Love: The Greatest Commandment
The longer I know Christ the simpler His message becomes. In recent years, I have come to realize that much of what I believe doctrinally has no importance apart from loving Him and His people. We can preach and teach many things but when we stand before Him what will really matter is how we have loved Him and our brothers and sisters. But love is more than an emotional feeling. It is an expression of God’s giving nature, which sets self aside and seeks the needs of others.
The religious people were always trying to trick Jesus into saying something that they could hold against Him. One day they sent a lawyer to test him with a question. “Teacher,” the lawyer asked, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36).
Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Amazingly, in answering the lawyer’s question, Jesus had summarized for all of us the perfect will of God. He gave to them the commandment of God that all of the law and the prophets depend upon. The law and the prophets is the entire revelation of God’s will in the Old Testament Scriptures. If we miss this important commandment, we have missed everything.
But love is misunderstood. It is not a shallow emotional feeling but a deep, abiding expression of the nature of God that sacrifices all for the sake of others. Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The measure of God’s love for the world was the extent to which He was willing to give. He gave His most cherished possession, His Son, to the world, people who despise and reject Him. He allowed the ones for whom His Son would die to despise, torture and crucify the One He loved the most. He did so because He loved.
The love that grows in our lives will have the same giving, sacrificing qualities. Love is God expressed in us for “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It causes a husband to lay down his life for his wife. It causes a wife to lay down her selfish desires for her husband. It motivates Christians to set aside their selfish agendas for the sake of fellowship and oneness in Christ. It is the driving force behind all true spiritual life. The church is realized through its expression and people are drawn to the love they see in those who possess it.
Many Christians think of love the way young lovers regard puppy love. Often I have counseled young people planning for marriage only to find a very shallow understanding of love. In our romantic culture we say, “I fell in love,” or “It was love at first sight.” We define love in our selfish culture as a fleeting emotion that meets our selfish needs.
Love is a fruit of the Spirit
Our high divorce rate attests to the fact that this shallow brand of love is a crude counterfeit. It lasts through the honeymoon but eventually wears off in the midst of life’s inevitable challenges. Love is a fruit of the Spirit growing on the tree of life, establishing roots in Christ Himself, and producing works that are the expression of Christ.
For this reason, Christ told us that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The key here is the word “all.” Our entire being, spirit, soul, and body, is to love God. How much we love Him can be measured by how much we keep back for ourselves.
We are to love God with all of our heart. Your heart is your spirit, the residing place of God. This shows that love is not something originating in ourselves but in our spirit through the new birth and the process of spiritual growth. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). ‘The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit,” Paul declared (Rom 5:5). His love poured into our spirit enables us to love through Him.
We are to love God with all of our soul. The soul is the self-life. It is the source of emotions and the ability to make decisions and reason. Even though God has poured His love into our spirit, we still have the ability to choose how to express our love. We can love little or we can love much. We can love God with all of our soul or we can hold back something for ourselves. Just as a husband wants his wife’s full measure of love, God wants all of the love our soul can give. How tragic is a marriage in which a man keeps other lovers for his selfish pleasure. God is a jealous God and does not intend to share our love with other lovers.
Love sacrifices for the sake of Others
Jesus said that in order to truly follow Him we must be willing to lose our soul for His sake (Matt. 16:25). To lose your soul is to lay down your own self-life for Him. That is love. It sacrifices its own for the sake of others. God desires the love of all of our soul. That is the great commandment.
We are to love God with all of our mind. We usually think of the mind as part of the soul. Here Christ separates it from the soul perhaps because it is the place where all great spiritual battles are won or lost. Our mind is the fulcrum point of all decisions. The Holy Spirit must renew our mind so that it can consistently choose God (Rom. 12:2; Isa. 26:3). The mind can choose the world and its pleasures and distractions or it can choose God. There is an ongoing battle for our love. Will we give it to our eternal God or waste it on temporal things that will wither and fade away? Our jealous God waits for our answer.
Where there is true love, the church exists. (Those of you who know me well, knew I would get to the church eventually.) The church exists where God’s love is expressed through true followers of Christ. The spiritual “puppy love” based on fleeting emotion merely creates factions. It is mere infatuation with certain doctrines or worship styles and fleshly considerations. Real Godly love reaches beyond fleshly concerns because it has abandoned self. True love is asking how it can give to others not “What’s in it for me?”
Lack of love produces factions among God's people
Many institutional churches, including some home churches, are split into factions over fleshly concerns. Some desire fellowship with young people their own age with children about the same age. Others want to gather with people in their socio-economic group. Still others insist on a certain style of music as their primary focus. Race is still a major factor in the lives of those uncomfortable with people of other ethnic groups. Within our churches, we cordon people off according to age and gender because our connections are more fleshly than spiritual.
Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, so what?” to some of these divisions. Love does not consider these fleshly things because it is not asking “What’s in it for me?” but “How can I sacrifice for others so we can be one in Christ.”
Paul said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). He wrote this to the Corinthians who had divided themselves into factions by their opinions about Christian preachers (1 Cor. 1:12). Paul is saying, “Stop knowing people according to the flesh!” Today he would tell us to allow love to take us beyond age, gender, doctrine, music style, culture, race or socio-economic status. These are all fleshly concerns that have no place in the context of Godly love.
True love produces the church of Jesus Christ
When we love someone, we lay down our life for him. That is the beginning of the church. The true church cannot exist in an atmosphere where everyone wants it his way. The world looks on at our attempts at “church” and derisively says, “We have done that in our Neighborhood Watch meetings.” They see love based on fleshly things without any depth of sacrifice and shrug their shoulders in disdain. Anyone can gather around the idea of Christ but it takes true sacrificial love to gather around Christ Himself. That kind of love will stun the world with the realization of the living Christ.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). Real love gives of itself. God is not asking for a portion of our lives. He wants a presentation of all that we are as a sacrifice to Him. A sacrifice must die. We must die to what we want so He can accomplish His will and establish His church..
In the middle of this chapter of Romans Paul exhorts us to “Let love be genuine” (v. 9). The word for “genuine” literally means unhypocritical, real, without pretense. Paul saw what we see today—that it is possible to be experiencing a love that is not real and therefore cannot honor God and will not build up His church. Fleshly love merely polarizes God’s people around fleshly concerns and ideas. Genuine love brings us to God because through it we present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice.
I know these words are idealistic in light of today’s spiritual climate. Years ago, I came to the realization that God’s word is either true or it is false. We can reject it by crying, “Impossible!” or we can turn to the God of the impossible and begin to live in the miraculous. That is the church, God’s way. It is love realized in the lives of His people. God is inviting us to love Him and others wholly, without reservation. Love is the undeniable evidence of His presence in our lives. It is proof to the world that God lives and can change the lives of those who seek Him. God bless you as you seek Him and walk in His love.