Love is a gift. It is the greatest gift. It is a gift of immeasurable value. It is always undeserved. Think about it, what could you ever do to earn or deserve it? You may rightly say that you deserve someone’s attention, respect, or recognition. You may earn a paycheque. But what could you ever to do to earn someone’s love? Nothing! Love is of immeasurable value and therefore always undeserved and therefore always a gift. It is a pure gift, a gift from God who is love, given to man that we may give it to one another.
If love is a pure gift, then why do we have such a hard time receiving it? Why is it that we are so resistant to receiving something for nothing? Why is it when someone gives us a gift, we feel as if they’ve put a burden on us – that we now have to make it worthwhile for the giver, to meet some expectation we think they may have, fearing that they may later regret giving it and so working to make sure they don’t change their mind, working to earn something that was a gift. Simply put, it is our sinful human nature. It is pride. We want to be loved for our talents, intelligence, and beauty. We want to be loved for our accomplishments and what we have to offer. We certainly don’t want to be loved for no reason!
This is something Apostle Paul had to address in his letter to the churches of Galatia. The Galatians had fallen into the same trap we all do. After freely and undeservedly receiving God’s love, they had begun trying to work for it and make themselves worthy of it. After freely receiving salvation by faith, they were by works trying to make themselves deserving of it. This prompted Paul to ask the question, “Who has bewitched you?” meaning, “Who has deceived you?” One answer to this question can be found in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Fundamentally, their own hearts had deceived them, forming the basis for someone to come in and lead them astray with a different doctrine – one of salvation by works instead of faith. The sinful heart doesn’t want to be loved for nothing but rather for what it can offer, because then we feel love is deserved and therefore won’t be taken away. The fear that God would remove His love gripped the Galatians’ hearts and they began to work for what they had already freely received.
This is a fear common to all man and one God addresses through Paul’s letter to the Romans. The question is posed, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). And answered, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (vv 38-39). Nothing can separate us from the love of God. When we come to accept that we received His love unconditionally, undeservedly, without any expectations or strings attached, we’ll stop fearing that it will be removed from us because of not living up to some false standard that we have set for ourselves. That is liberating! Pride says, “God must have loved me because I’m so great and have so much to offer Him and He knew that I will do great things for Him to make it worth His while.” But the truth is that even before the foundation of the world, in love, He chose us and predestined us to adoption as His children through Jesus Christ, freely bestowing His love and grace upon us. (Ephesians 1:4-6). We were created in love, by God who is love, and have had His love freely bestowed upon us – unearned and certainly undeserved.
Luke 17:5-10 recounts the disciples’ request of Jesus to increase their faith and Jesus’ response:
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:5-10)
What the disciples needed wasn’t more faith; they needed to understand who they were so they could operate in whatever measure of faith they had. They were always arguing about which one of them was the greatest. They probably thought that since they were the twelve Jesus chose, they must be the twelve greatest guys on earth – top twelve! And if they didn’t think they were already the greatest at the time Jesus chose them, they probably thought Jesus chose them because He knew they would become the “top twelve.” And of the top twelve, they figured one of them had to be number one, and they were all vying for that position. But Jesus told them to say, “We are unworthy slaves.” Say what? Jesus wanted them to know that they weren’t chosen because they were the twelve greatest guys on earth but because in an act of love, the Father sovereignly chose them and gave them to Jesus to be His disciples; and as His disciples, anything they accomplished by faith wouldn’t be because they were so great, but simply because of their obedience to the will of their Master who loved them.
Ironically, “I am an unworthy slave,” is a confession that can bring one into the greatest freedom. This is because although I am an unworthy slave, “He has brought me to His banquet hall, and His banner over me is love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4). He has prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies (Psalm 23:5). The confession that “I am an unworthy slave” is so powerful and so liberating because it removes the fear of becoming unworthy of His love. I am unworthy at all times; and yet at all times I am loved. There’s no more fear that I’ll fail in my walk of faith because of being unworthy. There’s no more fear that I’ll believe God and then He won’t come through because I’ve done something to make myself unworthy.
As Paul told the Galatians, what matters in Christ is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). One of the greatest hindrances to walking in faith is an unwillingness to receive the love of God. Jesus gave his disciples, and us, a key to be loosed from the bondage of needing to be the greatest and be free to live by faith through an accurate understanding of God’s love. “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Don’t allow the enemy of your soul to make you afraid of being unworthy of God’s love; but boldly confess, “I am unworthy, and I am loved!”
Beloved, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
- Luke McLellan