“You shall 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. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV)
Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (NLT). Jesus later repeats this and even says it is the most important commandment of all (Matthew 22:37-38). So, how do we express love for God? We can tell God, “I love You,” we can read the Bible, and we can sing praises to Him. These are all good ways, but the Bible gives us distinct actions to show our love to God, through relationship, obedience, and faithfulness.
How can you really love someone if you don’t really know them? To love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength, you must first build a relationship with Him. You can do this by reading the Bible. You will get to know His characteristics and His promises to you. Quiet time and prayer are also great ways to get to know God.
One major way to show God we love Him is through obedience. Deuteronomy 11:1 (NLT) says “You must love the Lord your God and always obey his requirements, decrees, regulations and commands.” It didn’t change in the New Testament: “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15, NLT). As a teenager, I hated to follow rules. I thought my parents set up rules to keep me from having fun. Little did I know, the rules were created out of love to provide boundaries to keep me safe. I learned that to show love and respect to my parents, I needed to follow the rules set for me. God is our Heavenly Father, so why would we expect any difference? He knows what is best for us; He created us. To express our love to Him, we need to trust and obey Him.
Another way to put our love for God into action is to be faithful. We either love God and stay with Him, or we reject Him. He will never leave us, but we must be careful not to walk away from Him. Jesus has been referred to as the Bridegroom of the church. Much like wedding vows, we need to be faithful to God for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. When things get tough in our lives, we can express our love to God by leaning into Him and trusting that His plans are for good, even though we may not be able to see it in the moment.
How are you expressing your love to God? Do you have the relationship with Him through prayer and quiet time? In what ways can you build your faith during the difficult times? God loves you unconditionally and wants you to show your love for Him.
The phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” is used eight times throughout the Bible. God did not just repeat Himself, He made it a commandment. Jesus tells us in Mark 12:31 that it is the second most important commandment. Notice Jesus was not specific. He didn’t say, love the neighbor that does nice things for you, or love the neighbor that has the same beliefs, or the neighbor that dresses well. Jesus says “love your neighbor” meaning everyone you come in contact with.
I, for one, know how difficult it is to love your neighbor. In fact, I own a T-shirt that says, “I used to be a people person until people ruined it for me.” It’s hard to love the boss that continues to berate you or takes credit for your work. It’s hard to love the guy next door who complains to you about your dogs barking, even though you don’t even have a dog. It’s hard to love the rude waiter/waitress at your favorite restaurant. But Jesus gives love priority over all other Christian virtues. You can go to church every week, you can read your Bible, you can be on a serving team. It all means nothing if it isn’t filtered through love. The Bible tells us, “If anyone says, 'I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20, ESV).
Why is it important for us to love our neighbor, especially those that are hard to love? Because that kind of love can only come from God. In 1 John 4:7-8, John affirms that wherever the life of God is present, this kind of love is found. If that kind of love is not found, the life of God is not present.
What does it look like to love your neighbor? One way is making allowances for people’s humanity. In our society today, we take offense quickly. When someone is rude to us, our first instinct is to be rude back. They may have a reason why they were rude, or maybe they are just being human. By making allowances and replacing offense with love, you could be the one positive light they receive that day. Loving your neighbor also means showing compassion. In the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the man who had a compassionate heart, was the one who saw a need and did all that he could to help, even though it cost him time and money. Many times, we are like the first 2 men, we are too busy to help, or we think someone else will step in. A compassionate heart will put others first.
Who in your life is hard to love? What allowances can you make for them instead of being offended? Do you have a compassionate heart or have you been too busy to stop and help?
In the New Testament, Jesus tells us the second greatest commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31, NLT). When reading this scripture, the “love your neighbor” stands out, but I think most of us miss the importance of the second part, which says, “as yourself.” How we love our neighbor is contingent on how we love ourselves. If you don’t love and respect yourself, how can you love others? In fact, how can you love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind when you are unable to love his most prized creation-YOU!
With the world around us, it is easy to fall into the trap of not loving or respecting ourselves. It might be because you have experienced personal failures in your past, or maybe it’s because you are going through failures right now in your life. Maybe you have been criticized or even abused by others. It might be that others are still not accepting you. Satan preys on our insecurities and failures. He wants you to believe the lies of this world because he does not want you to love yourself. When you love and respect yourself, you have what you need to love others and follow God’s commandment.
Paul writes in Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, and what is good and acceptable and perfect”(ESV). Paul is telling us not to give in to what the world says about us, but to renew our minds. To remind ourselves that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we are loved by God, and we are perfect in His eyes through Jesus Christ.
It isn’t easy letting go of the negative thoughts. It takes daily renewal of our minds. Through scripture, prayer, and quiet time. Another way to remind yourself that you are worthy of love and respect is to make a list of all the wonderful things God says about you in scripture and add to it daily. First, start with, “God loves Me.”
We have talked about loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves, and the best place to practice loving others is at home. Families generally begin in love. A man and woman fall in love, they get married, and out of their love come children. God established the family as the first of all human relationships. However, throughout history, families have experienced conflict and brokenness. In the very first family, Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, killed his brother. David’s family experienced rape, murder, adultery and deception.
Unfortunately, brokenness in the family has not changed. It’s not easy loving those you live with and those who are closest to you. Whether your family is broken or you want to strengthen your family even more, there is hope. God has given us guidelines for loving our families.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, Paul tells us the definition of love, “love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Many of us have heard this scripture before or even seen it on decorations in the store or hanging on a wall at home. But do we take time to really let this sink in and practice it in our families?
Love values the other person. When we value another person, it is much easier to be patient and kind, not jealous or proud. Love has an active interest in the well-being of others. This can be encouraging words, putting aside the things that take our attention, and focusing on our spouse or children. Really listen to them tell you about their day, or their fears, or their goals. Remember what they have said. Set aside one-on-one time and consider setting up a “date” night.
Love is being vulnerable to others. In other words, love opens up its life to another person. It breaks down barriers and exposes the heart. Love means being able to admit when you are wrong, sharing what you fear the most, and not keeping secrets because you are afraid of what your spouse or children will think. When you have lost your temper, go back and admit you were wrong and apologize, no matter whose fault it was.
Love entails a cost. John 15:13 says “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” and 1 John 3:16 “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us…” (ESV). There are instances where someone has laid down their life for their family. But laying down your life is more than physical death. It is laying down your wants, or what is easier for you, and putting someone else first.
I have had the privilege of witnessing Paul’s definition of love in action. My parents have been married for 64 years. That is a long time to practice loving someone. My mother has been in the hospital and then in the skilled nursing facility for the past several weeks. Every day my father walks the 15 minutes from his assisted living facility to the nursing facility to be with my mother. For eight hours a day, each day, he sits at her bed holding her hand, talking softly at times, and giving encouraging words. For the first few weeks, she was unable to carry on any conversation. Instead, she would lay quietly or sleep throughout the day. Each weekend, when I go to Florida to check on them, I have different nurses telling me “I have never seen such love and devotion as I have seen between your parents. Your father is so patient and kind”. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 13:7, NLT).
What would others say about how you love your family? Would they be able to recognize the definition of love through your actions? In what area do you need to increase your love?
Have you ever looked up to someone and wanted to be like them? Who is that person for you? The Bible tells us that we are to be more like Jesus, and the way to do that is through love. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (ESV) The night before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples that if they wanted people to know they were followers of Jesus Christ, they needed to love like Him, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV).
When we, as Christians, love others, we are imitators of God and allow those who do not know Him the opportunity to feel His love through us. We hear all the time that love is a word to describe a feeling or an emotion. It has become a watered-down word we use to describe everything. I love the Carolina Panthers, I love hot air balloons, or I love my new car.
Jesus didn’t just go around telling everyone that he loved them, He put love into action. He healed the sick, fed the poor, and showed compassion for those who had been cast out of society and those who were hurting spiritually and emotionally. The ultimate action of love was giving his life upon the cross so that we could spend eternity with God our Father. In John 13:35, Jesus is telling us the importance of the action of love. It will show the world that you are His disciple. The love you show could be the difference in someone’s life or even someone’s eternity.
When I began serving in Cove Students several years ago, I had to go through an interview with the Student Ministry Director, Will. At this point in my life, I was a believer but not a follower. I didn’t even know this guy, but for some reason I don’t understand, I broke down in this interview and shared, for the first time with anyone, that I was angry at the world and at God. I felt like I had been let down and forgotten by many people, and I had been isolating myself since my husband died five years before.
Will suggested I check out one of the Care Groups at The Cove. Even though I really did not want to go, I agreed. That first Tuesday night I sat in the parking lot and tried to come up with every excuse not to go in. But I had given my word that I would try it. When I walked into the building, I saw Will sitting by the fireplace waiting for me. He gave me a quick hug and some words of encouragement, then left. I was good for about five minutes, then fear came over me, and I decided that this was not something I could do and started to walk towards the exit. That is when I received a text from Will that said, “I am praying for you right now and you can do this.” I remember thinking to myself, “You have got to be kidding me. Who shows this much love and compassion for someone they only know from an hour interview?” Who does this? Someone who wants to imitate God’s love.
It may seem like a small gesture, but it was that encounter of love that opened my heart to God. I knew that I wanted that kind of faith and love. I too, wanted to be like Jesus.
When was the last time you were an imitator of God and showed love to the unlovable? Loved someone through encouraging words or just being there to listen? Who can you introduce Jesus to through the action of love this week?