~ How Can You Know If You Love God? ~
The Apostle Paul was a prisoner being transported by ship to Rome. Other than a short warning to the crew about destruction at sea at the journey's beginning by Paul, which was ignored, the apostle remained quiet and generally unnoticed.
The sailing season became dangerous after the Jewish Day of Atonement at the end of September. The ship was soon locked in a series of Northeaster storms. "A strong wind kept blowing, and we finally gave up all hope of being saved... For fourteen days and nights we had been blown over the Mediterranean Sea." (Acts 27:20b-27a) "Since none of us had eaten anything for a long time, Paul stood up and told the men..." (27:21a)
This desperate situation transformed Paul from being a prisoner-passenger to crew leader and co-captain. When they shipwrecked on the Island of Malta, Paul and the crew were personally hosted by the governor and "everyone on the island brought their sick people to Paul, and they were all healed." (28:9) Many also became followers of Christ.
The storm and its threat was a gift to the people of Malta, and pushed Paul's spiritual power and faith into the open as a witness to the Christ he loved. Potential tragedy elevated Paul from the state of quiet prisoner to servant of Christ, a title all the apostles took upon themselves. Watching a servant of Christ working in the will of God is an awesome experience.
The apostle John wrote, "Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are... Real love isn't our love for God, but His love for us." (1 John 3:1a, 4:10a) Compared to God's love for us, our love for Him doesn't even qualify as "real."
Our love is both a response to God's love and His commandment to us. Thus it is both an emotional experience and a working, guiding principle requiring our practice. It is possible to be a martyr without love. Paul wrote, "What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing unless I loved others." (1 Corinthians 13:3)
It is possible to do works of great faith without love. "And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others." (1 Corinthians 13:2b) John declared, "God is love," so without God we are nothing.
Surrendering our will completely and unconditionally to God's will is a personal challenge and obstacle for many of us. Yet there is such an essential connection between God's will for us and God's love for us that we may well contend they are the same. It was Paul's love for Christ that made him a prisoner, servant, and respected leader, all at the same time, in that fearful storm.
The Scriptures have much to say about the nature and practice of love and God's will. There are those who impress others with their sacrifices and service, praises and tears, beautiful hymn writing and poetry and stirring prayers. However, the only worthy evidence of love for God is obedience. Christ repeatedly declared, "If you love me you'll keep my commandments." (John 14:24) Our degree of obedience is the true indicator of our love for our Lord and Master. Through obedience we become more Christ-like. And in becoming increasingly Christ-like, we become more loving. Increasingly, we think His thoughts instead of our own, we see through His eyes rather than our own, we feel with His heart more than our own.
What is the essence of obedience? "Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That's the most sensible way to serve God. Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him... Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying... Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you... Don't let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good." (Romans 12:1-2, 9-12, 14, 21) "When Christ died, He died for sin once and for all. But now He is alive, and He lives only for God. In the same way, you must think of yourselves as dead to the power of sin. But Christ Jesus has given life to you, and you live for God." (Romans 6:10-11)
This is God's will and our practice of obedience. The degree to which we are obedient reflects the degree to which we love God. And how can we tell if the will we act upon hour to hour, day to day, is God's will for us? By the fruits of or indicators of the Holy Spirit working freely in us: love, happiness, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a) And how can we tell if our will is opposed to God's? By the indicators that the Holy Spirit is being hindered or blocked in our daily living: hatred, dissension, selfishness, rage, jealousy, envy, destructiveness. (Galatians 5:20)
Matthew records Jesus' parable of the three servants (Matthew 25:14-33). To two of the servants the master says, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Their hearts must have rejoiced on hearing those words. However, the story has a sad ending, unlike most of Jesus' teaching stories. The third servant heard, "You are a worthless servant and you will be thrown out into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain." (Matthew 25:30) What terror and regret that must have struck in him!
My final prayers of the day include a self-assessment using the mind of Christ. If Christ is able to say, "Well done today," I can sleep in His presence with a smile on my soul. If He is able to say anything else, my soul grieves and rushes to His altar for forgiveness and recommitment to obedience. "If we confess our sins to God, He can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away." (1 John 1:9) Disobedience is to violate the first and foremost commandment: "Love God with all your strength, mind and soul."
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © March 17, 2001
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