Jesus said, “The lover of God loves hardship.”
And it is related of him that he once came upon a large group of worshipers who had shriveled up from worshiping, like worn-out water skins. “Who are you?” he asked. “We are worshipers,” they answered. “Why do you worship?” he asked. They replied, “God put the fear of hell in us, and we were afraid.” So he said, “It is incumbent upon God to save you from what you fear.”
Then Jesus passed on and came upon others who were even more worshipful. He asked, “Why do you worship?” and they replied, “God gave us a longing for paradise and what He has prepared there for His friends. That is what we hope for.” So Jesus said, “It is incumbent upon God to give you what you hope for.”
Then he passed them by and came upon others who were worshiping and said, “Who are you?” They said, “We are lovers of God. We worship Him not out of fear of hell or longing for paradise, but out of love for Him and to His greater glory.” So Jesus said, “You are truly the friends of God, and it is with you that I was commanded to live.” And he resided among them.
This story is excerpted from the book “The Muslim Jesus” by Tarif Khalidi. The book presents in English the largest collection of the sayings and stories of Jesus in Islamic literature.
Abu Talib al-Makki (d.386/996), Qut al-Qulub, 2:56 (Asin, pp 411, no. 84 bis; Mansur, no. 30) Cf. al-Ghazali, Ihya, 4:228 (Asin, pp 410-411, no. 84; Mansur, no.166; Robson, p.100) and Ihya, 4:298
Loving God selflessly, neither out of fear of hell nor out of greed for paradise, was a sentiment ascribed to early Sufis – for example, the famous woman mystic Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya (d. 185/801), who was seen walking the streets of Baghdad with a bucket of water in one hand and a flaming torch in the other. When asked why she did so, she replied, “I want to quench the fires of hell with the water and burn down paradise with the torch, so that people can come to love God selflessly, neither out of fear of the one nor out of greed for the other.”