Love and Gratitude


Having a deeper understanding of God's love enables us to be more thankful and loving toward Him.

This biblical motivator is positive in nature: it is the response of love and gratitude for who God is and all the wonderful things He has done for us. The Bible is clear that God’s love for us is always previous to our love for Him. “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8-10). The infinite and unchanging Source of love reached down to us even when we were His enemies in our foolish rebellion against His Person and purposes. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Someone once put it this way: “I asked Jesus how much he loved me. He stretched out His arms and said, ‘This much’—and died.” Jesus loved us when we were unlovable and unworthy of His attention and care. Because of His agonizing work as our sin-bearer, the way has been opened for those who were “formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21) to become God’s beloved children, members of His royal family forever. This love humbles us because it is undeserved, but it elevates us because it means that when we come to God by entrusting ourselves to His Son, nothing we do can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

The more we come to grasp and enter into this divine love, the more we will want to reciprocate by loving and honoring the eternal Lover of our souls. As John writes, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The security and significance of God’s unquenchable love gives us a basis for responding with love for God and expressing that love in tangible ways through acts of loving service to others.

In His Upper Room Discourse Jesus said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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 15:9-10). There is a mutual relationship between abiding in the love of Christ and keeping His commandments. When we dwell in the sphere of His unmerited love, we begin to see that His commandments are not burdensome but liberating. Abiding in His love, we become more inclined to obey Him not only because it is in our own best interests, but because it is pleasing to Him. Thus the apostle Paul wrote, “we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

The ambitions of this world are directly or indirectly tied to self-aggrandizement, but the ambition of a true disciple is not exaltation of the self but exaltation of Christ. As we grow in discipleship, our motivational structure is shaped more and more by Christ’s love for us and our developing love for Him (“For the love of Christ controls us”; 2 Corinthians 5:14). This relationship is reciprocal: the more we love Him, the more we will desire to obey Him; the more we obey Him, the more we will grow in our personal knowledge and love for Him.

Gratitude is closely related to love, since both are based on God’s gracious character and the expression of His character in the many benefits He has showered upon us. If we consider the depth and breadth of God’s care and blessings in our lives, we will realize that it is only right that we should give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Sadly, however, we are more inclined to view our lives in terms of what we lack than in view of what we have already received. Instead of seeing the fullness of what we have received in Christ, we tend to approach our experiences from a deficiency perspective. Our gratitude ages quickly when we overlook God’s gifts, take them for granted, or regard them as our due.

We would be wise to keep a grateful memory alive by periodically reviewing what once was, what might have been, and what could well be again apart from the grace of God. We should be amazed and thankful for the multitude of good things in our lives, including the ones we often overlook such as food and covering, health, freedom, friends, open access to the Scriptures, and most of all, the riches available to us in a relationship with Christ Jesus. As our gratitude for who God is and what He has done begins to grow, it becomes a meaningful source of motivation for service to our Lord and to others.

Gratitude for what God has done for us in the past can also motivate us to trust Him in the present for what He is going to do in the future. John of Avila observed that “One act of thanks-giving when things go wrong is worth a thousand thanks when things go right.” When we develop the habit of recounting the blessings we have received as God’s beloved children, we become more inclined to view the hardships and disappointments we face from a long-term Romans 8:18, 28 stance. Love and gratitude are healthy biblical motivators that can help us stay in the process of growth in Christ-likeness. 

Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth

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