An unlikely recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was Mother Teresa. She was not a great head of state or diplomat, but a humble nun who served the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa spoke often about the love that motivated her to dedicate her life to serving the unlovable. Her love of God fueled her to love His people.
Few of us love others with the kind of self-sacrifice displayed by someone like Mother Teresa. Yet, we can look to people like her as shining examples of living out the greatest commandment.
The greatest commandment found in the Bible is to love God and love others. Let’s look at the scriptures and let them inform us about what this looks like.
Chapter 1: Biblical Love Defined
The word love is found all throughout the Bible and represents a foundational truth of the Christian faith. God is a God of love, and as people created in His image, we are to be people characterized by love.
While the English language has only one word for love, the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible utilized several forms of this critical word. The Bible uses different words for love to display the nuanced differences within loving relationships.
The Greek word “phileo” is used in the Bible to denote friendship, fondness, and affection. It is the love that Jesus had for Lazarus when he wept at his tomb and is not a uniquely Christian idea.
The Greek word “agape” is used far more often in the Bible and represents a love unique to the Christian faith. Agape is often described as unconditional love, or an altruistic love directed at someone who you know may give you nothing in return.
Agape is sacrificial, and always seeks the best interest of the beloved. It is present and active regardless of emotions or circumstances.
Love is of God because God is love. Those of us who know God, know love, and have experienced it unconditionally through him.
Chapter 2: A Question for Jesus
Sometimes Jesus taught with parables and stories which the hearer needed to interpret. This teaching through stories often confounded those who listened out of selfish curiosity or sinister motives.
Yet, at other times, Jesus’ teaching was crystal clear and couldn’t possibly be misinterpreted. When a lawyer asked Him what the greatest commandment is, he did not answer in a parable but spoke plainly, not leaving room for interpretation.
It may surprise some that the most important commandments given by God are all about love. People often wrongly think of our God only as a harsh judge, yet our God is defined by love, and he says so clearly all over the scripture.
The first greatest commandment is to love God completely. Our heart, soul, and mind are to be entirely devoted to loving God.
The second commandment behind loving God is loving others. When we love God, the love for others naturally flows from it.
This love for God and love for others is fundamental to the Christian faith, and it begins with God’s very character. His whole being is love, and we cannot be a part of him if we do not have love.
Chapter 3: God’s Love for His People
In order to follow the two greatest commandments, loving God and loving others, we must first understand God’s love for us. John tells us in his first letter that, “We love him, because he first loved us.”
The love God has for us is hard to fathom since we are so undeserving of it. God’s “agape” for us is so undeserving that we often don’t believe it.
The proof of God’s love for us is in His words and His actions. God, through His word, tells of his great love for His people while demonstrating it in countless ways.
God’s love for us is sacrificial. He needs nothing from us yet gives us all we need out of His great love toward us. Our greatest need is for Him, and He is more than enough.
God’s love for us is not dependent on our goodness. The ultimate proof of God’s love is that He would sacrifice His only son to die in the place of undeserving sinners like you and me.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love. The Apostle Paul knew how undeserving of it he was and how lavishly God had poured it out on him anyway.
Chapter 4: Our Love for God
We know that God loves us through His words and actions. God expects us to love Him in return with a love flowing from the greatest love, His undeserving, unconditional, sacrificial love for us.
In the same way, we can show our love for God through our words and actions. He commands us to love Him because He knows we need that reminder, but we cannot just say that we love Him without somehow living out that love.
We can speak our love for God through praying, worshipping, and sharing the truth of His word. All of these forms of communication tell God verbally how much we love him.
We can put our love for God in action by obeying Him. Jesus himself said in John 14, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” The way to live out our love for God is to obey Him.
God knows our love for Him will not be perfect. We will fail to love Him and follow His commandments as we should, yet His love for us is complete and covers all of our sins and shortcomings.
Chapter 5: Our Love for Others
From the command to love God flows the command to love others. We cannot love God without also loving His people. The two commands are not to be separated.
All people are created in God’s image and therefore worthy of His love and ours. We don’t love because people deserve it or have earned it, but because we have the love of God within us.
We are called to love others the way we love ourselves. We should strive to see others as God sees them and us, as precious children created in His image and worthy of His love.
Jesus tells us to love others the way He has loved us. Jesus’ love looked like utter humility and complete sacrifice with no expectation of getting anything in return.
Loving others the way Christ loved us will enable us to live in peace with one another. Loving others will help us to bear with them even in the midst of sin and brokenness, living alongside them in peace.
Chapter 6: Jesus, Our Loving Example
Jesus is our example of love. Being the sinless Son of God, he loved both God and people perfectly in His time on earth.
Jesus met a woman drawing water at a well and met her with love. We can learn much about how Jesus loved people from this profound interaction found in John Chapter 4.
Jesus didn’t shy away from people different from Him. The woman at the well was a Samaritan, a group of people despised by the Jews. He loved her despite her differences.
Jesus drew near to people, meeting them in their place of brokenness and sin. He knew full well that this woman was a sinner, yet he spoke to her, challenged her, and loved her, not despite her sinful state but because of it!
Jesus gave people what they most desperately needed. The woman at the well might have had personal, physical, and financial needs, but Jesus knew that ultimately, she just needed Him.
We are to love others the way Jesus loved them. We can love them with the love of the Lord despite their different race or ethnicity, and despite their sin and brokenness.
Conclusion: The Greatest of These
Paul’s famous discourse on love found in 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us so much about this overused word. It teaches us that love is patient and kind with a host of other virtuous characteristics.
Human love cannot live up to this definition. This profound passage is read at weddings and printed on Valentine cards, but even the most beautiful of human relationships are fraught with sin and struggle.
It is only through knowing the love of God that we can in turn love Him and love others. The love of God is far greater than anything we can possibly imagine apart from Him.
Paul prays in Ephesians that we would grasp the wide, long, high, and deep love of Christ. His love is greater than anything, and the Christian who knows God knows love.