Some have heard me talking about this before, so I beg your indulgence.
There are some worship songs I find really hard to sing.
I’m going to be brutal here. It’s those sappy, overly romanticized, Jesus-Is-My-Boyfriend type songs with lyrics better suited to the Beloved swooning over her Lover in the Song of Solomon. Yes, I am referring to songs like Dance With Me by Paul Wilbur (no offense intended, Paul. I love your other stuff! This one? Not so much.)
Hey, I’m not vilifying romance. I love it. So does my wife. I just don’t like singing romantic lyrics in a church service with another guy next to me and I’m sounding like I’m fainting into Jesus’ arms with the back of my hand resting on my forehead.
Honestly, it’s just not my thing. (I intend no offense if it’s yours, though.)
Give me that ol’ hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God or the powerful Our God Is An Awesome God declaration or the triumphant I’ll Raise A Hallelujah chorus! You know the kind – “Jesus is gonna kick Satan’s tuchus into oblivion with nary a twitch.”
Real manly-men stuff!
I know it appeals to some and I’m not running those worshipers down. Nor am I demanding those sentimental serenades be stricken from the world of worship songs (tempting though it may be). But such emotion-stirring love songs diminish a vital aspect of what biblical love means.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary (Source) love is “A strong feeling of affection and concern toward another person, as that arising from kinship or close friendship.” So yeah, biblical love can be interpreted as a feeling, an emotion.
But then there’s “love” in the very important biblical covenant sense.
One of my favorite academic books is Kinship By Covenant by Scott W. Hahn which traces the Bible covenants as one line from Noah’s day (even from creation!) through the Book of Revelation. He has extremely fascinating insights about covenants.
There is the Kinship covenant: protecting the relationship between equal parties. There’s the Treaty covenant: protecting the relationship between unequal parties such as a king to his subjects or superior king to a lesser king. Finally, there’s the Grant covenant: Again, protecting the relationship between a superior and an inferior. The difference between Treaty and Grant covenants is upon whose part the obligations rest; with the Treaty covenant, the obligations rest on the inferior party. With the Grant covenant, the superior party is obligated to follow through.
The point I want to make is how “love” is used in biblical “covenant-speak” and what that means for us Jesus-followers in our New Covenant with God through Jesus. I could really get into some theological weeds here, but I’ll spare you. Here are the important points:
Covenants protect relationships from betrayal. Within a covenant, there are oaths (rights and responsibilities) each party takes upon themselves to protect against betrayal and strengthen their relationship.
“Family” is the primary focus of what covenant means. We become “kin” by covenant.
The father is the key. “The father, the main pillar of the house, carries the whole family. On his blessing rests its prosperity… The first-born (son) has claims on the blessing of the father; it is his birthright. The father speaks it into (sic) him before his death. From that point on, the firstborn is responsible for maintaining the blessing. In turn, the blessing maintains the family.” (Hahn, 38)
So, let this sink in! Our Heavenly Father is the “pillar” upon Whom the human family rests. His blessing brings us prosperity. He has conferred His blessing on His Firstborn Son, Jesus, who now has the responsibility to maintain that blessing upon His family – His brothers and sisters.
Are you blown away yet?
That means if you are a saved, born-again person, you have been fully adopted (re-joined) into the Father’s family and are under His eternal blessing, guaranteed by the almighty power and unbreakable promise of Jesus (Romans 8:15, 23; Ephesians 1:5). Wowsers!
Okay… let me take a breath. (Pause)
A covenant is a “father-son” relationship. Whether it’s a real father-to-son relationship or a superior king to a lesser king relationship, it’s still couched in father-son terms.
You know, it’s kind of like the movie The Godfather. Petitioners swore allegiance to Godfather Don Corleone to come under his protection and care. He acts like a father to many sons (criminal enterprises aside, ‘cause the real God-father is good, right?) and they are obligated to fulfill their oaths to the Godfather.
Biblically speaking, the father serves as the king of the family (again, like Don Corleone). The first-born son is the future king-in-training (Sonny Corleone, if you’re following along).
In ancient Israel times, the son called the father, “lord,” and called himself, “your servant and son, the two words are used together to give more emphasis to one’s total belonging to the other; one was affirming subordination and subservience which was characterized by his servile position as well as a filial (family) or rather friendly devotion” (Hahn, 39). The same language was adopted for the relationship between a greater king (lord) and a lesser king (son).
Got it so far? Furthermore, “the word son stands for one who is intimately related to the other by means of submission, service, loyalty, trust, and reverential fear” (Ibid.)
Was love involved in this? Yes. But not the way you think.
“Love” is not the lovey-dovey feeling of “affection or concern for another” as the dictionary defines it. The love involved with covenants is allegiance demonstrated by behavior, i.e. obedience.
Not feelings. Behavior. As in allegiance demonstrated by loyal obedience to the terms of the covenant, which has nothing to do with feelings. Covenant partners are obligated to follow the terms regardless of how they feel at any moment.
Ancient covenants commanded that one or both parties “love” the other. You can’t command feelings, so the feeling kind of love isn’t what’s meant. But you can command loyalty and obedience, i.e. loyalty in action.
That’s what covenant love is – a commitment to obey the terms of the relationship by ongoing obedience. Feelings can follow but aren’t required.
Feelings come and go. Basing a covenant commitment on feelings leads to breaking covenants when the feelings aren’t there, right? What’s a common reason we hear for spouses breaking the marriage covenant? “I just don’t love you anymore.” In other words, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (hat tip to the Righteous Brothers).
Well, boo-hoo. You made a covenant commitment and your feelings don’t matter.
Harsh? Sure. Especially if you’re led by your feelings and take vows and commitments lightly.
If the marriage partners truly understood what covenant love is, they would understand that marriage should continue out of loyalty to the covenant terms (the marriage vows) and acting lovingly (loyalty in action) even if they didn’t feel like it. I’ve seen married couples push through the lack of feelings and succeed. I’ve seen too many who don’t because their hearts aren’t in it. To be fair, God allows divorce for hardened hearts (Matthew 19:8) and other significant reasons. That said, breaking covenants is a serious thing to God.
Sadly, many Christians treat Jesus the same way.
Rather than base their relationship with Jesus on covenant terms, too many Christians base their relationship with Him on feelings. How many people “come to Jesus” when swept up by the emotions of the moment only to walk away when the feelings fade? Call me tough, but I think those who want to come to Jesus should be held back until they understand the covenant commitment they’re wanting to make. It’s called “counting the cost” (Luke 14:28-30). No one should enter marriage for life lightly. How much more a relationship with Jesus meant for eternity?
How much of our obedience to the New Covenant terms (Jesus’ teachings and commands) is swayed by how we feel about our “Lord” on any given day? It’s easy to obey when you want to and tough when you don’t. It’s easy to live for Jesus when you have feelings for Him, but tough when you feel cold toward Jesus.
For clarity’s sake, let me use “LUV” for the feeling-type of love, and “LOVE” for the covenant loyalty kind of love.
· LUV – Looks after oneself first and foremost. It’s ME-focused. LOVE – Looks after the other person’s interests. It’s OTHER-focused.
· LUV – As a feeling, LUV waxes and wanes over time. Therefore, our faithfulness, obedience, submission, service, loyalty, trust, and reverential fear of the Lord will also wax and wane. LOVE – Covenant LOVE is our commitment to the allegiance we swore to Jesus. It is a constraint that we willingly place upon ourselves that demands faithfulness, obedience, submission, service, loyalty, trust, and reverential fear of our Lord regardless of feelings or circumstances.
The key to keeping covenant is faithfulness, remaining faithful to the terms of the covenant demonstrated by obeying those terms in full. And that is true biblical covenant love.
With all this in mind, let me shoot you a few things Jesus said, and you figure out if it’s LUV or LOVE He’s talking about.
“On the contrary, so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do as the Father commanded me” (John 14:31). Jesus’ total obedience (LOVE) proved His faithfulness to His Father. Since we are being made into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), Jesus’ level of faithfulness to our Heavenly Father is also our covenant goal.
“If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). In other words, “If you’re truly in the New Covenant with me, you will keep My New Covenant commands. That’s the deal.” It’s astounding how so many want covenant blessings without covenant commitment. Kinda like premarital cohabitation. Is that how we treat Jesus?
“The one who has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father. I also will love him and will reveal myself to him” (John 14:21) and “Jesus answered, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23). You should see by now, this is LOVE, not LUV, because of the link to “keeping commands.” But now we see Jesus’ part of the New Covenant – He will show Himself to us, His Father will commit Himself to us, and both of them will live in us! Who could ask for more?
“He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). Loving God and loving other people is the core of our covenant relationship with God. Obedience to this means being loving to God and all people. (I gotta admit, this gets tough at times, because I don’t feel like doing it. Yeah, like God cares about my feelings over my obedience.)
“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Wow! That’s the epitome of covenant commitment – surrendering one’s life for another, figuratively and literally.
“Okay, Father. That’s just ridiculous. Who would do such an extreme thing?”
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Oops. Sorry, Father. You would do such an extreme thing. Thank you. Help me be ready to do the same.
So, do you LUV Jesus or LOVE Jesus? Is it feelings or commitment?
LUV bails on Jesus when times get tough. LOVE holds fast to Him in the toughest times. LUV negotiates obedience depending on our feelings. LOVE commits to obedience despite our feelings. LUV is hurt when Jesus doesn’t come through for us. LOVE remains faithful especially when we don’t understand God’s ways or plan.
True love in a biblical covenant sense is not a Jesus-is-my-boyfriend emotional love. It’s a rock-solid allegiance to Jesus demonstrated by undying loyalty, willing submission, humble service, child-like trust, and unquestioning obedience to the terms of our relationship under the New Covenant. Your obedience alone proves you’re in the New Covenant with Jesus with all the rights and responsibilities therein.
Okay fine! It does feel good to be in God’s family with Jesus as our elder brother!
In the next part, I’m going to show you the amazing things Jesus has promised us because we’re in the New Covenant with Him. Seriously, you don’t want to miss that one!
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts