In the commissioning of his followers to make disciples, Jesus made it clear that an integral part of discipleship is “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” If you’re going to teach someone to obey all that Jesus commanded, you might as well start with the most important commandment.
In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus is engaged in a conversation with a Pharisee who asked:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"
And he said to him, "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. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
How much of our disciple-making effort revolves around this simple (but difficult) command to love God? Do we begin with this command? Do we emphasize it enough? In the lives of those whom we are discipling, do we ask questions concerning love for God?
As with every command in scripture, the gospel should be the ultimate motivator compelling us to obedience. Clearly the gospel encompasses much more than the doctrine of the love of God, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll encapsulate the meaning of “the gospel” with the phrase “he loved us” from 1 John 4:10.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
God…loves…us. The very thought should take our breath away.
God loves us, and that love has ultimately resulted in Jesus exchanging our sin for his righteousness. “But God demonstrates his love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”
“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons.”
In a nutshell, the gospel is “he loved us.”
God loves us. God loves us. He loves us!
The initial (and inevitable) response to this love is love for God.
The recent increased focus on gospel-centrality has been extremely instructive in helping us correct our wrong actions. We’ve discovered that our wrong actions are driven by wrong beliefs. When we sin, we understand that we are “not believing the gospel.” We’ve become familiar with Luther’s observation about the ten commandments: If you break #2 through #10, it’s because you broke #1 first. This is true and helpful.
However, those of us who swim in the waters of gospel-centrality have not always done a great job of pointing out the positive effects of believing the gospel. I know when I sin I’m not believing the gospel, but what should it look like when I am? At the risk of sounding ridiculously simple, I believe the answer is…love God.
When I believe the gospel, I will love God. I will be filled with gratitude and joy, but that gratitude will have a direction (God-ward) and that joy will have an object (the Father). The gospel propels me to say, “God, I love you!”
On the heels of that declaration will come the express desire to obey. “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” Being awash in the love of God elicits a pledge of devotion, a glad desire to obey the Father. “God, I love you and want to do whatever you say!”
Is there a clearer example of this than Jesus himself? Everything Jesus did was motivated by his love for the Father. Disciples walk in the ways of Jesus. This involves not only right actions, but right motives as well. It was love for God that drove Jesus to pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” God, I love you and want to do whatever you say!
And his first marching order for us has already been issued. Love others, the second most important command according to Jesus. In some ways (and again, at the risk of sounding ridiculously simple), this command encompasses the rest of life. Shouldn’t everything we do be motivated by love for God primarily and love for people secondarily? Can you think of anything you would do, prompted by the Spirit, that would not somehow benefit another person?
Whether you are teaching or counseling or sending email or cooking dinner or returning phone calls or doing laundry or running errands or pursuing a girl or writing a blog post, your motive should be love for God. “God, in response to what you have done for me, I declare my love for you. I engage in this activity for you. I love you, and want to obey you!”
So when the single men in our community want to pursue a girl, I remind them to do it primarily because they love God and want to obey him. This keeps the whole endeavor about God and not about the girl, which more than likely is really another way of saying “not about the single guy’s ego." I’ll ask, “Do you believe the Father is leading you to do this? Is your motive to love and obey him? Is your motive to bless her as a sister regardless of her response?”
Or when a young leader is discouraged because the people in his missional community are not responding, I’ll remind him that he leads because he loves God, not because he expects a particular response from the people he’s leading. Obviously, we pray and hope for a response, but we don’t lead only so people will respond. We lead because we love (and we love because he loves us). “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
If our motivation in any area of life-work, marriage, parenting, or leadership is connected to an expected outcome, then we are actually serving ourselves and not other people. We are using them to get something we want (power, position, acceptance, love, etc.). Only when we serve out of love for God can we truly love people.
Perhaps this is why Jesus said that love for God and love for people were the most important commandments. What more important commandments could we encourage a disciple to obey? And what a better way to live a life in response to the gospel than to love God and love others!
Let the gospel (he loves us) be the motive (love God) for all that we do (love others).
Abe Meysenburg serves as a pastor and elder with Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA. After living in the Midwest for most of their lives, he and his wife, Jennifer, moved to Tacoma in the summer of 1999. In 2001, after working as a Starbucks manager for a few years, Abe helped start The Sound Community Church, which then became a part of Soma Communities in May 2007.