In 1974 Laurie Klein wrote the popular song “I Love You, Lord.” The words are doubtlessly familiar to all of us:
I love, Lord, and I lift my voice
To worship you,
O my soul, rejoice!
Take joy, my King, in what you hear.
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.
A seminary professor whom I esteem did not care much for the song, though. He was concerned that to claim that one loves the Lord is an expression of arrogance. We are reminded that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
I think I understand his sentiment, though I respectfully disagree with not singing the song. I do fear we think too lightly concerning what it means to love the Lord. We confuse love with emotions. In a worship service when the music is “just right” and things are going fairly well in our lives, we may say “I love you, Lord” based only upon such positive vibes and emotions.
We are, of course, commanded to love the Lord. Moses instructed the Israelites: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus commanded similarly in Matthew 22:37, adding that “this is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). It is certainly not wrong to say “I love the Lord.” The psalmist rejoiced, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2).
We must be careful, however, about our declaration of love to God. Love is not simply emotion. It is inextricably linked with obedience. Jesus pointed out, “”If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He further maintained, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).
Therein lies the rub, don’t you think? This is what the professor was getting at. Who among us loves the Lord as we ought? Who among us is as obedient as we ought to be? To claim that we are what we ought to be would clearly be arrogant.
When we are honest with ourselves, when we have some quiet time to reflect and meditate (does the television always have to be on?), we know that too much sin, too much disobedience, too much selfishness, too much of “me” remains within us. We don’t want to claim to love the Lord when we know that our lives too often display ambivalence, at best, about him.
And yet we are here brought face to face with grace. We are reminded that our saying we love God is not amazing at all. Why should we not love him? The amazing reality is that God loves us. Do you think that is too strong? Consider the words of the apostle John: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2). And then John shows us what is really amazing: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [satisfaction] for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Be God’s grace we sing “I love you, Lord.” Though not a perfect, complete love, it is a real love, nonetheless. And it is a love wrought completely by his grace.