The Bible says in Galatians 5:22 that love is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and in fact, it’s listed as the first fruit, which indicates that it’s a priority. It’s one of the virtues or the characteristics that make up the wholeness of the Spirit of God; a virtue that we could refer to as “the passion fruit”.
Through His Spirit the Lord has given us the passion to love Him, to love other people and to love ourselves. When this becomes part of our own character we are able to receive instruction and discipline from God, accept differences in other people, and be willing to make changes in our own lives.
When Jesus was on the earth, one of the scribes came to Him with the hope of tripping Him up, and he asked Him what the first commandment was. Jesus replied, according to Mark 12:30, that we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our mind, with all of our soul and with all of our strength. And after Jesus said this, He went on to say that , “this IS the first commandment. ”
Why is this more acceptable than obedience? Many Christians feel that obedience to God’s Word is the most important aspect of being a Christian, and that because God demanded in the Old Testament that we obey Him, that it is to be carried out even now. We are to obey Him, but obedience without love is simply accepting the law and following it. Anyone – Christian or non-Christian – can learn the law and follow it to the best of their ability. There is no heart-felt commitment or any loyalty or devotion to God when our priority in serving Him is to simply obey Him.
But to follow what Jesus has set out for us and to obey His instructions because we love Him is very different. It means that we have a connection with Him, a respect, reverence, commitment and devotion to Him, and that we want to please Him and to be like Him because we LOVE Him.
Jesus also added a second part to that commandment in verse 31 and said that we should love our neighbor just like we love ourselves. And with this comes the famous question, who is our neighbor?
Our neighbor is any person we come in contact with. In the story of the Good Samaritan, this man had never met the injured victim before, but he met up with him and so treated this man the way that he would want to be treated. He didn’t leave him on the side of the road like the others had, but he took him to a place where he could be cared for, and then he even paid for this care and didn’t expect to be paid back for it.
This shows us what God means when He says to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The Samaritan had nothing to personally gain from helping the injured man, but what he had was love in his heart towards other people.
We can clearly see the difference between someone helping us out of obligation and someone helping us out of love when we go the grocery store. Many of the young store clerks will look over our head when they greet us showing that they have no interest in us at all, and then they’ll slam our bread in between the potatoes and the canned food and not blink an eye when we complain that our bread was squashed. Others will look you in the face and smile as they say hello and handle our goods with care. A simple analogy, but one that makes a point of showing the different between obligation and love.
As Christians we need to accept God’s love for us so that His love resides in us, and then we can live every day and serve Him by helping others with the same loving attitude. And when we do, we will not only be physically helping other people, but we will be extending the love of God to others, and this is a testimony that will bring many people closer to knowing and loving Jesus for themselves.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” … 1 John 4:7