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The Greatest Commandment

A few weeks ago I told you that I was far more impoverished than I thought I was. The reason for this was that I surveyed my library and found very few books on love. How could this be? Love is the foundation of everything we believe about God, about salvation and about being a Christian.

Tonight, I am going to confirm my poverty even more. The few books I do have say very little about love, especially about the love of God. In fact, some of them find fault with the concept of love. Here are two titles: Can Christians Love Too Much?  Love Is Not Enough

Other books focus mainly on love in the context of marriage or of romantic relationships. “The Five Languages of Love”, by Gary Chapman deals with marital love. “Essays on Love” is a series of articles on romance and marriage. “I Loved A Girl” devotes its pages to a Christian response to an immoral relationship.

The only other book I have on the theme of love is Eric Fromm’s classic, “The Art of Loving.” He writes it from a philosophical and psychological perspective and distances himself from a theistic view. While he makes many good statements about love, he only deals with it in a secular, humanist sense. To treat the all-important concept of love without an understanding of God lacks credibility for a Bible believer. In fact, all research into everything we believe—not only about love, but all subjects—must begin with God and flow outward. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God—.” That defines our starting point for life.

Where To Begin? Definitions.

Charles C. Ryrie, in his book, A Survey of Bible Doctrine, says the following:

God is love (1 John 4:8). What is love? This is one of the words used the most and defined the least in our vocabulary today. Here is one way of arriving at a proper concept of what love is. When young people think of love they think first and quite naturally of a pleasant emotional experience. And this is love, but it is not the whole concept. When those same young people grow up, marry, and have children, they soon learn that they have to discipline those children. The couple that first cuddles a baby and then soon after corrects that baby who, for instance, reaches out to touch a hot stove, is expressing two aspects of love.

So any definition of love must be broad enough to include both the cuddling and correcting aspects of love. Therefore, we might tentatively propose the definition that love is that which seeks good for the object loved.”

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary says,

LOVE; (1):strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternallovefor a child>(2):attraction based on sexual desire:affection and tenderness felt by lovers(3):affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests<lovefor his old schoolmates>.

A teenage girl writes this: “What is the real definition of love? Love has many different meanings to all different types of people. There are many stages of love at different ages and different types of love. My definition of love is caring about someone so deeply that your life would be very different with out them there would always be a little piece of yourself missing if they pass away or leave you. Your life is incomplete when they are away and you would do anything to protect them or to make them happy. When I think of love I think of a couple sitting by the ocean holding hands and kissing. The feeling of love is “that I can’t eat, I can’tsleep, reach for the stars, world series kind of stuff”. But this definition and the way that I portray and believe in love differs from yours, the classrooms, and probably many other people. “Love is an incredibly powerful word. When you’re in love, you always want to be together, and when you’re not, you’re thinking about being together because you need that person and without them your life is incomplete” (Sophocles).

“My definition of love is what I personally think of it. The definition that I gave is what I think of when thinking of a couple (being in a relationship with another person.) This is my interpretation of love as an 18-year-old female. But when I was a little kid I thought of love in a completely different way, and when I am older and wiser I will probably think of love differently also. As an a teenager I realize that I have not experienced the real meaning of life yet and that I have not seen all there is to see in the world so how could I understand the “real” definition of love? How can anyone really know the real definition of love? I believe that love is one of the hardest words in thedictionaryto actually understand and know the true definition.”

Why is this so important? We must begin with what the Bible says about love. The first place love is mentioned is Genesis 22:2.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou LOVEst, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Most of the uses of the word love refer to relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters and friends. Sometimes it is used to show affection for food (as when Isaac is said to love venison).

The first time we see love in connection with God is Exodus 20 when the ten commandments were listed.

1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

This scripture does not offer much analysis as to the nature of this love. Next, we read about the love of bondservant to his master.

Exodus 21:5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.

Then, we read of neighborly love.

Leviticus 19:17-18 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. 18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Reading further, we are taught to love strangers as well as neighbors.

Leviticus 19:33-34 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.

34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Finally, we come to a full definition of what it means to love God. It is remarkable that we find the fullest definition of the love of God in the same setting as our fullest revelation of the essence of God.

Deuteronomy 6:1 Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: 2 That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey. 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

We cannot extrapolate or isolate the concept of love outside of the context of God. True love is so integrated with and reflexive of the nature of God, that it cannot be considered as a stand-alone virtue. This is precisely what the secular humanist has tried to do. When love is divorced from its relationship with God, it becomes a mutant. Without God, love has no justice, righteousness, holiness or true meaning do define it.

This definition in Deuteronomy 6:5 was expanded a little in Joshua 22.

Joshua 22:5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to LOVE the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. 

On basis of these scriptures, we can begin to understand the nature of love:

  • Love does not exist in the abstract. It must be understood in concrete ways and in context with reality.
  • Love is not an involuntary feeling. You have control over your impulse to love.
  • We are commanded to love God.
  • We are commanded how to love God.
  • We are to love God emotionally (heart), intellectually (soul/mind), and willfully (might).

These scriptures do not square with a number of ideas in modern society.

  • I fell in love.
  • I fell out of love.
  • I cannot love anyone.
  • I cannot love you.
  • I cannot stop loving.
  • I can love one person but not another.
  • I don’t know if I love you or not.
  • I love you but I can’t commit to you.
  • You are too complicated to love.
  • You are too demanding to love.

You can even find steps to take in order to fall out of love.

These statements come from selfish, secular, humanistic sources. Since they are so ingrained in our culture, Apostolic believers may unwittingly subscribe to them even though they have no basis in the scriptures.

The meaning God assigns to love is best illustrated in the stories of the Bible.

Each scenario presents a problem, shows the solution and then gives the results. From the human standpoint, the problem always seems insurmountable, the solution always seems unworkable and the results always seem disastrous. The truth is always the opposite of what it appears to human wisdom.

  • Abraham’s love for God in sacrifice of Isaac.  Genesis 22:12 (Love overcomes rivalry.)
  • Joseph’s love for his brethren. Genesis 45:1-15 (Love overcomes hurt.)
  • Ruth’s love for Naomi. Ruth 1:14-17 (Love overcomes insecurity.)
  • Esther’s love for her people. Esther 4:13-16 (Love overcomes fear.)
  • Hosea’s love for Gomer. Hosea 1:1-3; 3:1-4 (Love overcomes shame.)
  • Jesus’ love for Peter. John 21:1-17 (Love overcomes disappointment.)
  • Paul’s love for Onesimus. Philemon 1 (Love overcomes complications.)
  • Barnabas’ love for John Mark. Acts 15:36-40. (Love overcomes inadequacy.)
  • The greatest story of all time: Christ’s love for the sinner.

John 3:16, Romans 5:1-7

Here are things we know about love:

  • Love must have an object.
    • It cannot exist as an abstract thought.
      • 1John 3:18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
    • Love acts within a relationship.
      • 1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
      • 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
      • 3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
  • Love obeys a set of behavioral laws.
    • It respects the wishes of its object.
    • It always acts in the best interest of its object.
    • It always chooses to please its object.
  • Love will be tested.
    • “Wherefore show ye to them, and before the churches, the PROOF of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.” 2 Cor. 8:24.
    • Romans 8:35-39.
  • Love can be misapplied.
    • For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. 1 Tim. 3:2.
    • 2 Tim. 4:10
    • 1 Tim. 6:10
    • 1 John 2:15-17.

1 John 4:6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.

  • Love is the only way we can ultimately embrace God. Without loving God, we cannot have a relationship with God.



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