by David Brickner | February 01 2022
Many years ago, a beloved friend and pastor asked me, “David, what motivates you to serve the Lord?” After a moment’s reflection I answered, “Obedience. What motivates you?” My friend responded, “Love.”
I could see that my friend had the higher motivation for service, but recently I’ve realized that my understanding of his response was feeble and inadequate.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, many people are thinking and talking about love. An online search of the word “love” will turn up endless definitions, articles, songs, movies, and more—most of which focus on emotions and sexual attraction. You’ll find everything from wholesome romance to adultery, same-sex attraction, pornography, and many other forms of sex without boundaries. Something has gone very wrong in the popular understanding of love—and it’s all tied in with issues of identity.
Identity is a hot button in today’s cultural moment. The popular approach presumes that every individual is the best judge of his or her identity, based on his or her own personal experience, perceptions, feelings, and choices. And that’s especially evident when it comes to the idea of love. People identify so strongly with who or what they love that it becomes a motivating force that touches every aspect of their lives.
Recently I discovered that my own understanding of how love motivates me—as biblically centered as I strive to be—has been lacking. Going back to the conversation with my pastor friend, I assumed that when my friend spoke of love as his motivation for ministry, he meant his love for God. But look at 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Our love for God could not possibly motivate us unless He had first loved us. The best and most noble of human loves is still flawed. If I’m trying to sustain my service to God based on my own love, I’ll be forever questioning myself: If I really loved God, wouldn’t I …? (fill in the blank). Have you ever felt that way? Our imperfect love is a poor basis for our service to Him, much less our entire identity.
I’m not downplaying the importance of loving God; the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). But my Jewish people could only hope to fulfill this commandment because the Lord had “set his heart in love” on them first (Deuteronomy 7:7 NKJV; 10:15). And it’s the same for us as believers in Jesus today. This is actually very liberating, and it’s part of what we can offer a world that is lost and tangled up in a ball of confusion of what love is and what love does.
Our identity is rooted in the deep and abiding love our Creator has bestowed on us. The Almighty, the master of the universe, made us in His own image and loves us; that is our true identity and source of dignity—and what motivation that love provides!
God’s love so motivated Him that He sent His one and only Son into the world to save us and give us brand new hearts that can return His love. His love never fails, and it provides joy and purpose for all we seek to do and be in His service.
It is the strength of God’s perfect love that empowers, delights, and sustains us. It is God’s love that makes our love what it should be: holy, just, and seeking the very best for the beloved.
I once met a woman who told me that she did not like Jews for Jesus, “because,” she said, “I want Jewish people to know that Christians love them. But all you want to do is evangelize them, which only makes Jewish people suspicious of my love.”
I am grateful for every Christian who shows love for my Jewish people. And yet, as I told this woman, I would rather see one Jewish person understand and receive God’s love than have a hundred Jewish people be impressed by my love. Yes, God often uses our love to point to His, but there is an eternal difference between what our love and His can do.
May the love of God bless you as you serve Him. We are forever grateful to you for helping us share His gospel love with Jewish people around the world!