The foundation of our love for others is a revelation of God’s love for us. The most important question in your life is not how much you love others or even how much you love God. It is how much you think God loves you. Everything flows from this. Once we grasp and fully understand how much God loves us and allow that love to transform our lives, we are in a much better place to reach out in love to those around about us. In contrast, when we are unaware of God’s love for us, we can tend to relate to others from a point of need, seeking to get them to fill the emptiness in our own lives, an approach that often leads to disappointment and even dysfunction in relationships. Deep inside every human heart are all sorts of longings – for acceptance, for approval, for a sense of identity, for a sense of belonging, and for significance. We will do anything to fulfil these longings and desires within us. Ultimately, as St Augustine once said, “O Lord, our hearts our restless until they rest in thee.”
The Father’s Love
We come to God through Jesus – the One who is our Saviour and Lord. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, then died on a cross so that we could be forgiven and become children of God. Jesus described himself as “the way” – the way to the Father. Through Jesus we come to know God as our Father (Jn.1:11-13). The Holy Spirit then comes to live inside of us and fill us with the Father’s love so that His love is the foundation of our lives (Rom.5:5. Eph.3:14-19). It is so important that we fully consider the amazing love that God has for each one of us – not just in our heads (knowledge), but deep in our hearts (experience). This love of the Father for us is even greater than the love he has for us as our Creator (Ps.139:1-18). John puts it this way: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)”
Because of sin in our world and the disruption of the dance of loving community modelled by the Trinity, we often end up founding our life on anything BUT God’s love. Things such as rejection, fear, shame, inferiority, hurt, pride and jealousy can so easily take root, tainting our own heart and also those we are in relationship with. By God’s grace we need to see these things removed from our heart and replaced with God’s limitless love. See yourself as the “the beloved” of God. “In Christ” you have identity and significance (to replace inferiority), value and worth (to replace performance-orientation), acceptance (to free you from approval addition), security (to free you from fear), and purpose (to free you from meaninglessness).
Think of the many people in the Scriptures who were completely transformed, not by their own goodness or by anything they did, but simply by a revelation of God’s love for them – a depressed and suicidal prophet named Elijah, a Samaritan woman with five broken marriages, a hated tax collector named Zaccheus, a failed disciple named Peter, a prodigal son, a dying criminal next to Jesus on the cross, and even a religious zealot like Paul. Love made the change.
As we experience a greater fullness in our own heart and lives because of the love of God, we will find it easier to love those around about us. It will be an outflow of the love we already have in our hearts. Even Jesus himself, was given an affirmation of the Father’s love for him just as he began his ministry (Mk.1:9-11). He knew he was “the beloved” – loved by God the Father.
As we receive God’s love into our heart we begin to accept ourselves, even in our imperfect and frail state. This enables us to obey the second great commandment, which is to “love your neighbour as yourself.” Many people struggle to love others because in reality they hate themselves and have no love inside to give out freely to others. There is an old song (1985) by the Bill and Gloria Gaither with a lyric that says this: “I am loved, I am loved, I can risk loving you, for the One who knows me best loves me most … we are free to love each other, we are loved.” Unless we truly know that WE are loved, we will find it difficult to truly love others.
Receive God’s Love
The cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us: “God so love the world (you and me) that he gave his only Son … (Jn.3:16).” Jesus said that there was no greater love than for someone to lay down their life for their friends. He did that … for you. God’s love is not just for everybody in general but for you specifically, as an individual – just as you are, warts and all.
Wayne Jacobsen in his book ‘He Loves Me!’ says this:
“Two thousand years of religious tradition have inculcated in us the mistaken notion that God’s love is something we earn. If we do what pleases him, he loves us; if not, he doesn’t. Giving that up isn’t easy. Moving from a performance-based religious ethic to a relationship deeply rooted in the Father’s affection is no small transition.” He goes on to say, “Nothing in this book has any value if it is just an intellectual argument, or if it only spawns a theology of God’s love. It has meaning only if you can learn how to live loved – to awaken to each new day confident that the Father delights over you like a parent over his newborn child.” Finally, as Brennan Manning says, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” He goes on to say, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”
Sample Discussion Questions
1. Talk about your natural father. How has your relationship with him (or lack of it) influenced your understanding of God as a “Father?”
2. Discuss the concept of ‘self-acceptance’ – what does it mean for us as children of God?
3. Read Ephesians 3:14-19 together. What are indicators that our lives are increasingly founded on God’s love for us? What would be indicators that our lives lack this foundation?
4. How can we balance accepting and being kind to ourselves (through faith and grace) while also seeking to grow and change to be more like Jesus (character development)?
5. Read and discuss the quotes by Wayne Jacobson and Brennan Manning above then pray for one another for a greater revelation of how much we are loved by God.