The Priority of Love
by Fred G. Zaspel
Words of Life!
Volume 3, Number 1, January 1992
A Publication Ministry of Word of Life Baptist Church
With the beginning of each new year we are accustomed to thinking in terms of resolutions. There are things that we determine to do, and there are other things we determine not to do! And generally we make the resolutions with a degree of sincerity. But I have often wondered if this is a good time to recall the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 12:36 -- "But I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment."
Seriously, resolutions can be a very good thing. The Bible gives several examples to follow. Daniel "purposed in his heart not to defile himself." There is a resolution we all should make! Moses resolved "to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." Job determined to trust God unreservedly, come what may: "though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him." The apostle Paul resolved to allow nothing (not even "bonds and affliction") deter him from fulfilling the ministry God had given him. He resolved rather to "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
These all are marvelous resolutions--resolutions we should be making ourselves!
It's not that the Scripture requires New Year's resolutions. It's just that it requires a resolve to fulfill our obligations to God--at the new year and all year!
But this new year is as good an occasion as any to resolve to serve God as we ought. Determine to make this year--and every year--count more and more for His service. This, after all, is why we are here!
The Priority of Love
It may seem trite to say, but it is nonetheless true that Christianity is primarily a religion of love. Its central message is of the infinite love of God who worked through His own Son to save us from our sin to fellowship with Him. And its chief requirement is love also. Let me explain.
We have been speaking of resolutions and Divine requirements--what obligation do we have which stands above all others? Would it seem too simplistic to say that it is love? Listen to Jesus answer the question in this account from Matthew 22:34-40.
"But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
It seems very clear, doesn't it, that unless and until we have purposed to increase in love, our goals are far short of God's design for us. Love is nothing less than a complete summary of everything God requires of us.
The question posed to Jesus was a very simple one--"What is the greatest commandment?" In answer to that question Jesus quoted two verses from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18), both having to do with love--love for God and love for man, respectively, the first and second greatest commandments. And then Jesus ties them together with the statement, "On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets."
That is to say, all the many commands of God upon us given by Moses and all the subsequent prophets are caught up and taken in to this one word--love. Love God and others as you ought and you will have by that very thing completely fulfilled everything else God ever required of you.
The apostle Paul said the same thing: "Love is the fulfilling of the law." "All the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In his classic exposition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 he warns us that even if we are gifted more than any other man, and even if we are more generous in our charitable given to those who need it than anyone else, if it is done without real love it is a complete waste! Love is the telling factor, the standard of judgment.
The apostle John said, "This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He gave us commandment."
Love is the key. It is preeminent, greater even than faith Paul says. It is at once the fulfillment of every last requirement God places upon us, the test of our religious activities, and the proof of the reality of our profession. "For by this," Jesus said, "shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye love one another."
Love, then, truly is the greatest. It is a perfect summary of all that is required of us. Everything we are and everything we profess is bound up right here.
Mark it well--nothing, but nothing in this life stands any higher or more important than this: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." And immediately next on the list is something very similar: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets."
This is the whole essence of the Christian life. At the very top of our list of resolutions must be a genuine resolve to love. If not, we have failed and failed miserably, no matter in what other areas we may have seemed to succeed.
But now a command so comprehensive merits further investigation. Let's examine what Jesus has in mind.
Love For God
What does it mean to "love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind"?
Clearly, we must begin by considering the basis of our love for God. Why do we (or should we) love God so? Jesus dealt with this question in Luke 7:36-47.
"And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."
One very simple principle rises from this account: our love for God can only be as great as our sense of forgiveness.To put it another way, our love is closely dependent upon our appreciation of grace.
Here was a woman who was not only a sinner, but she knew it, and she acknowledged it. And her sense of the enormity of her sinfulness was evident in her lavish display of love for the Lord Jesus.
Here again is a man who is impressed with his own righteousness. He stands above other men; in his own mind he is better. He is proud that, while he may not be sinless, he sins less than others. Jesus said this man's love cannot possibly be so great as that of the woman whose sense of forgiveness is much more keen.
In other words, if you can look into your heart and life and like this pharisee feel proud that you are morally a cut above others, then you cannot love God with all your heart, soul, and mind--there is too much love for yourself to allow it.
If on the other hand when you examine your life you acknowledge, like this woman, that while there is such a preponderance of sin it has all been fully and freely forgiven in Jesus Christ, then by the nature of it your love for God will be more of what it should be.
For example, when a man claims that he is saved somehow as a result of his own efforts in religion--piety, morality, etc.--he has no real sense of forgiveness or grace and so has no real love for God.
Here again is a man who claims to be saved by grace but day in and day out there is no consideration of the great debt of sin which has been forgiven him. His love for God is, by the nature of the case, inadequate also.
Or here is a guy who is never wrong--you know one I'm sure. There is always some good reason (at least a reason that sounds good) for his "mistakes" (for anyone else, they would be "sins"). There are always extenuating circumstances or something to mitigate the offense. With that, is there a real appreciation of grace and forgiveness?
And so on it goes. It applies to every one of us. Consider this principle in relation to your every- day life which becomes so absorbed with so many other things that there is little time or energy or emotion left for grateful consideration of grace. What does that say of your love for God?
Our Lord's warning is clear: we must not allow anything to interfere with a regular and careful consideration of His gracious forgiveness of our many sins, for as surely as we do our love for Him will grow cold. No, it is not good to dwell too long on our past sins--there are dangers in that also. But there are few exercises more humbling and more conducive to sparking a flame of love for God in our hearts than an honest reflection on his forgiveness of our many and great sins.
Next in order, then, is this: How much are we to love God? Jesus speaks in comprehensive terms: "with all of your heart, soul, and mind." That is, with everything you are. The reference is to the totality of our nature--our affections, intellect, all of our faculties are to be caught up in fervent love for God. And notice that word "all" stated three times over: love God "with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind." Everything we are is to be directed in love to God.
Think about that. And consider in contrast to it all the substitutes for this kind of love which abound today. There is the kind that is naive--never disapproving of anyone, etc. The attitude which equates spirituality with passivity. If someone believes heresy, don't be so bold as to tell him! Be nice! You know the kind. But if we are to love God with all of our mind, it would seem that we should love Him jealously, with a firm loyalty to Him and with a true desire for His best interests!
Then there is the kind of "love" which is purely emotional. Some churches practice this kind of love--no emphasis on objective truth or exposition of grace or exposure to the claims of Christ, only an hour or so of emotional upheavals of various kinds. That is not loving God "with all your mind."
Perhaps the most obvious application here is of those who claim to love God but serve Him by fits and starts. For a while their commitment to Him is obvious, then again it isn't. They are faithful to the church, then again they are gone for it seems any reason. But if the requirement is to love God with everything we have and are, then clearly our love must beloyal, steadfast, unrelenting and without interruption.
In fact, our love must be exclusive. There can be no other rivals for it. Scripture plainly requires that we love God in such a way that our love for all other things and considerations and people will seem at times to be hatred (Luke 14:26). Indeed, this is the very requirement of discipleship (Matthew 10:34ff).
In short, the greatest commandment is this: everything you are must be directed towards God. HE is to be the supreme object of your entire life so that everything you are and do is explainable only in reference to Him.
When we love God like this, Jesus says, we will thereby fulfill every other obligation that is laid upon us. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." In other words, this command is comprehensive; it takes into itself all other commands.
For example, if we love God in this way we will never have any false gods, no idolatry of any kind. There will never be any rival gods, nothing to steal away our affections or loyalty or ambitions or service. If we love Him with all we are, there will be no rival attractions.
Again, if we love God with our whole heart and soul and mind we will never "take his name in vain." We will rather treat Him and speak of Him with the reverence that is due Him. Not only will we not speak blasphemously of Him, but when an oath is taken in His name we will be careful to speak the truth. Vows made to Him will be meticulously honored. We will be careful never to even speak His name in a way that is flippant or meaningless or superstitious. In fact, even tohear His name taken in this way grieves us deeply. Why? Because we love Him with our whole heart and soul and mind.
Again, when God commands that we set aside special time for worship--public prayer, praise, exposition of His Word--we gladly comply, and not out of duty alone, but because we love Him deeply and want to praise Him and hear more of Him.
When God places us into a difficult situation in which a witness for Christ will be difficult we do not shy away from the task. We are willing to deny ourselves and our prestige and our ambitions and anything else--if we love Him with our whole being.
You see, this is the greatest commandment, for everything else is taken up into it. Augustus Strong, the renowned Baptist theologian, said, "Love to God is the essence of all virtue." In this light, it is easy to see how he is absolutely right.
Now if this is the greatest commandment, you simply must be asking yourself--"Do I love Him?" Do you? Before you answer, I remind you that love for Him implies obedience--"If you love me, keep my commandments," Jesus said.
Further, is your love for Him comprehensive, taking in all your faculties and all facets of your life? Is your love for Him constant? Or does it show here and there, now and then. Is it exclusive? Or is there some "other god," some rival for your affections and attention--money, perhaps, or pleasures, leisure, acceptance. Do you love God?
And if you say you do, but have to admit that somehow it has grown a bit colder than before-- lacking the fervency you once knew and with affections not as lively--then remember the basis of love and begin now to think in terms of His great love for you. Consider the enormity of your many sins. Consider your stubborn persistence in those sins. And then consider that He has forgiven you an immeasurable debt. Consider also the great cost of that forgiveness in Christ.Determine that from here on you will fill your mind with thoughts of His grace, and you will find that your love for Him will increase daily.
Whatever goal you have in mind for this year fades in comparison to this: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."