Throughout the Bible God is described in many forms and representations of which a few stand tall, head and shoulders above the rest. These are expressions that convey the essence of God, that is, His being, the very stuff He’s made off. Strictly speaking these are not descriptions but statement of facts portraying bright and vivid pictures of who God is.
Take for instance the resounding statement in 1 John 1:5 that “God is light…”. This is what God is. Taking it a step further John further elaborates on this statement by adding, “…and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
Take another example. In John 4:24 the Lord Jesus Himself states that “God is spirit….”. Again, that is exactly what He is, that is His essence and He cannot be anything else. Therefore, Jesus continues “… those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
And then there is John 1 John 4:8 – “God is love.” He cannot be and neither is He anything else but. Love represents the very essence of who God is. The heart and being of God is love itself. You cannot think of God and not think of love.
And that is the reason why all the primary and tall standing commandments in the Christian faith have love at their centre. Mark 12:28 – 31 is a case in point.
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In reply to the scribe’s enquiry about which command was the first, or the most important of them all, Jesus answered – without hesitation or second thought – that it was “to love” God with every inch and fibre of our being. He then added another one for good measure (even though He was only asked for one – “the most important” one) which was again “to love” but this time ones’ neighbour as oneself. The Lord added the second one so that people would not dissociate or separate love for God from love for neighbour. Loving God and loving neighbour are two sides of the same coin.In fact and as the bible attests, it is not possible to love God without loving neighbour, definitely not. 1 John 4:20 – 21
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother.
The two loves are inextricably interlinked and cannot be separated. Our love for God is expressed in our love for the brethren. The Lord Jesus categorically stated and authoritatively concluded that it was love for God and love for neighbour that topped the list of all the commandments.
That is why when our words, actions and services are not driven by love for God and love for fellow man, when it is not love that motivates and governs our actions we are, to put mildly, missing the mark. Or to put it bluntly as the apostle Paul did, we are nothing.
Corinthians 13:1 – 3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
What an indictment!
Thrice in the same number of verses the apostle Paul emphatically declares the futility of all that we do in the name of ministry when it is not done in love. It is scary to think that all these things can (and are) being done without the core ingredient of love.
What a tragedy when we minister, prophesy, work miracles, serve and exhort but not from love and out of love!
How then can we love?
It is clearly the most important commandment and there is no getting away from it – it is, after all, there in black and white.
Left to us, it is definitely not going to happen just because it’s a command no matter how great. Neither is the knowledge that everything we do without love is of its own meaningless, sufficient to generate the kind of love we are commanded to have. It is, therefore, not so much the command of itself or the fact that everything else is without meaning and context when there’s no love that is going to enable us, make it possible for us to walk and serve in love. Simply put, of ourselves we do not have the capability to fulfill these commands. Rather, it is when we discover and appreciate first, how much God loved us, the extent of His love for us that loving Him and our neighbour becomes a practical possibility.
We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
It is only possible for us to love when we discover and find out His love for us, only when we grow in the knowledge and appreciation of God’s love for us. It is when we come to and grow in our personal knowledge of this God who is love we are then able to reflect that love, to reciprocate by loving Him and neighbour.
It is definitely His love that comes first and we will only be truly able to fulfill His commandment to love to the extent we have discovered His love for ourselves.
When we truly understand and appreciate that we were loved, not because God found anything like-able and attractive in us except His own image – albeit severely marred and deformed – we ourselves begin to reflect and emit that same love.
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
It was while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8), helpless people (Rom 5:6) and enemies of God Himself (Rom 5:10) that He made the choice of loving us and not because we were attractive or could somewhat be of benefit to Him. It was not that God lacked anything and was in need of being complemented or completed by anything in us. We were in no condition at all to be loved. In fact, we were in a negative state all round – there was nothing in us to be loved.
You see, the kind of love Christ is talking about and with which he loved us is an infallible demonstration of true love. In order to love others rightly as Christ commanded and intended for us to do so, we need to understand how He loved us, what kind of love He has loved us with. The key to rightly loving others then is understanding God’s love for ourselves. It is as we grow in our personal understanding of God’s love for us which has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit that we mirror that love toward our fellow brethren.
and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
In other words, our love for the brethren, for all the saints is not meant to be generated by us but to be an overflow of the love we have received from God.