I was warned early in my spiritual journey to not worship the Bible, to not make an idol out of it (1Jn 5:21), to avoid what we might call bibliolatry.
Certainly, the idea of bowing down to a bible, a literal physical book, worshipping it or praying to it, never crossed my mind. Yet the spirit of this warning might be taken a bit further, suggesting we shouldn’t love the words of scripture too much, and this is perhaps a more interesting and relevant concept. How much should we value the words of scripture? (Ps 19:10) What does the value we place on them reveal about us and our spiritual state? (Ps 119:127)
Asked another way, can I envision God reprimanding me for loving what He says too much? for taking Him too seriously? for treasuring His words too much, or trying too hard to understand His ways and obey His commands? (Is 66:2)
In other words, what’s the practical difference between loving God and loving what He says? (1Jn 2:5) Can I be loving Him and disinterested, even the slightest bit, in what He’s saying? (Ps 119:155)
Jesus says those who love Him will keep, guard or cherish His words. (Jn 14:23) He’s telling us there’s a direct connection between how we treat His Word and how we view Him; our view of His Word reveals our heart toward Him. (24)
It’s easy to mistake a love of Bible study and teaching the Bible, even memorizing it and quoting it to others, for a love of God’s Word. Yet, if we aren’t earnestly obeying all of it as well as we can, in both letter and spirit, we aren’t loving God’s Word itself at all: we’re just loving what we can do with it, and missing the whole point. (1Ti 1:5-7) God equates loving Himself with obeying His commands. (1Jn 5:3)
Do we praise God’s Word as we’re praising Him? (Ps 56:10) Are we delighting in God’s Law so much that we’re constantly thinking about it? (Ps 119:97) consumed with wanting to understand and obey it more and more? (20)
If God actually were to equate our love for Him with how we treat the Bible (Re 3:8), how would it go? (Mt 7:24-27) Seems to me very likely that He will. (Jn 12:48)
If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1Jn 4:12) God’s love is being perfected, or brought to completion in us, as we express God’s love to others. God is perfecting His love in us by loving others through us, for love is of God, from God: He is the ultimate source of love – the Author of love. (1Jn 4:7)
If we don’t love others then we don’t love God (1Jn 4:20), and if we don’t love God then we don’t know God. (1Jn 4:8)
It isn’t that we could ever earn God’s love by loving others; God’s love is unconditional: it can’t be earned. He loves everyone because He has made them in His image and chosen to love. We don’t grow in Christ’s love by trying harder and denying ourselves, but by beholding the glory of Christ as the Spirit transforms us from glory to glory. (1Co 3:18) As we behold the glory of Christ God reveals Himself in us and to us, until we know experientially His love for Man, filling us with all the fullness of God (Ep 3:19), enabling us to love others.
When we know and believe God’s love for us, since God Himself is love, and as we live each day receiving and expressing this love, we dwell in God and God in us. (1Jn 4:16)
Since love is so central, so fundamental in walking with God, He tells us clearly what His love for us looks like, and also what it means for us to love Him.
We might think loving God is a sentimental thing, a feeling of interest, pleasure or delight at the thought of God. While loving God naturally produces such feelings, it isn’t exactly the same thing, and this may be hard to fully grasp.
So, God explains that His love is much more than sentiment and feeling: His love is perfected in us as we keep His commands; if we don’t keep His commands we don’t love Him. (Jn 14:23)
Loving God is acting as if God is worthy, just and good; disobeying God is rejecting His authority, goodness and wisdom. In disobedience we’re despising Him, not loving Him; those who live like this don’t know Him (1Jn 2:4); it’s in obeying God that His love is perfected in us, accomplishing its purpose; it’s how we know we love Him and belong to Him. (1Jn 2:5) Earnestly obeying God from the heart is loving Him by definition. (1Jn 5:3a)
Torahitself is the perfect written expression of God’s love for us (Ps 19:7a), showing us how He loves us and unites us to Himself (He 8:10), how He transforms us to be in relationship with Himself (Ps 119:50,93); He gave us Torah for our good. (1Jn 5:3b) So, Torah defines both what loving God looks like, and also what God loving us looks like.
If we’re obeying Torah we’ll have no ill-will towards another (Ro 13:10), or envy or strife in our hearts (Ja 3:14-16); that’s not walking in love — it’s missing the mark altogether. (1Co 13:2)
While we harbor fear, fear of God’s displeasure because we’re willfully disobeying Him (He 10:26-27), or fearing and resenting His authority in our lives because we don’t believe He’s good (Is 33:14), or fearing what others might do to us because we doubt God’s sovereignty and justice(Mt 10:28), then we aren’t yet made perfect in love. (1Jn 4:18)
Obedience also isn’t merely about outward observance to ritual and mechanical rules; nor is it about honoring God with just our lips. If our hearts are far from Him, if we’re not in awe of Him (Ps 4:7), seeking His face, rejoicing in Him, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, it isn’t obedience at all (De 6:5): it’s nothing. (Mt 15:8)
In living out God’s love, ordering our steps in His Word so iniquity has no dominion over us (Ps 119:33), the purpose of God’s love is accomplished, completed and perfected in us; this gives us boldness before God on Judgment Day because we’re living divine expressions, incarnations of God in this world. (1Jn 4:17) In so abiding in God we have confidence, and aren’t ashamed before Him at His coming. (1Jn 2:28)
Bringing all of these concepts together shows us God’s love has a purpose or a goal: to conform us to the image of Christ (Ro 8:29), the very goal of Torah. (1Ti 1:5) When we love God, we will want to be like Him (Mt 11:29), and walk as He walked. (1Jn 2:6)
Knowing God’s love for us enables us to walk in benevolence, mercy and love toward all, wishing ultimate good for everyone, as God does. (Mt 5:44-45) We don’t love because others are good, but because they’re made in the image of, and loved by perfect Goodness. (1Jn 4:21)
The more we behold and grasp the love of God, the more completely we’re able to display God’s heart towards others as He loves them through us. (Ro 5:5) We love Him, and therefore others, because He first loved us. (1Jn 4:19)