We’ve talked about God’s love for us but what does it mean to love God, love others and to love ourselves?
Jesus told us the answer about how to love God in John 14:15; “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (NKJV)
Since we have already seen that love is the fulfillment of the law or the commandments (Matthew 22:36 – 40; Romans 13:10), we are to love God and walk in love. We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19). Love puts Him first and obeys what He says to do.
One of the keys to living the abundant life is to put Jesus first in your life or to be Christ centered! We don’t obey Him out of duty or a desire to be accepted by Him according to our works, but because we love Him and are submitted to Him even as Jesus was submitted to the Father and obeyed Him willingly even to His death on the cross.
But whoever keeps His Word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 1 John 2:5 (NKJV).
It was Sunday, July 29, 1979 and I was all alone in my apartment. My boyfriend had just left for a week-long camping trip and I had to stay home to go to work on the evening shift at the hospital. On this particular day, I was actually singing a love song to Jesus. The one that says, “I love you Lord, and I lift my voice to worship you.” (Klein, Laurie, 1978). Suddenly, I heard Jesus speak these words to my heart and mind; “If you love Me, you will obey Me.” His Words took me by surprise but I knew the scripture verse in the Bible as John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” I knew I wasn’t living as I should be because I was living with my boyfriend and doing my “own” thing. I knew it wasn’t right but I felt that I couldn’t trust God.
I had walked away from the Lord three years earlier because I believed He had let me down and had failed me by allowing me to go through a divorce. I was a Christian and I thought my husband was too. I believed that Christians didn’t get divorced. My husband had committed adultery and decided he didn’t want to be married anymore after only four years of marriage. He said that marriage wasn’t what he had expected. I wasn’t able to believe God to heal my marriage and so I walked away from the Lord because I thought I couldn’t trust Him.
It took at least two years before I stopped crying whenever I thought about what had happened to me. I determined that no man would ever do this to me again! Before long I had gotten involved in a relationship with a non-believer who had taken an interest in me and we moved in together. From that time on, there was a war going on in my heart, tearing it apart because I knew I shouldn’t be living with him and I was apart from God. I wanted to trust God again and get right with Him, but I felt that I couldn’t trust Him. You see, what Jesus was telling me was that love is not a feeling or just words (or singing words of a song!) but a decision, a commitment and an action.
I knew that at that very moment on that day in my apartment, I needed to make a decision to be for or against Christ. It became so clear to me. I couldn’t go on living with the emotional and spiritual turmoil I was in. As I considered my choices, I was reminded of the relationship I had with Him before this, all the things that God had brought me through and all the good things He had done for me in the past. How He kept and protected me even though I was in rebellion against Him and living in sin. He saved my life when a plane I was on started to go down. He had kept me from the potential of getting raped on my way to work one day, the potential of getting pregnant from a relationship outside of marriage and from marrying my unsaved boyfriend. I knew I wouldn’t have been happy being unequally yoked in a marriage to a man who was not a Christian (in fact he was practicing Zen Buddhism).
I could see God’s hand of goodness upon my life even though I wasn’t walking with Him. I considered Romans 2:4 which says; Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance (which means to change your mind)? So, that day, I changed my mind and chose to go with God! I asked His forgiveness and surrendered my life back to Him. I immediately felt such a flood of His love and relief like a weight had been removed from off of me. My relationship seemed to be instantly restored with Him. Like it says in Luke 7:47, I had been forgiven much and therefore, I loved much!
I knew that I needed to breakup with my boyfriend and to move out of the apartment which I did immediately within the week. Jesus then took me on a journey through His Word, worship and prayer to really get to know Him so that I could learn to trust Him and realize His love for me. My life changed that day as I took those steps of repentance, faith and surrender to Him so that I don’t ever want to turn from His love again. The love of God is on our side and He wants to pour His love on us and to see us blessed. It is because of God’s love that we can receive His grace and blessings.
Because God loves us, we can love others too (Ephesians 4:12-16). We don’t have the ability to love and forgive others until we have first experienced Jesus’ love and forgiveness in our own lives (Ephesians 4:17, 18; 5:2). You have the power to love because He first loved you (1 John 4:19) and because His love came into your heart when you asked Jesus into it (Romans 5:5)! Remember that love is a decision and a commitment not a feeling or emotion (See previous blog: God’s Love Revealed – Jesus Our Savior). In fact, we are commanded to love others and we obey Him in faith. (Ephesians 4:20-21; 5:1-5). Our decision to love Him and others is a choice of our will. His love is not just a feeling but is very practical. We can choose to act in love whether we feel like it or not. When we act in love, the feelings will come. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us with this.
What does Christian love look like? The following verses explain the God kind of love; that is how He loves us and wants us to love others this way:
Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 (NKJV).
My little children let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (NKJV).
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 (NKJV).
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NKJV).
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (NKJV).
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4 – 8 (NKJV).
Fulfilling the law in loving others is not the ground for our justification but is the fruit and evidence of being justified by faith not by works. We do this by the presence and power of the Spirit within us ( Romans 8:4; Galatians 3:5, 6; 5:13-16, 22). God’s new standard of love (John 13:34) comes from within through the life and power of Christ who dwells in us by His Spirit. We pursue love as the law of Christ by looking to Him who is our righteousness, helper, guide, and counselor (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2). It is the Spirit of Christ that transforms us so that love flows by His power from within us. It is Christ who imparts life (Romans 8:2).
We fulfill the law by walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh (Romans 8:3, 4). It won’t be a perfect love in this life (Romans 7:15, 19, 23-25; Philippians 3:12) and we will only be perfected when we die (Romans 8:30; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:22, 23). Loving others and carrying their burdens (Galatians 6:2) does not mean that we carry their daily load and responsibilities (Galatians 6:5). God is not co-dependent! We step in when the Holy Spirit directs us to help when people are overwhelmed with their burdens. It is important to ask the Holy Spirit what type of help we are to give them so we don’t work against what He is doing in their life!
What does it mean to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39)? One issue may not be who our neighbor is and who we are supposed to love but how do we love ourselves? This Bible verse indicates that we are supposed to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The problem is too many of us don’t and can’t love ourselves because we feel unlovable, unaccepted, unforgiven, we are a failure, or judge and condemn ourselves.
We need to know what love is and to receive His love deeply because God is love. We need to know that the Father loves us as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23). We need to know who we are in Christ Jesus – our identity in Him; i.e. chosen, accepted in the Beloved, adopted as sons, a child of God (Ephesians 1:4-6; 1 John 3:1). Learning to love ourselves prepares us to love others who are also imperfect as we are but still loved unconditionally by God. He sent His Son to die for us all because of His great love for us (John 3:16). His grace makes loving our neighbors as ourselves possible and teaches us proper love and respect for ourselves as well as our neighbors.
Last year I was listening to some teaching on the love of God and I didn’t take it to heart. I thought “I already know that.” But the Holy Spirit showed me that there is a difference between knowing and believing and living my life on it. I didn’t really believe His love and goodness like I thought I did! Don’t take the love of God for granted or become complacent in believing it.
As I close this blog on the love of God, I am reminded that we need to be filled up daily with His love so that we can love Him, love others and love ourselves! His love makes us whole. Meditate on the love of God and ask the Holy Spirit every day to fill you with His love.
My prayer for you:
Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment. 2 Thessalonians 3:5; Ephesians 3:17 – 19; Philippians 1:9 (NKJV).