Jesus identified the greatest thing a human being can do. His wisdom contrasts with many contemporary spiritual teachers who promote that complete self-knowledge is the goal of the fully actualized human being. Jesus has another answer and it is agrees with the whole message of the Old and New Testaments.
The whole point is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. He equated eternal life with “knowing God and Christ Jesus whom God has sent.” (John 17) This is a call to relate intimately and positively with the invisible, infinite, and all-knowing Person who created everything that is. Jesus saw his death and resurrection as providing the opportunity for this relationship.
How does a human being like me express this love? The Bible instructs us to show our love by a radical adjustment of behavior toward God. “He who loves me will do what I command,” Jesus said. But love is more than mere conformity to authority, even a benevolent one. Love is a relationship that grows from what starts as an initial acquaintance and develops into a full appreciation. Love is something received and given. Jesus said that He wasn’t after mere servants, but friends. Servants can be acquired fairly quickly through either adequate pay or threat of loss. Friends/lovers are the result of an interchange involving the heart, soul, and mind.
Fullness of love between two people takes time and much attentive labor. It is no different when the two people are God and one of His creatures. While some of God’s “best friends” have their stories recorded in the Bible, many others are lost to human history. The good news is that each tale is recorded in the books spoken of in Revelation (Rev. 20: ). Perhaps it will take the first part of eternity to listen to the “diaries” of the saints. Abraham’s volume might be called God’s Friend. David’s, The Man After God’s Own Heart. Paul’s record is titled Knowing God and Being Fully Known.
I Corinthians 13 is a teaching poem about love. For nearly two thousand years, newlyweds and mature spouses have resorted to it to build up their homes. Countless sermons have been given by preachers concerned for the quality of fellowship in their churches. Even secular authors realize its value.
Perhaps the primary application of the text concerns the individual’s relationship with God? People pass along to each other the quality of the relationship they share with their Creator. While many people are committed to believing and doing the right things in their religion, they stop short of relating to God at the personal level. They bow before Him as a king, thank Him as they would a lifeguard that has pulled them from the waves, and even give their lives as a soldier might in battle, but still not experience the closeness with God for which they were created.
This text raises some serious and exciting implications. Is it possible for a human being to extend patience and kindness towards God? How could jealousy, pride, or arrogance against God crop up? What does it mean to “act unbecomingly” toward God? Are there things that will happen in this relationship that necessitate the forgiving of God? “Love is not provoked [by anything God might do] or does not take into account a wrong suffered [done by God upon me].”
It is for good reason that the Scripture uses the illustration of marriage when speaking of Christ’s relationship with those who believe on Him. Believers enter this relationship in a powerful moment in which their minds are changed towards Him (i.e. repentance). They become convinced that God is for them and not against them. They come to believe that God has their best interests at heart. They come to hope in his offer of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. They express that repentance through the obedient ritual of faith that is Christian baptism.
But the heart is another matter. A mutually fulfilling relationship is the result of much work. People fall into love, but marriages are built. Sooner or later, the relationship is tested. Husbands disappoint. Wives act irresponsibly. The needs of children require a renegotiation of responsibilities. Even in the best marriages instances will arise that require deferment of gratification and hope for the best.
What will the Christian do when God allows something in her life she had not bargained for? How will she treat God when it seems that everything is being asked of her while nothing seems to be offered in exchange? What will she do when God disappoints? Some would counsel that the “good Christian” acts as if nothing is wrong. He must suppress any feelings of anger or doubt and must never bring an accusation against His Maker.
Any good marriage counselor will say that intimacy comes through openness. Christians who want to experience love with God need to bring everything to God, the good, the bad, and the ugly. When they work through these matters they will experience more intimacy as both partners know each other better. Even though God knows everything about us and though He has had countless “lovers” through the millennia, he desires to experience a unique relationship with each of us anew.
Love is always a choice. God has chosen to express Himself towards us as described in I Corinthians. Will we return the favor?