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Need-Love and Gift-Love

This entry is part 11 of 54 in the series

"One Thing Have I Desired"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

The Right Kind of Love

Once we understand the degree of love we are to give God, we can understand better the kind of love we are to give Him. As we go through the Bible, we find two ways that love manifests when humans love their gods: dependence and delight. C.S. Lewis classified these as Need-loves and Gift-loves1), desire that manifests out of need or appetite, and desire that manifests as sheer appreciation and admiration.

When we take these two modes of love and apply them to our relationship with God, they go far beyond anything we know with our fellow creatures. Love for God is ultimate dependence, and ultimate delight. This is the love of worship, and it is the priority of the Christian life.

What do these two kinds of ultimate love for God look like? Consider the idea of ultimate dependence.

Ultimate Dependence

The Bible uses several words to describe what love looks like in this form. You have seen this idea whenever Scripture speaks of believers trusting, depending, waiting, hoping, and looking. And as you will have noticed, when the Bible uses these ideas, it wants us to know that when this kind of love is directed to the Lord, it must be ultimate in nature and degree.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. (Psalm 62:5-6)

When Scriptures uses these words of our relationship with God, it is emphasising the truth that God is to be our ultimate dependence. No one or nothing stands above him as more reliable, trustworthy, faithful or dependable. God is not a means to something else that we trust in. To love God ultimately is to make him your ultimate trust, ultimate hope, ultimate refuge, ultimate security, ultimate source.

When we make God simply a means to something else we are trusting in, or if we place ultimate trust in something else, what are we saying about God? What are we saying about his value? We are saying that God’s creation is more trustworthy than the Creator Himself.

Israel did this with her idols, and it brought God’s outraged rebuke:

They shall be turned back, They shall be greatly ashamed, Who trust in carved images, Who say to the moulded images, ‘You are our gods.’ (Isaiah 42:17)

Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress. (Judges 10:14)

Anything other than God to which we give ultimate dependence will disappoint and betray us. The man who trusts in money finds it abandons him in the end. It is either taken from him, or it betrays him with its inability to bring lasting satisfaction. People who make a political party, or a business, or another human their rock, fortress, high tower, or shield (Ps 18:2) find that such things are like sand castles with the tide coming in.

Many things can be trusted, relied upon, looked to, or hoped in. In fact, God has set up the universe in such a way that we have to be dependent upon many things. However, they are only means of an ultimate trust which is reserved for God. The many things we depend upon are to be viewed as gifts from God, which we receive from him, and which point back to him. Ultimate dependence is to be reserved for God alone.

However, our love for God will often go beyond sheer need and admire God for who He is.

Francois Fenelon said, “Give up thy loves in order that thou mightest find the love. Give up thy lovers that thou mightest find the great Lover. Give up all that thou lovest in order that thou mightest find the One whom thou canst love.”2

Ultimate Delight

The second direction that love for God can take is delight. This category comprehends all the Scriptural ideas such as rejoicing, giving thanks, enjoying, praising, revering, exulting, being glad, taking pleasure, and being satisfied. As a believer finds his or her sufficiency in Christ, love ascends beyond need and appreciates and enjoys God for who He is. That is not say we do not delight in God when his sufficiency meets our needs, or to say that when we admire or delight in God we have somehow ‘risen above’ dependence. It is merely to point out that love for God is the love of a creature for the Creator, so that it includes both dependence and delight.
And once again, when you come across these ideas in Scripture, the Bible makes it clear that such expressions of delight must terminate on God.

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:4)

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. (Psalm 63:3)

Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17)

Scripture uses these ideas to teach that God is to be our ultimate cause for and object of, delight. Nothing created deserves ultimate delight, gladness, happiness, joy or approval. Every good gift comes from God (James 1:18), and is merely a means to lead us to rejoice ultimately in God himself. God is infinitely beautiful. God cannot serve as a means to delight in something else beyond himself. To love God ultimately is to see him as your ultimate joy, delight, pleasure, satisfaction, and praise.

If there are things or people or activities other than God that we delight in ultimately, what do we say about God? What do we say about his power to satisfy, if we give ourselves totally to the creation rather than the Creator when it comes to joy and delight?

Israel had turned to other gods for her ultimate delight. God saw her as a wife seeking pleasure in the arms of another man.

And they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. (1 Chronicles 5:25)

Israel had turned to idols to satisfy her soul, and God tells her that no idol can do that.

Has a nation changed its gods, Which are not gods? But My people have changed their Glory For what does not profit. Be astonished, O heavens, at this, And be horribly afraid; Be very desolate,” says the LORD. “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns — broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:11-13 )

God wants his people to know that he alone is worth this kind of ultimate love. Whenever something other than God is put in his place, it disappoints. False gods lead you to believe they can be to you what only the true God can be to you, and then in the end, they always fail. That’s why God said idols are like broken cisterns that can hold no water.

As the book of Ecclesiastes unambiguously shows us, looking to anything under the sun for ultimate delight will bring a deep sense of emptiness. The immoral relationship betrays you, the honing and dressing up of a perfect body or face betrays you, the marriage to the perfect man or woman betrays you, the attainment of a position ultimately betrays you, and the titillation of every sense betrays you.

By contrast, Asaph had realised that God alone was to be his ultimate delight:

Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

He alone is God. He alone is ultimately reliable. He alone is ultimately valuable. He alone is ultimately desirable. That is why his name is Jealous (Ex 34:14).

God’s jealousy is not a petty rivalry. God’s jealousy is not a small-minded conceitedness that does not want others to be justly praised. Such is human jealousy, and it is detestable. God’s jealousy is a just claim to be the only rightful occupant in the place in the human heart designed to worship the only true God. God’s jealousy is a call for truth: for ultimate dependence and ultimate delight to be placed only where it belongs – on him.

Loving God is not merely a set of duties, or even a confession of certain doctrines. Loving God certainly involves actions and beliefs, but the meaning of loving God is contained in the idea of worshipping a god – the God. Loving God is desiring God to fulfill our needs, and desiring God as most enjoyable. Trusting God and delighting in God are acts of love to God.

Since only one God exists, and he is the God of the Bible, then we are to treat him and him alone as our God: as the one on whom we are ultimately dependent, and the one in whom we ultimately delight.

Loving God in this way is the great priority of the Christian life. Of course, this raises a question. Why should this be the priority of the Christian life? If we are to think about it, the average person will ask some hard questions about this command, or at least sense some discomfort. How is it that God gets to command people to love him ultimately, without being guilty of conceitedness and arrogance?

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David de Bruyn

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.

  1. The Four Loves (Mariner Books, 1971 []
  2. As quoted in A.W. Tozer, “True Disciples of Christ” in Faith Beyond Reason (Camp Hill, PA: Wingspread Publishers), electronic edition, (Camp Hill: Zur Ltd. Database, 1987, Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007). []

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