and then ask yourself how do these questions describe my own relationship with God?
Do You Love Me?
In John 21:15-17 Jesus challenges Peter three times on whether or not Peter still loved Him despite the multiple denials the morning of the crucifixion. Each one of us needs to read this account and instead of shaking our heads at Peter we really need to ask ourselves the same question. Peter was asked three times if He loved Jesus and Jesus replied to Peter’s confession by telling him to feed (watch over while grazing) and tend (take care of, shepherd, oversee) his fellow believers.
In the English versions of the New Testament this is as far as the story goes, “Peter do you love me,” “yes Jesus I love you” the end. But there is something great and grand hidden in the Greek versions of this encounter. In Greek Jesus is asking “Peter do you agapo me” to which Peter replies three times “yes Lord you know that I phileo you.” It isn’t the same word, Jesus is asking one thing and Peter is replying with something else. What is happening here?
Jesus is asking Peter whether he loves Him with the same power and capacity that He and the Father do. That is how this word agape/agapo is used in the New Testament. It is a way to highlight the exceeding love of God towards us and it provides a blueprint on how we are to love not only God but each other. Peter’s reply to Jesus’s question is that he phileo Jesus, which is his way of saying that he loved Jesus at the highest capacity that was available to him as a human. Agape is God’s standard and phileo is our standard, which is why phileo is also defined as brotherly love and the kind which lays down its life for another.
Now lets look at that verse again Jesus asks Peter three times “do you love me the way I love you” to which Peter replies “I love you will all I have, but it’s not as much as you love me.” Now doesn’t that sound like Peter, despite his denials he still loved Jesus to the fullest capacity that he had at the time, a capacity which increased weeks later at Pentecost.
Love Demands Action
This brings us back to the Gospel of John, in John 14:15 Jesus declares “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (NASB). The love Jesus is speaking of here is based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect but we demonstrate that love through obedience/action. This isn’t blind obedience where we just jump up and do whatever someone who sounds spiritual says. I am talking about obedience where the simple commands of Jesus are concerned.
The love Jesus is speaking of here is based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect but we demonstrate that love through obedience/action.
Think about it this way, is it enough to tell your spouse you love them? Is there anything else you need to do to prove it, how are your actions, intentions and attitude involved here? Does it mean anything if you say you love someone but act in a way which says otherwise, either through avoidance, arguments, adultery, lying, hatred, apathy and so on? Our relationship with God is no different our actions must line up with our confession, if we say we love Him then the least we can do is follow God’s instructions on how to live. Because those instructions in themselves are revelations of God’s love towards us. Without those instructions God would be encouraging anarchy, selfishness and host of other evils to become the plumb-line of our lives.
God demonstrated His love through the words spoken of by Jesus, God is not looking for people that are marked by hatred, violence, unforgiveness, bitterness or religious obligation. God is looking for people to love Him and He is looking for people who will in turn love others according to His own standards so more people can come into relationship with Him.
Take Matthew 5:43-46 along with the entire Beatitudes for example:
Matthew 5:43-46 “43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (NASB)
Later in the gospels Jesus is asked about the greatest commandments and the answers given were to love God with all of their heart, mind and soul and to love one’s neighbor as themselves. These commands are the totality of the Old Covenant, but we live under the New Covenant and those two commandments have been changed to love God with all of your heart, mind and soul and to love others as Jesus has loved them. In John 13:34-35 Jesus raises the bar and tells the disciples that they are to love (agape) according to His standard and not their own. Not only that but that love/agape would also act as a witness of their faith and convict people that they are followers of Jesus.
Jesus raises the bar and tells the disciples that they are to love (agape) according to His standard
This is why we cannot just have a lip service love towards God and each other, because Jesus commanded us to go much further than that, and the thermometer of our love is marked by our obedience to this command.
God Loves Us
A key part of what Jesus is saying in John 14:21 is that those who follow Jesus’s commands to love are not just loved back by Him or other people, but they are loved back by God the Father. I believe this is something many people take for granted, as most see God as being angry, judgmental and ready to smite at a moments notice. Very few accept that God Himself loves us and rather see that God tolerates us because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.
One week I asked the question to a group of people I was teaching, “if you could ask God a question and were guaranteed an answer what would it be.” The people responded with questions such as “why do bad things happen,” “why is there evil in the world,” “why did this disaster happen” and so on. Then a couple of weeks later I asked the same question but replaced God with Jesus and the peoples instead asked “why do you love me so much,” “why did you die for me” and so on. Theologically speaking there is no separation between God’s nature and Jesus’s, if we see Jesus as being good and loving that means we have to see God as being that way. Conversely if we see God as being angry, vindictive and judgmental then we have to see Jesus in the same way.
Jesus took great effort to explain to the people of His day that God loved them we have verses such as John 8:42 and John 16:27 that declare this love to God’s people. We cannot forget what it says in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We quote this verse more than any other but it feels as if we are not registering the first six words. When we combine those six words along with Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:8-12 we begin to realize that God actually does love us.
He loves us with a love which is bound to the New Covenant and our obedience to it, not that we can break that covenant but our blessings from it are grounded in our faith and daily application of it (1 John 3:1).
Love Is The Key To The House
According to our key verse our obedience to Jesus’s commandments to love and follow Him transforms into a living witness of our relationship with Him. A relationship which is reciprocated by first Jesus and then God the Father who loves us because we loved His son the one true King and the means of deliverance and atonement. I argue that no one can actually love Jesus outside of atonement, because our atonement begins with our faith and confession that He is who He is and that allows us to be loved and adopted by Him. What choice is there after that but to love Him and to do as He has shown us.
This is what we see in John 14:23-24 “23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (NKJV)
God creates this abode in us through the Holy Spirit who is the manifest presence of God in not only ourselves but in the world. Love becomes the access point by which God literally comes into our lives. God loved us so He sent Jesus, then we in turn accept and believe in Him and come into a loving relationship with Him. This is not a works based love or salvation, the work has already been done and our responsibility is to accept, believe, confess and live a life that reflects that choice.
God loved us so He sent Jesus, then we in turn accept and believe in Him and come into a loving relationship with Him.
This isn’t a one-way street as God continually looks out for us and trains us like a loving parent (Revelation 3:19) and is not seeking our suffering but our fulfillment of our calling and living a Christlike life.
Love Has No Plan B
One of the true hallmarks of love (agape and phileo) is that the person who loves doesn’t have a plan B or an escape contingency. A husband who loves his wife does not keep one eye open for someone better, the same goes for the wife who does not give mental real-estate to other potential suitors to better meet her needs (or wants in disguise of needs). When we love with an expectation of failure we are never truly able to love another person. If we sit beside someone we love we cannot think of “what if” scenarios if the other person runs off or a better offer comes up.
This is how Israel lived in most of the Old Testament they looked to the Baal’s, Moloch, Ashtaroth and other idols as Plan B if YHWH didn’t show up or if the harvest wasn’t looking too good. It is no wonder why God compared Israel prophetically (Ezekiel 16:33, Hosea 9:1) to a wife who wandered the streets looking for lovers to pay off and enjoy. It isn’t much different today except we’ve replaced the Canaanite Pantheon with self-sufficiency, humanism, technology, feelings and pride.
How can we truly love God if we follow up each prayer with a plan B on how to get what we want ourselves. We cannot say we trust and love God in one breath and in the next talk about what if God doesn’t care or isn’t actually listening. We have made it popular to hedge our bets just in case God isn’t exactly how the preacher makes Him out to be. So we keep Him in our back pocket for when we run into a wall we cannot climb over.
You cannot live a life where you proclaim the teachings of Jesus but go on acting contrary to them. This is why Jesus amalgamated the ideas of love and obedience, not because He is a dictator but because our following of His Great Commandment tells all those around us that we love God because He first loved us and wants everyone to come to that place of love, acceptance and forgiveness.
John 15:12-15 “12 This is My commandment, that you love (agapo) one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love (agape) has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love (agape) one another, just as he has commanded us.
To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but learn how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth.
How To Demonstrate Our Love For God Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.