Have you noticed that how we say something is just as important as what we say? The order of our words can impact the meaning of what we are saying. For example, which statement is better – “I love Jesus” or “Jesus loves me”. While we may say that both are true, my question is which is better.
In the first example, I am the subject, Jesus is the object and love is the verb. So, in the first phrase, my love is the emphasis; in the second it’s Christ’s love for me. Semantics? No, because the order testifies to an important theological difference.
The Bible tells us that our relationship with God does not begin with our initiative but God’s, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Without God revealing His love to us, we could not know Him or love. So, which is a better? The phrase that emphasizes God’s love for us; our love for God flows out of His love for us.
To illustrate, consider two songs that speak about this. First, Carmen’s “Sunday School Rock” declares, “I love Jesus, Yes I do, I love Jesus...How 'bout you?” Now don’t get me wrong, it is good for us to declare our love of Christ to others, but my words can also communicate a message that I haven’t intended. When my words express only feelings that I have towards God, I can find that I’m standing on insecure ground. Why? Because when my feelings of love wain so can my assurance.
I find the song “Jesus Loves Me” says it better declaring, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so…” Notice how the subject has changed. Where the first song declares MY love for Jesus, the second song declares Jesus’ love for ME. Is this just semantics? No, for while the difference is subtle it is critical.
When the emphasis is on MY love for Jesus, my thinking can easily shift to listing out the ways that I am showing my love for Christ in my life. I might say that my love is revealed by the number of times I have attended church, read my bible, prayed, given money, choose the right or done good deeds. And while all of these are wonderful, they are meaningless when done by rote to prove my worthiness.
The flip side of this is when our hope is in Christ’s love for us. There my hope is not found in anything that I have done for Christ but only in what Christ has done for me. To discern which is correct, we need to search the scriptures to discover what it says.
In addition to John’s testimony that “We love because He first loved us,” Paul shows how God initiates our relationship with Him, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Not only did God initiate the relationship by taking the first step, He paid the price for our redemption – this is the whole story of Easter.
Our faith story begins when we realize that we are dead in sin and in desperate need of the life-giving forgiveness that Christ purchased for us on the cross. If we don’t start here, then the hope promised to us in Christ will not make any sense. Having recognized the vileness of our sin, we will marvel that a holy God could love such a wretch like me as Amazing Grace declares, “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, T'was blind but now I see.”
Unless we start with “Jesus Loves Me” it will be impossible for me to love Jesus or anyone else.
The natural result of knowing that Jesus loves me will be me loving others, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21)
Is your love founded in Christ’s love for you or in your own determination? If it’s the later, then you are likely to come up short. However, when it is based in Christ’s unconditional love for you, you can not only love God and your brother or sister, but even your enemies.