The reciprocal love of men for God is also the foundation of our discipleship, our service to our Maker and to all his creation, especially those of a like, precious faith, our brotherhood (1 Peter 2:17, 2 Peter 1:1). But the devil has succeeded in clouding the worlds understanding of love, diminishing the Bible definition. Since the world at large has submitted to the deadly disease, the devil has at last turned his full attention upon the church of Jesus Christ. How shall the disciples of Christ define and practice love?
We are regularly told that law and love are antithetical, but when we allow our Bibles to comment, we learn differently. Paul said, I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (Romans 7:22). In the same book, he said that love is the fulfillment of the law (13:10). True love can only be known and expressed within a genuine comprehension of reverence for Gods law.
In the thirteenth chapter of Pauls first letter to the Corinthian saints, the apostle takes the time to teach his readers that love is the basis and foundation of the faith. In a group where brethren took each other to court and made even the Lords Supper a source of acrimony, surely any direction concerning love would be welcome. Having noted the variety of spiritual gifts found in the first century and excoriated the brethren in Corinth for turning them into a competition, he states clearly that every ability and exercise under the sun is futile unless it is motivated by love for God and one another.
Even good deeds of charity and might are hollow without love, for in Gods ears, the prettiest speech is like an untrained cymbal solo, if it is not motivated by love. Although a man may puff up himself with great abilities and accomplishments, to God he is nothing if his heart is not moved in these directions by sincere love. Even the greatest charitable benefactor in the world is unprofitable to God if his sharing is motivated by self-promotion or something other than love (Matthew 6:1-4).
In the succeeding verses, the Holy Spirit guides Pauls pen over a number of characteristics of genuine, Bible love.
Understanding Bible love begins with contemplating Gods love for mankind and yearning to reciprocate. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loves us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11).
If we can agree that God is love, how should we respond? What does God want? Jesus answers our query in his response to a scribe in Mark 12:28-34: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. To give God your heart, soul, mind and strength is to put him first in every choice and thought and to offer the devil none of your energy or intellect. It is to make a decision and personal decree about priorities that God tops the list and overwhelms every temptation toward another (Luke 9:57-62).
This degree of love, if universal, would bring peace on earth and to every household; but it is not universal and so often causes strife (Matthew 10:34-37). Devotion to God as our ultimate father means risking family strife and loving him more than anyone or anything on Earth.
This devotion must be more than words and feelings; it must be expressed in love and devotion to his will. Jesus told the apostles that If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). Years after being told this, the apostle John passed it on to all of us: Now by this we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in him. He who says he abides in him ought himself also to walk just as he walked (1 John 2:3-6).
Echoing these sentiments will get you called a legalist by most sectarians and many brethren these days; they think that love for God is best shown by how tolerant of sin and error you are (1 Corinthians 5:2). Abraham was the friend of God, however, because he obeyed him, not because he went his own way or refused to speak when someone else did. What James said about the relationship of faith and works applies equally to that of love and works: What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-18).
Jesus pronounced woe upon the Pharisees who tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Luke 11:42). The only safe plane is one on which faith works through love (Galatians 5:6), doing Gods will with reverence for divine authority (Matthew 28:18).
When one of the members of the Corinthian church fell into sexual sin, the others tried to show their love for him by ignoring his sin, tolerating the iniquity in the membership and even celebrating their own open-mindedness (1 Corinthians 5:1-8). Paul told them to assemble and withdraw themselves from him, out of hatred for his sin and love for his soul. Anybody who will not do right by you when you have sunk your lowest is not your friend and does not really love you.
Once, a rich young ruler ran up to Jesus to ask what he should do to inherit eternal life. After learning he had kept everything Jesus recommended since his youth, he unwittingly revealed to Jesus the obstacle between him and God. Then Jesus looking at him, loved him, and said to him, One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me (Mark 10:21-22). Jesus loved him and administered a dose of potent medicine, to which the ruler stuck out his tongue and went away sorrowful. There comes a time when speaking the truth in love means offering reproof; watching silently as the devil devours your friend into an ever deeper pit of iniquity is hardly love (James 5:19-20).
Allowing a false teacher free influence over brethren is hardly love either; Paul corrected and marked them, lest they make shipwreck of more unsuspecting souls (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Love like that is only love for yourself and in the flesh.
Paul tells us that faith working through love gets things done in the kingdom of Christ (Galatians 5:6) and that ministering to the saints is a labor of love (Hebrews 6:10). It goes beyond good intentions and noble speeches. By this we know love, because he laid down his love for the brethren. But whoever has this worlds goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him (1 John 3:16-18)? Apathy toward ones brethren exposes a false faith (1 John 4:7-12).
Peter wrote: And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Understanding Bible love will enable us to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ which passes all knowledge (Ephesians 3:17-19), so that all things may work together for good in us (Romans 8:28). Because genuine love is rooted in a devotion to God, obedience to his will should be the ambition of every saint; tolerance of error must be anathema. True love intervenes when the devil assaults a brother or sister in Christ and when heresy is proposed.
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