I Love God, or He Loves Me?

Our Love versus His Love


“I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Psalm 18:1)

Did you know that a phrase like this only occurs twice in all of the Psalms? Does it seem odd to you that a verbal expression of love to God occurs so infrequently in a collection of prayers to God in Scripture? I thought so.

It’s also interesting to note that the phrase “I love …” is directed toward God’s word at least nine times. Really? Almost five times more does the psalmist express love for God’s laws and commandments than he does for God himself.

But do you know what really amazes me? The psalmist praises God’s love for us more than twenty times! For instance: “I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD forever” (Ps 89:1); “I will sing of steadfast love and justice” (Ps 101:1); “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love” (Ps 143:8).


God’s Love is the Big Idea


What are we to make of this?

If the Psalms are any indication, it appears God’s love is a much bigger deal than ours. That is not to say that our love for God is unimportant. It is surely an essential indication of a regenerated life.

But the Psalmist helps us to realize that we need to make much of his love for us–even ten times more than our own love for him!

The apostle John helps us with this. He writes, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Isn’t that the good news anyway? His love, not our love.

Let’s make this our testimony: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases” (Lamentations 3:22).

That’s the big idea.


What happens when the King returns?

Remember Jesus’ parable of the ten minas? The story is told in Luke 19:11-27. In it, Jesus tells the story of a man who leaves his country and returns to check on his servants. Most of us have read or heard this story as a challenge to be good stewards of our personal possessions and talents, because God expects us to use them for his glory. I think we should use all of our possessions and talents for the glory of God, but I’m not sure that is exactly the point that Luke, and Jesus, was trying to make.

Luke introduces the parable by writing, “He proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (19:11). Based on this information we know that the parable has something to do with Jesus going to Jerusalem. And it also has something to do with the kingdom of God and the people’s conception of it. Now, see how the story unfolds.

“A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’” (vs. 12-14).

What was the purpose of the nobleman’s trip? He went to receive his rightful authority and power over the people he ruled. Some of his servants were given responsibility over his business. (Jesus doesn’t say why they were chosen.) But his own people “hated him.” They didn’t want to have anything to do with this nobleman and his rule over them. What then would the nobleman do when he returned?

“When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities’” (vs. 15-17).

When the nobleman came home he settled accounts with his servants. Two of the servants had earned more with what they had been given, and the nobleman rewarded them for it. But there was another servant who out of fear had failed to invest what the nobleman had given him. His master took away his mina and gave it to another, with the point being that “to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (v. 26). In other words, these servants were expected to be faithful to the commands of their master. Failure to do so meant forfeiting those things for which they were responsible.

But that’s not the end of the story. What about the citizens who opposed the nobleman’s reign? “‘But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me’” (v. 27). See, the nobleman returned not only for the sake of his servants, but to judge those who rejected his rule.

So what was Jesus point? Luke helps us understand it in his introduction (v. 11): it deals with Jerusalem and the kingdom of God. Jesus, the rightful king of the kingdom, was on his way to Jerusalem. Luke tells us a few verses later how he wept over the city because they were going to reject him and then face destruction (vs. 41-44). If only they had responded to their king when they had the chance! They were much like the rebellious citizens in the parable. And their destruction was just as sure. Yet, there were those who heard the message of the kingdom of God from Jesus, and much like the servants were faithful with what they had been entrusted. These, Jesus’ disciples, were given the mission and responsibility of working for the kingdom. They received the commendation of “well done, good servant!”

The truth of this parable extends into our own time. There are still many today who hear the good news of the kingdom and faithfully live to serve their king. Sadly, many who profess to receive the kingdom fail to honor their king with their service. The result for them is that “even what he has will be taken away.” Don’t be that guy! Be a faithful servant! Yet, even more tragically, there are still those who actively oppose Jesus. They have no interest in him or his rule over them, and their future looks very bleak. Pray with me that God will turn their hearts towards him before it’s too late.

Jesus uses people who refuse to believe

If you want to read about some crazy disbelief then check out today’s reading in Mark 16.

Mark wrote how the disciples responded to the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. How would you expect these eleven men to respond–men who had walked with Jesus for three years, seeing him raise the dead, heal the sick, walk on water and feed the multitudes? Wouldn’t the news of his resurrection be welcomed with joy?

Mary Magdelene was the first to tell them about Jesus (16:10-11). They refused to believe.

Two other disciples then told them they saw Jesus (16:12-13). They still didn’t believe.

They wouldn’t disbelieve for long.

Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16:14)

Two things struck me about this passage:

1. Remember how Jesus responded to the faith of the bleeding woman in Mark 5. What a difference between that woman and the disciples! Jesus commended the woman for her faith in him, because she heard the reports about him and believed. But Jesus rebuked his own disciples for their “unbelief and hardness of heart,” because they heard the reports of the resurrection and did not believe.

It’s easy to see from these two accounts the kind of faith that Jesus commends and rewards. I wonder which kind of faith in Jesus we exhibit on a regular basis. How often are our hearts hard toward the things of God? How often do we succumb to our circumstances and allow our faith to erode?

But, lest we get discouraged let me share some good news.

2. See how Jesus dealt with his disciples after he rebuked them.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15)

Jesus commissioned those with hard hearts and unbelief with the task of proclaiming the good news to the whole world. Why would he do that? They refused to believe the resurrection witness. Their hearts were hard toward the testimony of their own brothers and sisters. But Jesus restored them to ministry anyway.

That’s good news. That’s grace in action.

Jesus uses people who refuse to believe. He gets a hold of them and turns their world upside down. And then he puts them to work on the only lasting work–the joy of telling others the good news. That’s what he did with his first disciples and that’s what he still does with all who respond to him with faith.

You might think your faith is small. It probably is. That’s good. If it was any larger you might be tempted to believe you don’t need Jesus. But be encouraged by the fact that Jesus uses us for his glory and our joy despite our lack of faith.

And what should our response be to this grace? Praise with grateful hearts, and witness boldly. Because he’s given us great grace.

What’s the Object of your faith?

The other day my wife and I were sharing with a colleague some of our frustrations. We had just moved to a new community and were trying to find a home, frustrated that we weren’t finding one to meet our family’s needs and at the same time be useful in ministry to others. My colleague offered the following encouragement: “If you believe that you need a new home then just walk around like it’s yours.”

He was talking about faith, which caused me to think:

What is the relationship between faith and us and God and the thing we want to happen? What does it mean to have faith that something will happen? Do we only need more faith?

Part of the answer came from a Bible reading the same day of that conversation. The passage was Mark, chapter 5.

Mark told the story of a woman who touched Jesus’ clothes and was healed of her sickness. But what’s really cool is what Jesus said to her:

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” (5:34)

On the surface, Jesus’ answer seems to imply that as long as one has faith, that is, believes something will happen, that it will be so.

But I don’t think that’s what Mark intended us to take away from this story. Why? First of all there was no mention of the amount of faith the woman had. Jesus simply stated that she had faith. Second, look at how Mark described the woman in verses 25-28. He first describes her suffering, the fact that this sickness of bleeding had lasted for twelve years, that no doctor was able to heal her, and that she had spent all she had, only to get worse, not better. But something changed for her.

She had heard the reports about Jesus. (5:27)

Let me paraphrase: she heard the Good News. Once she heard about Jesus she had real faith for the first time. In fact, she had such faith that it caused her to risk breaking social and religious taboos in order to be healed. See, in her mind Jesus would never willingly touch her, an unclean woman. If she could only sneak up in the crowd and touch his garment she could be healed. She knew that healing would only come through one man. Jesus.

Jesus was the object of her faith. She didn’t just have faith in healing. If faith in being healed had been enough she wouldn’t have remained infirmed for twelve years. No. She heard the reports about Jesus. And she believed in him. Of course, she believed that he was able to heal her. Absolutely! Our faith is in a God who acts, and rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

But our faith is in him, not merely in his blessings or benefits.

What is the object of your faith? Is it healing? employment? a home? a spouse? children? safety? or anything else?

Let me encourage you to make the Object of your faith Jesus. In fact, go back to what Jesus said and did on your behalf. It’s right there in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Allow that Good News to bolster your faith in him. If anything other than Jesus is the object of your faith than you truly don’t have faith at all.

Are you innocent?

“I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Matthew 27:24)

Pilate said it.

Maybe you’ve said it, too.

It’s a natural thing to say. It was for Pilate.

He was a governor appointed to keep peace in the troubled Roman province of Judea. History remembers him as the ruler who presided over the trial of Jesus. As governor, he would have been responsible for issuing a just ruling over every case brought before him. One case seemed to give him fits.

The Jewish leaders presented him with Jesus of Nazareth. They accused him of many things, but to Pilate, none of their accusations seemed to ring true. Their testimony was contradictory. It dealt with the Jewish religion. And Jesus hadn’t broken any Roman laws. Ultimately, Pilate saw no grounds to convict him.

But the pressure of the Jews could be very great, especially at the time of their great feast, when messianic expectations against Rome were at their highest. As the newly appointed governor, Pilate could not afford a riot in his province.

So he thought of a way to release Jesus peacefully.

Each year at the feast the Roman governor would release a Jewish prisoner. If he gave them a choice between Jesus (an innocent man) and the notorious murderer Barabbas, they would surely wish Jesus to be released! But they chose Barabbas. So Pilate did the only politically expedient thing. He denied any responsibility for Jesus’ death.

That’s really what his words meant.

He knew who Jesus was and that he was undeserving of death. But he wouldn’t admit that he was responsible. As far as he was concerned, Jesus was innocent. Someone else would bear the guilt of Jesus’ death. Not Pilate. He was innocent of his blood.

Or so he thought.

And what about you?

Are you tempted to think that because you heard the story of Jesus in the church nursery that you are innocent? Or do you think that because you believe the right things and do the right things that you are not responsible for Jesus’ death? After all, it was the sin of the world that caused Jesus to die.

You see, we don’t usually take personal responsibility for his death. But we should.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53:5)

It was our sin that put him there. And we need to be reminded of this–not because we need to be on a constant guilt-trip, but because we need to live by the mercy and grace he gave us in salvation. He died the death we deserved. This is the ultimate act of mercy on us. And he gave us a life we could never earn. This is the ultimate gift of grace.

“I am guilty of this man’s blood.”

Until we have said this we have not come to terms with what Jesus did because of us and for us on the cross. We’re guilty of death. We’re totally undeserving of life. That’s good news.