If your wife tells you she loves you, if you value your features, I’d suggest you don’t respond to her declaration with, ‘how much do I need to love you in return?’ As far as love for your wife goes, most questions beginning with ‘how much do I need to…’ will not end well. And, let’s be honest, rightly so.
There are certain relationships where ‘how much’ is a perfectly valid question, of course. The relationship I have with every shopkeeper I try to engage in business pretty much starts and ends with that question. ‘How much does it cost?’ is about the only valid question in that scenario. But then, neither me nor any local shopkeepers are claiming to love one another. It is a mere business transaction and literally nothing more.
Which of these scenarios, do you think, more closely represents your relationship with Christ? Which, do you think, more closely mirrors your relationship to the local church? I am sure few of us would seriously argue for the latter. Jesus calls the church the apple of his eye and his bride. There is no doubt that Jesus is saying, ‘I love you’. If we wouldn’t ask our wife, ‘and exactly how much affection, and how much evidence of me loving you, will suffice, y’know, to have done my duty?’ I’m not sure what makes any of us think that is an appropriate thing to say to the Lord.
And John leaves us in no doubt about our view of the church either:
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.1 John 4:20-21
If Jesus says ‘I love you’, the church no less says the same. If we say we love Jesus, if we begin by asking ‘and exactly how much do I need to love the church in order to please him?’ we’re surely asking the wrong question.
Jesus is not interested in a couple of hours on a Sunday. He doesn’t want part of your salary. He wants you. And of course, if he truly has all of you – if you love him with all your heart, soul, strength and mind – it will affect your bank balance, your time, your service and everything you are inclined to do. But, if you are quick to say, ‘and how much of that does Jesus want to be fine with me?’ we have hardly devoted our entire selves to him. We are, in effect, asking what is the least amount I have to do to get what I need from him. Which isn’t far off essentially treating Jesus like some sort of prostitute, who just needs paying – preferably as little as possible – to get what we want. And it is hard to think of a more disrespectful way to treat Christ than that.
If we are asking ‘how much prayer do I need to do?’ or ‘how much evangelism do I need to do?; or ‘how much do I have to serve?’ we are asking the wrong question. We are responding to a declaration of love with a statement that we are entering into some sort of contractual obligation. Jesus is not into quid pro quo. He wants your whole self – any less will simply not do.
Instead of reaching for ‘how much…’ questions, we are better asking, ‘what does Jesus deserve from me?’ We should take the focus off what we will do for Jesus, as though we are paying him back, and instead ask ourselves what Jesus deserves from us. Again, any answer that falls short of our whole selves is simply wrong.
If you love your wife, and you love your children, you know full well what you will do for them. You don’t ask what the minimum is that you can do in order for them to keep loving you. If you really love them, that question simply isn’t in your mind. The Lord Jesus surely deserves better.