We read a passage like the one in Ezekiel 20 that we've been looking at all week, and we're upset. We can't believe that God would refuse to help someone (note: He only asks them to choose, the true exercise of free will). We are appalled that He would pour out His fury on anyone (note: only relational love can produce true fury, and love is not afraid to get angry). Then, we get to the end of the passage and see that He will make Israel obey His commands.
How dare He!
In the (post)modern world in which we live, love has no right to make demands. Love can't expect anything. It has to be freely given or it's not really love. If there are conditions on it, well...you simply can't call it love.
Again, we have confused true love with "tolerant permissiveness." The Bible tells us what love is.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn't jealous. It doesn't sing its own praises. It isn't arrogant. It isn't rude. It doesn't think about itself. It isn't irritable. It doesn't keep track of wrongs. It isn't happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Nowhere in there does it say that love doesn't have expectations. Quite the contrary. If you look at a lot of these things, they assume that love does have expectations.
Why would love need patience if it didn't expect anything? If whatever you do is totally fine because I love you, I have nothing to be patient about. You are what you are, and that's cool. Right? What does love believe in without expectations? We don't believe anything unless we expect something specific. We believe that the sun rises in the east in the mornings; that means we expect in the morning for the sun to rise in the east. Having this expectation doesn't mean we don't value the sunrise. No, many of us treasure it.
What does love hope in without expectations? Hope requires an expectation. If there is not a reasonable expectation of something occurring, we say it is "hopeless." If you are diagnosed with a terrible illness, you probably hope you will get better. Why? Medicine gives you the hope of getting better. But if your disease is so rare that no treatment exists, you cannot expect to get better. So you have nothing to hope in. Expectation does not diminish our hope; it is the very foundation of it. If love hopes, it expects.
Love doesn't give up. If it doesn't expect anything, what would it have to give up on? That doesn't make any sense.
Over and over again, we see that love has expectations. And if love has expectations, then it is fully consistent that the God who is Love would have expectations. Love cannot exist without them.
In this case, it goes back to what we were talking about with the God who would not let persons turn to Him for help. He's not saying you have to do all the things He wants you to do without question because He's God and that's His decree. No, He's saying, choose. Really choose. If you choose love, if you choose covenant relationship, if you choose to come back to Him, that choice has consequences.
Choosing love comes with expectations. It cannot be any other way.
Again, that's not cruel. That's not a power move. That's not theologically troubling. It's just God telling His people that if they want to exercise their free will, they have to make an actual choice and not live by whim and they have to embrace the fullness of that choice. Choose love, and that means something.
It means, among other things, that you're inviting God to believe in you, to trust you, to hope in you, to never give up on you. It means you're giving God the opportunity to expect something from you, and God is simply saying that if He's going to love you, you'd better live up to it. (Of course, we know that we are fallen and can't fully measure up, but that's no excuse for willful failure. As Paul would say, By no means!)
It's not just about living up to it, though. It's about knowing that God is investing this much in you. That's what it means to be loved. It means you know that God is believing in you, that God is trusting in you, that God is hoping in you, that God will not give up on you. That has to change the way you live, doesn't it? That has to inspire you to say yes, I'm choosing love. And I know what that means, but I want to have the same expectations of myself that God has of me. It's an invitation to live bigger.
How could we ever think that was cruel? How could we ever think that was unloving? How could we ever think that is not what God desires for us?
As we've seen all week, the problem is not God; it's us. We have forgotten what love and free will really are. Then, when God holds them out to us, we turn up our noses and look away. No, we say. That's not what this is.
Oh, but it is. It's what it has to be.
Otherwise, it's nothing at all.