I love the Lord. I’m sure you do too. I’ve said it, sung it, even written it in my journal like a love letter to Jesus.
When I think about God’s love, I picture scenes from The Passion of the Christ. I see violence and bloodshed; I hear the cries of a mama as she watches her son suffer.
In a culture in which valentines, chocolates, and flowers can all typify the word love, that’s a harsh image to associate. We throw the word around so much–I love pizza, I love my dog–that it can lose its power when we hear God loves us.
“But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:8, NIV 84
Notice that God doesn’t just say, “I love you.” He demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to die for us while we were still at our worse. In doing so, we get a vivid picture of true love.
And He calls us to love in action too.
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 greatest commandment, And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'”Matthew 22:37-40
We are called to love God first, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. But it isn’t just a sweet feeling or an empty platitude. It’s a love that calls for sacrifice (Matthew 10:38-39), priority (Matthew 6:33), and passion (Romans 12:11).
Maybe, like me, you want to know God better and love Him more. How can we do that?
First, we can’t love God with all our hearts without loving what He loves, and He loves people.
“‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'”John 3:16
God loves and values all people because we are created in His image. He knits us together in our mother’s womb and knows us before we are born. God values life, including the unborn, so much that He sent His Son to die for each one of us.
We can’t truly love God but not value the lives He died to save. We can’t truly love God but not share the good news with the people He created. If we love God with all our hearts, we will love the people He loves: all people–every tongue, tribe, and nation.
Second, we can’t love God with all our soul without following Him faithfully in obedience. Jesus said if we love Him, we will obey Him.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”John 14:15
Many of us claim to love God, but if we are living a lifestyle that directly contradicts His Word, is that really love?
If I say I love my husband, but I go out every weekend with other men, my actions show that I don’t really love him. Likewise, if I say I love God but I live in rebellion against His Word, then do I really love Him?
As Christians, we will stumble and fall. Our love for God won’t be perfect. But our heart’s desire should be to demonstrate our love for Him with our obedience.
Third, we can’t love God with all our mind and not also love His Word, which means we read and study it.
“‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice.'”Luke 8:21
Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). So if we love God, we will have a desire to know Him through His Word and to learn what it means to follow Him.
Just as God demonstrated His love for us in Jesus, we show our love for God in how we live, not just in what we say.
And we are called to love others in the same way. The Bible has much to say about how we are to love others, much more than I can share here on a blog post. But let’s just look at three areas that we can pray about and seek to grow in.
First, we are to love others as He has loved us.
“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.'”John 13:34-35
That’s a pretty high standard that involves sacrificial, unconditional, laying-your-life-down love. True love denies self.
Love sometimes means we give up our spot for someone else, we let go of our desires to meet someone’s need, we sacrifice our time to give to another. It means we love even when we are not loved in return.
Jesus said that if we love each other like that in the church, it would be a witness to the rest of the world of His love. And that’s exactly what we see the early church doing in Acts 2:42-47.
Second, we are to love others sincerely.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourself.”Romans 12:9-10
Love must be based on truth. In our culture today, we think of love as making sure everybody is happy and nobody’s feelings are hurt. That’s not love.
If I let you believe a lie because I don’t want to hurt your feelings, I don’t really love you. True love will hate what is evil and cling to what is good; so to love others as God does, we have to stand on His truth and speak it in love.
Anything less is hate, because evil and wrongdoing lead to destruction. Expressing approval of sin for the sake of one’s feelings is cruelty, not love.
For instance, if I say I love my child, but I take him to buy drugs because that’s what he thinks will make him happy, I am condoning a lifestyle that will lead to his destruction. That’s certainly not love.
Third, love extends to our enemies.
“‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'”Matthew 5:43-45a
That’s a hard teaching. When we are hurt at the hands of another, it’s really difficult not to seek payback for wrongs done to us. But loving our enemies requires trusting God with our pain.
For most of us, loving the people who love us back is hard enough. We definitely struggle to love those who are unloving toward us. But God gives us His grace and His power to do what we could never do in our own strength.
So, where we struggle to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, let’s keep struggling and wrestling with the issues and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with His love.
When we are faced with issues of racism, sexism, ageism, or abortion, let’s remember the example of our Savior who died for all people. If we love Him, we love those He loves.
When we are struggling with a sin we don’t want to let go of–especially matters of the heart–let’s remember the love of God demonstrated to us in His Son, and let’s choose to sacrifice our own desires for His love that will never let us go.
And when we wrestle with finding the time to study God’s Word, let’s be reminded that if we really love God, we will love His Word. Let’s ask Him to give us a holy desire to know Him.
The call to love isn’t one we should take lightly. But the more we meditate on God’s Word and pray for a heart like His, the more like Him we will become.
I’ll admit: I struggle to love well. But I want to be what God wants me to be, so I am challenged to grow.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”1 John 3:16-18
Let’s not conform to the world’s definition of love. As children of God, we have a higher calling: to love with actions and in truth. It’s not a popular calling. It’s not an easy calling.
But we weren’t promised popular or easy. We were promised His presence (John 16:33). And because He demonstrated His love for us on the cross, let’s love Him and love others with all we’ve got.