The Motivation for Love

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In his twentieth century classic, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imagines the demon Screwtape writing to his nephew Wormwood about the need to discover the secret as to why God loves humans. He writes, “The truth is, I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy really loves the humans. That, of course, is an impossibility… . All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else — He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to find out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question… . And there lies the great task. We know that He cannot really love: nobody can; it doesn’t make sense. If we could only find out what He is really up to!”

We wish the devils well in their quest to find the answer. For we who are God’s people, there is no need for such a search. We believe that God really loves us. God is love (1 John 4:16). Therefore, it is His very nature to love. He loved us in the period of our innocence before the fall, and He continues to love us in our fallen state. Hence, Jesus could say, “Love your enemies … that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45).

God’s love for us reached its acme in His redemptive work on the cross: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is love indescribable, and it totally bowls us over. As Charles Wesley puts it:

Whence to me this waste of love? Ask my Advocate above! See the cause in Jesus’ face, Now before the throne of grace.

There for me the Savior stands; Shows His wounds and spreads His hands, God is love; I know, I feel; Jesus lives, and loves me still.

The Bible’s display of the love of God for us is what has ignited our own love for Him. I mean, in the light of such stupendous facts, how could we not love Him back? The sacrifice of God’s own Son on the cross is the fireplace where we warm our cold hearts toward God. For those of us who are preachers, no sacrifice in ministry is too big to make in the light of the sacrifice that God made for us. The Holy Spirit uses this truth to keep the combustion chambers of our souls ablaze. Our zeal becomes unquenchable. Isaac Watts’ famous hymn captures this truth very well in the closing stanza:

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Yet, we do not simply love God back, but we also turn our affections toward those whom God has loved and continues to love. We want to become the vehicles through which the love of God can reach its intended subjects. We will cross lands and seas not only to warn lost souls about the wrath of God but also to plead earnestly with them to respond to God’s love for them in Christ Jesus. Indeed, if we know this love, we ought to do so.

This is what Paul meant when he said: “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died… . We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:14, 20). If this love is not propelling you in your evangelistic labors, then you are most likely operating way below your full potential.

As we love God in the light of His love for us, we also find ourselves loving His bride — the church. The people of God, who have been purchased by His own blood, become very precious to us. With Paul, we say to them:

[May Christ] dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17–19)

To this end, we labor and strive with all the power and might that God gives us.

While Lewis’ devils in hell are busy trying to figure out the real motive behind God’s claim to love us, we find this love propelling us not only to love God but also to love the people He has made and redeemed. We say to ourselves (in the words of John Kent):

On such love, my soul, still ponder, Love so great, so rich and free; Say, while lost in holy wonder, Why, O Lord, such love to me? Hallelujah! Grace shall reign eternally.

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