So far in this series we’ve explored the basic nature of the “love”-“hate” relationship as well as how it comes to bear on a number of personal and interpersonal issues. There is one more sphere that must be touched on: the spiritual life. This is the most important of all, and nowhere are these dynamics more clearly evident and personally beneficial to lay hold of than in this realm. When we put on the “glasses” of the “love”-“hate” relationship, the whole of the spiritual life comes into clearer focus. In this next section, we will focus on the most essential aspect of the spiritual life: loving God with all of our heart.
In Part 1, I defined “love” as “an esteeming affection, a beneficial/sacrificial action, and a drawing/unifying effect all in one.” In this post, we will consider this aspect of loving God along the first of these three lines, esteeming affection.
Esteeming Affection Toward God
When we esteem something, we ascribe value and worth to it. When this esteeming attitude comes from or affects the heart, it can be rightly described as “esteeming affection”, which is the foundation and essence of love.
According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is, “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30 NKJV) If we were to “reverse engineer” this commandment according to the above understanding of “love”, we would conclude that wholehearted love for God has as its foundation and essence wholehearted esteeming affection toward God. Further, such affection derives from the wholehearted ascribing of value and worth to God. We could take this one step further if we understand that the wholehearted ascribing of value and worth to God constitutes the wholehearted worship of God. (The word “worship” literally means “worth-ship” i.e. the ascribing of worth to something or someone.) Therefore, if we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, it must begin by us embracing the wholehearted “worth-ship” (worship) of God. Everything else flows from that!
The “Worth-ship” of God
By looking through the “love”-“hate” relationship “lens”, we can see the fundamental ways our hearts estimate the “worth-ship” of God.
Inherent worth (the foundation of “first-generation love”) – The most foundational aspect of the worth of any object is that which is intrinsic to its nature. This is drawn primarily from the uniqueness and excellence of its inherent characteristics and attributes.
When it comes to God, all of His inherent virtues are infinite in perfection, beauty, and glory. All of His attributes are eternal, immutable, and transcendent. There is nothing that could ever detract in the slightest degree from the immeasurable excellency of His Divine nature and character.
The question stands, then, who could ever measure the inherent worth of God simply according to His eternal Personhood and essential attributes? What is the worth of His eternality, His immutability, His omnipotence, His omniscience, His holiness, His righteousness, His grace, His kindness, His humility, His wisdom, His beauty, His glory, His sovereignty, His justice, His love, His peace…? Each attribute in and of itself is infinitely precious. What then is the sum total of all of their collective worth?
Another way to assess the inherent worth of something is to evaluate the measure of existential loss incurred if it ceases to be. How much devaluation would occur if God and all of His attributes suddenly ceased to exist? What would be the new state of things if in a moment all of His power, wisdom, light, life, love, holiness, sovereignty, and glory simply disappeared? What if all of His inherent worth was instantly reduced to zero! How great would the total existential loss be? The measure of this negative loss gives us a good assessment of His positive inherent worth as the eternal, immutable I AM.
These estimations of God’s inherent worth, therefore, constitute the most fundamental aspect of the “worth-ship” of God.
Effectual worth (the foundation of “secondary/subsequent-generation loves”) – God is not merely a static display of unparalleled excellence, however. He is a God of supreme intentionality, universal activity, and ubiquitous effect. Every act of His will and working of His power, in the seen and unseen realms, from the third heavens to the quantum level of the natural universe, from eternity past to eternity future, contributes to the overall effectual worth of God. To break this down into more “manageable” pieces, please consider the immense value of God’s workings in the following four realms:
Creation – All of creation, seen and unseen, is the manifest effect of God. From the macro to the micro, all was brought into existence by the effectual fiat of the Word. Not only so, but all of creation is upheld, sustained, and governed throughout all time and eternity by the exercise of God’s sovereign will, word, and power. The sum total benefit and value of all of God’s creative, sustaining, and governing actions in the realm of creation comprises the total effectual worth rightfully ascribed to Him in this realm. Of such worth, who can begin to calculate?
Redemption – All of God’s redemptive works are, likewise, the manifest effect of God. The measure of the worth of these includes both the total cost incurred by God to perform them as well as the total value of benefit secured by God for Himself and His creation through such acts. Of the first, we have the incomprehensible cost to the Godhead of the condescension, incarnation, obedience, suffering, and crucifixion of Christ. (For a deeper contemplation of this aspect, please see the post, The Cross – The Eternal Passion of God) Of the second, we have the unfathomable measure of blessing secured for God Himself along with that measure procured for all people and things redeemed from the temporal and eternal judgements of the curse and brought into the temporal and eternal blessings of God through the redemptive work of Christ. It would be impossible to calculate the combined value of those two aspects for just one life, let alone for every life, every created thing, and for God Himself in this vastly effectual realm of redemption.
The Church – In addition to this, consider the effectual workings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relation to the Church throughout all the ages. For one to begin to wrap their heart and mind around such value, they would have to consider the effectual value of the Father’s foreordaining and electing of Her in His eternal purpose, the Son’s redeeming, constituting, equipping, governing, perfecting, and glorifying work, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, empowering, enlightening, gifting, leading, and fruit-bearing activity. Here again, such value strains all human grasp and estimation.
The Kingdom – Transcending and encompassing all of these realms, exists the effectual worth of God in relation to the realm of His Kingdom. All of God’s sovereign works that flow from His throne, from eternity to eternity, are effectual in nature. All works within His dominion are of Him, through Him, and to Him for His glory, pleasure, and satisfaction. Nothing that He does is meaningless, empty, void, or worthless. All is brimming with intention, purpose, meaning, and value. The collective worth of all of His sovereign works aggregates together and amasses into the immense, eternal, effectual worth of God Himself.
Each of these realms are staggering in regards to the degree of the worthiness of God to be esteemed, revered, and adored. Taken together, they reveal Him to be the unparalleled, Omni-worthy One.
As we consider all of the inherent and effectual worth of God, especially in regards to the benefit and blessings it represents to all of creation, we are led to the final aspect of the “worth-ship” of God.
Affectional worth – The affectional worth of God is the worthiness of God to be loved. This worthiness is the summation of all of His inherent worth combined with all of His effectual worth, specifically as they come to bear positively/negatively upon that which is righteously “loved”/”hated” by all created beings, both seen and unseen. The affectional worth of God is the foundation of all esteeming affection toward Him, and, therefore, the foundation of all love for God.
As we look through the “lens” of the “love”-“hate” relationship once again, we see that this love for God is a combination of “first-generation love” based on Who He is (inherent worth), and “secondary/subsequent-generation loves” based on what He does (effectual worth.) We’ve already considered these two aspects in and of themselves, but how do they come to bear, both positively and negatively upon that which God’s creatures both (righteously) “love” and (righteously) “hate?” In other words, in what ways and to what degree is God the supreme “Friend of my friend” (i.e. Ally of what my heart righteously “loves”) as well as the supreme “Enemy of my enemies” (i.e. Adversary of that which my heart righteously “hates”), and, therefore, my supreme FRIEND (i.e. the One whom my heart supremely LOVES)?
“The Friend of my friend…” – Our hearts have been made for God and to perfectly love all that He is in and of Himself. Our innermost being was fashioned to righteously esteem and adore every attribute and aspect of His Divine Person. He is the infinitely Lovely One! Therefore, all that we inherently esteem and “love” is positively and without measure found in Him. Do we love truth? All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him. Do we love goodness? He is the supreme Source of all kindness, beauty, grace, and blessing. Do we esteem uncorrupted power? He is the infinitely Holy One even as He is the omnipotent Sovereign of heaven and earth. So it is with all of His immutable attributes and moral perfections. Even apart from any of His sovereign acts, in His pure, eternal Essence, He is the existential “Friend” of all that we righteously “love.”
As this is true in regards to His inherent nature, it is additionally true according to His effectual nature. Everything that God has done, is doing, and will do in the vast realms of creation, redemption, the Church, and the Kingdom are unto the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Throughout all of eternity, His redeemed ones will be the objects through which He displays forth “the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7 ) Is there any way to measure the affectional worth of God simply according to these four realms in relation to what we righteously “love?” And yet there is more…
“The Enemy of my enemy…” – God, in His essential Being, is not only the consummate “Friend” of all that we righteously “love”, He is also the consummate “Enemy” of all that we righteously “hate.” (According to the “love”-“hate” relationship, we “hate” that which opposes, threatens, and/or violates that which we “love.”) God, in His eternal Being is the complete opposite of all that stands in opposition to all that which we righteously “love.” His very Presence is an existential threat to all that is not of and according to His glorious nature, which our hearts were created to esteem and adore. Existentially, His perfect love casts out all fear; His radiant glory dispels all darkness; His indomitable life vanquishes all death. As the consummate “Enemy” of His own “enemies”, and therefore, of our true “enemies”, He is our consummate “Friend”, simply in Who He inherently IS.
Additionally, many if not most of the effectual works of God in the four realms of creation, redemption, the Church, and the Kingdom establish Himself as the supreme “Enemy of our enemy(ies.)” With every positive blessing that He creates, secures, and/or bestows, all antithetical negative curses and foes are effectually conquered. Consider alone the realm of redemption where He procured eternal salvation and glory for fallen humanity and corrupted creation. In doing so He conquered the ancient, arch enemies of Satan, sin, death, Hell, the grave, the “world”, and all creational corruption. Although time doesn’t permit to explore, similar affectional worth exponentially multiplies in the other three realms as well. When all of God’s enemy-destroying works are completed, there will be nothing left that touches our lives that we righteously “hate!” In these double-negative, effectual workings of God, what greater “Friend” could we possibly have?
And so we see that both God’s inherent worth and His effectual worth come to bear positively upon all that we righteously “love” and negatively upon all that we righteously “hate” accruing to Himself an affectional worth that is beyond measure. Such worth is perfectly suited and all-sufficient to move the hearts of all of His creation to worship and love Him with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength…for all of eternity!
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To summarize and illustrate these truths, then, I would simply offer an example of these three aspects of the “worth-ship” of God that are found clustered together in two of the most spiritually rich chapters in all of Scripture, Revelation 4 and 5.
The most foundational and highest form of worship and love for God is that which is based on His inherent worth. This is the wellspring of the expression of worship the angels around the throne ascribe to Him day and night as they cry,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; Who was, and is, and is to come.”
God’s holiness, sovereignty, divinity, omnipotence, and eternality are all inherent attributes of His Divine Person that are the foundation of this highest expression of worship.
In addition to this “first-generation” level of worship, there are also “secondary/subsequent-generation” levels of worship and love toward God in relation to His effectual worth because of what He does. This is the kind of worship further expressed by the twenty-four elders in heaven as they cast their crowns before the throne saying,
“Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things; by Your will they exist and came to be.”
And additionally as they sang a new song to the Lamb in the center of the throne:
“Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and by Your blood You purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign upon the earth.”
In these instances, we see the effectual worth of God expressed first as it comes to bear upon the realm of creation (Rev. 4:11) , and secondly upon the realms of redemption, the Church, and the Kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10.)
All of this culminates with all of creation, seen and unseen, declaring the worthiness of “Him who sits on the throne” and of “the Lamb.” This worship is springing from the combined inherent and effectual worthiness of the Father and the Son that all of creation is beholding. These expressions of affectional worship are the crescendo of this heavenly revelation of the Omni-worthy One.
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.
Revelation 5:11-14 NKJV
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This consummate, affectional worship is the very atmosphere of heaven, and it will one day permeate all of creation. It is also that which God desires to now permeate our own hearts as those who are the first-fruits of His redeemed creation. As we daily meditate on these things in His Word and in His Presence, and give ourselves to the wholehearted “worth-ship” of God in these various realms, the love of God will increase within our hearts until we are transformed from the inside out to become the Divine “lovers” that we’ve been created, redeemed, and called to be!
Series posts: Part 1: “Love”, Part 2: “Hate”, Part 3: “Generational Dynamics”, Mid-series Review/Redux, Part 4: “Building Across the Briar Patch”, Part 5: “Speaking the ‘Love’ in Truth”
On Loving God – by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (free audiobook)