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  • Writer's pictureJim Hays

What Is Love?

Part of our year-long discussion about true discipleship has been the clear mandate of Jesus to live in obedience to God. But Scripture contains so many commands! And some of those commands aren't even for us! (Consider Paul's imperative command, "Bring me my coat and my parchments!" found in 2 Timothy 4. I'd take those things to Paul if I just knew where they were … and where he is!)

We're blessed that Jesus takes every command found in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, and boils them down to two great commands. And you already know what they are! You've been taught them all your life. We spent 40 weeks in 2018 talking about them as we laid out the elders' new vision statement for Southern Hills.

The Greatest Commands

In Matthew 22, Jesus is approached by a group of nefarious lawyers and Pharisees who ask Him, "What is THE GREATEST COMMAND?"

Without hesitation, Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

See, I told you. You already knew them! By the way, every Jew who heard Jesus' answer knew them, too. In fact, every good Jew prayed that first command twice a day--once in the morning and again in the evening. Jews call this "praying the Shema"--shema being the Hebrew word for hear. Moses tells Israel in Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Jews scribbled that command on tiny slips of paper, rolled them up into little scrolls and placed them inside mezuzahs, small cylinders mounted on their doorpost. They also put them in small leather boxes called tefillin or phylacteries, which they strapped to their foreheads and arms during prayer time.

All that to say that the Hebrew people know this command inside and out. They also know the second command about love for neighbor. That command was also given by God through Moses in Leviticus 19:18. So when Jesus offers his answer, there is no doubt that every Jew on the scene nods in agreement. "That's right, Jesus. Those are the greatest commands. We know them like the back of our hand."

Knowing vs. Doing

So everybody, Jew and Christian, knows these commands. But on that last day, God will not ask us if we know them. No, on the day of the Lord, the question will be, "Did you live them? Did you spend your life loving Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? And did you love your neighbor like you love yourself?"

This is the criteria by which we will be judged. Did we reflect the love of God to the world by how we loved Him and others?

So, what is love? It's not that tingly feeling you get when that special guy or gal takes you by the hand. It's not being in the company of someone you find funny, interesting, or intelligent, i.e., "I just love being around her!" No. Our world might tell us that love is sex. No. It's not that either. Then what is love? Biblical love?

What is love?

The Greek word Matthew uses to tell us what Jesus said in Aramaic is agape. Biblical agape love can be defined as "a relentless, unshakable commitment to the other ... no matter what." In other words, this stubborn, unswerving commitment is unconditional.

Loving God with your total being means being fully committed to His purposes for your life--even if His purposes include suffering or serving in dark places. Loving others as we love ourselves means being fully committed to them even if they don't love us back ... even if we don't personally like them.

It is not easy to love that way. In fact, it is difficult to stay fully committed when you are suffering horribly. It is difficult to stay fully committed to that fellow church member who talks behind your back and snubs you at the assembly.

I'm convinced that God puts us with people who are hard to love ... just to see if we'll love them. It's easy to love people who love us back. It's hard to love people who are enemies. And yet, it's what Jesus calls His disciples to do. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

It's one thing to know the commands. It's quite another to actually live them.

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

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