When asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus responded: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
It should be clear, then, that love has a central place in God’s plan and His expectations for His people. Certainly, God is a God of love – and He wants His people to also be characterized by love.
Walk In Love
Ephesians chapters 4-6 describes the transformation God expects of those who become His people through His grace and mercy. Those who are Christians are expected to put off the old man of sin and put on the new man who is patterned after God’s holiness and righteousness (Ephesians 4:22-24). Then, in chapter 5, consider what is said about the Christian: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
First, notice that those who are Christians are to be “imitators of God, as beloved children.” To be an imitator of God is to attempt to replicate His characteristics as closely as we possibly can. We want to be as much like our Heavenly Father as we possibly can be (like endearing children desire to imitate their parents)! Second, we are to “walk” (conduct our lives) in love. Again, love is expected to characterize the life of a child of God. Everything we do, think, and say must be done according to the way of love! Third, we are to be imitating Christ’s love for us. His love is truly the standard by which we measure the love we have for others! So, as we attempt to devote our lives entirely to imitate God, we must give ourselves entirely to sacrificial love.
What It Means To Love
What exactly does it mean to “love”? The word “love” is used in many different ways in our society today – in reference to many different things. We say that we “love” our favorite foods, our pets, our possessions, etc. We say that we “love” certain individuals – and then either do things to directly harm them or (at least) do not always act in ways that are helpful to them. We say that we “love” an individual on the basis of positive feelings or emotions that are currently being experienced. Clearly, there are many different ways that we (as a society) use the word “love.”
In the Greek language, there were four different words for “love” – which represented different types of “love.” Eros was used for an erotic, romantic, or sexual love. Storge was used primarily for the affection in a family. Phileo is a warm, affectionate love (often referred to as brotherly love). Agape is an unconditional and sacrificial love. Specifically, the Scriptures frequently instruct us concerning this agape love. After all, this is the highest and greatest form of love. But, what can we know about showing this kind of love to others?
First, we learn the most about this love from God (agape love). Look at some of the passages which talk of God’s love for us. Ephesians 5:2 instructs us to walk in love – pointing us to the standard of how Christ loved us and gave Himself sacrificially for us in order to save us. John 3:16 uses a form of the Greek word agape when it tells us that God loved the world so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us (so that we would not perish, but that we would have everlasting life in Heaven). So, to get a better understanding of what it means to love, study God’s love – and learn how it is unconditional and sacrificial!
Second, 1 Corinthians 13 helps us to learn about what agape love really looks like. It begins by describing the fact that doing every good thing God wants us to be doing is useless if we do not love like He wants us to love (verses 1-3). Then, notice verses 4-7 for a description of love (note that the discussion is concerning agape love): “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.”
Take a moment to consider 1 John 3:16-18. This passage seems to tie both of these points together to help us understand agape love: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” So, this love is not accomplished by saying, “I love you.” Instead, this love is truly demonstrating with actions that you are concerned for the well-being of others and choose to act in their best interests (even above your own best interest), just like Jesus acted in our best interests rather than His own.
Who The Christian Must Love
Now, please consider some specific areas in which God has commanded His people to show this kind of love. While we will briefly consider a few different areas here, remember that we have already seen that it is a general commandment for God’s people to conduct themselves according to the way of love (Ephesians 5:1-2).
- Love for God. Jesus said that loving God with agape love is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus also said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).
- Love for your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39). To understand what it means to love your neighbor, read Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
- Love for your spouse. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5:24-33). Wives are also taught to love their husbands and their children, though a different Greek word is used (Titus 2:4).
- Love for your Christian brethren. Christians are taught to love their Christian brothers and sisters (see 1 John 2:9-11; 1 John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:11).
- Love for your enemies. Christians are not just taught to love those who treat us well; but, we are also taught to love those who do evil to and hate us (Matthew 5:43-48).
Christians must be loving. God is love (1 John 4:8) and He expects His children to be walking in love. If we are walking in love, we are of God – and if we are not walking in love, we are not of God (see 1 John 3:10-12 and 1 John 4:7-11)!