In 2015 Pastor John recorded a series of devotionals based on his 2006 book titled What Jesus Demands from the World. And it was in one of those devotionals that he made the point that you don’t know God if you don’t love Christ above all else. This point, and this devotional, really impacted a podcast listener named Tim, who lives in Australia. He suggested this clip for the podcast. I’m glad he did. Here’s Pastor John.
We all know Jesus’s answer to the question, “What’s the first and great commandment?” The first and great commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). And other Gospels say, “and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). So, loving God with your heart and all that you are is the first and great demand of Jesus.
And then in Matthew 10:37 (it’s interesting how these verse references are memorable — 22:37 and 10:37): “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” Jesus says. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Now you’ve got two powerful, deep, life-transforming commands: (1) love God the Father with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and (2) love Jesus more than you love children, more than you love parents — surely, more than you love anything. And my question is, What should we think about those loves? In fact, I have four questions:
- What’s the relationship between them?
- What’s the nature of the love?
- Where does it come from? How do you get to be this way?
- How important is it?
Let’s take those one at a time.
1. What’s the Relationship Between These Loves?
What’s the relationship between loving God and loving Jesus? Now, you may think, Why is that a big deal? Well, maybe the reason it’s on my front burner is that it is massively relevant for Muslim evangelism. I bet you didn’t think I was going to go there. Listen: one of the big issues we face over and over again in a multicultural situation, where lots of religions are coming together, is, “Don’t we all worship the same God? And you go through Jesus; I go through another prophet.”
“Loving Jesus is the test of whether you love God.”
Here’s what Jesus says. In John 8:42, Jesus looked right into the eyes of the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders, and said, “If God were your Father, you would love me.” He’s saying to the most religious, the most God-oriented, Old Testament–saturated people on the planet, “You don’t know him. He’s not your Father.” In fact, he goes so far as to say, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). This is just mind-boggling.
What’s the litmus paper for knowing whether somebody is a lover of God? Answer: Do they love Jesus? Do they embrace Jesus for who he really is — not just some human teacher, not just some prophet alongside other prophets, but as the Son of God?
That was John 8:42, but what about John 5:42–43? (There’s the repetition in verse references again: 8:42 and 5:42.) Jesus says to those same leaders, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me.” Do you see the implication? “You don’t have the love of God in you. How do I know? You don’t receive me.” Here I am dealing with a Muslim person who says, “Oh, I worship the true God, just like you worship the true God.” Jesus would say, “You don’t know the true God if you don’t receive the Son of God.”
So, the answer to the first question — What’s the relationship between loving God and loving Jesus? — is this: you can’t have the one without the other. Loving Jesus is the test of whether you love God. Loving God is the test of whether you truly love Jesus.
2. What’s the Nature of This Love?
Here’s the second question: What is the nature of this love? Now, here’s what I have in mind: Is love mainly doing what Jesus said, so you love Jesus if you do what he said? Or is it deeper, and does it have to do with the heart and the affections?
He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Which means he’s thinking of the love of Jesus like the love of your children. Well, you don’t love your children by doing what they say, right? They’re your treasure. You would die for these children. They are precious to you. You won’t sell them for billions and billions of dollars. Your children are your treasure. If Jesus isn’t a better treasure, a higher treasure, you’re not worthy of Jesus.
I had a teacher in college who made me read a book called Situation Ethics, and in it the argument was made (and every student seemed to be so wowed by this argument) that love cannot be an emotion or an affection because it’s commanded, and you can’t command the emotions. And I’m reading this at 20 years old, and I’m thinking, That doesn’t sound right to me. Well, it’s not right, and the reason it’s not right is because premise number one is false. Of course Jesus commands the emotions. The Bible is filled with commands of the emotions.
- We should fear.
- We should be thankful.
- We should be compassionate.
- We should be earnest.
- We should fear the right things.
- We should hope.
All those are emotions. Of course God has the right to command our emotions. The fact that we’re so corrupt and so dead that we can’t do the right emotion is not God’s problem. That’s our problem. It’s our corruption.
The question is, Isn’t love for Jesus more than doing? And people will quote John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And I’ve had so many people say to me, “There. Right there, it says that if you love Jesus, you’ll keep his commandments. There it is. Love is obedience. It’s not feeling any particular thing for Jesus. It’s just doing what he said.” To which I respond, “That’s not what you just said it said.” It says, “If you love me, then you will do this other thing called keeping my commandments.” Loving Jesus is deep and foundational and transformative because you treasure him above all things. And then, because of that, you do all that he commands.
So, my answer to the question, “What’s the nature of the love?” is this: Yes, of course it would include obedience. But oh, it is not less than being transformed by a love of treasuring, admiring, delighting in, being satisfied by this most beautiful treasure of all — like Paul said in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
3. Where Does This Love Come From?
Where does that come from? Let’s just get one answer from Jesus. How do you get to this place? Do you remember the story in Luke 7:36–50 about the Pharisee who asked Jesus to come to dinner? He didn’t wash Jesus’s feet, he didn’t kiss Jesus, he didn’t do anything to show affection for Jesus. They’re reclined around the table. You remember how they ate in those days. The table would be low to the ground. You’d lean on an elbow. Your feet would be sticking out behind you.
And suddenly there’s this woman of the street, a prostitute, leaning over Jesus’s bare feet, weeping, and the tears are falling on his dirty feet, and she’s taking her hair and washing Jesus’s feet. This is incredibly provocative, and the Pharisee is bent out of shape and says, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).
“Where does this love come from? It comes from being stunned by being loved by God.”
And Jesus says, “Let me tell you a little story, Mr. Pharisee: A man had two debtors — one owed him $5,000, the other $5. He forgave them both. Which will love him more?” And the Pharisee says, “Well, the one that he forgave more, I suppose.” And Jesus said, “That’s right. When I came in here, you didn’t kiss me. You didn’t wash my feet. She, from the time I came in, has wept over my feet, washed them with her tears, wiped them with her hair, because she has been forgiven much.”
So, where does it come from? What’s your answer to that question? Where does it come from? It comes from being stunned by being loved by God. It comes from being overwhelmed by the person of Jesus dying on our behalf and rising again, though we have no merit at all in ourselves. When that grips you, then you will taste what it is to treasure Jesus and delight in Jesus and be satisfied in Jesus.
4. How Important Is This Love?
Which leads to the last question: How important is it that Jesus said, “If you don’t love me more than you love your parents, you’re not worthy of me, and if you don’t love me more than you love your children, you’re not worthy of me”? What does it mean not to be worthy of him? That means you won’t have him. If you don’t love Jesus, you won’t have Jesus.
Paul put it just as starkly as possible in 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” Christianity, what Jesus demands from us, is not most deeply and most fundamentally decisions of the will. That’s later. Deeply and most fundamentally is this new-birth, deep, profound transformation of what we treasure, what we love. And if it isn’t Jesus, then we’re not worthy of Jesus. And being worthy of Jesus doesn’t mean deserving Jesus. It means being suitable to be in his presence. When he’s your supreme treasure, that’s where you belong.
So, Father, I ask that love would be awakened because of what you have done first. We love you because you first loved us (1 John 4:19). We praise you for that. And as these friends discuss this massive issue of loving you and loving Christ, make it happen. I pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.