My wife has a tee-shirt with the words, “Learn it, live it, love it,” on it. I can’t recall exactly what it is they are to learn, live, and love at the moment, but that’s peripheral to my point. What I’m interested in is the order of those words because I believe they convey the important truth that living sets the context for loving.
A young boy hears stories about fishing from his grandfather. It sparks something in him and he suddenly becomes sensitized to the word fishing. He starts watching programs on television about fishing. He finds books to read on the subject. He talks to some of his friends who have gone fishing. Before you know it, he loves fishing and has to go.
But what does it really mean to say he loves fishing? At the most, it says he is passionate about what he thinks fishing is about, but at his current stage of development it is more infatuation than actual love.
But suppose that same boy goes fishing several times. Sometimes he catches fish and sometimes the mosquitoes are bite more than the fish do. Sometimes the weather is great and sometimes it’s not. He learns how to bait a hook, clean a fish, and practice catch and release for the fish he doesn’t keep. He learns how to take care of his fishing equipment. If after this, the boy says he loves fishing, he’s said something much different from what he’d said before!
It is the difference between two teenagers professing their love for each other and an elderly couple speaking of love. We wouldn’t say the teenagers know nothing of love, but we would say that the elderly couple has a much better understanding of it.
All of this says something to the disciple of Jesus. When a young child professes their love for God it warms our hearts, lifts our spirits, and challenges us. But there’s something about the soldier of Christ who has weathered the storms of life and come out on the other side speaking of their love for the Lord. They’ve experienced the best, the worst, and everything in between. Their faith in the Father is not only still there—it has grown stronger and they’ve grown older.
This (and beyond), is the love that Jesus had for His Father. As a human, he would have learned about God from Joseph and Mary, at the synagogue, and at other places. He allowed His life to be shaped and molded by what He heard so that it became a perfect reflection of His Father. Gethsemane as well as Philippians 2 make it clear that He chose to love God completely and ultimately. He was the only person who gave His Father the complete honor and full obedience He deserved. To speak of Jesus loving God is to make more than an emotional statement; it is to give the verdict of a faith filled life. He learned, He lived, and He loved! This is why He’s not just our Lord and our Savior—He’s our example.