I remember being at Moody when Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages was trending throughout campus. If you're not familiar with the book, it posits that we give and expect love to be expressed in five main ways, and to confuse which one our spouse (or others are giving or expecting) can communicate to us that they do not really love us, as well as communicate to them that we do not really love them. These five expressions of love are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. People usually express their love through all of these, but usually only have a primary way of expressing love through one of them.
Now, if I were to apply this to all relationships, I think an important expression of love is missing here. I'm thinking in terms of the parent-child relationship. In the parent-child relationship, the adult certainly expresses him or herself through one or (it should be) all of the above love languages; but the child's primary love language is not present in the above list: obedience. If a child truly loves his parents, he will respect and listen to them. If he does not, the love he claims to have for them should be chalked up to sentimental feelings toward them, but certainly not love. A disobedient child is a self-loving rather than parent-loving child. Our culture encourages this, and would probably have a massive problem with what I've just said; but I see our relationship with our children as a picture through which God seeks to display His own relationship with us.
This leads to our next question, What therefore is God's love language? Well, He expresses His love for us through Words (both of affirmation and correction), Quality Time (His presence with us), Giving Gifts (the Holy Spirit, salvation, physical needs), Acts of Service (which He has already performed in His plan of salvation), and even physical touch (through His people--God is Spirit, so He can't give you a hug, but He can stir one of His people to give you one). But we should not be asking how God loves us, but what expression of love He expects from us. We already know how God loves us. What we are confused about is how we are to love Him. By confusing this, we end up with a false sense that we love God when we aren't actually loving Him at all.
So what does God expect? What expression does He expect from us in His evaluation of our claim that we love Him? So many people say they love God. So many people think love is solely a feeling we have for God. Love includes feeling, but it is not just an empty feeling without an expression. So what is the expression of our true love for Him in God's estimation? The same as the parent expects from the loving child: obedience.
Christ sums up the greatest commandment as that which appears in Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love the Lord your God with all your thoughts, with all your being, and with everything you've got to give [Hebrew: mĕōd "to the utmost"]." What many seem to miss, however, is that the text goes on to say, "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. "You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (vv. 6-9). He then tells them in verses 10 and 11 of the gifts His love will give to them. His commandments then follow. In other words, God expects us to love Him by deeply pondering and incorporating His commandments into our lives. To put it more simply, He expects our love for Him to be expressed through our obedience, the giving over of our entire lives to Him.
You might say, "Well that's just what He expected in the Old Testament. We're saved by grace now." Umm, yes, the Israelites were saved by grace too. They didn't save themselves from Egypt, and God didn't save them because of their great obedience to Him (they're obviously huge complainers and idolaters). The point is that the love that God has expressed in saving them ought to be returned to Him through their obedience.
If it is not, the Israelites prove their rejection of God, not their love for Him, and thus prove that they are not His people. This is the point of Deuteronomy, and why the previous generation died in the wilderness without being brought to the Promised Land. Those who are saved will love through obedience. Those who are not will pick some other means that doesn't require the sacrifice of self.
But in case you think this is only Old Testament, let's look at the New. In John 15:3-14, Christ tells us:
"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither [can] you unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples.
[Notice that abiding in Him, a phrase that refers to having a relationship with God, is synonymous with Christ's words abiding in us]
"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. "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full. "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. "You are My friends if you do what I command you."
Notice the connection to our love for God and our obedience to what Christ has commanded concerning loving others. Again in First John 5:2-3, it reverses this and says:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
Now John tells us that we can only love others when we love God. In other words, we only know that we are loving other people when we are obeying what God has commanded in expressing our love for God. To put it another way, we express our love for God by obeying His commandments about loving others and we express our love for others by loving God and obeying His commandments. His commandments direct us where to go in our love for Him and others. The commandments are the signs pointing the way. Without them, we're lost in a sea of wrong actions and courses to take in our love for God and others. Hence, to love God and others cannot be divorced from obeying (i.e., deeply and daily pondering God's Word and integrating it into our lives as the primary expression of our love) what God has commanded us. Hence, as John says,
The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments , is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (2:4-6).
So the one who says, "I love God," or "I have a relationship with God," and does not express that loving relationship by seeking to obey His Word, is a LIAR. He lies to himself. He lies to others. His conversion is false. God will not accept any other love expression as a replacement of this one. This is it. If this is present, then all others are welcomed. If it is not, then no other expressions are accepted. This is why God blasts Israel for trying to replace obedience to what He has spoken with sacrifices and incense and showing up to "church." Sing as loud as you like. Hug as many people as you like. Put in the biggest offering you can. Teach a hundred classes and preach a thousand sermons. Where it may have been roses with obedience, it's all dung and refuse without it.
Why is this? Because we're trying to dupe God. We're trying to give him a cheap love, a love that doesn't cost us ourselves. We want the self to remain and have God love us too. In other words, we want God to love us, but we don't want to love Him as God. We want Him to lavish upon us all expressions of love so that we can spend that love on the wicked self rather than return it to Him by giving up the self.
So the question is, Are you going to continue to force your love expressions on God and deceive only yourself in the process, or are you going to begin expressing yourself in the only way He will accept it? If your wife expected fidelity in marriage as an expression of love, would you be unfaithful and bring her roses instead? Would she accept it? Should she? Of course not. Don't cheat on God with the self and then bring Him roses. It's not going to cut it. Christ loved by sacrificing Himself. We must love by sacrificing ourselves, and we do this by subjecting our thoughts, existence, and everything we've got to God's Word. This is the primary love language God expects from us. Apart from it, we communicate that we hate Him. And if we understand the truth, we know that anything less than obedience in our relationship with God is hatred.
And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. (1 John 3:22)