Spiritual Growth

God Honors Love, Not Duty

Jim Sylvester
A young beautiful woman stood on a platform in front of an auctioneer.
Vile, greedy men stood below engaged in a bidding war for this prize of the slave market. A man walked by who had just sold an extremely valuable piece of property for a very handsome sum. He was taken aback by what was now unfolding before him.
Unable to help himself, he entered the bidding. Higher and higher the price soared until in a last desperate attempt, he bid the whole price of the land he had sold and the bid held. As he was signing the documents of ownership the young woman was led over to him. She lashed out with her long finger nails, sliced the side of his cheek, and blood trickled down. As she spat in his face, there was anger and defiance written all over her countenance.
He then handed the papers that he had just signed to her and walked away down the road. She glanced down at the papers. They read “free”: he had signed the papers and made her free! He had paid an unbelievable price. But he had done it! According to these papers she was legally free. She looked around her at the frightening world that surrounded her. What would she do? Where would she go?
She was free yes, but she was alone, unloved, surrounded by a cruel and dangerous world and the only person that had ever shown any kindness or love was walking down the street away from her. She ran as fast as her legs would move down that street, caught up with him threw herself on the ground wrapped her arms around his legs and pleaded with him to let her be his slave.
It was you and I on that auction block, being sold to a vile and cruel enemy, to be used and abused. Jesus paid a price beyond measure to buy our redemption. He shed his own blood and bore a wrath that was due you and I. No one has ever loved you as He loves you. Where are you going to go? Who are you going to serve?
There is no safer one than He. There is no one more worthy than He. Serve Him out of love, not obligation. “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). The best atmosphere and motivation for service is not duty, but love. God honors love as a motive for our service, but He does not honor empty, unloving duty. This is what He meant when He said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; “A broken and a contrite heart, Oh God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

Just going through the motions of ministry is different from having a contrite heart, a heart of love and encouragement and a desire to serve. I am not talking about feelings here. I would rather be a hypocrite to my feelings than to God’s truth. The truth is Jesus' call in my life was that “If you love Me you will keep my commandments.” My new heart wants this and is by God’s power able to do this.

That is one of the reasons I believe that if Jesus were the director or shepherd of a ministry, that ministry would operate in an atmosphere of love. Jesus would know that a love motive produces the best type of service because He has and had this kind of relationship with His Father. There were many times that God the Father took special effort to demonstrate His love for Jesus and His pleasure in His Son. We serve Him out of our relationship with Him. A relationship that is possible because I have a new nature, a new heart.


There were three times that the Father specifically explained His relationship with Jesus. At Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:11, a voice cried out of heaven, “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased.” There is evidence of a beautiful relationship here. The Father delighted in His Son. There was a sense of belonging, intimacy and pleasure in their relationship.

In Luke 9:28-36, at the Transfiguration three of the disciples are permitted to see Jesus unveiled and glorified. While they were there, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them. The disciples were afraid as they entered the cloud. “And a voice came out of the cloud saying,“This is My Son, My chosen One: listen to Him!” The Father’s statement to Jesus’ disciples affirmed Jesus’ authority as part of His relationship with the Father.

After the triumphal entry, Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Thy name.” A voice came out of heaven and said, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again” (John 12:28). This was another approval of the Son, a demonstration of confidence in Him. The Father acknowledged that the Son does indeed glorify Him, and reassured Him of the future.

As Christians, God loves and approves of us in similar ways. Our Lord prayed in John 17:23, “perfect them in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me.” It is sometimes staggering to imagine God saying to me, “You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.” But according to the Scriptures, that is His heart. Passages like Romans 8:35-39, Matthew 23:37 and Zephaniah 3:17, clearly describe God’s love for us as enduring, comforting and joyful.


What was the effect on Jesus of all this heaven-sent love and affirmation? Looking closely at our Lord’s life, we see that moment by moment He demonstrated great security in His relationship with His Father. He rested in His Father’s love. He felt included and secure.

An example of this is found in John 14:31. Jesus said, “That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do.” We get a sense of Jesus’ walking with His Father. Because He was secure in His Father’s love, He desired to do what He commanded.

The crown of this love relationship is best described in Mark 14:36. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus was contemplating the cross, He said, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will but what Thou wilt.” There is a sense of submission here but also, a sense of trust.

Jesus knew that the Father only asks for what is best. Because Jesus knew that He was loved perfectly, He was certain that whatever the Father’s will was, it was right.

As Jesus abided in the love of His Father, He was secure. Jesus knew that His Father loved Him and loved Him thoroughly, even though accepting His Father’s will meant death, even death on a cross. It meant shame, spitting, pain, a broken heart, and a soul exceedingly heavy. It meant abandonment and despair. Still, Jesus was sustained because He knew the One who willed it. And He knew the One who willed it loved Him perfectly.

Don’t think that Jesus saw the cross as some sort of proof that the Father loved Him. I am not saying that. He wasn’t looking to the cross to find the love of the Father; rather, He endured the cross because He knew the consuming love of His Father. This love bore Him through the agony of the cross and sustained Him in the face of the Father’s wrath toward sin.

Reflecting on the Father’s love is a healthy way for us to approach our own difficulties and trials. The circumstances in our lives do not serve as proofs of the Father’s love. “God has already demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We need to reckon this as true and rest in this love as we face hardships. We need to allow God’s love to carry us through and empower us, no matter what our circumstances may be.


Our Lord intimately knew the Father’s love: “The Father loves the Son and shows all things that He is doing” (John 5:20). I think of this as Jesus living in the “present tense” of His Father’s love. That is, at every moment of His life, He remains in the continually reassuring presence of God The Father. You and I can live in that present tense, and that is the atmosphere through which we can best have a ministry.

I realize that telling someone to “live in the present tense of God’s love” is rather nebulous. I will try to illustrate this by telling you about my little girl, Michelle. With true childlike faith, I see her rest in my love for her. She knows that I love her dearly and I want what is best for her. I remember a time when she got a really deep splinter in her foot. Some other people tried to remove it, but she would cry, squirm, and even fight so that they couldn’t get it out.

She finally said that she wanted her daddy to remove the splinter. I think I have an idea why. It is because she knew that I would be as gentle and tender as I could, and that I loved her enough to deal with this problem in the best way. She sat very still in my lap and held her mom’s hand while I removed the splinter. I remember feeling her muscles relax as I was working, a demonstration of her trust. She was resting in the “present tense” of her father’s love.


As I work in the ministry of Cru, I sometimes find that I can get caught up in plans. I focus too much on being a good steward of my particular area of responsibility. There is planning effective campus strategies, or managing time and personnel. People within that type of atmosphere usually feel like pieces of a puzzle, or a mere cog in a large machine. Ephesians 6:10-20 tell us that we are in the midst of a spiritual battle, so the concerns of strategy and stewardship are important. But we are also a family, and we should treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1-2).

My role as a shepherd is to love the people of God. This is far more important than fitting them into effective programs. I want to care about them, to know and enjoy them and to desire deeply each person’s best. What a tremendous blessing it is to see or take part in a movement in which those involved feel deeply loved, valuable to others and significant to the family of God as a whole.

In the beginning of this chapter I stated that God honors love as a motive for service. Well, how do we teach people to work out of a love motive? It is hard to teach love, but you can give it. The Father loved the Son, and Jesus’ service was a fruit of that love relationship. Our job, then, is to live in the present tense of God’s love for us and to love others in the same way.

One of the best ways that we learn about our Father’s love for us, is by being loved. God’s people tangibly communicate His love to others. What a privilege it is to be His image bearer. Usually, if people are loved, they give love in return. I was at a staff meeting in which we were discussing these items, and a fellow staff member said something that has made me think. She said, “Our lives are shaped by the people who love us.” Experiencing love from another person, and learning that God loves me even more, I am able now to return that love and serve Him accordingly. This is so true in my own life. The marks in my own life are everywhere, for I have been touched and encouraged by particular people who have believed in me, confronted me, or taken me under their wing. I have been shaped by the people who have loved me.

People blossom when they are unconditionally loved. Their self worth is built. There is joy in their service. One of the early church fathers, Jerome, writes that when the apostle John became so ill that he couldn’t preach any longer, he used to be carried to church and content himself with one exhortation. He would say, “Little children, love each other. This is the Lord’s commandment and if only this be done it is enough.”

Our Lord deeply impacted the people in His life. The beloved disciple John, Peter, these individuals saw themselves through His eyes. The respect He received He used to help others feel their value because He valued them. As those that we minister respect and esteem us let us not seek to fill needs in our lives through this or seek to bask in the limelight, but let us reflect this back and have those we minister to see their see their incredible value because we who they esteem so value them.


People respond to love and appreciation. When I am loved, I feel good about myself; I feel relaxed; I feel free to be myself. When I am loved, I feel the freedom to be honest, to be open, and to share myself with others. Being loved gives me the freedom to laugh and cry with the person I feel loved by. I want to be with them. I am willing to be vulnerable with them and to trust them. That is the way I feel about people that love me. I feel drawn to them.

I really enjoy directing Summer Mission Projects with Cru. Each summer, we bring 50 to 100 students together at different locations in the United States for a summer of ministry. The students get jobs in the area and have ministries at work and in the community. With the help of a team of Cru staff members, we take time to explain our faith in Christ to others, to have discipleship times, and to train the students for a lifetime of ministry. There is a wonderful sense of everyone pulling together in unity.

On summer projects, the Lord does a lot of ministry through us, but something wonderfully important happens in the process of this. As the students get to know each other, endure trials, enjoy victories and step out in faith together, I see them grow in their love for one another. Much is shared between them. Repeatedly, I’ve heard many students share that they have never before in their life felt loved like they did on a summer project. In the security of that love they know they are not going to be rejected, judged, or found unacceptable.

Oftentimes, unconditional love enables people to let go, and deal with issues in their lives that they haven’t been able to face. They let down their guard and His light is able to shine in areas of their life, illuminating beauty and also revealing some tarnished areas. That is healthy. That is growth. In this atmosphere students chose to serve Christ. They see the eternal value. They do so out of the reasonableness of their heart.


Many people have heard about the thriving ministry at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. God is doing wonderful things there. The size of the movement, the quality of its student leaders, and the degree of student ownership of the ministry is supernatural to say the least. We are all thrilled with the worldwide impact that God has brought to fruition through this movement. But there may be something many people are not aware of and that is how wonderful it is to see God’s love modeled there.

Jane Armstrong, a Cru staff member, has been greatly used of the Lord to create a wonderful climate where students experience acceptance, grace and care. Jane treats students in a way that they feel wonderfully valuable. Jane loves her people. She expresses great interest in their lives. She goes out of her way for them. In a ministry of over one thousand students she oftentimes will plan special acts of love for one individual to encourage them more specifically. It is so dear to hear her talking of her students. You sense such a mother’s pride and care as she describes in lush terms the qualities of woman after woman. Many a woman has come out of a sad history to blossom in her potential. Many have come from healthy pasts to realize incredible impact for the King. She prays for them. Why? Well for one, it is greatly fulfilling to her life, and Jane would say, “Jesus taught that if you serve one of the least of these His sheep it is as if you had done the act of love to Jesus Himself.” She is quite the model for me.

Our Lord has clearly stated that the world will know we are His disciples to the degree that we love one another. As a shepherd of God’s people, I fall so horribly short in this. Time is always too short for me. I am always in a hurry or am playing catch up. With my own children, I am often learning how much they crave my attention and how powerful an experience of love it is to them for me to be with them. That is what the people of God need. That is God’s desire for me in my service. Am I serving with a sense of duty to accomplish, or am I serving in love as an expression of joy and enjoyment of my Lord?


  1. What communicates love to you?
  2. Who has modeled God’s love toward you?
  3. How have you applied this to your relationship with The Lord?
  4. What special people need to see your love?
  5. What are special acts that you can do to show love?
  6. What does a movement look and feel like that is motivated by “obligation and duty”?

Chapter excerpt from the manuscript “Principles God Honors.” Jim Sylvester is the former Director of the ministry at Ohio State University, and a staff member with Cru for 27 years.

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