Chapter One: Love - The Way of God

Love is the great key to our salvation. It is the only way the Bible can be truly understood. It is the greatest commandment in Gods word. Jesus says the first and greatest commandment in the whole Bible is “to 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: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these “(1). We can go to college, be great at sport or be an inventor – yet in the Bible is something far greater than all these can offer. What is it? It is love, and the offer of eternal love. Love is the reason for our existence, the reason for this beautiful planet and the greatest intention God has for your and my life.

Jesus says that ‘all the law and the prophets’# hang on this great commandment of love (2). Love then is the only way to understand the Bible. As Jesus says, we are to read every word from the perspective of love. This is true too because “God is love” (3), and He could not be the author of a book that is not full of love.

There are many examples of true love in action. The dedication of a parent to a sick child, the devotion of a true friend in difficult times, and the giving of a person’s life to save another. These are similar to the love of Jesus for us. He willingly gave His life for each of us that we all can be saved. He is devoted to us at all times and dedicated to helping us in our weakness as humans.

The Pharisees and Sadducees ## believed they followed Gods laws. They had an amazing knowledge of the Bible, were always at Gods temple in Jerusalem, always praying, fasting and keeping the Jewish feasts. Yet they missed the purpose of all their learning and worship, because it did not lead them to truly love God and all people. Love was not their focus or goal.

The apostle Paul was once a Pharisee (4). When he became a Christian, he learnt the true purpose of Gods commands. He said to a young man Timothy, ‘the purpose of Gods commands is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith’(5).The purpose of the Bible is to create in us a new heart – a ‘pure heart’, a heart that grows in love to God and all people. This is the great intention of the Bible.

A man came to Jesus and asked him, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”(6) This is one of the most important questions we could ask when we decide we really want to follow God. The answer given is ‘to love God and our neighbour as ourself.’ Jesus then gives us an example of what is meant by our neighbour, and what true love means in practice.(6). In the story, our neighbour is anyone who needs help. The man who was the true neighbour carried the man who was robbed and beaten on his donkey to an inn. He gave money to the manager of the inn to look after him till he was well. He told the manager he would return later and give him any extra money that was needed. The point of Jesus story is that true love of our neighbour continues till they are healed, and includes everyone.

Near the very end of the Bible there are three letters written by the apostle John, one of the close followers of Jesus. In the first letter John focuses on what love is, what it has achieved and how it treats others. He says that love leads us from death to life(7), and that now as Christians we need to dwell in love as God does(8). In his second and third letter he writes to two Christians, giving us examples of how true love works in action. His third letter finishes “our friends greet you, greet the friends by name.”(9) True friendship is putting into practice the love he speaks of. As it says in the book of Proverbs, “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”(10).

As Christians, our great witness to this world is our true love for each other. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(11). When we do have arguments, we work to forgive, and honour each other again. Our desire to truly reconcile with each other and to dwell in love is our great witness as true Christians. Jesus says, ‘I pray for all disciples that will believe in me – that they all may be one, as you Father are in me, and I in you, that they all may be one in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.’(12).

As a Christian, I may have the gift of speaking in every language, be able to tell the future, understand great secrets, have an amazing knowledge of the Bible and such strong faith that I could move mountains. I may give all my money to feed the poor and be burnt to death for being a Christian – but all these are worth nothing! Nothing! Nothing! before God unless my motive to do these things is love (13). Why? Because “God is love” (14), and the only way we can be in Him and he in us is when His love dwells in us, and we show this to all people. We have one of the most beautiful descriptions of what true love is in the Bible.

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (15).These things, as Christians, are our goal – our focus – our desire, and foremost in our teaching. Through growing in these characteristics, we come closer to God, and to a greater understanding and appreciating of Him. Jesus gives us another powerful explanation of what true love is, ‘all things that men should do to, even so do to them, for this is the law and the prophets (16). The way we want to be treated is the way we treat others. Again Jesus emphasizes the purpose of the Bible is loving our neighbour as ourself.

It is interesting that part of the second great command is “to love your neighbour as YOURSELF”. We need to love ourselves first, to truly love our neighbour. How do we love ourselves? We love ourselves by looking after our bodies (17), by being happy with who we are, and respecting our uniqueness (18). We believe we are loved by God and Jesus for who we are (19), we forgive ourselves (20), and try to practice to all ‘the more excellent way of love’(21).

In the two great commands is a word that occurs more than love:

“YOU shall love the Lord YOUR God with all YOUR heart, with all YOUR soul, with all YOUR mind, and with all YOUR strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: YOU shall love YOUR neighbour as YOURSELF.” Gods appeal is to you – personally. It is your responsibility, your desire – not another’s. It must be because you want to – not because of pressure or force from others. It is your free choice to decide to love God and your neighbour – because you want to. This is true Christianity. It is easy to make excuses, or to miss the power of this emphasis because of the failures of others – and not try to live a life of love. “He doesn’t”, “she doesn’t”, “I have been hurt too much”, “Christians are hypocrites”, “my church doesn’t teach these things” are examples of excuses we all struggle with. When we accept these as excuses, we are less likely to be deceived by them. Daily Bible reading, prayer, building an intimate relationship with God and Jesus and finding others who follow these teachings are powerful helps to continue on the path of love, and not turn from it.

In saying all these things, I wish and pray I was much better at loving. I know people who, from what I see, are greater at loving than me. It is comforting to know God doesn’t look at how much we achieve – how high we climb on the ladder of love. He is interested in our motive – just that we try – not how high we get. Remember what Paul said to Timothy – ‘the purpose of all commands is love FROM A PURE HEART, FROM A GOOD CONSCIENCE.’(22). King David was a man “after Gods own heart” (23). He wanted to build a temple for God because he loved and honoured Him. God told him he couldn’t, and then said these unforgettable words to him – ‘In that it was in your heart, you did well’ (24). There are times when we really want to show our love, really want to help someone, really want to do something good – and it doesn’t work out or goes all wrong or doesn’t happen. It is wonderful to know that God rejoices when our motive is love out of a pure heart, even when things don’t work out.

There are times too when we love people – and they let us down and really hurt us. At times like these we feel like giving up, and it seems like ‘love is not worth it’. Though at times loving is painful, and we pull back from loving, we still will come to the realization it is the best way to live. God confirms this in His own experiences. In the days of Noah the whole world was filled with violence and wickedness (25). God was in so much pain at their way of life He said, ‘ I am sorry that I made man on the earth, and it GRIEVES ME IN MY HEART’(26). Later God chose the nation of Israel. At one point they were so evil that God explained to them how he felt, ‘I am BROKEN by your whorish heart’(27), He said. These experiences - though very hurtful – did not turn God from love. Hundreds of years after these experiences God says, ‘I so loved the world that I gave my only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.’(28).

(1) Matthew 22v36-40, Mark 12v28-34. (2) Matthew 22v39-40 (3)1 John4v8, 16 (4)Acts 9v1-19 (5) 1 Timothy1v5 (6)Luke 10v25-37 (7)1 John3v14 (8)1 John4v7-21 (9) 111 John v14 (10) Proverbs17v17 (11) John 13v34-35 (12) John 17v20-21 (13) 1 Corinthians 13v1-3 (14) 1 John 4v3-8 (15) 1 Corinthians13v4-8 (16) Matthew 7v12 (17) Ephesians 5v29 (18) 1 Corinthians 12v14-31 (19) Galatians 2v20-21, Matthew 11v28-30 (20) Psalm 32v1, 11 (21)1 Corinthians 12v31 (22) 1 Timothy 1v5 (23) Acts 13v22 (24) 1 Kings 8v18 (25) Genesis 6v5, 11 (26) Genesis 6v6 (27) Ezekiel 6v9 (28) John 3v16

# All the old testament – the first three quarters of the Bible. ## Religious groups who opposed Jesus teachings.

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