Love of God and Neighbor
– by Don Schwager
“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31
God’s love rules all
God’s love directs all that he does. His love is holy, just, and pure because it seeks only what is good, beneficial, and life-giving – rather than what is destructive, evil, or deadly. That is why he commands us to love as he loves – to accept and to give only what is good, lovely, just, and pure and to reject whatever is contrary to his justice, truth, and goodness.
God loved us first
God is love and everything he does flows from his love for us (1 John 3:1, 4:7-8, 16). God loved us first (1 John 4:19) and our love for him is a response to his exceeding goodness and kindness towards us. The love of God comes first and the love of neighbor is firmly grounded in the love of God.
The more we know of God’s love, truth, and goodness, the more we love what he loves and reject whatever is hateful and contrary to his will. God commands us to love him first – above all else his love orients and directs our thoughts, intentions, and actions to what is wholly good and pleasing to him. He wants us to love him wholeheartedly, and without any reservation or compromise.
How God loves us
God loves us wholly, completely, and perfectly for our sake – there is no limit, no holding back, no compromising on his part. His love is not subject to changing moods or circumstances. When God gives, he gives generously, abundantly, freely, and without setting conditions to the gift of his love. His love does not waver, but is firm, consistent, and constant. He loves us in our weakness – in our fallen and sinful condition.
That is why the Father sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem us from slavery to sin and its disordered cravings, desires, passions, and addictions. God the Father always seeks us out to draw us to his throne of mercy and help.
God the Father corrects and disciplines us in love to free us from the error of our wrong ways of thinking and choosing what is harmful and evil rather than choosing what is good and wholesome for us.
We do not earn God’s love – it is freely given
How can we possibly love God above all else and obey his commandments willingly and joyfully, and how can we love our neighbor and willing lay down our life for their sake? Paul the Apostle tells us that “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
We do not earn God’s love – it is freely given to those who believe in God’s word with expectant faith and who trust in the indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit who frees us from inordinate attachments, fears, and sinful desires that block God’s merciful love and purifying work in our lives.
Love grows with faith and hope
Faith in God and hope in his promises strengthen us in the love of God. They are essential for a good relationship with God, for being united with him. The more we know of God the more we love him and the more we love him the greater we believe and hope in his promises.
The Lord Jesus, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives us a new freedom to love as he loves. Paul the Apostle writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free… only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [sinful inclinations], but through love be servants of one another“(Galatians 5:1,13).
Getting free of disordered desires and selfish habits
Christian Love is rooted in Christ’s love for us. It is wholly other oriented and directed to the welfare and good of others. Our love for God and neighbor is the free choice of our will to do what is good, honorable, just, and kind, even in the face of opposition and rejection.
Love which is rooted in pleasing myself at the expense of others is – selfish and possessive it is a self-serving love that takes from others rather than gives to others. It is a stunted and disordered love which leads to many hurtful and – sinful desires such as jealousy, anger, envy, revenge, greed, lust, and coveting what belongs to another.
If we want to grow in Christian love and freedom to live as disciples of Christ, then harmful and sinful habits must be rooted out and replaced with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, self-control, etc.) that enable us to grow in the character and likeness of Jesus Christ.
What can hold us back from the gift of God’s love and the command to love others as Christ has loved us? Fear, pride, revenge, lack of forgiveness and other forms of sinful habits and disordered desires must be purged from our hearts and be replaced with the love of Christ who suffered and died for us.
We must renounce sin and pride and humble ourselves before a merciful and just God who will bring healing, forgiveness, change of mind, heart, and attitudes, and the strength and courage to always choose what is good, wise, and prudent in whatever situation, trial, and challenge we may have to face now and in the future.
We can freely choose to love as God loves because he has given us his Holy Spirit who works in and through us. If we obey God and trust in his word, then he will enable us to grow in faith, hope, and love and be set free to give ourselves wholeheartedly to him and to the good of our neighbor.
Don Schwager is a member of the Servants of the Word and author of the Daily Scripture Readings and Meditations website. This article was adapted from the version published in Living Bulwark October/November 2019 issue. Used with permission.