I stumbled upon Pastor Prince's online sermonette recently and it is about love. The scripture is 1 John 4:10 and the theme is "we love because He first loved us." Pastor Prince's opening line caught my attention and here is more:-
"You have to love God more! You must have more passion for God! You have probably heard this type of preaching and may have even tried your best to love God, only to fail miserably.
"Pastor Prince, the Bible says that you must love God with all your heart, soul and strength!"
Yes, that is true according to the law (Deut. 6:5), and even Jesus taught that as the great commandment when He walked on earth (Matthew 22:37). But that was before He died on the Cross. At the Cross, He became the very fulfillment of this law for us when He loved us with all His heart, soul and strength, by laying down His body and life on the Cross for us."
At this point, I've to confess that I was baffled. Everything was okay until Pastor Prince seemed to suggest that loving God with all your heart, your soul and your strength “was before He died on the Cross”. Isn’t that the timeless commandment? Is the radical grace preacher mistaken? So I read on:-
"Today we are no longer under the law but under grace. And grace tells us that God loves us, not that we love God. Yet, we will love Him when we see how much He loves us. The Bible says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That's how much He loves us!”
I guess he was not (mistaken that is). He was serious about that redundancy of the Law part (and that 1st commandment to love God with all your heart, soul and strength). Here's how he concluded before my commentary in full below:-
"Beloved, God has seen you trying your best to love Him. And because He loves you, He wants you to sit down and be still, and let Him love you instead. He wants to love you with all that He is and love you with all that He has. He loves you unconditionally regardless of who you are and what you have done because His love is not dependent on you but on Himself. He will never stop loving you.
So let God love you today. Don't worry about loving Him. The more of His love you receive, the more you will fall in love with Him!"
What does Pastor Prince mean when he writes, "Don't worry about loving Him?” Is he saying that we don't need to love God with all our heart, our soul and our strength any more since we are living post-Calvary? Aren’t the greatest two commandments about loving God and loving your neighbors?
There is no doubt that I see his point about God loving us first and that itself shows how much He loves us. And I somewhat understand the need for Christians to experience (or be open to) God's love first because His love is unconditional and it is not dependent on us (as grace is an unmerited gift). I underscore "somewhat" because the reality of belief for many people I know (or come to read about) is very different from the rosy-picture that Pastor Prince had drawn. But be that as it may (a topic for another day), what then should be our response to God’s love?
I think the key sentence to answer that question is this: "The more of His love you receive, the more you will fall in love with Him!" So, our response is that we will love Him even more after receiving more of His love? Well, that is sound to me but it poses a little conundrum when I read the online sermonette above in context. Let me clarify.
If we are living post-Calvary, and the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and strength is done away with - as it is under the Law - then what is our response to God loving us based on? If it is not with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength, then with what? The exercise of personal free will in response has to come from us just as God exercises His own free will to love us first, right?
You see, what is confounding is this: the query moves stealthily from a matter of clarification ("what is our response based on") to one of practicality, that is, how do we love God back without being first moved by our own conviction, our own volition/choices, and our own action/response? Shouldn't it be a two-way flow of Him loving us and we loving Him back? And if this is so, how do we then love God back if not with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength? Is Pastor Prince playing with words (or theology) for effect? Is this a post-modern gnostic spin to exegesis? (it may appear that I am "splitting-hair" here but isn't the devil always in the details or strands? And I have to confess that the hair-split between law and grace is all the more disconcerting for me).
Surely we are called to be responsive and to be responsive because we want to be responsive. It is a choice we make to respond and we respond out of personal conviction and sufficient understanding (and not mindlessly following the crowd). It is still us doing the responding and no one else. Well, I can’t deny that God’s spirit is doing the wooing, but aren’t we doing the responding?
In other words, I can't dismiss the Old Testament commandment and Jesus' own words to us that we are to "love God with all our heart, soul and strength.” I see no way out of that and the fact that we are living post-Calvary makes no difference to the first commandment. That commandment thus survives Calvary just as the second commandment to love our neighbors is eminently relevant after Calvary.
This is how I see it. As you grow in the disciplines of the Spirit, bearing fruits in your life, and overcoming trials through His strength and guidance, you grow in fellowship with God and you love Him even more. Yet, it’s still a personal choice. In other words, you love Him in no other way than “with all your heart, soul and strength.” Even if you “fail miserably” to love Him, it is still a choice you make and God will not intervene with that. It’s predominantly free will and heaven is not going to be populated by human robots (Calvinism notwithstanding). We are no automatons and He did not create us that way. If Adam and Eve were battery-operated, or chargeable by plugging into a socket, then we would not need Calvary. Neither the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would be necessary.
For the above reason, I feel that Pastor Prince’s online sermonette is milking for effect or it is dabbling in esoteric riddles. And the second part of his online sermonette is equally quizzical. Here is a re-reading of it (which I call the spiritual spa treatment):-
"Beloved, God has seen you trying your best to love Him. And because He loves you, He wants you to sit down and be still, and let Him love you instead. He wants to love you with all that He is and love you with all that He has. He loves you unconditionally regardless of who you are and what you have done because His love is not dependent on you but on Himself. He will never stop loving you. "
Somehow, the part about sitting down and be still and allowing God to love you and not worrying about loving Him back just go down well with some believers’ pamper-me-up theology. Of course the mature Christians will take it with a pinch of salt, but what if that is what a less-than-discerning believer wants (or is addicted) to hear?
Over time, many of them will find that things just do not hold up the way it is preached from the pulpit. It just doesn't add up. They will inevitably have trust and doubts issues. Not all of their prayers will be answered the way they want it to be answered. They will experience brokenness, betrayal and disillusionment. They will be embattled by a cruel world, unfriendly and unfeeling. The unrelenting reality will be biting and it might chew off a large chunk of their pampered faith. Isn’t there a danger of nurturing self-therapeutic faith rather than resilient, overcoming faith?
Here is where I derail a little to let off some steam. I always believe that it is easy to share the good news without the bad part about counting the cost. The cost bit is always the inconvenient truth that prosperity preachers and their ilk want to avoid talking about. You see, we live in a world where suffering for one's faith is best kept within the privacy of one's lament. No one appears to be edified by how much pain you are going through without any relief in sight. But everyone swoons over a narration about a loving god who only has our interest at heart and who happens (quite conveniently) to love everything we love and hate everything we hate and is therefore readily eager to give us everything we want with the only condition that we keep believing without fail that all that is true; even when our reality is so detached from that rosy picture presented. If we are a feel-good-driven generation, then Pastor Prince’s sermonette may risk overdosing us in a world that exists only in our child-like imagination.
Alas, the prosperity gospel (intoxicated by radical grace) is undoubtedly more about the prosperity (and ourselves) rather than about the gospel and its costs. But then, I have digressed.
I end here with these parting words: Pastor Prince's online sermonette is either a case where brevity is offered at the expense of clarity or he is spinning an enticing yarn that is far removed from the reality that an ordinary Christian faces. Pick your poison. Cheerz.