Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of Christ is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings. (Ephesians 3)
In Ephesians 3, Paul prays that we can understand God’s love. What does that mean? We need to begin by looking at what God's love is - and what it's not.
God does not have vague feelings of love. He’s not emoting general feelings. God demonstrated agape love through Christ. This is a sacrificial, preferential, and demonstrative love. It is not a feeling-based ‘like’. As an idea of how counter-cultural this is, it’s worth noting that the Greek word agape was hardly ever used in Greek-speaking societies, but in the New Testament it occurs 320 times. In other words, Christ’s love was very different from culture’s love (both then and now).
We need to wade through how our culture has formed our definition of love. After all we use it all the time (pizza, our favorite show, new shoes, a song, our family, and God). I think we usually mean “like” when we say “love.”
“Like” is an instinctive reaction. It’s something we usually don’t control. It’s an instinctive response to how someone looks, or their humor, or how they make us feel when we are around them. We don’t usually choose to like someone. I increasingly think the most of us get married because we are in ‘like’, and it is only through life together that we learn how to love. It was easy to date my wife; we were on our best behavior, we showed our good side; we were reeling each other in. It was easy to like each other.
That’s infatuation, right? The honeymoon stage? We liked how we felt around the other person. But it really wasn’t until we were married that we were forced to discover what love was. Love is purposeful choice. We had to make a decision to demonstrate selfless, sacrificial preference and servanthood to the other one even when it was hard.
Think of this way: I can love someone I don’t like. Sheila and I like each other about 80% of the time (or 95% if Sheila is reading this!). Now, I want to be liked, so when I find out what I am doing that brings out that dislike response I want to address it. But I am far less concerned about whether or not my wife likes me in any given moment than if she loves. And I know she loves me even when she doesn’t like me. How do I know this? Because we go to counseling together when we need to, and that’s hard. We hash stuff out; we keep learning how to be honest, and blunt, and graceful, and forgiving, and that’s hard. And my wife walks into those things with me, so I know she loves me even on the days that I have given her good reason not to like the man she loves.
- Like is easy; love is costly
- Like is selfish; love is sacrificial
- Like wants to be filled up; love wants to be poured out
- Like looks for the next object of pleasure; love looks for the next subject of service
- Like is restless; love is relentless
- Like requires worthiness; love offers worth
This is why I am so glad that God did not like the world so much that He sent His son. The Bible is pretty clear that a lot of things and people have made God very unhappy. God does not always like the world - or the people in it - but His love remains.
I don’t know about you, but I can get caught up wondering if God like me. That’s usually based on how successfully I am navigating life. When we do well, we assume God likes us, and other people should to. When we fail, we assume God dislikes us, and others should as well. If the cost of love is a measure of the depth of love, the cross shows that you are being offered salvation, forgiveness, and new life from a God who loves you profoundly. If you find yourself asking, “Does God like me?” you are asking the wrong question. “Does God love me?” is the only one that needs to be answered.
I have good news: you can be the most likable person in the world or the most unlikable person, and that has no bearing on whether or not God loves you. How do I know? Christ died for you.