Most people familiar with the teachings of Jesus can tell you what he considered to be “the greatest commandment.” They may not know exactly where it is, but somewhere in the Bible, Jesus tells us that “You shall love the Lord,” is the most important thing, and that a close second is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And as a result, there are a lot of people have developed an idea that serving God and following Jesus involves having some sort of emotional attachment to Jesus.
Does godly love mean “getting along?”
We can look at it like the way we love our parents: “I love my mom and dad, but that doesn’t mean I have to do whatever they say! I’m a grown-up now, and can make my own rules and decisions, and their job as parent is to accept all those decisions, and my job is to love them even when they say things I don’t like or act in ways that I don’t agree with.”
By that standard, love is basically being able to ignore all our differences and care about each other. That sounds great, and on some level there’s some truth to that.
But there’s a lot more to what Jesus is saying there, and sometimes we miss what Jesus is really calling us to do.
Loving God “with all my heart”
Jesus says in Mark 12:28: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” That’s not an empty expression; it’s not hyperbole.
I might tell someone “I love you with all my heart,” but when it comes to making decisions in my life, my first thought is still about what I want to do. What’s in my best interest? After all, that’s what we’re taught in our culture: “Take care of yourself. Don’t give up your dreams or ideals or desires for anyone! Be true to yourself.”
The problem is that Jesus is saying the exact opposite of that. If I love the Lord with all my heart, that leaves no room for any love that is going to contradict a love of God.
Loving with all my strength means that my energies and efforts are reserved for activities that reflect a love for God – and I don’ have strength left for anything else.
And in Matthew’s account, we read an additional statement that Jesus makes: “on these two commandments (loving God, loving neighbor) hang all the law and the prophets.” That means that everything God commands you to do first into these two categories.
Love of God leads to love of good
It doesn’t mean that the other laws God gives us are unimportant, or even less important – they’re not optional for us so long as we maintain an emotional attachment to God. They are the tools God gives us to exemplify our love for God.
Do I truly love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength? Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not “If you love me, you’ll think of me fondly while you go about living the life you choose and ignoring all the things I’ve told you to do.”
Godly love is a love that is defined by God, not by us. And the love that God requires from us is a love that compels us to not only embrace God, but to embrace everything God is – including his character, his nature, his will. We love what He loves, and we love HOW he loves.
Loving God requires a choice!
In Romans 12:9, Paul makes a pretty important statement about what true godly love requires. He says “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Those aren’t separate thoughts. Paul is saying that true love, love that comes from God, calls for us to make some choices in our lives. If I love God, I will love the things of God – things I know that God approves.
That means that I not only have to have a knowledge of what God loves – not the things I think God SHOULD love, but what His word actually teaches us that He loves – but I need to love those things too. I should desire to fill my life with good things, not continuing to cling to the sinful activities of the world that we know God hates.
So does that mean that God doesn’t love sinners? Of course not! God commended his love to us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us! That’s what Paul writes in the same book, Romans 5:8.
But God doesn’t love in the same way that we describe love in our culture. God’s love didn’t allow him to simply overlook sin, to say “You live your best life, do whatever makes you happiest, whatever you enjoy, and I’m going to accept that and let you come live with me in my kingdom.”
How much do I REALLY love God?
God’s love compelled him to reach out to humanity, his creation, and provide a way for us to be with Him – if that’s really what we want. But we have to ask ourselves the question: Is my love for God genuine? Do I REALLY love God?
Because if I love God, I want to be LIKE God. I want to be around things that reflect the character of God. I want to live the way God wants me to live – not out of the sense of some moral code, but rather a wish to be everything God wants me to be, knowing that every command He gives, every instruction for my life, is designed to bring me closer to Him, so that when this life is over, I can spend eternity in the presence of the God I truly love.
So let’s love the Lord, not in some nebulous, meaningless way, but with a love that seeks to know God in all his virtue, righteousness, justice and mercy, and carry that grace with us in everything we do. That’s the whole point behind the idea of training for godliness.