The most loving thing you will ever do for another person will be done in order to please God, not that person. So Jesus, the savior of the world, the one who loved us and gave himself for us, did all things in obedience to the Father, abiding in his love Jn. 15:10. Even Paul, whose passion was proclaiming the love of Christ to non-Jews, said he was not seeking to please man or gain his approval, but the approval of God Gal. 1:10. God is not just the origin of love but the only reliable embodiment of it 1 Jn. 4:8. Love does not dwell naturally or innately in us: that existence is reserved for God alone. Apart from him, our best efforts turn into a syrupy sentimentality or the arrogant imposition of our own ethics. This is why Jesus never entrusted himself to us. He knew exactly that of which we were and were not capable Jn. 2:24.
This idea is all through Scripture, OT and NT. This morning I read in Leviticus 25 that when you are caring for your brother, who has for whatever reason lost all his money, you must “take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you” (25:36). To love and care for your brother is rightly understood as the fear of God. And in a telling moment in which this idea is turned upside-down, Luke says the chief priests and scribes were trying to figure out how to kill Jesus, “for they feared the people” (22:2). People who love the approval of others, and have no vision of God, lose their compass and wreak havoc.
One caveat: if you are unloving—the kind of person who is cold, abrupt, and remote—that doesn’t mean you fear God and not men. It just means you’re a difficult person.
This generation of believers tends to be utilitarian and distant from God. I offer two pieces of evidence: discussion of personal holiness is gone from public discourse in the Church (Stott lamented this as he was dying; Packer, now in his 90s, laments it as well). The second piece of evidence is the Church’s ministries of mercy and mission tend to be driven by material needs. That is, they are not grounded in the person of God, and obedience to him, but in utilitarianism. Fundraising plays on compelling statistics and human emotion. Few ministry leaders know how to make a strong theological case for their work. It’s a day of love conceived horizontally; an inability to recognize that apart from God, we cannot know Who or what love is. So Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
To love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to bless when we are reviled, to lay our lives down for those mocking us: this is the love of God; it resides in no human being. To follow him into this life of love, we must learn how to draw on him and depend on him. This love, his love, is alien to us. Only by abiding in him can we hope to begin to love in that very expensive, and oddly exhilarating, way that he, alone, loves.