“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22.37)
What does it mean to love God?
We don’t have a good word for loving God. We use the word “love” so flippantly:
We love chocolate. We love Stella Artois. We love Monday Night Football. We love Tim Tebow. We love American Idol. We love Dilbert. We love our church. We love Barack Obama. We love Mitt Romney. We love to fly first class. We love to fly fish. We love the beach. We love Chick-fil-A. We love God.
But loving God—the love Jesus is talking about in Matthew 22.37—is a much different degree and quality than the rest. I’m sure Tim Tebow is a great guy, but we can’t really love God and Tim Tebow the same way.
In Luke 14.26, Jesus throws down one of his most challenging statements ever. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
Say what? What is Jesus getting at?
Well, he doesn’t mean we ought to harm our family, do mean things to them. He doesn’t mean we should actually hate them. And he doesn’t mean we should actually harm or hate ourselves. This would go against his other teachings.
Instead, what Jesus means is that the love we have for God should outweigh, outmeasure, outshine, and outlast our devotion to others. The measure of our love for God should make our other devotions seem like hate.
Don’t get me wrong—our love for others is still there. Yes, we love our father and mother and spouse and children, but we also love God. And our love for God should be so strong that compared to it, our devotion to family seems like hate. It’s a matter of comparison.
Our love for God is a Redwood, our love for others is a daisy. Our love for God is an ocean, our love for others is a drop. Our love for God is the sun, our love for others is a spark.
When people look at our lives, there should be no doubt as to who our #1 is. It should make them jealous that God gets so much of our attention, creativity, passion, and labor. It should actually confuse people, maybe even anger them at how much we love God.
But we don’t always get the order right. We love plenty of other things ahead of God. There’s a name for them. Idols.
Theologian John Calvin said our hearts are perpetual idol factories. They turn out idols in mass quantities, sometimes making new ones, sometimes updating old ones. It’s the business we know.
That’s because we were made to love God. But made to love God, we make idols instead. We settle for easy substitutes. We love heroes on the field and the stage. We love our knowledge and ingenuity. We love entertainment and consumer goods.
When one idol passes, another takes its place. We’re good at our idol-making business.
But God is supposed to be the object of our greatest love. He’s supposed to fill our hearts, receive our undignified dance, cause us to sing. He’s supposed to be the talk of town.
I’m not just talking about loving people. The same goes with the very sacred things in modern Christendom. Things like:
Serving the poor, caring for orphans, pursuing your calling, finding your story, living in community, enforcing justice, rescuing the needy, stewarding the earth.
Any one of these noble devotions can become an idol if we love it more than God. Our love for God should outweigh, outmeasure, outshine, and outlast any of these things or any other people. Even our most beloved on this earth.
Now do something. Think of your child or your spouse or a parent or a very good friend. Think of one person you love very much. Hold your hand on your heart and imagine that person standing right in front of you, so close you could reach out and touch them.
You’re about to tell them what you think of them, and how highly and deeply you feel. You remember your experiences together and the fun you have had and the things you have learned and the honor you feel at knowing them. Now your heart is beating faster at the truth about to be spoken, about the joy to be shared, and you know it will make them happy to know how much they have touched your life.
Now just as you open your mouth to say it, replace that person with God. That’s what it means to love God. Deeper, higher, wider than how we love any other. So strong it looks like we hate any other. Jesus said if not, we can’t be his disciple.