Either because of sin or because of the surrounding culture, or both, there is a common misunderstanding about love. It is believed that if a person loves us, they must make much of us and continually affirm our worth. If they don’t, then we begin to feel like they don’t love us.
We want a person to speak tenderly to us and buy us gifts. We want a person to relate to us as if we’re the most important person in their lives. We want a person to never get impatient with us or grow tired of being around us. We want a person to serve as the thing that will make our life better and more complete, and one of the most important ways they should do this is by making much of us in various capacities.
Nearly every single idea in our culture about what love is has this misguided concept connected to it. All of the ridiculous love songs we hear on the radio, all of the romantic cinematic productions, all of the television shows we watch. They all tell us that somebody loving us means they accept everything about us and that they make much of us. Additionally, and probably more responsible, is our own sinfulness. Because we’re so sinful, we like to make everything about ourselves anyway. The idea that someone should make much of us fits right into our already deeply rooted desire to be at the center of everything.
A Great Error
This is why what I’m about to say will make most people become downcast and feel unloved. But, if you will accept this truth, then your life will be rich and the love you experience far better than any previous experience of love. Here it is: God desires you to have great joy in bringing Him glory. This is a truth that causes so many to feel unloved.
So many people, when they hear that God’s greatest passion is for His glory, feel like God doesn’t love them. Or, perhaps more accurately, they feel like God doesn’t love them well. They interpret this reality to mean that any affection God has for them is lessened because His ultimate objective is His glory. They understand it to mean that the love we desire to give to others and receive ourselves – the emotional stuff that makes us feel precious and desired in the eyes of the person who loves us – is somehow either not present at all in God’s love or is significantly lessened.
From my observation, it seems like this conclusion of God loving us less comes from people making a terrible error. They take their ideas of what love should be, based on what they feel like love should be or based on the constant flood of self-centered love that culture gives us, and they hold God accountable to that idea of love. They think that if God doesn’t love us in that way then He doesn’t love us well. They think that if God is primarily concerned about His glory and the worship due to Him then He cannot be completely loving to us.
All of Creation
However, I will say that God desiring His own glory is the greatest act of love He could ever show us. If God loved us by making much of us, He would in fact not be loving us at all. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus, the fullest revelation of God, said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). I will argue that this command, which requires that you make everything of God and not of yourself, is a very loving command.
The reason for this comes from the very purpose of creation itself. All of creation was designed to bring glory to God. God designed everything so that He would receive the ultimate measure of glory from it. Creation brings glory to God because it provides a witness to His power and nature and glory, and there is nobody that does not “hear” this testimony of creation (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1-3).
As with everything else God created, human beings were made to worship Him and give Him glory (Isaiah 43:7). Beyond creation, all of God’s actions and words and purposes are for His glory (see Isaiah 42:8; Ezekiel 20:9). The whole of redemption history, the main story of the Bible, is God working in such a way to receive the greatest amount of glory that is due Him. God saves believers so that they will praise Him (Ephesians 1:3-6), and the heart of the Great Commission is for others to be reconciled to God and worship Him (Matthew 28:18-20). All things were created by and for the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16).
A Loving Command and a Terrible Alternative
There are many places in Scripture that I could quote to support this fact, but there’s so many verses I couldn’t possibly talk about them all. And there are so many other questions and ideas that are related to this one, such as the ways in which God does love us, or the common (untrue) objection that God is contradicting Himself by not expressing the humility that He commands of everyone else. But for now, I can only address the stated issue: why is it loving of God to desire His own glory and command us to love Him with everything we are (Mark 12:28-30)?
This is loving of God because if He didn’t seek His own glory and command you to love Him with everything you are, then He would be desiring and commanding something of you that will not be ultimately satisfying to you and is destructive.
This is why I made the case that all of creation is designed for God’s glory. It’s what you were made for. Worshipping God is the only thing that will ever bring deep, lasting fulfillment. Trying to separate the fulfillment that a created human being experiences when it worships the Creator is like trying to make water not satisfy thirst, or food satisfy hunger. United with the very nature of your existence is the longing to worship something greater than yourself, and God designed you so that the only thing that could ever truly satisfy you is Himself.
These saddening verses in Jeremiah support my point: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this: be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12-13).
The fountain of living waters in this passage is a reference to God, while the broken cisterns are the idols that Israel chooses to worship instead of Him (and that we also choose to worship). The cisterns are broken and cannot satisfy. They give no water. They’re a terrible replacement for the infinitely fulfilling and glorious God.
Let me attempt to summarize. Because you are designed for God’s glory and nothing else will truly satisfy, it’s impossible for God to give a command that is more loving than the command that you love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. There is no alternative that could be considered loving. God working to bring Himself glory in and through you is the same thing as Him loving with the greatest love.
Or, to put it another way, if God loved us the way we commonly think of love, by making much of us, then He would actually be acting in a very unloving way towards us. It would mean He is giving us something that is of far lesser value that can never satisfy. He would be giving us comfort, or personal honor, or riches, or many friends, or continual praise for something we’ve done, or whatever else people think will give them lasting joy. He would be saying, essentially, that you are of the greatest value and deserve all the glory. That would be incredibly unloving of God.
Remember this: When God acted to give us what He knew we needed the most, He did not give us any material possession or anything that would affirm our worth. He gave us Himself, even though we are unworthy (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10).