A Biblical Theology of Loving God
Is the idea of correspondent, or ordinate, love present in Scripture? Does Scripture describe what love for God should be? It does indeed. In terms of degree, Scripture makes a hierarchy of loves very clear. The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Deuteronomy 6:4–5 was the positive wording of the same commandment. In conversation with a scribe, Jesus explained that the command of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 was the ultimate obligation, followed by a second: Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these’ (Mark 12:29–31).
It appears that Christ was interpreting the Shema to mean that the uniqueness of God demanded an answering form of ultimate love. This statement by Christ can be stated as the first of three biblical definitions of correspondent love.
1) Correspondent love for God loves God ultimately, and all else for his sake. Only God is to be loved wholeheartedly, which is to say, loved ultimately, as the only God. A god is one in whom a person places ultimate trust and looks to it for ultimate delight. Gods are found at the end of one’s chains of value and are not loved as a means to another love (that is, instrumentally), but are loved for themselves (that is, ultimately). God alone is to be loved as an end, and not as a means, for no one else is the true God. God alone deserves to be loved for himself; all other loves should be instrumental to that end (Ps. 73:25–26). Jesus made this clear, when calling for this ultimate love to be given to him, as the Son of God:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37).
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs’ (John 21:15–17).
Similar Scriptures link the command to love or fear God ultimately to man’s ultimate obligation: Eccl. 12:13; Deut. 10:12; Prov. 9:10; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17. Love is repeatedly placed at the head of Christian character (1 Cor. 13:13; 16:14; Col. 3:14;1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:5–7). Loving one’s neighbour is also granted a kind of summary status as fulfilment of one’s moral obligations in Romans 13:9–10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8.
If God demands ultimate love, what of other loves? The love of neighbour can further be divided into love for Christian brethren (John 13:34), love for family (Eph. 5:22–6:4), love for non-Christian neighbour (Rom. 13:9–10; Gal. 6:10) and love for enemy (Rom. 12:18–20; Matt. 5:4). The fact that love of neighbour is bundled together with love for God implies that the Second Commandment is an application of the First. That is, neighbours are to be loved for God’s sake.
How so? Here are three possible ways. First, when loving one’s neighbour, one is loving God by obeying his command to love neighbour, and Jesus said that obedience is a form of love for him (John 14:15). Second, in loving one’s neighbour, one is loving the image of God still resident in that neighbour (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9; 1 John 4:12). Third, in loving one’s neighbour, one is loving what God himself loves, for God loves all, including his enemies (John 3:16; Matt. 5:44–45). Love for those God loves is counted, in some sense, as love for him (Matt. 25:34–40).
Loving for God’s sake may be extended from neighbour to all of creation. All good gifts are to be received thankfully (1 Tim. 4:4; Jas. 1:17). Creation must be contemplated for the way it reveals God and loved accordingly (Ps. 19:1–6; 1 Thes. 5:21; Phil. 4:8). In this way, correspondent love is loving God alone for himself, and loving all else for his sake.
This love is a complete “consent” of will to God, making him the chief end and desire of all. This love finds complete union in God as the chief end of life, heartily making him its desire and delight, reflecting the spirit of Romans 11:36: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever”.
About David de Bruyn
David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.