THE COMMANDMENT TO LOVE
God and Love are the two most misused words in any language. The Word of God teaches that ‘God is Love’ (1 Jn 4:8(b), 16(b)). In spite of all Satan’s deceptions, this has come to be accepted as universal truth. But, how far does this precious piece of wisdom get us?
We boast of God and we boast of love, but can we boast of a nature that is “Patient, kind, not envying, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not a record-book of wrongs, not delighting in evil – but rejoicing with the truth, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering and never failing” ( 1 Cor 13:4-8(a)). Indeed we cannot! Because what we read just now is the very nature of God.
Yes, love is the nature of God. Just as deceiving is the nature of Satan and sinning the nature of man. Therefore, left to our own devices, our imitations of love merely produce our limitations.
PETER’S SCHOOL OF LOVE:
All virtues belong to God. He is the only Source we must turn to for them. As the Thessalonians did and were commended for it by Paul (1 Thess 4:9), “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” Also, (1 Thess 3:12) “May the Lord make your love increase, and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
Likewise, when Peter needed to be trained in love, Jesus introduces him to God’s school of love (Jn 21:15-19). After which we find that Peter not only goes on to excel in love, but also throws open this school for everyone (2 Pet 1:5-9). The level by level progress to graduating in love from the worthy school is this: FAITH – GOODNESS – KNOWLEDGE – SELF-CONTROL – PERSEVERANCE – GODLINESS – BROTHERLY KINDNESS – finally, LOVE.
As God’s children/servants/messengers/prophets/apostles, unless we have love with all its seven characteristics given above, we will not be fruitful. 2 Pet 1:8-9, “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” This is love that redeems, restores, renews and rejuvenates.
LOVE IS THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY:
Therefore, 1 Cor 12:31(b) rightly asserts, “…love is the most excellent way..”. We know the greatest two of all God’s commandments are love-based viz. Love God and Love your neighbor. To be precise:
- Love God and
- Love fellow man
I LOVE GOD: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30, Matt 22:37).
Jn 15:10 reads, “If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” And Jn 14:23, “….If anyone loves Me, he will obey my teaching…”. We have learnt of king Josiah’s exemplary obedience and careful adherence to all God’s commands. Because of which, the Spirit testifies of him as the only king ever who would have fulfilled this commandment for all time! (2 Kings 23:25).
To love God is the greatest commandment. Because, our obedience is our salvation. One of the natural consequences of loving Him is that we begin to love our fellow-beings.
II LOVE MAN: “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Mk 12:31, Matt 22:39).
Loving our fellow beings is not the same as loving God. That’s right. We can not love our neighbors by obeying them. The rule here is summed up in Matt 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This is the all-inclusive commandment. Therefore, the Word of God has classified the commandment into three smaller commands:
- Love your neighbors
- Love your enemies
- Love one another
1. Love your neighbors:
Matt 25:31-46, “……..For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…..”.
The term neighbor denotes our relationship with our fellow-beings at large. The story of the good Samaritan in Lk 10:30-37, for example, defines the term neighbor and depicts this love in action for us. We learn that a neighbor is one whom God brings to our attention as one in need of our assistance. To ignore the person and the need is disobeying the commandment, as is made apparent by the priest and the Levite. In other words, the priest and the Levite fail to be neighborly.
2. Love your enemies:
Matt 5:43-48, “…But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven……”.
When Jesus gives this commandment, He is shown to be opposing and putting an end to the sanctioning or condescending Mosaic law of revenge – eye for an eye, tooth for tooth (Matt 5:38).
As it was with the Mosaic sanction given to divorce (Matt 19:8-9), so it was with matter of revenge. Jesus makes it clear that these things came about because, “……..their hearts were hard” (Matt 19:8(a)) and that “…it was not this way from the beginning…“ (Matt 19:8(b)). In other words, Jesus is giving anew the commandment of old, perfectly in keeping with the heart of God, the Father who hates divorce and violence in man (Mal 2:16, Matt 19:4). Yes, Jesus reiterates and reinstates the uncompromising and infallible Word of God. For, indeed, the Father and the Son are One and their teachings One (Jn 5:19, Jn 14:9-10, Jn 17:11(b)).
EXAMPLE OF JOB: The life and testimony of Job exemplify the Word of God that was in the beginning. Let us find out how Job loved his enemies (Job 31:29-32)! It reads, ” If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him – I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against his life ..” Further, “…- If the men of my household have never said, ‘Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?’ but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler – “.
Therefore, let us love our enemies. And not repay evil for evil. Let us do good to them, bless them and pray for them (Lk 6:27). And, let us lend to them freely without expecting to get anything back (Lk 6:35). Let us be willing to go the extra mile and not turn our backs on them when they need us (Matt 5:41-42).
3. Love one another:
Jn 15:12, “Love each other as I have loved you.”
This is the principle by which love is fostered within the body of Christ, the Church or God’s household (1 Tim 3:15, Eph 2:19). “As I have loved you”! Eph 5:1 rightly exhorts us to be imitators of God. How can we imitate God’s love? Jesus shows us the way in Jn 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.“ And Eph 5:2, “…live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
I. BE EQUIPPED TO DISCHARGE YOUR DUTIES TOWARD ONE ANOTHER: Paul instructs us in the practical application of love in 1 Cor 14:1, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts…”. Because only when we receive spiritual gifts are we really equipped to love and serve one another (Acts 1:4-5, 8). We have learned, all God’s gifts are for the common good (1 Cor 12:7, 1 Cor 12:27-31). Obviously we are entrusted with them to serve one another. We serve to build, restore and encourage each other.
II. ADMINISTER GOD’S GRACE IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS: 1 Pet 4:8-11 directs, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Again here, we make the mistake of misinterpretation by human standards. We find 1 Pet 4:9 is taken in isolation and the message distorted to the perennial burden of all, women particularly. The whole passage 1 Pet 4:8-11 is clear and self-explanatory. The emphasis is on spiritual service. Just as Jesus teaches (Lk 10:38-42). In His own words, “…..But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Vs 42). Also refer Matt 10:40-42 and Jn 4:34.
III. BE OF SPIRITUAL INSIGHT: In God’s household, hospitality is primarily dispensing or receiving spiritual service. Nothing could substitute for that. If the spiritual are unable to understand, who will? Refer Jn 13:20, Lk 10:39, 1 Pet 4:9-10, Lk 20:46-47. Many, like Martha, open their homes willingly (Lk 10:38(b)) to receive servants of God but let slip such a rewarding opportunity (Matt 10:41) due to their lack of spiritual insight.
Similarly, servants of God who fail to dispense the spiritual service entrusted to them (Lk 12:35, 37-38), beware! The Word of God warns – Lk 12:46, Matt 24:50-51 etc.
IV IN THE RIGHT ATTITUDE: Jesus exemplifies and teaches the right attitude in which to discharge our duties “….But I am among you as One Who serves”. (Lk 22:27(b), Lk 22:25-27).
Spiritual hospitality is in essence the much preached about but again, oft misinterpreted ‘laying of the table in the wilderness’ or ‘the table of goodness laid in the presence of our enemies’ (Ps 23:5(a)). Let us also remember, our faithfulness in the little duties entrusted to us will result in us being equipped with more (Mk 4:25, Matt 25:29). Otherwise, it does not make any sense to desire the greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31(a)).
FINALLY, BEWARE! THE THREE THINGS LOVE DOES NOT PERMIT:
As we ‘ascertain our calling and election’ (2 Pet 1:10), and begin to serve one another in love, we are warned of the three things we ought to be vigilant of. Yes, LOVE DOES NOT PERMIT US THE FOLLOWING THREE THINGS:
A. To tempt one another: (even in the pretext of testing one another!)
We should not tempt one another (Mk 9:42-47). We have learnt that temptations are of the devil (James 1:12-13). Matt 18:7 – Jesus says, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!”
But we may test one another so that we are not deceived. Matt 7:18-20 teach us to recognize one another by the fruits. Thus, we may:
- Test oneself (2 Cor 13:5, Gal 6:4-5, 1 Cor 3:10-15, Mk 9:49)
- Test prophets (Matt 7:15-20, Jude 4)
- Test overseers/deacons/pastors (1 Tim 3:10, 1 Tim 3:2-13)
- Test the spirits (1 Jn 4:1, 6; 1 Jn 4:2-3, Matt 16:17 vs Matt 16:23, Lk 9:55)
- Test the word (Acts 17:11, 1 Tim 6:3, Col 2:8)
- Test everyone (2 Pet 2)
- Test everything (1 Cor 2:15-16, 1 Thess 5:21, 1 Thess 5:19-24)
[HOWEVER, BE WARNED! WE SHOULD NOT TEST GOD (Refer Matt 4:7, 1 Cor 10:9)]
B. To accuse one another: (even in the pretext of correcting!)
Accusations are also of the devil (Rev 12:7-12). He is the Chief-Accuser. Accusations are destructive. 2 Cor 13:10 (b) reads, “……the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.” The Accuser on the other hand intends to destroy. Rev 12:7-12 reveals the Accuser’s last and final attempt. Until then, as he has been doing since his fall, he will continue to do so (Job 1:6-7, Job 2:1-2, Jude 9). For this reason, we read Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God to intercede for us always (Heb 7:25, Col 1:22, Heb 9:15). Therefore, instead of accusing each other, we are to grow in the Spirit of intercession (Ezek 22:30) like Abraham, Moses and other saints (Rom 8:27).
[NEITHER ENTERTAIN ACCUSATIONS NOR THE ACCUSER!]
C. To judge (condemn) one another: (even in the pretext of forewarning!)
Jn 12:47-48 is very clear. Jesus does not judge. The Gospel He preaches is the Gospel of reconciliation (James 2:12-13). It is meant to save, not to judge or condemn. Lk 9:54-56 shows us that judgement or condemnation before the appointed time is the work of the evil spirit. Lk 9:55-56 (kjv), “But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’…”.
Therefore, we have no right to judge (Rom 14:4, James 4:12, Rom 2:1). Let us beware! By judging we only bring judgement upon ourselves (Matt 7:1-2, Matt 12:37, Lk 6:37(b)). In fact many believers today owe their infirmities or adversities to the judgement they invoked on others. Let us always bear in mind: Judgement has an appointed time and an appointed Judge (Rom 2:5-6, 10; 1 Cor 4:4-5, Heb 9:27, Rom 14:10, Heb 10:30, Rev 11:18).
EXAMPLE OF PETER: As Peter continued in his learning, it didn’t take him long to confront this all-important lesson of love. Because we find that neither he nor any other apostle repeat ‘Ananias and Sapphira’ kind of incident (Acts 5:1-11) even though it was within the power vested upon them (Matt 16:19, Lk 9:55).
Notice the transformation in him in the very next episode, i.e. in his confrontation with Simon the sorcerer when the latter tried to buy the gift of God with money (Acts 8:18-19). Peter rebukes him and hands him over to God for forgiveness! Refer Acts 8:22-23, “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps He will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
AWAIT THE APPOINTED TIME: The Spirit of God calling for repentance again and again throughout the scripture, and finally in the Book of Revelation vouches for God’s unfailing love that seeks only to restore. Ezek 18:32, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone”, declares the Sovereign Lord. “Repent and live!”
GOD’S DISCIPLINING IS NOT JUDGEMENT: Let us also not confuse God’s disciplining with God’s judgement (1 Cor 11:32). To be judged and to pass judgement (which is to condemn) are two different things here. Here, to be judged is same as to be tested or discerned and corrected (1 Cor 2:15). In this period of grace, God’s judgement is to be seen as God’s disciplining. Because God only so judges or disciplines those He loves (Heb 12:5, 7, 10). It is neither meant to destroy nor kill. Instead, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace so that we may share in His holiness (Heb 12:10(b)-11).
Just as Jesus teaches in Lk 13:1-5. He warns us strictly not to judge by appearances and instead to repent and save ourselves from eternal damnation. When we notice happenings like severe famines, earthquakes, tsunamis etc that are incomprehensible to our feeble minds, instead of judging let us take heed and be warned by them. Lk 13:1-5 reads, “…..Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galilieans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent you too will all perish……”. Because, as Rev 6:9-11 reveals, even the martyred saints of God have to wait the ‘Appointed time’ to be avenged (Rev 6:11). Until then, God’s mercy will prevail for the salvation of many. Amen!
[MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGEMENT!]
If we gain love, we gain that which is eternal. Faith and hope that guide us into eternity will also pass away. Only love will remain (1 Cor 13:13). A christian life bereft of love amounts to nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3).
May God Bless You!
To be contd…….NEXT: The Commandment to Forgive.