Loving Jesus More Than Life
Let’s think about the relationship between our love for God and our love for Jesus. Those are two foundational commands (or demands) in the Gospels. We all know what Jesus answered to the question: “What is the first and great commandment?” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). Other Gospels say: And strength. So loving God with your heart and all that you are is the first and greatest demand of Jesus.
And then in Matthew 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” (Matthew 10:37). So now you have two powerful, deep, life-transforming commands. Love God the Father with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love Jesus more than you love children, more than you love parents, surely, more than you love anything.
What shall we think of those loves? I have four questions:
- What is the relationship between them?
- What is 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.
Do You Love God or Jesus?
What is the relationship between loving God and loving Jesus? Why is that a big deal? Well, one reason it is on my front burner is because it’s massively relevant for Muslim evangelism. I bet you didn’t think I was going to go there. One big issue we face over and over again in a multi-cultural situation where lots of religions are coming together is: Don’t we all worship the same God? You go through Jesus; I go through another prophet.
Jesus looked right into the eyes of the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders, and said, “If God were your Father, you would love me” (John 8:42). He is saying to the most religious, the most God-oriented, Old Testament-saturated people on the planet: You don’t know him. He is not your Father. In fact, he goes so far as to say they are of their father the devil. That’s mind-boggling. What is 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 as some human teacher, not just as some prophet alongside other prophets, but as the very Son of God.
What about John 5:42–43? Jesus says to those same leaders, “I know you don’t have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name and you don’t receive me.” Do you see the implication? You don’t have the love of God in you. How do I know that? You don’t receive me. So here I am dealing with a Muslim person who says: 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, what is the relationship between loving God and loving Jesus? 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.
What Is Love?
Secondly, what is the nature of this love? Is love mainly doing what Jesus said — so you love Jesus if you do what he said — or is it deeper and have to do with the heart and the affections? He says, “If you love mother or father more than me, you are not worthy of me. If you love son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of me.” That means he is thinking of your love for Jesus like he thinks of your love for your children.
Well you don’t love your children by doing what they say, right? They are your treasure. You would die for these children. They are precious to you. You won’t sell them for billions and billions of dollars. They’re your treasure. Well, if Jesus isn’t a better treasure, a higher treasure, you are not worthy of Jesus.
I had a teacher in college who made me read a book called Situation Ethics. The argument was made (and every student seemed to be so wowed by it): Love cannot be an emotion or an affection because it is commanded, and you can’t command the emotions. I am a 20-year-old reading this, and it doesn’t sound right to me.
It is 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 hope. All of those are emotions. Of course, God has the right to command our emotions. The fact that we are so corrupt and so dead that we can’t do the right emotion is not God’s problem. It’s our problem. It’s our corruption.
No Less Than a Feeling
Isn’t love for Jesus more than doing? John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So many people say: It says so right there. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Love is obedience. It is not feeling any particular thing for Jesus. It is just doing what he said.
I would say: But that is 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 love, that treasuring of him, you do what he commands.
So, what is the nature of the love? Yes, of course, it would include obedience, but it is not less than being transformed by a love for him — treasuring, admiring, delighting in, being satisfied by this most beautiful Treasure of all. The nature of love is: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Love Only Comes from Love
Where does that love come from? Remember the story about the Pharisee who asked Jesus to come to dinner in Luke 7? He didn’t wash Jesus’s feet. He didn’t kiss Jesus. He didn’t do anything to show affection for Jesus. Suddenly there’s this “woman of the street,” a prostitute, leaning over Jesus’s bare feet weeping. The tears are falling on his dirty feet, and she is taking her hair and washing Jesus’s feet. This is incredibly provocative. The Pharisee is bent out of shape and says: If you are a prophet, you would know what kind of woman this is, for she’s a sinner (Luke 7:39).
Jesus tells the Pharisee a story. A man had two debtors. One owed him $5,000. One owed him $5. He forgave them both. Who will love him more? The Pharisee says, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (Luke 7:43). Jesus says, “You have judged rightly” (Luke 7:43). He says: When I came in here, you didn’t kiss me. You didn’t wash my feet. But from the time I came in, she has wept over my feet, washed them with her tears, wiped them with her hair — because she has been forgiven much.
So where does love come from? It comes from being stunned by being loved by God, right? This love 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, delight in Jesus, and be satisfied in Jesus.
Why Is This Important?
How important is that? Jesus says, “If you don’t love me more than you love your parents, you are not worthy of me. If you don’t love me more than you love your children, you are not worthy of me.” What does it mean not to be worthy of him? It means you won’t have him. If you don’t love Jesus, you won’t have Jesus. Paul says: He who does not love the Lord, let him be accursed (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Christianity, what Jesus demands from us, is not most deeply and most fundamentally decisions of the will. That comes later. Deeply and most fundamentally Christianity is a new birth — a deep, profound transformation of what we treasure, what we love. And if that deepest, fullest love isn’t for Jesus, then we are not worthy of Jesus. And being worthy of Jesus doesn’t mean deserving Jesus. It means being suitable, as a redeemed, forgiven person, to be in his presence. When he is your supreme Treasure, you belong with him.