Tom: Dave, as you know, our topic for the last few weeks has been “loving God”—in fact, loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. You make the point in your book An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith that love is an act of the will more than it is one of emotions or feelings. But for most of us, even in our thinking, it’s difficult to separate love from its emotional aspects. Has such thinking seriously distorted our understanding of what love truly is?
Dave: I don’t know that I would say that, Tom, because there is emotion involved in love. But I think the Hollywood idea has influenced not just the world, but the church as well, too much. Young people grow up with this idea.
Dave: But as I’m sure we’ve already mentioned several times, the first commandment is to love: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and so forth. So love is a command. It’s not an option; it’s not something that we’re supposed to somehow work up—you know, go to school to learn about it. We are capable of it. It’s an act of the will, and we are commanded to love. And I think we’ve already mentioned it—I’ve talked with Christian leaders who have said, “Well, I can’t love my wife anymore.” That’s absolutely not biblical. Love is not something that we work up or is worked up within us because of the lovableness or loveliness of the one that we love, because we are to love our enemies. We’re to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we are certainly to love our wives. So to say “I can’t love my wife” just doesn’t make sense. What they’re saying is, “I don’t want to love my wife because I found someone else that I want to be involved with,” but that’s not love.
Tom: Dave, getting back to the emotional side of this, it’s as though that’s the only way we can think about love is in terms of emotions. And when we talk about love being a command, I know for many people, the two don’t make a connection. For example, you talk in this chapter of your book about falling in love. Now there, it’s the emotion that comes first.
Dave: Right. That’s what we think of.
Dave: So if you can fall in love, I guess you can fall out of love…
Tom: Yeah, and emotions change. “I don’t feel the same way about that person as I did before….” These are difficult things for a lot of people.
Dave: Yeah. I’m…Tom, I’m not denying that there is such a thing as romantic love and attraction between man and woman. I can remember parting with the lady who’s my wife, and has been for over 50 years. And we weren’t even engaged yet—we were just getting acquainted—and Thanksgiving came upon us, and at UCLA there (I can still remember the hall there, Royce Hall!) where I said goodbye, and whoa! It was like my heart sank. I had no arrangements to see her during the Thanksgiving holidays.
So I’m not discounting that, but when God says that we are commanded to love Him, that’s something else. Can it become emotional? Well, I think there can be great joy and certainly a sense of wonder and awe that He would love me. And the Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
That’s very difficult for any of us to comprehend, that this great God, infinite, beyond our comprehension, who always has been, always will be—He didn’t get to be God; He didn’t start out somewhere and try to become God like the Mormon gods, or like the gods of the pagans—He is always, from all eternity. He created everything! This universe, it’s beyond anything that we know, both inside the atom and way out as far as the universe goes. He is so great that He would love me! I can’t fathom that! But when I began to think about this, and when I began to trust Him, trust His Word where He says that, there is a wonderful sense of belonging to Him.
Tom: But, Dave, what you’re telling me and telling our listeners is that—you talk about God commanding you to do this and you began to do it. It’s not the same thing…. What I’m trying to do is make a distinction between some of the false ideas—well, not even false ideas—some of the fleshly ideas that we have about love, and make some distinctions here so that people understand when God is commanding us to love Him with all our heart, all our mind, all our strength, and all our will, that we can do that. If He commanded it, we ought to be able to do it. But when we confuse love…well, let me take this a step back toward the flesh in terms of our confusion. It didn’t start out in terms of you loving God as an emotion, did it?
Dave: No. Tom, I think there’s something else involved, unless you want to pursue that…
Tom: Yeah, I kind of want to pursue it, because I want to get to another problem that we have, especially the younger generation and any generation that was young, we make…well, we can’t tell the difference between love and lust, and that’s a problem.
Dave: Exactly. Exactly. A young man sits in a car with a young lady in some isolated place and says (he thinks from his heart, perhaps), “I love you.” But what he really means is, “I love me and I want you.” And maybe he doesn’t even know that and she doesn’t find that out until after they’re married, or have some relationship down the line.
Because we were made in the image of God, but we’ve rebelled against God, the Spirit of God departed from the spirit of man. And that image is marred, and we corrupt—we’re corrupt beings. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” So we corrupt everything; even love is corrupted.
Tom: Let me keep going that way, because it’s a particular problem. Because when a generation—again, not just this generation—but when a generation can’t tell the difference between lust and love in their day-to-day relationships with one another, that’s a kind of confusing mess to cut through to understand what God’s talking about when He commands us to love Him with all our heart and all our soul.
Dave: Well, Tom, following up on what you are saying here, love for—now, we’re talking about young people growing up, certainly. I can remember even in the fifth grade “falling in love” with the blonde little girl there, and wow! It was the most amazing experience! I mean, I was just gripped by this—what they call “puppy love,” I guess.
Tom: I don’t think they call it that anymore, but I remember that.
Dave: They don’t. Okay, but you remember when they called it that. But…so, Tom, for most people, I guess, love—you think of it in romantic terms. It involves the opposite sex, and it’s a physical attraction, very much of it is. And so it involves what they would call “making love,” and, you know, this relationship and so forth. But love—when we read the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13—wow! There’s nothing about romantic love. This is talking about a love that gives itself to another, a love that is totally selfless, that is pure, that is holy. It’s a love like we haven’t seen, but it’s a love that involves a commitment to do good, to love another—not romantically, necessarily, but to bring blessing upon another. And when you love someone, you would give up anything for them, and you would do anything for them. So that’s what God is talking about, that we would make this commitment to Him, that we would really love Him, that we would recognize His love for us, how much He loves us, and that His way is best.
You can see people (and I’ve seen many of them) come forward in a meeting and surrender to the Lord, and that’s a big experience in their lives. And then maybe six months later they come back and surrender again…
Tom: All right, you’re talking about a church service…
Dave: Right, a church service. And then they think, “Well, what I need is to give the Lord more surrender.” No, there’s no such thing as more surrender. You’re surrendered or you’re not surrendered!
But the problem is we’re the “heroes” and God is the “villain,” and He’s placed this demand upon us, and we’re going to knuckle down and live this straight-laced, sober and sad, narrow-minded, self-denying Christian life and miss out on all the fun that the world offers, but we’re going to do it for God to get some points with Him, or because if we don’t, He might punish us…. So this is not honoring to God at all!
If I yield myself to the Lord, it should be on the basis that His way is best, that He loves me, and He only wants my best! This is the kind of response that God wants from us, not scolding us and pointing His finger at us and saying, “You will love me!” Well, you can’t love that way. You can’t make someone love you. God can’t make us love Him. He is asking for a voluntary, willing response from our hearts!
And why would I love Him? I’ve got to recognize His love for me, and when I begin to recognize that and really get to know Him, there’s a love in my heart that is awakened by the Holy Spirit that I did not create. And, you know, we could just ask ourselves and all of our listeners out there who know the Lord, “When was the last time you really said from your heart, ‘Oh, God, I love you’?” Those are wonderful words between a husband and a wife—probably not said often enough in most marriages—but God says, “My people have forgotten me days without number. They’ve gone after everything else.”
And when you would think of the ambition that even Christians have to get ahead in the business world, to be a great athlete, whatever it is—you know, and I’m not putting any of that down. We should do the best we can at whatever we do, but how little thought is there for pleasing Him? And if I really love someone, I want to please them! I would give up anything for them. But somehow, I don’t think many of us have this relationship with God, at least to the extent that we should, and I speak to my own heart.
Tom: Yeah. Dave, there are so many things about love… I’ve been talking earlier about how we can be confused by some things. You mentioned earlier that we’re to, you know, that God’s Word says we’re to love our enemies. Now, is that a different kind of love, or how is it related to what you’ve been talking about?
Dave: Well, “Do good to those who despitefully use you.” In other words, I’m to give my enemies the compassion and concern and even the help. God told Israel, “Your enemy’s ox or ass goes astray, you don’t hide it from him. You take it back to them.” Love covers a multitude of sins, Scripture says. Love could solve so many problems even between husbands and wives who get misunderstandings, and then it grows—resentments and bitterness.
And if I can just have the attitude even toward my enemy—they may have harmed me; they may have wronged me in many ways, but if I allow that to fester, or resentment to fester and grow within me, I really become their slave. They destroy my sleep, they ruin my digestion, because this is going around and round and round: how they have wronged me, and the bitterness, and the desire perhaps to get back at them. And we can go over those things in our minds again and again, and it only breeds more resentment. But if I will obey the Lord and treat them…I am to love my neighbor as I love myself; I am to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. And when He says, “do unto others,” He doesn’t exclude our enemies. So I should treat them the way I would like to be treated no matter how badly they treat me. So I think love involves that sort of compassion, care, concern, and it’s not just a romantic idea, which we mistakenly imagine.
Tom: Now, Dave, let me push the envelope on this. I think this is fascinating, because love is fairly complex. I remember you saying one time…
Dave: Well, you’ve got a good memory, Tom! You remember all these things. You’re sure you’re not making them up now?
Tom: No, I remember—I can’t remember the context, but you’ve said, “We don’t know what love is.” We know what God’s Word says and we’re growing in our understanding, but who can figure it out? So it’s a very complex issue, and I’m not denying that.
But there are some things that—we sort of come up with ideas that…
Dave: You know, Tom, God has made us capable of love, and the power of choice is required for love. Therefore I must respond…but I’m sorry, I interrupted you.
Tom: Well, that’s okay. We may not spend much time on this, but what about someone who says, “Well, I love that person, I just don’t like them.”
Dave: Well, Tom, I don’t know if they’re drawing a distinction there that I don’t think the Bible draws.
Tom: Well, I think what somebody’s saying: “I just can’t stand spending time with them. I’ll treat them as best I can. I’ll be loving in the sense that I’ll do right by them, but I just don’t want to hang out with them.” What do you think about that?
Dave: Well, I don’t think “love your enemy” means that this is someone that I want to spend all my time with. I recognize that there are differences. I recognize that they probably don’t want to spend any time with me, so I don’t push myself upon them…
Tom: Well, some may be talking about in-laws here, so it’s not just enemies!
Dave: Yeah. Tom, it is difficult, and all I can say is God has told us in His Word: “Love our neighbor as ourselves, and our enemies.” Certainly, “Husbands, love your wives.” And we are to do good unto all, and even to those who hate us.
So we can work on that, I guess. And we can’t do it—we have to ask the Lord to do it through us, and Jesus said…it’s very interesting—He called it a “new commandment”: “A new commandment give I unto you, [John 13] that you love one another,” and then He says, “even as I have loved you.” Wow! If I’m going to love others as Christ has loved me, there’s no way that I can do that unless He will do it in me.
And, Tom, I can only say—we’ve said it very few times on this program—but, you know, if you just say to the Lord, whatever your problem is that you’re trying to overcome, just say, “Lord, I can’t do this, but I’m willing for you to do it through me. Would you change my heart? Would you do this through me?” If you’re a real Christian and Christ is therefore living within, His Spirit is within, He will do that, and it is really thrilling to see what God can do when we are willing to let Him do it.
Tom: Yeah, because He’s changing us, He’s transforming us if we’re willing, and that’s important.
Dave, you make some terrific statements in your book An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith. One is, “To know the true God is to love Him, and to know Him better is to love Him all the more.” And then you go on to say that most of us have an all-too-shallow knowledge of God. That’s really the heart of it, isn’t it? Knowing Him. There’s an axiom in the world. They say, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Well, that’s only with those who are contemptible, but God…
Dave: That’s because we’re imperfect beings.
Tom: Right, right. But with God, who is perfect in every way, when you talk about His attributes of lovingkindnesses, tender mercies, all of that, to know God like that is absolutely…I mean, that’s to love Him all the more!
Dave: There’s something even more wonderful, Tom—I mean, there’s so much depth we cannot plumb it all. But even husbands and wives after—my wife and I have been married for 50 years; I’m sure we don’t know one another as thoroughly as God knows each of us. He knows all of our faults. He knows our weaknesses, He knows our imperfections…oh my gracious! He knows us like we do not know ourselves!
Jeremiah, inspired of God, said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? I the Lord search the heart.” He has searched us, as David said in Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me.” Well, He knows us like we would not want anyone else to know us, and He loves us—not because we’re so lovable, but in spite of it, and because He is love; God is love. And when I understand that, it gives me a lot of confidence in His love. He’s not going to stop loving me, because this is His very nature, and He wants to build that [in each of us].
Tom: And, Dave, this has a very—well, an incredibly practical side in this way: The better we know Him, the more we love Him, that is our best defense against temptations, those things that would grieve Him, those things in our lives that He does not want to see happen, because it’s to our destruction.
Dave: Because when you love someone, you don’t want to grieve them.
Tom: Dave, another practical aspect in loving God is we want to please Him, and I can’t think of any experiences I’ve had that have been greater in my life, and I’m being very honest about this—there have been times when I knew that God was using me and I was bringing Him pleasure. I had that knowledge and experience, and it was like a taste of heaven!
Now, on the other side, we have pleasing self and doing things for pleasure that displease God, and the two can’t compare. I mean, I’ve had pleasures that I’m not proud of, but by way of comparison, it’s like the poles of the earth. It’s just unbelievable.
Dave: Well, there’s no way to compare them, because of course one is temporary. One will ultimately leave regret, a bad taste in your mouth…
Dave: The pleasures of this world are for a season. If instead of enjoying pleasures of this world for a season—and again, Tom, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have any pleasure in this world…
Tom: I’ve seen you pull in a nice size fish and seen the grin!
Dave: Right, yes! But if I’m doing that instead of pleasing the Lord, the pleasure that I will ultimately—the joy that I will ultimately have for bringing pleasure to Him, that will last for eternity. And it’s so much beyond, as you just expressed it, its so much beyond…you said it’s a taste of heaven. It’s so much beyond anything in this world.
So I’m not saying to anybody out there, “Become a monk, get in a cave, deny everything, get on a bland diet,” and so forth. I think the Lord gave us taste…
Tom: Or self-flagellation.
Dave: Yeah. He gave us taste buds, and so forth. That’s not the route to holiness. The route to holiness is to know the holy God, and to begin to love Him and serve Him and desire to please Him. I say to God so often, over and over, “Lord, all I want is to do your will. I want to be and do what you want me to be. I wouldn’t want anything else, Lord, and there is nothing else that I want.” And I think that brings joy to Him, and it causes this love that we’re supposed to have for Him, it causes it to grow, really changes our lives, and it’s fantastic. It’s wonderful.