The other major defining characteristic of Jesus’ life was love. Jesus lived a life of love. He loved his Father with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. And he loved others and sought their good.
This may sound commonplace to those who have been in church for a while. And we may wrongly assume that we know what it means. Our ideas about love may be shaped by unrecognized cultural assumptions and may be far from correct. Thus a brief examination of Jesus’ teaching on love may prove helpful.
The cornerstone of Jesus’ teaching on love is found in the Great Commandment:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:34–40).
The first of these two commands, found originally in Deuteronomy 6:5, lies at the heart of the Old Testament’s teaching about how God’s people are to relate to him. Before they ever knew him, God loved Israel and chose them to be his special people. He demonstrated his love by rescuing them from slavery, giving them a land flowing with milk and honey and promising them great blessings in the future. In return, he asked for wholehearted love and devotion, to be expressed in obedience to his covenant.
Jesus teaches that God still seeks the wholehearted love of his people and that responding to his love is to be our highest priority. Thus we should spare no effort in seeking to grow in love. But what is love? Have you ever pondered that question? In pop-culture and contemporary usage, the word love is closely associated with feeling and sentiment; this tends to color our thinking. It is easy for us unconsciously to sentimentalize the call to love God and reduce it to a matter of feeling. But while feeling is certainly a part of loving God, it is not the heart of the matter. In the Bible the essence of loving God is to give ourselves fully to him who first loved us, to surrender to his love and devote ourselves to him. That is the point of “all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength.” Just as a woman gives herself to a man who deeply loves her and asks her hand in marriage, so we are called to give ourselves to the God who loves us and has redeemed us at the price of his own dear Son. Far from being an arbitrary demand, this command is an entreaty of love.
You may wonder how you could possibly love God this way. To be sure, it is not a natural human ability. Paul tells us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). And this love grows as we continue to live a gospel-centered life, meditating on and reminding ourselves daily of God’s love for us and Christ’s sacrifice for us. Assurance that God loves you deeply evokes an answering love for him that increases over time and is essential to living the Christian life.
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