What is your motivation for love? In our Sunday school class the other morning, we had a short discussion on this question. We are studying Paul David Tripp’s book, “What Did You Expect?? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.” In the video companion to the study, Paul tells us our love for others ought to be motivated by gratitude and not duty, gratitude for God’s love for me. In the book, Paul writes:
There is never a day in your marriage when you aren’t called to be willing. There is never a day in your marriage when some personal sacrifice is not needed. There is never a day when you are free from the need to consider the good of your husband or wife. There is never a day when you aren’t called to do what is not reciprocated and to offer what has not been deserved. There is never a day when your marriage can coast along without being infused by this kind of love.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, ‘Paul, where in the world do I get this kind of love?’ John answers the question for us. ’We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). These words carry a rich content of many things, but one of the things surely meant by these words is that true love doesn’t grow out of the soil of duty. No, true love grows out of the nutrient soil of gratitude.
Imagine me plopping down on the couch next to my wife and with a stern, unexcited, sadly flat, and monotone voice saying to her, ‘Luella, I have come to the understanding that it is my responsibility to love you. So I am going to do my duty. I am going to love you because that is what I am supposed to do.’ (Tripp, Paul David. 2010. What Did You Expect??. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. p. 189)
The temptation is to respond that love is a duty because God commands me to love my wife and others. Love is a duty because I don’t have the choice to love just when I feel like it. While this is true to a degree, dutiful love is not the kind of love we find in Scripture and it is not what the Lord intended.
Obviously, to love others is a command from God. Jesus tells us in Mark 12:31 that the second greatest commandment is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Speaking to the disciples in the upper room after washing their feet, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) And in Ephesians 5:25, Paul instructs husbands to love their wives: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
To start, obeying God’s commands to love is not the same as our love being motivated by duty. Why not? It misses the point. The desire to obey God flows from how God loved us through Jesus Christ, His son, who died on the cross paying the penalty for my sin and saving me from death. And through Christ’s death and the ministry of the Holy Spirit I am able to obey God. We obey and do our “duty” of love out of gratitude for all God has done and not out mere duty to His commands.
Yes, obeying God’s command to love means loving even when I don’t exactly feel like it or that person doesn’t exactly deserve it. However, my motivation to love is not gratitude toward the object of my love. My motivation is tremendous gratitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ. It is wrong to say that as a Christian I have no choice but to love my wife. No, I can certainly choose self-love, and I do often. But, out of gratitude for God and His immeasurable love for me shown in the death of Jesus on the cross I love my wife and others even when it is hard. It would be more correct to say that by the Holy Spirit working in me, I am unable to choose anything other than to love my wife.
Both Jesus in his instructions to the apostles in John 13:34 and Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, root love in gratitude for God’s love for us. We are to love others and our spouse as Christ loved us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation. In the video, Paul Tripp says, “True love is rooted in thankfulness [gratitude] and thankfulness is rooted in worship.”
John’s first letter is filled with this simple concept: that our love for others is motivated by gratitude for God’ love for us. The apostle John writes in 1John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” In 1 John 3:16 it says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Christ’s love for us through the cross is both our motivation and example of how we are to love others. Further, 1 John 3:23 says, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” True love is rooted in gratitude or thankfulness, which is rooted in worship.
As I discussed in a previous post, the more aware we are of all that God has forgiven us of and the immensity of His love for us, the more we will worship Him and be thankful and the more we will be able to love others.