What does it mean to love one another? When David said to Jonathan, “Your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women,” (2 Samuel 1:26, last part), what did he mean? We often talk of love in many contexts, but rarely have a true understanding of it. The Bible talks a great deal about love.
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8
This text establishes the foundation of true love: God is love. The whole world and everything in it, though tarnished by sin, shows forth the love of God. It was because of the love of God that the world, the entire universe, was created. It was love that walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was love that put into effect a plan to restore man if he should turn away from God’s love. It was love that brought Jesus to this world as a babe. It was love that sustained Him under the crushing weight of the sin He bore for us and that separated Him from His Father. It was love that took Jesus to Calvary, and consequently, moved Him to give up His life for every man, woman, and child. And it is love that has pleaded with mankind for 6,000 years.
The love of God for man is a favorite subject of many a minister preaching from the pulpit. But what about our love for God? While we may not have a full understanding of God’s love, we have but to open our eyes, breathe the air, hear the birds sing, or sit down to eat to be aware of it. God abundantly shows His love for us, even in a sinful world. How do we know and show that we love God? How do we increase our love for Him?
“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.” 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, first part. The very foundation of Christ’s character is love. Jesus was always kind and patient. He was not proud, nor was He selfish. Jesus did not seek to do evil, but rather He rejoiced in the truth.
Jesus could have decided not to endure the pain and suffering inflicted upon Him in the judgment halls of Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate. He could have walked away from the pain and agony of the cross and returned to His Father. But He didn’t. Why? Because love does not fail. The Father and His Son had a plan to save the world, to offer salvation to all who would accept it, and in this, love would not fail. What a rebuke to all of us! So the most important question we must ask ourselves is, “How can I be like Him?”
We often talk about keeping the commandments of God, and this is very important to our salvation, because perfect love will have perfect results—complete compliance with all of God’s commandments. In Mark 10:17, a young rich ruler came to Jesus and asked a question. “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ ” This is a question we should all be asking the Lord. What must I do to enter the kingdom of heaven? Jesus responded with a list of criteria. The criteria he used to test this young man was specific. “ ‘You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not bear false witness,” “Do not defraud,” “Honor your father and your mother.” ’ ” Verse 19. There are two very notable items in what Jesus said. First, He reminded the young man that he already knew what he must do. Second, He did not quote all the commandments of God, only those that dealt with love for mankind.
The young man was sure he had kept these commandments, but Jesus gave Him a further test in response to his statement. “And he answered and said to Him, ‘Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth,’ 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.’ ” Verses 20, 21. What did the rich young ruler lack? It was love. Remember 1 Corinthians 13 says that love “does not seek its own.” If we have selfishness in our hearts, we do not have love. The young man went away from Jesus lost because he loved himself more than his fellow man, and consequently, he did not love Jesus.
It is also recorded that Jesus was approached by a scribe who had been listening to Him and was impressed by His understanding of the things of God. He “asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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 neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ ” Mark 12:30, 31 The greatest commandment is that we are to love Him with all our being. Yet, Jesus was not satisfied with the scribe’s question and added, as a second commandment, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus made a point of saying “There is no other commandment greater than these.” It is not enough to claim to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; it is necessary to prove it by our love for our fellow man.
Jesus was pointing out in these two examples that it is impossible to love God without loving your neighbor. It is through unconditional love that Jesus was born into the world to redeem mankind. God loved us, even in mankind’s fallen state, with such a fervent love that He was willing to sacrifice His human existence to save us. Jesus said to His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13. Who were Jesus’ friends? The entire human race, every sinner on this planet, before He came, during His stay, and to the end of time. He loved them despite their fallen nature.
As an answer to the opening question, David loved Jonathan with a godly, brotherly love. He felt the kindness and caring Jonathan had for him, and he reciprocated that love. God wants us to reciprocate His love for us by showing our love for others. Jesus is impartial in His love for sinners. He does not care how bad a sinner we may be, He loves us all. He did not die for the righteous, but for the sinner. His love is unbounded. He loved and died for each one of us. He did not wait for us to become righteous before loving us. No, He sat with the sinners and talked with them and cared for them. There is no partiality with Him. People hated Jesus because of His unconditional love for all, calling Him all sorts of names, yet He did not back away from His love. Jesus does not condone our sins, yet His love is perfect, lacking nothing, while He works tirelessly to save every sinner.
In addressing this subject, Peter shows us a process whereby we can gain this perfect love that is required to enter heaven. “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” 2 Peter 1:5-7. First, we must have faith that God can create in us this perfect love. All the apostles talk about the faith that we must have in the Lord. That faith that “comes from hearing [reading], and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
As we study God’s word, He adds knowledge of what He says about love. That knowledge solidifies our understanding of the conditions of salvation. Then comes the harder area to conquer—self-control and perseverance. Perfect love will have our emotions under control. It will make us meek and lowly, humble. Perseverance in this humility molds our character, forming a godly character within us. But don’t be fooled. Many today think they have reached this plateau of harmony, but it is hard to obtain. It takes much prayer and contrition. Godliness is not totally formed until we complete the next step in our search for perfect love. As Jesus pointed out to the rich young ruler—as He does also to us today—godliness is formed through brotherly kindness and love.
Because of our heritage, we are weighed down by the life that has molded us into what we are as we come to Christ. Thank God in heaven that He did not hold that against us. Paul writes, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Romans 12:10, 11. Jesus said to His disciples on the day before His crucifixion, “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.” John 13:34, 35. If we cannot love one another within the church, with our faults and defects, how can we love our fellowman and work to bring them out of the world?
Jesus has called us to have love for each other in the church. As we examine self, we will find more flaws which will require prayer and repentance. Perfect love is the perfect reflection of Jesus. As Jesus is longsuffering with us, should we not be longsuffering with others? That is love according to 1 Corinthians 13, “Love suffers long and is kind.” Oh, if we could see ourselves as Jesus sees us, we would be ashamed. But we should not fear, for love will cast out all fear of failure. If we have perfect love, all fear will be cast out. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18. When our love is tried and tested by God, we must remember that it is to bring us into complete harmony with His love for us, that our love for Him and others will be perfected.
“ ‘There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.’ This is an important statement; for there are many who desire to love and serve God, and yet when affliction comes upon them, they do not discern the love of God in it, but the hand of the enemy. They mourn and murmur and complain; but this is not the fruit of love to God in the soul. If we have perfect love, we shall know that God is not seeking to injure us, but that in the midst of trials, and griefs, and pains, He is seeking to make us perfect, and to test the quality of our faith. When we cease to worry about the future, and begin to believe that God loves us, and means to do us good, we shall trust Him as a child trusts a loving parent. Then our troubles and torments will disappear, and our will will be swallowed up in the will of God.” The Youth’s Instructor, January 6, 1898
The apostle John explains our condition with God in the absence of love for others. Here are a few statements he makes concerning love. “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now,” “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him,” “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” 1 John 2:9; 3:15; 4:20
Would you agree that if you hate or dislike someone, it is from a lack of love? We are told to hate sin but love the sinner, yet most of the time we seem to do the opposite. It is time to learn the lesson of perfect love; to love the sinner and cherish his or her soul as Jesus did.
“Jesus bears with the perversity of the children of men, and pities them in their wrong course. If He felt as some who claim to be His followers feel, He would be filled with continual disgust and hatred as He looks upon those who are abusing His mercy, despising His grace, refusing to obey His commandments, and trampling upon His authority. He has bought them soul and body, and though they give their allegiance to Satan, His bitterest enemy, He loves them still.
“No one can hate his brother, or even his enemy, without placing himself under condemnation. We ever receive from the hand of our Maker and Judge a reward in harmony with the nature of our conduct toward Him and His creatures. It is written: ‘If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ Again we read: ‘With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright; with the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward.’ ” The Youth’s Instructor, January 13, 1898
Jesus has given us the example of true love for His creation. He bears long with our iniquity. Should we not also bear long with others? Jesus does not care what their sins may be. He seeks to help them, and us, to overcome and be part of His kingdom. We must look to self and examine our own motives to see if, by our unloving attitudes, we are doing Satan’s work.
None are perfected yet, but if we look closely at Jesus, see His loveliness, His kindness and gentleness, watch as He does not condemn but guides, He will perfect us in perfect love. Whether it be our neighbor next door, the homeless man on the street, our leaders in power, or our brethren in the church, our love should not waver for any of them.
Jesus loved the people (Jews), the church leaders (Pharisees) and the world leaders (Romans) who crucified Him. His statement on the cross relayed a message to us today. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34. Should we do less than He?
If we are to go boldly to the throne of God for our salvation, we must, as Jesus taught us, learn perfect love for those in this world. Love does not condemn or look down on, speak evil of, or gossip about others, no matter who they might be. Love will change our thought patterns and soften our hearts to feel pity for all people. Let love have its perfect work, lacking nothing.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.