I remember when I first became a Christian. I was a sophomore in high school, and my uncle fed me book after book by many Christian authors. I learned a lot about the Bible, but it was based on what those people told me it said. Rather than reading it critically for myself, I stood on the shoulders of others. Well, when I got involved with this ministry, I was amazed and impressed by how they helped me learn how to study the Bible for myself. I felt very empowered and confident in my ability to use the research tools that were given to me.
A few years later, one of my best friends was killed while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. The loss of my dear friend Brett was tragic and very painful. As I processed through this tough time, I was reminded of how much of a blessing he was to be around and how he lived his life for Christ. I joined many of Brett’s friends the night after his death to cry, tell stories, laugh, and remember our dear friend. There was story after story about how people just felt loved by Brett and that he was always joyful.
Two years later, I still remember Brett as an amazing example of a man who lived a life of love. His legacy convicts me to be more loving, more giving, and more focused on others rather than myself. I’ve been going back to the basics lately in my personal study time in the Word, and what could be more basic than loving God and loving others?
You may be familiar with the following verses, which are about as basic as we can get in understanding true Christianity:
(37) Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
(38) This is the first and greatest commandment.
(39) And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
The man who came to Jesus asked him only for the first and greatest commandment. Why then did Jesus add the second in his answer? Because the two are inseparable, in that the only way to know the degree to which someone loves God is by how he treats people.
Along this line, I recently saw a couple of verses in 1 John that pierced my very soul. They lay out a little more clearly how the greatest commandment and the second work together.
1 John 4:20 and 21
(20) If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
(21) And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
These verses are very clear: The only way to measure one’s love for God is by how he deals with people. This may come as a harsh reality to you, as it did to me. If you were to ask the common Christian if he loves God, he would probably say, “Absolutely.” I know I would like to think that I always love God, but Scripture clearly says that if I do not love my brother, I do not really love God. What a tough standard to measure up to! Or is it?
Think about it. The entire Bible has an overarching theme that God has woven into its very fabric, and that is love. Sometimes I am not sure how I should show up in a particular situation, or what the will of God is therein, but I can be certain of one thing, I am always supposed to love.
So, do you really love God? Are you really loving people? Can others see the love of Christ in me? I ask you these tough questions because I am asking them of myself. For much of my Christian life, I focused on gaining as much knowledge of the written Word as possible, but what good is that knowledge if I’m not walking in love?
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
(1) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
(2) If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
(3) If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Do you see that? God is not as concerned with how much knowledge you have or the greatness of your faith as He is with how you love others. I’m not downplaying the importance of knowing the written Word, but I am stressing the importance of loving people in words and in deeds.
1 John 3:18
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
I don’t want to just “say” that I love people; I want my life to be a life of love, proven by my actions. If you consider yourself a loving person, you might ask yourself: “What have I done today that is loving?” What have you done this month? I think that the famous “Golden Rule” gives every human being a benchmark to know what is love and what is not, in that we each know what feels like love to us, and we can use that as the standard for dealing with others. All of us can think back to a time we felt loved, even if it was in a very small way.
I challenge you to look closely at what it means to love people with true, biblical love. 1 Corinthians 13 is a great place to start.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
(4) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
(5) It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
(6) Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
(7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(8a) Love never fails…
As Christians, we are called to be witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ, and whether we like it or not, non-believers will notice the way we live our lives. Many of them base their perception of Christianity on how they see Christians acting, and, in my opinion, Christians are one of the biggest reasons why some people reject Christianity. Many who profess to follow Christ do not love the way he did. Jesus told his disciples: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Love can do amazing things. It can fix problems, mend relationships, and change hearts.
The following are two verses that show the power of love:
Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.
1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
To conclude this brief overview of some of the convictions living in my heart, I ask you to love. Love not out of guilt or obligation, but with a pure heart that knows what Scripture says and is committed to changing lives. My good friend Brett lived a life of love, and people remember him for the love he showed. I want that in my life, and I’m sure you do too. May we all strive to love God, and each other, all the days of our lives. He promises that it will be worth it.