Two days before Valentine’s Day, I caught the end of a three minute commentary on Christian marriage from a TV documentary on the history of romance. The piece was, as with many TV programs mentioning Christianity, void of anything deeper than a brief commentary on Christian cultural history. It was as if the host was asked to talk about his marriage and all he mentioned was his wife’s wedding ring.
This article is a brief commentary on love: understanding God’s love for Jesus, and the Jesus’ love for God, provides the very centre of understanding the worth of ourselves and provides the means and ability for us to love.
True romance in the loveliest sense of the word.
Biblical love is an act of the will, accompanied by emotion which leads to action on behalf of it’s object.
Voddie Baucham (cf. Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22).
Before I begin we need to go back to before the beginning, before there was even a before.
The reason we need to venture into timelessness is that I want to show you that love is not a temporary creation, let alone a creation of mankind. Love is not some undefined uncontrollable force but is eternal, personal and relational. Love exists because God exists; personally and relationally in the eternal dynamic loving and glorifying relationship with His Son Jesus1. God is without need or want2, without unfulfilled desire or unquenched passion; for His greatest desire and passion is to glorify and love that which is most worthy of praise, His name and namely His Son3. And His Son who is the eternal image and reflection of God4, glorifies and loves His Father perfectly. Thus the Son is God and God thus eternally fulfils and satisfies Himself in the glory and love of Himself5 in the Son.
Now if this was not the case then the Son would be glorifying and loving that which is not most worthy of praise, and the Father would be glorifying, loving and commanding us to love that which is not most worthy of praise; and so both would be idolaters and liars and cease to be, cease to be the demonstration of perfect love and cease to be perfect love itself, perfect love personified. And so this perfect love which is personal and active, which has no need or want, overflows infinitely outward from the Son to the Father, from the Father to the Son, both in Spirit6 and through which the universe was created7, through which we were made man and woman in the image of God8.
Our desire to love.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
ESV. Romans 5:1-11.
It is said that the root of self-esteem is that we have worth in ourselves apart from anything objective outside of ourselves. And that the only way we can truly love others is if we identify our own worth first. People say you must learn to love yourself first before you can love anyone else.
But is that really true?
I don’t believe any of us can really grasp what perfect beauty is, though it is not far9 from each of us as we seem to have the inherent ability to discern when something is more beautiful than something else objectively. For example those who are artists, writers, designers or musicians can explain when something doesn’t quite look or sound right or is unbalanced10. I find this interesting as if we understand, desire and measure things against something which we never witnessed in real life, and by that I mean ultimate perfection. How do we know something is not truly perfect when we have never seen true perfection?
We also I believe cannot escape the desire to worship, and I could replace the word worship with love. There is a connection between beauty and love, we are drawn to love that which is beautiful, that which we deem has worth or is worthy of love. I believe it is in this sense as to why we get so excited about loving physical beauty, newness, brands, celebrities, personalities, philosophies or ideals. The closer we get to them, know them or associate ourselves with them the more worth (and perhaps love) we feel. It is if their (perceived) worth and beauty rubs off on us and fills a satisfaction we have unfilled in ourselves.
The reason I say all this is two fold. One is to draw attention to what I believe is the root desire we all have: that is to be so satisfied that it produces excessive joy and this excessive joy then overflows outwards in the service of others to increase their joy11. We desire this because we also know that this service has the uncanny ability to satisfy us further and thus increase our joy the more. Anyone who has ever been in love or ever done anything charitable has experienced the reality of this to one degree or another. We do love someone for their sake, for our sake, so that we can love them more for their sake, for ours.
The other is that I believe because we are made in the image of God12, it is our very nature to desire this because it is the very nature of God. And so ultimately we will never be truly satisfied with anything less than God himself. That ultimately we will feel most worthy, most loved, most satisfied, most joyful and most able to love others if we draw close to God13 and abide in him14.
Our ability to love.
Our ability to love others is built upon and driven by our ability to see the worth of the other person (are they worthy of love), and the worth of ourselves (are they worthy of our love, and are we worthy to love them). We also feel most loved when someone who we think is most worthy loves us. The degree of the worth of the person loving us, is the degree of the worth we feel we are by being loved by them, and the degree of the ability we have to love others.
My point is that for love to exist there needs to be a source of initial worth, a source of the worth of ourselves and others, and a means with which we determine our and their worth. We can of course simply say we are both human, but the question is then what is the worth of a human? Is a criminal’s worth the same as mother’s, a toddler’s the same as a terminally ill patient?
If our only sense of worth comes from one another, then surely like the physically impossible perpetual motion machine it cannot sustain itself forever. For if our worth is derived from loving and being loved by someone else, whose worth is derived from loving and being loved by someone else, whose worth is derived from loving and being loved by someone else, whose worth is…
My question is this, if there is no source of worth outside ourselves, greater than ourselves, more worthy then the most worthy of us; how can we continue to love one another? Surely like taking an imperfect copy from an imperfect copy from an imperfect copy, defining our worth as humans fades increasingly into nothing. Perhaps this is the very reason why throughout all history mankind has looked outwards into the cosmos or into art or religions; perhaps this is the very reason we have looked for something outside ourselves, for the sake of our self-worth, for the sake of our love.
We are loved.
I believe what the Bible declares, that our worth is derived from being created by and loved by a God who is perfect and infinitely worthy.
God is infinitely worthy because He not only loves Jesus but is loved by Jesus who is infinitely worthy. And Jesus is infinitely worthy because He loves and is loved by His Father who is infinitely worthy. The two are the eternal and infinite source of each other’s worth, and it is out of this sufficiency that we are loved. God does not derive worth from loving us, He is already full and complete and so it is out of the overflow (as if one could measure the volume of infinity) that he loves us. We cannot even begin to conceive the depth of this.
Herein lies the greatest obstacle to our salvation: for how shall such a righteous God ever set his affection on sinners like us? But herein lies also the very foundation of our salvation, for it is precisely the infinite regard that the Father has for the Son which makes it possible for me, a wicked sinner, to be loved and accepted in the Son, because in his death he restored all the insult and injury that I had done to the Father’s glory through my sin.
Piper, John. The Pleasure of God in His Son. January 25, 1987. http://bit.ly/12jNiPK.
Thus we find our worth not in ourselves but in God who is objectively and unchanging outside of us, we love and can really love others because God first loved and loves us. We can forgive each other because we are forgiven, we can reconcile relationships with one another because our relationship with God was reconciled through Jesus. We can make much of each other because God made much of us through the cross in history so that we would have something objective and historical to make much of for eternity, Jesus Christ.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…
ESV. 1 Peter 3:18.
And so again our worth is shown by the cost of the love shown towards us by God and His desire to draw us to Himself. You are who you are because God loves you, and so you have an objective example of love with which to demonstrate to others.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
ESV. Philippians 2:4-11.
More so you can satisfy your desire for joy through and in God and satisfy your desire for more joy by loving others through service and ultimately telling them the good news ‘Gospel’ of who God is and what He has done for them and you. It is as John Piper says the ‘best of all possible worlds’15 as our joy is made complete in God Himself, whom is the most perfect, most beautiful, most satisfied, most joyful and most loving of all.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
ESV. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.
I started this article as a reaction to hearing a dull explanation of Christian marriage on TV, and you would be right to say that this article has not even mentioned marriage since that first paragraph.
Perhaps I will write something later on the subject directly; but my hope is that I have already given you something to think about, and perhaps through thinking you will understand what marriage actually is.
True romance in the loveliest sense of the word.
1 “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” ESV. John 17:24.
2 “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” ESV. Acts 17:24-25.
3 “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.’” ESV. John 17:1-4.
4 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” ESV. Colossians 1:15. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” ESV. Hebrews 1:3. “...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” ESV. Philippians 2:6. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ESV. John 1:1. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” ESV. John 1:18.
5 Piper, John. The Pleasure of God in His Son. January 25, 1987. http://bit.ly/12jNiPK.
6 “...God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” ESV. John 4:24.
7 “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” ESV. John 1:10.
8 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” ESV. Genesis 1:27.
9 “...that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” ESV. Acts 17:27-29.
11 This is even true for those who wish to end their own lives. They desire to satisfy their need for love and joy by removing themselves from their troubles and believe that quite possibly the world (friends, family, strangers) would be more joyful without them.
12 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” ESV. Genesis 1:26. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” ESV. Genesis 1:27.
13 “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” ESV. James 4:6-9.
14 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” ESV. John 15:7-11.
15 “...the ‘best of all possible worlds’, means that God governs the course of history so that, in the long run, His glory will be more fully displayed and His people more fully satisfied than would have been the case in any other world.” Piper, John. What does Piper mean when he says he’s a seven-point Calvinist? January 23, 2006. http://bit.ly/12jNsGL.