The God Who Commands Our Emotions
To obey God is to love God, right? Well, it depends on what you mean, as John explained in his message titled “What Jesus Demands from the World” at The Gospel Coalition 2015 conference. Here’s what he said.
And how many people have you ever heard say, “Loving God or loving Jesus is obeying Jesus”? They base it on the text, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). That text says the exact opposite.
An “if-then” sentence doesn’t say that the then or the if are the same, but “If I am hungry, I will eat lunch” doesn’t mean hunger is lunch. “If you love me, you will obey” doesn’t mean love is obedience. It means, in fact, it comes before and enables — “If you love me, you will obey.” They are not the same.
Love goes first. Love is underneath, holding up, staying in the yoke, abiding, enjoying, treasuring, marveling, being entranced by, being filled with. And out of that, a good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit. Make the tree good. That is another command that comes later in the book.
So my answer to the question, “What is this love?” is, first, that it is not synonymous with obedience.
What is love? Well, how about Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” What kind of language is that? Hate, love, despise, devotion.
“We are commanded to be grateful, to hope, to rejoice. The New Testament commands emotions everywhere.”
That is real heart-laden, emotional, affectional language, right? That is the way Jesus talked about whether you love God or money. Are you sold out in such a love affair with money and what it can buy that Jesus is not your highest treasure anymore? Or is Jesus so completely satisfying as your highest treasure that money is not in that idolatrous position? Those are your two options.
So love for Jesus is not doing; it is treasuring. Do you treasure me above everything? And that brings us back to Matthew 10:37, right? “If you love me less than your mom and dad, if you love your children more than you love me” — Those are relationships of great value. I love my kids. I would die for my kids. I enjoy my kids. I treasure my kids. That is the talk; that is the language; that is the affectional emotional dimension of love.
When I was a junior at Wheaton ages ago — it was the fall of ’67 or spring, I can’t remember which, but it was ’67 — Millard Erickson was my teacher in apologetics and we were reading Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics, a very bad book.
He knew it was bad, and he loved to assign four bad books. We read them and were supposed to critique them, and he would come into class and play the bad guy. It was a very exciting class. I loved it. And Joseph Fletcher argued, “Love cannot be an emotion. It can only be an action or an act of will. Why? It is commanded. And you can’t command the emotions. They are on. They are off. They don’t work like that.” That was the argument.
I can remember (I am just a brand new budding theologian, like I don’t know anything) I was just 21 years old. I grew up in a home where we read the Bible every day, and believed it. One of the glorious things about growing up in a Bible-believing home where you read the Bible every day is that it affects your olfactory — your theological nose. So you smell stuff before you can understand how bad it is.
“Something is wrong here. This smells wrong.” And you can’t say exactly what it is. Isn’t that wonderful? Because a lot of you are not theologically educated. You have got great noses. You walk into a room or something and they are talking, and you say, “That is not right. It’s not right.” And they say, “What is wrong with it?” You say, “I am just not sure. I will go study up on it, but I know something is wrong here.”
So, I am sitting in that class and what? That is not right? Do you know what was not right about it? The New Testament commands the emotions everywhere. I mean duh — you can’t command the emotions? Give me a break. We are commanded to be grateful. We are commanded to hope. We are commanded to rejoice. We are commanded to be sorrowful and weep. I mean, I have got a list of, what, 14 emotions from the New Testament, including commands to Jesus, which God commands.
“‘What is this love?’ First, it is not synonymous with obedience.”
Which is why Augustine says, “Command what you will, and give what you command.” Because premise number three in Fletcher’s argument is true. You can’t turn them on and off, which is why people think they can’t be commanded. It makes us feel helpless. “You are commanding me to be happy in Jesus? What do you expect me to do — kind of start jumping up and down and hope it happens?” That is the kind of response you get.
No, he expects you to be born again — be a new person. And yes, it is beyond your control, and yes, we are desperate. Yes, we need to pray for revival in America. Nothing we do is going to turn this land around or your church around or your soul around. God will turn it around and we have to ask for miracles — for the Spirit to fall on us so that we are changed.