I hope you’re enjoying this little voyage of discovery that we are sharing together, beloved child of covenant. So far, we’ve shared a few things regarding our calling and how we’ve been called out from the world to become a unique people who are separate and distinct from people living all around us. We’ve also investigated our call to discipleship and have explored what that means for us in terms of practical, everyday living. We’ve also taken a serious look at our call to truth and the importance of keeping our eyes on the Holy Spirit inspired word of God; as well as the importance of being able to read, interpret, and apply the teachings of God’s written word for ourselves.
But now I think you will agree that, while there are many more things for us to investigate and consider with regard to our shared walk with the Lord, we have come to a point where we cannot venture much further together on our quest for authentic Christianity without delving into the realms love and exploring our call to love.
I am interested to know, beloved, what you think real love looks like from a Biblical viewpoint. I say that because it seems to me that people today have lost sight of what the scriptures teach concerning how true love expresses itself. Have you ever heard or read the following scripture: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (I John 5:3, NASB). That’s not what most people expected to hear, is it? But people also have a lot of misconceptions about what it really means to “keep His commandments,” and they don’t know, or have forgotten that, “His commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3, NASB).
While life back in old covenant days—with its accompanying law of Moses—might be construed as burdensome, for there were certainly a lot of tedious rules and regulations to follow, Jesus simplified things for us when He said:
‘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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
(Matthew 22:37-40, NASB)
According to Jesus, everything that the Law of Moses and the writings of the ancient prophets were trying to accomplish could be summed up in those two great commands—to love God and to love others. When we take a look at the Ten Commandments, which represented in a few brief words all that the Law of Moses was designed to accomplish, we can easily see how each command is predicated on love.
For example, the first four commandments—“You shall have no other gods before Me,” “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:3-8, NASB)—all relate to our love for God and our desire to honor Him. The fifth commandment—“Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12, NASB)—relates to both our love for God and for our parents; as it speaks to our respect for, and submission to, God’s established boundaries of authority. The remaining five commandments, six through ten—“You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” “You shall not covet… anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:13-17, NASB)—all relate to loving, honoring, and respecting one another. God’s commandments are all about fostering a life and a society that is founded on love.
Today, God’s covenant children are no longer controlled by all the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses; but God’s desired outcome for our lives has not changed. He still wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In fact, Jesus actually raised the concept of love to incredibly new heights, when it comes to how the new covenant children of God are to love one another, when He said:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
(John 13:34, NASB)
Loving my neighbor as I love myself, as difficult is that is, is only sufficient for orchestrating my secular, community relationships with people in general. But when it comes to the ekklesia—the called out body of Christ—I am commanded to take love to an even higher level; I must, somehow, learn to love my brothers and sisters in Christ the way Jesus loves me.
Jesus even went so far as to set forth love as the identifying mark of the children of God when He said:
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
(John 13:35, NASB)
It’s interesting to me how that various religious groups rally around and identify themselves by all kinds of teachings, doctrines, practices, names, and even prominent religious leaders; while pretty much ignoring the very thing that Jesus said would identify His true disciples—love for one another.
And so, I submit to you, dear covenant child, that there is not a single expectation that God has of us that does not fall under the category of love: love for people in general, love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, love for God. One could almost say that, for the authentic child of God, “love IS our religion”—at least insofar as how God wants us to demonstrate our faith on a practical level in this physical world day-by-day.
I know a brother in Christ who decided that he would read through all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and list all the commandments set forth by Jesus. As he did so, a somewhat radical—to his mind—concept emerged. Virtually all of Jesus’ commandments are, in some form or fashion, relational—that is, they all have to do with our relationships. Whether it is something having to do with the use of our physical resources, or something pertaining to our own life-giving relationship with God, whenever Jesus gave a command, it always related to loving God or loving one another, or both, in some way.
To be a bit more specific, Jesus, after saying, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” and “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me” and “He who does not love Me does not keep My words” and “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 14:15,21,23-24, NASB), then finished this part of His narrative by saying:
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 … This I command you, that you love one another.
(John 15:13-14, 17, NASB)
Many years later, the Apostle John would echo Jesus’ teaching when he admonished us with these words:
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
(I John 3:23, NASB)
In my mind’s eye, I can just see someone reading these words and thinking to themselves, “Oh, well then, I guess I’m off the hook as far as commandment keeping goes. After all, it appears as if the only command I really need to adhere to is ‘love.’ That sounds easy enough!” But anyone who is tempted to think like that doesn’t have an inkling of what it really means to love.
Some people seem to think that love is nothing more than a warm, fuzzy feeling and that, so long as they have a general feeling of goodwill toward others, they are loving. But, as scripture points out, love is much more than a feeling or some emotion. In fact, the Apostle John admonishes us in this regard, saying, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (I John 3:18, NASB). From this we learn that, while love certainly does involve our emotions to one degree or another, authentic love calls us to action.
It is not enough to feel some pleasant emotion toward someone—although, it seems to me that, without the positive feelings, love isn’t going to take us very far. It is not even enough to simply express our love in words. It’s far too easy to mouth the words, “Love ya, brother!” while neglecting people’s needs, or while, sometimes, even stabbing one another in the back. But rather, our emotions must be coupled with our actions. We must be ready and willing to express our emotions—feelings of good will—in the way we relate to and take care of one another.
In my experience, love is just about as TOUGH as it gets. No commandment or expectation, born of God or man, can compare with it in terms of sheer difficulty. Even when simply contemplating our love for God, have you ever taken the time to reflect on what it might mean to actually “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27, NASB)?
- “All your heart” necessitates that we put our love for God above every other emotion and emotional attachment in our lives; including those people who are nearest and dearest to us.
- “All your soul” requires that we make Him the entire spiritual focus of our lives; that we identify with, connect with, or pay tribute to no other spiritual entity—person, place, thing, or organization—except Him; and that even those valid spiritual connections with others—our brothers and sisters within the ekklesia—are only recognized and validated through Him and by Him
- “All your strength” means that when the going gets rough, we don’t quit, or back down from our faith, or allow ourselves to simply remain quiet and unobserved. Rather, because of our love for God, even when it’s not easy to claim faith in Him, or to be recognized as one of His covenant children because of the terrible consequences we may have to face, still, we let our faith shine. You know, Christians in the 1st century, and many times since—even many in recent days—have paid with their very lives, and even watched their own family, friends, and loved ones be put to death; yet they refused to blaspheme the Lord or recant their faith. Others have given up wealth and prosperity, advancement, social clout, political power, and even their livelihood because of their love for God. Could you, would you, be willing to summon that kind of strength—indeed, ALL your strength—in order to love God like that?
- “All your mind” requires that our entire intellectual pursuit be focus in, on, and through the Lord our God. All our learning, all our academic achievement, all the knowledge and wisdom we may acquire is for the sake of discovering, revealing, and glorifying the wonders and marvelous workings of our God and bringing glory to His name; “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the [ekklesias]—(church) to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, NASB).
Do you still think love sounds easy? And please note, furthermore, that Jesus doesn’t simply tell us to love God with a portion of our heart, or a little bit of our spirit, or with whatever strength we care to muster, or with a certain percentage of our mind. No, indeed! Rather, He wants “ALL of it”—ALL our heart, ALL our spirit, ALL our strength, ALL our mind! I’m so glad God gives us time and opportunity to grow into this kind of love.
And as for loving “your neighbor as yourself,” if you don’t think this is an equally difficult assignment, just look at a few of the ways that the Apostle Paul describes how love behaves; he says:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…
(I Corinthians 13:4-8, NASB)
When you think about it, that, too, is some pretty tough medicine. I know precious few people in this world who consistently live like that. If you doubt that living a life of love is a rather difficult endeavor, just go back to this passage of scripture and insert you own name in place of the word “love” and see how well you are doing. Are you always “patient,” are you always “kind,” are you never “jealous,” do you never “brag,” and do you never act in an “arrogant” manner? Do you never “act unbecomingly”—that is, in any manner that brings reproach, or embarrassment, or that displeases the Lord? Do you never “seek your own” will, way, wants, and desires; but always put others and their needs ahead of yourself? Are you never “provoked” when people try to hurt you, or slight you, or run over you in some way? Do you never “take into account a wrong suffered”—that is, you never hold a grudge or remember the bad things people have done to you? Do you take no pleasure, or joy, or entertainment value from any “unrighteousness,”—violence, immorality, or anything destructive or deceitful? But rather, do you always “rejoice with the truth,”—that which God deems holy, healthy, and pure? And when it comes to your relationships, are you able to “bear all things,” “hope all things,” “endure all things,” and “never fail” anyone whom God has placed in your life, regardless of how close or distant you may hold them in your heart?
Do you still think love is an easy path? And, we may note, Paul doesn’t intend that we take this passage of scripture as an exhaustive list; this is only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” concerning all that love really is and how it authentically expresses itself in our relationships. But this is the path that we, the new covenant children of God, are called to pursue. Let’s face it, learning to love—both God and other people—is going to be among the greatest challenges, if not THE greatest challenge, of our lives.
What you’ll soon discover, child of God, if you haven’t already, is that some people are just easier to love than others. It’s always easier to love people who love us; but what about those people who we try to love, but they just don’t seem to want to love us back? And what about those people with whom we have the inevitable “personality conflict”—people with whom, due to their culture, background, experiences, lifestyle, or personality, we just don’t seem to be able to relate to or get along with very well? Our personal interactions with some of these kinds of people will surely reveal the content of our hearts as they test our determination to obey our Lord’s commandment to love.
But beyond even that, there is yet another class of people who are exceedingly difficult to love. Jesus warned of those who would absolutely hate us, and even persecute us, because of our faith. Remember, He said:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
(John 15:18-19, NASB)
I know that there are people in this world who hate me. They hate me for my faith in Christ. They hate me for my commitment to the word of God and to the moral standards expressed therein. Some of these people would even harm me if given the chance. What about these people? How am I supposed to find the emotional strength to, somehow, love them? Where do I find the motivation to humble myself, to submit to others to the greatest extent that I possibly can, and to do the right thing by others; loving them even though I may not feel particularly loving toward them? Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:43-45, NASB)
Talk about a seriously radical philosophy of life! By the world’s standards, that sounds crazy doesn’t it? I mean, how am I supposed to even survive in this turbulent, dog-eat-dog world if I try to live like that? I’ll be devoured! This love stuff is tough. But, the Apostle Paul—who faced persecution and possible death at the hands of those who were enemies of the Christ—reminds us that:
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage…
(2 Corinthians 5:6, NASB)
I’m convinced that the only way to truly “walk in love” is to “walk by faith”—trusting God to guide, guard, and protect us; knowing that, even if we must give up our lives in service to Christ, He stands ready to take us home to be with Him. There is something incredibly liberating about that kind of faith. It releases us from fear and empowers us to live sacrificially; and to love others the way Jesus has loved us.
As I’ve mentioned, people who lived back in Old Testament days had the Law of Moses to govern their outward actions toward one another. But the problem with all such law is that it doesn’t necessarily touch the heart; and it is my heart with which God is ultimately concerned. Jesus made this abundantly clear in His Sermon on the Mount when He said:
You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
(Matthew 5:21-22, NASB)
The ancient Jews thought that, so long as they didn’t actually commit murder, they were living in accordance with the will of God. But along comes Jesus to convict them, and us, of the fact that being angry with someone, or calling people names, or relegating them to the realm of “idiot” in our own mind is a sin every bit as grievous as murder because it reveals a certain degree of hatred and violence in our hearts. We might think about that the next time we’re driving along on the freeway and someone cuts us off in traffic.
So then, if the “letter of the law” is not sufficient to control our hearts, just where do we find enough motivation to not only refrain from violent outward acts of aggression, but to actually love others from within our hearts as God desires? For the new covenant child of God, there can be but one answer:
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
(2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NASB)
Jesus, our Lord, is not only our perfect model of love, He is also the supreme motivator of our love. Although He was hated by many, He did not hate them in return. Rather, as He hung on the cross, gazing out over His torturers who were rallied in rebellion against God, He lifted His voice to heaven, saying: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NASB). Furthermore, we ourselves owe our very spiritual existence to that love; for the scriptures state:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:6-8, NASB)
We must never forget that there is little distance between us and that rowdy mob that nailed Jesus to the cross. We, like them, were “sinners,” “enemies,” and “helpless” to do anything about our lost condition. The scriptures go on to say:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
(Ephesians 2:1-5, NASB)
In contemplating Jesus’ example and how much we are loved by the Lord, and standing under conviction of the fact that He didn’t wait until we, somehow, managed to “get our act together”—or become “good enough”—before laying His life down for us, how can we, then, refuse to love others—even the meanies? Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7, NASB) and James reminds us that, “… judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, NASB). And so, above all else, we are called to love. The Apostle Paul says:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
(Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB)
And something beautiful to remember is that God has not left us on our own, or left us to our own resources, in our attempts at learning to love like Jesus loved. Rather, He has provided us with His Holy Spirit Who also “helps our weakness” (Romans 8:26, NASB). Paul reminds us that, “The fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5:22, NASB). He also said that it was his prayer for the children of God living in Ephesus that they would all:
…be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:16-19, NASB)
I think it’s very sad when people who call themselves Christians lose sight of what Christianity is really all about. It’s a sad thing to see people substitute religion for love; or to see them seek to control and be controlled by outward religious rules and regulations, rather than by the love of Christ. I also think it’s sad that relationships suffer, and community goes wanting, when people make church, or how we do church, or various church traditions more important than their relationships with one another in Christ. When people do this, they have lost sight of their identity in Christ and what it means to be a child of God. The Apostle John, in light of God’s love for us and everything Jesus has done for us, reminds us of our responsibilities toward one another when he says:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(I John 4:7-11, NASB)
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