To word ‘love’ will bring to each of our minds a different image – we all relate to this word in different ways. For some will bring wonderful memories – for others the word love may mean painful memories.
How we engage with this very powerful word will differ from person to person as well as culture to culture. The words “I love you” are no longer the entrance to life long companionship but merely a set of words to show that you like a person or used even to manipulate someone’s feeling.
One teenager, wanting to discover if a girl ‘loved’ him wrote a letter to her. What a wonderfully traditional thing to do – send a love letter. Except this was a 21st century love letter. It was in the form of a questionnaire. He asked her nine questions. The letter began like this:
Please answer the following questionnaire. For Options
(A) 10 marks,
(b) 5marks and
(c) 3 marks.
1) You introduced me to your parents when they come to college because:
(a) I am going to be their son-in-law
(b) you just wondered what your parents thought about me
(c) you just felt like introducing me to them
2) Whenever professor cracks joke, you laugh and turn and look at me because:
(a) you always like to see me smiling
(b) you are testing whether I like jokes
(c) you are attracted by my smile
3) When you were singing in the class, I entered and immediately you stopped singing because:
(a) you are so coy to sing before me
(b) my presence influenced you
(c) you feared that whether I’ll like your song
At the end of the letter he wrote:
If you have scored more than 40, then you are loving me. Don’t delay in expressing it.
If you have scored between 30 and 40, love is budding in your heart and it’s getting ready to bloom. If you have scored less than 30, you are in confusion whether to love me or not.
Eagerly awaiting your reply..
Others see Love as a new religion. One modern writer says:
Love is the new religion of the 21st century
You don’t have to be a highly educated person; Or have any exceptional knowledge to understand it; It comes from the intelligence of the heart; Embedded in the timeless evolutionary pulse of all human beings; Be the change you want to see in the world; Nobody else can do it for you
The Beatles were way ahead of their time when they sung “All You Need Is Love.”
And we hear that a lot today don’t we. All we need to do is love – Love each other. Love is the highest and best thing we should do.
The problem is of course that sometimes we can get tired of loving. We can forget to love others as we should, or take those we love for granted; or we don’t live up others standards; or our selfishness undermines our love. Un-requited love can make us sad or even resentful. We may think we have loved someone enough. Love which is abused can hurt us. We can be wounded by loving others.
The issue is that we cannot really love by ourselves. We hurt others and others hurt us. The accusation becomes ‘You don’t love me anymore” or “You never loved me in the first place” or “You would never have done this if you loved me”.
This is why we must understand fully what Jesus means when he says that the greatest command is to “love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.”
But first, some context to our Gospel reading. Jesus is challenged for the third time by a question. They have tried to catch him out with a political question – should we pay taxes to Caesar. It didn’t worked. Then they attack him by giving him a theological question – there are seven brothers. The first marries a woman, he dies, and his brother marries her, and the second brother dies and the third brother marries her etc. At the resurrection whose wife will she be of the seven. Jesus answers that one.
Now, they attack Jesus with a question about the law. Which is the greatest commandment. It is a question that the Pharisees themselves often discussed, and did not agree upon. They used to refer to various laws as light or heavy. It is known that some first century rabbis believed Amos 5:4 summarized the law in one principle: This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; One rabbi said that Prov 3:6, which says in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight was a text on which all the essential principles of the Torah depend.
Jesus was being asked to comment on a hotly debated issue and to chose from the 613 ‘laws’ which was the greatest one – maybe they were even trying to humiliate him, exposing his ignorance of such high matters as Rabbinic or pharisaical debates.
Interestingly, Jesus’ response comes from the books of Moses – the Pentetuch. Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18. And he gives a profound truth in how we are to approach love.
Love begins in and with God. The Shema was the prayer that a devout Jew would pray every day – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind. Love must always begin with God.
And not only must it begin with God, but it is where we give EVERYTHING. It is to God first that we give ALL our heart – ALL our soul and ALL our mind – we give him all our thoughts, words and deeds, all our emotions and all our intellect and attitude.
The reason it must start with God is because the second command to love our neighbor as ourself is IMPOSSIBLE without first loving God with everything.
Our love for others, if it is to last, if it is to be good or healthy, must stem from and be based in our love of God.
In other words we love people through and by the strength of our love of God.
Why? Because by loving God we place ourselves under his Lordship. We commit ourselves to learning and growing in his ways, in his commands, in his understanding.
That’s the point of our epistle reading. Paul’s love for the Thessalonians, and for the church does not come from a desire to impress people or to seek glory from others. He says that they speak not to please men but to please God!
All of Paul’s activities came from a desire to love God and to do the things God wanted him to do. It was not to become more impressive in the Thessalonians eyes, or to establish his reputation, or to increase his power base.
Does our love for others stem from a desire to please God first? Do our activities, our work for others, our daily life all flow out of a desire to love and please God and live life they way God wants us to live? Or do we love others in our own strength – a strength which may fail, or get resentful, or be hurt?
You see when we love God first, he will give us what we need to love others. When we love God first our perspective will be in the right place, and it will grow – our emotions will be in the right place, and they will develop – our intellect and attitudes will be in the right place and we will learn – and when we face rejection, or hostility, or anger, we come back to God and place it in his hands. It will not crush us or destroy us because our focus is not on us but on God.
We love God first so that we may be equipped to love others, and ourselves as God would have us love.
But here we need a word of warning. The command to love is not meant to place one system over another. This is not about love trumping or being higher than the law. No where in scripture does love serve as grounds for setting aside obedience to the commands of God. What it is about is the priority of love within the law. By quoting from Deuteronomy and Leviticus Jesus shows that the OT required a heart response and relationship with God, even within the law.
Hence Jesus’ claim – all the law and the prophets hang on these two commands. Nothing in scripture can be obeyed unless these two commands are observed.
And of course, we have in Christ Jesus the very living example of this. God so loved he world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus’ love for us comes from his love of the Father. Jesus’ love for us comes from his desire to be obedient to everything the Father asks of him, even to death. And the Father’s love for us is shown in the sending of his Son who dies in our place on the cross.
God’s wholehearted love must not be answered in a half-hearted manner from us – therefore today let us begin to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind, thus enabling us to love our neighbor as ourselves.