"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself:'"
I find it interesting that this is this called the greatest commandment. It must be because the God we serve is a very relational God. It is also important because a person cannot sin by doing an unloving act at the same time that they are doing a loving one. No other commandments would be needed if we tried to do the most loving thing every time. We will not lie if we are trying to show love. We will not murder if we are trying to show love. We will not kill while we are showing love.
When I first read this passage I felt guilty. It was right after my first two children were born and I was passionately in love with my family. I told my pastor I was afraid I loved my family too much. Thankfully, he told me, "You don't love your husband or your children too much, maybe you just don't love God enough. If you keep getting to know Him, you will come to love Him as you should." Several years later I asked God to teach me to love Him as these verses describe. I expected His answer to come in the form of admonitions, but in the next 3-4 weeks I received daily lessons about how God loved me. They came in the form of scripture, sermons, books, encouragement notes, and praise music. The lessons to this day still continued to come.
The first lesson He taught me was that loving Him with all that I am depends on me first receiving His love. As I began to see that He loved me personally, not because He had to, I began to love Him. I realized the word "love" has been many distorted by our culture’s shallow meanings and selfish acts. "I love God" is said as flippantly as "I love pizza." In our society "love" has many depths. It can mean anything from "I don't like you, but I am supposed to," “I am interested in you,” “I enjoy spending time with you,” “I like you” to "I am consumed with passion for you."
There are so many descriptions of love in the Old Testament that can help us understand His love. It describes God as One who rejoices over us with singing. It describes His love in terms of intimacy like a mother has for her child and a husband has for his wife. He is even jealous for our loyalty and devotion. The Psalmist, David, found freedom to pour out his heart in pure honesty knowing God had His ears turned toward him. Christ also showed us the Father's heart. Something about Him invited people to live transparently even with their doubt, pride, and ignorance and yet He continuously demonstrated His love. He always looked past sin to the people He had come to redeem and change. He made loving choices in the face of adversity, hatred, misunderstanding, denial, and death. Even today, His love still invites us to come to Him.
It seems like to me that loving God and loving people are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. In Matthew 25 He equates loving people by meeting their needs to loving Him. He also calls us to love our enemies. He even went past telling us to love others as we love ourselves. John 13:34 says we are to love others as He loves us. That is definitely a higher calling. It means to love even when there is nothing loveable about the other person. It means to love in the face of rejection, in the face of hatred or coldness. To love like Him is to love with a perseverance this culture has lost. It means to love both boldly and tenderly.
I can't love like He does in and of myself. One year I was going to work in a Christian Camp to work for three weeks. The week before I left, my stepfather died while my husband was out of town and our oldest son had a motorcycle wreck. My son asked me to leave him in the emergency room and go upstairs to be with his best friends as they gave birth to a stillborn baby. I had not been home more than a few hours when a girl I was mentoring came by to tell me she was leaving the church and God to pursue a homosexual lifestyle. I left for camp feeling empty, knowing I had nothing left to give. As the band warmed up the first night, I was alone in the chapel and prayed, "Father, I have nothing left to give -- I need YOU." He filled me with such joy and love that I was overwhelmed. Through His love being shed abroad in my heart, I was able to love and serve those He had sent me to serve. I know it is God who gives me the love I have for students I work with. I have such a passion for them to know God intimately and to demonstrate their love with their lives. This "love thing", is in no way simple. In fact, it is a huge mystery! This awesome God we serve tells us to love Him with all that we are and to love others as He has loved us. Yet, without an understanding of His love for us, and without our lives being intricately intertwined with His we are incapable of doing so. Furthermore, we cannot love God without loving people, nor can we love people without loving God. I admit I am not fully "there" as far as loving God with all that I am, but I am humbled by His consistent love for me and comforted by the fact that the desire to love Him continues to grow with in my heart every day. How about you?
Prayer: Father, thank you for loving us with unconditional and sacrificial love. We don't deserve it. We can't earn it. Even more importantly there is nothing we can do to lose it. We thank you for sending your son to bridge the gap that our sin caused so that we could receive and bask in the warmth of your love. May we never grow cold towards you, but always passionate and ever pursing you with all that we are. Amen