Does the World Know You Love the Father?
but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.
One of this year's burdens has been to write on issues pertaining to the sharper side of the meaning of love. In both the church and the culture at large, love has come to be defined and painted virtually entirely in terms of its kinder, gentler, softer passionist qualities, including its healing, ameliorating and unifying aspects.
The problem is that this is an utterly one-sided caricature, excluding both the prime definition and most predominant portrayals of love as presented in scripture, especially as seen in the lives of the prophets and of Christ Himself.
In the main scriptural portrayal, and contrary to the caricature just described, love is neither pretty, nor easy, nor unifying. It is relationally messy, difficult and divisive. While it is very true that divine love is always tempered and finally embraces all the wonderfully desirable qualities listed at first, it is false to believe that love is wholly or even primarily demonstrated by them. In reality, the qualities we most associate with love now are qualities that only have true meaning on the back end of a process that first must work through these more difficult attributes. (The saying love at first sight is better translated attraction at first sight and is not what true love is about.)
Loving the Father (Only)
That said, I want to look at some passages starting off with John 14:31 as our fulcrum. Jesus makes this emphatic declaration to His followers at the last supper, So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. This is an uncompromising statement regarding the completeness of Jesus motivation in everything. All that He does, He does out of love for the Father. And that love is defined only by His obedience to the Father, and without regard to anyone else.
Then for context, He says that all of this is to impress on the world itself His supreme motivation. Interestingly, He does not say, so that the world may know that I love them. In fact, nowhere does Jesus declare in any gospel His love for the world. And as a matter of fact, His only references to the world are in the negative. He is separated from the world in His heart.
The only people Jesus ever tells directly that He loves them are His followers, people whom the Father gave Him out of the world who are not of the world. The point is that Jesus never tries to communicate any direct love to the world for the world. Have you ever stopped to think about that before? (And is it perhaps strange that such is completely opposite to what we as the church declare toward the world?)
I'm not saying that Jesus did not love the world. In light of the fact that He shared His Father's heart, and seeing that John 3:16 states that God so loved the world, it is clear that Jesus did love the world.
But the point here is that nowhere does Jesus Himself ever declare that He loves the world, and nowhere does He ever identify Himself with the world as an object of His love. The only love He actually ever declares is His love for the Father, and in turn for His followers who have believed in Him. And otherwise, His only concern toward the world is that the world know that He loves the Father! This is the first violation of the caricature of love we have drawn.
Now we could stop right here and say we have said enough to meditate on for one teaching. There is enough to chew on in just these opening thoughts that should radically impact our common impression of the love of God for the world. If I were to ask you, Do you love the world? my hope is that these thoughts on what Jesus had to say might arrest you from just parroting the politically correct answer, Yes, I love the world. Instead, you might want to consider answering with what Jesus actually said, What I want the world to know is that I love the Father. That is all I am here to tell the world.
But this is just for openers, and I do not want to stop here. What I want to do is show how Jesus' motivation and declaration of love for the Father actually played out before the world He said He wanted to know of that love. What we find in this regard is that the world did not, would not and could not accept anything that Jesus did as being a demonstration of love for the Father!
Displaying Love for the Father
Lets look at a passage from John 12, just shortly before the declaration in the upper room occurs. Here, Jesus is on His final approach to Jerusalem before the Passover. And these are His last recorded public words to the world:
44 And Jesus cried out and said, He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. 46 I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.47 If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. 50 I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.
Here is what I want to notice:
First. and in keeping with his John 14 declaration, Jesus does not tell anyone he loves them.
Second, He tells the people that they are under judgment if they do not listen to Him. (This does not fit the passionist playbook regarding the love of God.)
Third, He selflessly distances Himself from the sourcing of His own words. He disclaims any personal motivation behind or origination of anything He is saying, attributing everything to the Father. (Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger!)
Fourth, He positively attributes everything He is saying to His obedience to the Father.
That fourth point ties us directly into His declaration about the world knowing that He loves the Father by His obedience two chapters later. This final public interchange is the demonstration of what He declares He was trying to accomplish in 14:31. Jesus wanted these people to know above all that His sole motivation was that He loved the Father proven by obeying Him to tell them thusly all these point blank things.
So why is this important? What is the topical value or relevance here? This is important because if you look at the interchange, it is set in a context of controversy, disbelief and opposition! Meaning that as far as these hearers are concerned, Jesus can't possibly love the Father even though that is what Jesus wants to prove to them by what He is doing!
Forget it. To them, God would never say such unameliorating, unkind, divisive, egotistical vainglorious pontificatious things!
You've got to remember. To this world of aged Pharisees, Jesus is just this upstart punk kid from Galilee! And that is all He is. He is no different than you or I in our common unadorable appearance. He looks like anybody else on the street. He doesn't have any halos around His head. And so who has such audacity to say all this stuff? And yet, to Jesus, His words and actions are all a demonstration of His supreme love for the Father--nothing more nor less--and that is all that He wants them to get--yet it is impossible for them to get it.
For that matter, if you read starting from John 5 right through to this passage, you will see nothing but controversy, debates, and the answering of verbal traps with tough words and cryptic sayings that in some cases nobody can understand but Himself!
In the world's mind, there is nothing loving about anything Jesus had to say, His miracles notwithstanding. Meanwhile, in the thick of the fray, Jesus is convinced He is doing nothing but demonstrating that He loves the Father.
The True Love of God
And this, people, is what the true love of God is really like!
You've got to get this. You've got to get that caricature out of your head, that if you truly love God, then you are going to be an ameliorator par excellence of every situation, you're going to soothe every hurt feeling, and you're going to make everybody feel good about themselves in the world and in the church!
Nothing could be further from the truth. But you're going to have to decide which portrait of love you are going to believe in.
Isaiah said, there is no beauty in Him that we should desire Him. Why do you think he said that? Do you think Isaiah was talking about Christ's handsomeness? Perhaps in part. But the real lack of beauty Jesus would display in the world was His lack of tact with people!
Jesus was going to say whatever the Father was going to have Him say, without regard to what people thought it should sound like to win their hearts. He was not motivated by the desire to win friends and influence people. In this sense, He did not love the world! And as far as the world would come to see His ministry, He was tactless and tasteless. No beauty there. No politico there to follow. Someone rather to be shunned, avoided, and ashamed of.
Loving As He Loved (?)
So here then is where I want to tie it all up for us. The stories I have quoted are all from the book of John. John is regarded as the apostle of love. When you hear that, what does that make you think about John? Don't you just baptize John in your minds as this sweet soft spoken guy who just loved on everybody (where did that phrase come from) and...and...and... ?
But you need to read what John had to say to his own followers. Go to I John, and II John and III John.
In I John, John indeed talks a lot about love. But if you read all this in context of His Gospel and what Jesus Himself said and didn't say and displayed and didn't display to everybody all the time, and if you read everything John says in his letters and don't just cherry pick the verses about love, it gives you a very different picture of the love of God.
John talks in black and white. He makes bold statements about sin, about hate, about denying Christ, about liars and antichrists, about not loving the world, about not praying for certain people, about turning away false teachers, about keeping His commandments, about the day of judgment, etc. And in I John 4:10, he actually defines love as giving your life to save your brethren from God's anger over their sins! That is the meaning of God is love.
But amid all this, perhaps the most outstanding statement from John in these regards is found here:
The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. I Jn. 2:6
Again, John is writing this not as an isolated letter, but against the entire context of His gospel. John is fully aware of how Jesus walked and how unlovely He appeared. He just told us in John 5 through 14 how Jesus walked--with but one God-fearing motivation--to show the world He loved the Father--with regard for nothing else, neither His poll numbers nor approval ratings.
And He displayed that love through unrelenting conflict and contortions with people eventuating in the cross, something else He endured--not because he professed His love for us, but because He finally loved His Father saying, Your will be done, not mine. All the elements we associate with the people-centered love of God were the exception in Jesus' own actions and experience. Those elements took time to forge just among His disciples, never mind with anyone else.
I close with this. Hollywood and the fashion industry has brought up generations of young girls to believe that beauty looks like what you see on the gilded screen and on the magazine covers at the checkout counters. They have been taught that Barbie's shape is the definition of beauty. And so, all these young girls end up hating themselves because they can never ever get themselves to look like what they've been taught on the magazine covers they should look like if they want to be considered beautiful.
Something like that has happened in the church over the meaning of love. The concept of God's love has suffered the fate of the movie actors and beauty models, portraying to the young immature church an image of the love of God that does not exist. Every time you go to a church or watch a TV sermon where all they talk about is how to love on people and how to love on the world, you are being shown that model on the glossy magazine cover.
But what is happening? The girlish church can't live up to that standard of love because it is not real and it is not what God means by love! This idea that we are supposed to make ourselves look beautiful for the world by all our love poured out on them is not seen in the life of Christ, is not how He walked, and is not even how John lived or taught. We have been sold a false spiritual Hollywood image of the love of God--one that everyone talks about, and which no one can live up to or was meant to or that God accepts as love.
If we want to get the love of God straight, we have to have one motivation and one motivation only, and that is to love the Father by acting in obedience to the Father (regardless of what we feel like), to then build up one another in that same motivation (the meaning of love one another), and then to commit to the Father whatever that action looks like to the world, for better or for worse, regardless of what the world thinks about us, or however unlovely it looks to them.
Loving the Father and allowing Him to work what that should look like in my relations with others through thick and thin in the fear of God has been my life long quest. I hope this writing might encourage you to make it yours also if it isn't already. And if that is your quest already, my hope is that this writing will help deliver you from the snare of the guilt put upon those who act only with regard to their love for the Father, who do not airbrush their personality to look charming to others, and who must pay the price of ongoing accusation over the relational contortions this creates.
One more time, I leave you with John's word:
The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Love in the faith,
New Meadow Neck, R.I.
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship