Observation: We are to put our love for God and His Word above all other loves. As God's Word instructs us, we are to also love one another, but only the Word of our Creator can teach us how to properly and effectively love one another.
Who of us has not gone to summer camp and come back gleefully clutching a shellacked-bark wall plaque bearing the almost deftly positioned macaroni letters, “GOD IS LOVE”? For a scruffy and probably smelly kid returning from camp clutching a bag of dirty laundry, it was an instant bypass into a mother's heart. In that craft hut, we began to discover a deep truth. As adults, we are now drawn to and by this love. The more that we know of it through Scripture and the life of Jesus, the more that we are drawn to love God in return.
What “GOD IS LOVE” looks like is illustrated in Scripture, especially in the life and death of Jesus. Jesus instructs us to love God and one another as He did in a costly and sacrificial way. But would any of us really want to possess a love like God's? We would then have to live our lives last and least — as Jesus did especially on the cross — forgive people who hurt us or harm others, confront wrong and hate what God hates. We would have to be patient with bad people and help people we don't like. Is there another choice, please? Perhaps we could express love for God, as many churches do, and “cherry pick” from the low-hanging branches of the breadth of God's astounding love by just comforting and affirming people. Who has not had repeated in their ear, “the church just needs to love everybody”? Today this minimizing temptation is especially useful, as any self-defined and borderless lifestyle is now being, and often must be, “lovingly” affirmed. The old pop song is being sung with the conviction of a Sunday hymn, “Everything is beautiful, in its own way…”. But that song was a delusion and a lie even then. Is this not to reverse the words of our camp sign around to say “LOVE IS GOD”? Those who stifle their theology at “loving everybody” and consequently affirming everybody's values need to re-read especially their New Testament. God has a deeper love for us to know and express than only dispensing comfort to others. “Our world is in deep need of a love that is more than comfort.” (Joshua Butler, The Skeleton in God's Closet, p.189) A Christian must be more than someone who “just loves everybody”. An atheist can do that, too.
Possessing love for God and loving others deeply like God can be found only through discovering the value of obedience to God. Of course. Parents understand this. In Gethsemane, Jesus loved us enough to die for us only because His love for the Father made Him want to obey Him. He could trust that God's final will for Him would be good. To say that we love God and then not to obey God's Word is not to trust God or to fear His goodness, and to spurn His love. It is clear from even a cursory reading of Scripture that love and obedience are in effect one word in God's language (for example Exodus 20:6; Joshua 22:5; John 14:15-24). Similarly, Paul discovered in prison that for God, suffering and joy were also the same word (for example Colossians 1:24; Romans 8:17-18). Yes, “trust, love and obedience remain at the heart of right relating to God in the New Testament…” (Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion, p.330). To possess and express a deeper love like God's requires us to discover the value of obediently loving Him first, not second, not last. When our love for God comes first – just as Jesus shows us – then we are able to properly and effectively “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) and we will seek their greater good.
The PCC is currently struggling to find the unity that a universally professed love for God should bring. But is merely self-identifying as “loving Jesus Christ” without a supporting desire to obey God's Word possible? Let us not be deceived: self-identifying is a popular and empowering phenomenon in our culture that bows down before the god of personal freedom. Is simply professing a love for Jesus the final test when it comes to the things of the Kingdom? No. We dare not define our relationship to God on our own terms. Without a desire for the obedience to God that Jesus had, our love rightly becomes suspect (1 John 2:3-6).
The long-standing fence of disunity in the PCC over the necessity of obeying all of God's Word has now been exposed. There are no fences in the vast expanses of the Australian outback where huge cattle ranches are common. The cattle are free to roam, but they don't stray because water wells are dug. The only well that the PCC needs is that biblical and doctrinal standard that invites all of us to so demonstrate a love for Jesus that it will issue in a desire for obedience to God's Word. It is, in fact, the desire to have Jesus as Lord.
Obedience to His Word is the test that God has always set as the true and only test of anyone confessing love for Him and others. Jesus often makes this clear as in, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. … Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And the teaching you have heard is not mine, but comes from the Father, who sent me.” (John 14:15, 23-24 GNT) We dare not say we have come to faith in Christ if in reality it is only on our terms. We dare not make love into a god. No, better that “GOD IS LOVE” — the fullness of it, the perfection of it, glorious, gracious and eternal, just as Scripture invites us to share in and show.