The Apostle John stated that God is love (1 John 4:8), but many years later H. Richard Niebuhr made a great distinction in regard to the thinking of Jesus. “Though God is love, love is not God” for Jesus.
Niebuhr’s words were published in 1951 in what has become a classic, Christ and Culture. And, as with any true classic, there is a timelessness to the insights.
An interesting thing has happened in America since 1951; it seems that love has indeed become a god in our culture. Almost everyone exalts love; fewer exalt the God who is love and who, in Christ, showed us what love really looks like.
Jesus had his thoughts and worship fixed firmly on the God of love, faith, hope, and humility — not on those attributes themselves. “The greatness and the strangeness of Jesus’ love of God does not appear in his love of cosmic love, but in his loyalty to the transcendent power” of God the Father, Niebuhr wrote.
Jesus had a single-minded devotion to God, and his ethic was centered in God the Father and the value of the human soul, Niebuhr said. He was referring to Jesus’ “Great Commandments” to love God and others. These loves, however, are not on equal footing. “It is only God who is to be loved with heart, soul, mind and strength; the neighbor is put on the same level of value that the self occupies.”
Love and worship of God were at the center of Jesus’ theology and ethic. We err when we place love and worship at the center. The object of our love and worship is the key. When we put God at the center, then love and worship flow from our lives, and then other people want to know more about the source. And thus we are reminded of how worship, Christian living and evangelism are connected. When we worship God and live for Christ, evangelism becomes more genuine, more authentic because we have become more like Christ.