Love Jesus above All (Part 1)
Step-by-Step Discipleship Lessons are a series of studies based on the bible that explain the basics of the Christian life. They are meant to be used for individual study, one-on-one discipleship, or group bible study.1
In our past lessons we have been seeing that genuine salvation involves God completely transforming our nature. This is called “new birth”. Those who are truly born again focus their lives on absolute trust and dependence on Jesus alone. This is what it means to believe. In a future study we will look at obedience as an evidence of being born again. But before we speak of obedience, we must understand that God transforms us into obedience by first transforming our feelings, our desires, our affections. Specifically, Jesus calls us to love him.
1. Jesus expects us to love him above all
a. No other love can compete for our affection for Jesus
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:37).
What is the greatest love of your life? When some people are asked this question, they might speak of things in their life (a possession or an achievement), but usually the most treasured thing is the people in your life. Now what you love is your own heart’s desire, but generally speaking if a person says, “I love my possessions”, or “I love my achievements”, that person would universally be considered a superficial person. If someone’s answer in their heart was that they loved themselves, or being the centre of attention, that’s universally considered conceit. But in almost any context, if someone were to say, “I love my family”, or “my children”, or “mother, father, husband, wife”, this is accepted as a valid, unselfish affection. No one would ask you to compete for your wife or children’s affection.
But this is exactly what Jesus demands. His teaching in Matthew 10:34-39 is a striking passage on the cost of discipleship. When Jesus becomes your saviour and master, your relationship to all other things and people become secondary to him. He is God, and to offer anything less than first affection would be idol worship. In verse 37 we see a few important things:
- The cost of discipleship has at its heart not external behaviour but affections of the heart. (we’ll discuss this further)
- When Jesus speaks of loving any other person (let alone loving any thing) more than him, he describes that as a love not high enough to be considered worship, “not worthy of me”. This tells us that Jesus takes our affections very seriously.
- The mark of loving Jesus must be so that no earthly relationship can compete with Jesus. It is not that all other loves must stop, but that all other loves are to be denied if they get in the way of our love for Jesus.
b. Love for Jesus is not just about our actions.
It is often said that love is a commitment, not a feeling. This statement is half true and half false. In our age, love is treated as emotion without control, a feeling that you cannot stop, where the mind or the body follows the heart. But this is false love. Because true love is true feelings that lead to true action. You cannot have one without the other. For instance, a husband may hear from his wife, “you don’t love me anymore”. He might respond, “of course I do. I fulfil all my duties toward you, and you have nothing you lack”. But of course, that is not what his wife is asking of him – you can very well do all your duties, but your heart is not in it. Similar with love for Jesus. We can do the deeds of love, without the affection and relationship of love.
Emotions are not to be feared. Our emotions are given to us by God, and there is a right display of emotions. For example, Jesus tells us to fear God who has power over hell (Luke 12:5). Jesus displays shame about those who deny him and his words (Luke 9:26). Jesus describes the act of forgiveness as a deed and a feeling, “forgive from the heart” (Matthew 18:35).
This is the point: if emotions rightly expressed are God-given, and if actions done in obedience to God give God pleasure, then the ideal life of a disciple is right actions which come from the right emotions. It is unnecessary to say that Christian love is not a feeling. Rather, Jesus is calling us to strive to have godly affections towards him that lead to godly actions before him.
But this is hard! It is one thing for Jesus to want me to do the right things, but he wants me also to feel and desire in the right way as I do these things? That seems to be asking too much! But God always enables what he commands, and Jesus provides us inward transformation. We shall examine this in our next study.
2. Questions to Ponder
- How can you know if you love Jesus above all? Examine your life, your daily thoughts. What makes you happy most of the time? What excites you? When you wake up in the morning, what are the things you long to do? Do you love spending time with Jesus or with other people? These are the signs of your affection. Jesus says any other love which competes is not worthy of me.
- Ask Christ to grow your love for him so that you truly see that nothing compares to him.
1 For further study, here are some recommended resources: What Jesus Demands from the World, John Piper; Desiring God, John Piper.