As February approaches, our focus naturally shifts towards the celebration of love. In Matthew 22, a lawyer posed a profound question to Jesus, asking about the greatest commandment. Jesus responded, saying, "'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.'" These words resonate not only because Christ singled out these two commandments as the highest but also because they establish a hierarchy – a first and a second.
In today's world, love is the prevailing message. The Beatles famously declared, "Love is all you need." We see signs in yards proclaiming hate has no place, only love. Churches, social activists, non-profits, and even businesses claim to operate out of love for others.
However, there is a challenge that we must confront: the erosion of the first part of Jesus' commandment, which has left us trying to love our neighbors solely as fallible humans. Unfortunately, this approach is impossible, even for the most generous, kind, and selfless.
The key to unlocking the true essence of love lies in loving the Lord your God with all your heart. But how can we achieve this in a culture that increasingly dismisses the importance of God in our lives? Those of you reading this are likely seeking to love purely and correctly. Here, we will explore the fundamental elements of love that enable us to fulfill this divine commandment:
- Truth: Love minus Truth equals Hate Speech. When we shy away from speaking the truth to others, we cannot genuinely claim to love them. In today's morally relativistic world, which distorts truth to suit subjective realities, our failure to speak truth leads to hate speech. To love someone is to be willing to speak the truth, even when it is uncomfortable or challenging. Love requires honesty, whether it's a team member or a family member engaged in detrimental behavior.
- Obedience: Love minus Obedience equals Disrespect. Obedience is a demonstration of love. In marriage, for example, when we love our spouse, we obey the vows and boundaries outlined in the Bible. Disobeying these principles is akin to disrespecting the covenant of marriage. Love and obedience are inseparable.
- Works: Love minus Works equals a Lie. Love should manifest in our actions, thoughts, and words. If we claim to love our work, country, family, and pets but fail to reflect that love in our behavior, we are living a lie. Just as faith without works is considered dead, love without action is equally lifeless.
- Sacrifice: Love minus Sacrifice equals Uncommitted. Unconditional love is marked by a willingness to make sacrifices. Just as a soldier must be willing to face danger as part of their oath of allegiance, love requires us to be committed to any and all sacrifices, regardless of the cost.
- Patience: Love minus Patience equals Judgmentalism. Patience in love allows time for understanding, trust-building, and deeper connections, even with those we may disagree with. Accumulating offenses from the past and present only diminishes our capacity for love in the future as a society.
- Justice: Love minus Justice equals Evil. God loves the world, but this doesn't guarantee entry to Heaven for everyone. God despises sin and has declared His forthcoming judgment against it. Similarly, we cannot claim to love our fellow citizens while tolerating lawlessness or vilifying those entrusted with our protection.
- Grace: Love minus Grace equals Hypocrisy. Refusing to extend grace reveals hypocrisy. None of us is exempt from sin or wrongdoing; withholding forgiveness only hardens our hearts. A hardened heart is incapable of genuine love.
True love is not merely challenging; it's impossible without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit's supernatural presence and divine influence. This is why blaspheming the Holy Spirit is considered the unforgivable sin because living without love essentially tells God that we eliminated the first commandment and have no use for Him.
So, as we reflect on love during this Valentine's season, let us remember that we need more than love alone. We must first love God with all our hearts, allowing love for our neighbors and ourselves to flow from this divine source.