What Is Love?

We live in a world and culture which has generally lost the real meaning of the word love.

We can see glimpses of it, as it manifests itself through some people’s heroism, self sacrifice but generally, love has lost it’s real, deep meaning and it has become somewhat cheapened.

The word Love is now used indiscriminately to affirm the acceptance of all things and all behaviors. To love, in todays world, is to be ultimately tolerant of everything.

To stand against something – or to disagree with someone regarding their attitude, behavior or even belief is seen to be unloving.

Love has become so broad as to be almost meaningless.

A biblical view of love is the exact opposite. In fact, love in the scriptures is very narrowly defined and requires, no, demands, a very specific path.

Deut 6 is known as the Shema. Even today it is recited by orthodox Jews every morning and evening and at the beginning of every Orthodox Synagogue Service.

So important and foundational. is this prayer that boys were required to memorize it as soon as they could speak.

Some rabbi’s caught that the Deut 6:1-9 was the pivot around everything else revolves.

Why?

It is the central foundational commandment between us and God. It teaches us about who God IS and how we might keep his ways. Also it affirms two vital and central things about God and our relationship to him.

The first vital and central thing we learn is that God is ONE. In other words, it affirms God’s central characteristic – his oneness. The word ONE means, as well as numerical oneness, a UNITY.

In a culture of polytheism the Israelites were to affirm that there was only ONE, TRUE, LIVING, UNITED God – Yahweh!

The second vital and central thing is that we MUST love this one, true, living, united God. And this love must encompass our whole being – Heart, Soul and Strength.

The heart was the central part of person’s existence; the soul was the seat of emotional activity and strength, or mind was the intellect and attitudes of a person.

We are to love God with ALL of who we are.

Also, the word love here is not about emotion but will. It is to make a covenant commitment – a determination of the will to be absolutely loyal and obedient to him in every respect.

Now this fits in very nicely with our Multigenerational Class study right now on the Strategy, Aims and Visions of a Church. We saw two weeks ago that the first aim is to show our love for the Lord. That is the first and primary role of the people of God and of the Church.

True love, real love begins and must be rooted in the one, true, living and united God.

This is why I say that biblically love is very narrow, defined and focused. All true and real love emanates from and is found in God.

And remember that this is not a request. It is a command. The first command is to LOVE God with every part of our being!!

One writer has said To love God and worship him and serve him is the highest privilege we can have, so when the Lord commands us to love Him, He is inviting us to that with is the best.

The result of loving God first is that all our other love comes out from this love. God calls us to love others from the foundation, from the well of God’s love in us and our love of God.

This is why Jesus put the two things together in his response to the Scribe’s question – Jesus says Deut 6 AND he quotes Lev 19 – Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.

When we do this, that is when we follow Jesus’ command to love God and to love our neighbor, I believe we will see three things happen:

1. our love will last longer and be deeper
2. it will be more powerful
3. it will be a love which upholds and declares truth

Let’s look at these three things.

Firstly, a love which is founded in our love of God lasts longer and be deeper.

A love which is NOT rooted in God, which comes from us, will get tired. It will get frayed. It will run out. We will lose patience. We will find fault. My love – our love, in it’s own strength has limits. God’s love does not.

When we love people in our own strength we will, at times, run out of juice, do and say things unloving.

As Christians we need to be a people whose love for others flows from our love of God. And when we allow our love for God to be the driving force of our love of others we allow God’s power to help us, especially to love those who we find difficult to love.

So firstly, when we love God with all that we are, that allows us to love others and that love will be a lasting, deeper love.

Secondly, a love which is rooted and based in God is a powerful love. It has incredible power. It is SO powerful, it is able to save.

Jesus perfectly manifests the Shema and Lev 19 in his life and Hebrews 7 affirms that this love can save. God invites us to a love relationship with him which saves us and cleanses us from sin.

There is incredible power when we love people from the love of God.

Third and finally, a love which comes from God manifests and declares truth.

The Scribe sent by the Pharisees with the question of “what is the greatest commandment” was being used to try and trap Jesus. My own view is that the scribe himself was actually interested in the question itself. He may have been a pawn in the Pharisees plan, but the scribe was genuinely interested and was not ‘in’ on the plan to trap Jesus.

The question itself was one which was very common and often debated by rabbi’s and leaders – and there was no consensus. There were 613 laws in the Old Testament – 365 negative, 248 positive. To try and say there was ONE great commandment occupied many a debate.

Some argued from the Old Testament itself – the 613 laws were, for some rabbi’s condensed to just 11 in Palm 15. Still others argued that those 11 were further reduced by Isaiah 33 to just 6 and Micah 6:8 reduces these 6 to a mere 3 – Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God..

The famous rabbi Hillel, who died just before Jesus was born, as was followed by many, said that the greatest command was “What thou hatest for thyself, do not do to thy neighbor. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”

Jesus combines Deut 6 and Lev 19:18 into one, inseparable command – they flow from each other.

But when Jesus says this to the scribe, I think the scribe was absolutely stunned and taken a back.

Jesus confronts this scribe with LOVE – the command to love God. And because Jesus was one who loved God with ALL his heart, soul and strength and because loved others, the person and the words combined to become a powerful witness to this scribe.

Notice was the scribe says in response – our reading says You are right! In fact, you could legitimately translate it “Beautiful.”

Beautiful!! Oh what beauty, the scribe says. Jesus’ words have done more than penetrate his mind, it has penetrated his heart! And it opens him up.

When people are confronted by the true truth of the love of God, given not in an intellectual manner, but from the love of God, people stop defending party lines or even their own prejudices.

The Scribe suddenly grasps that Jesus in both word and deed is making love, the love of God and the love of others the most important thing in life because love is fulfilling the law.

We know this because of what he says in response. The Scribe quotes back essentially what Jesus has said, probably with some feeling – but then he says this remarkable statement:

More than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

The scribe sees it. He realizes the magnitude, majesty, power, and primacy of the love of God – it is such that it transcends even the very core of the Israelite worship of burnt offerings and sacrifices.

For a scribe, a lawyer of the law, to acknowledge that the burnt offerings and sacrifices of the temple are secondary to the law of love in and through God was a remarkable thing.

This is why Jesus says to him “You are close to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Just for a moment the scribe gets it. He lets go of the religious arguments, and legal requirements of the law and is faced with the Love of God and he gets it.

So, real, true, biblical love is not a wide free for all indiscriminate tolerance of everything – but a very narrow and very defined thing, beginning with a recognition of God as One and then to love God with our whole self, and when we love God, we will love others with a love that (1) is deep and lasting, (2) that is powerful (3) and that proclaims truth.

This is the love we are to have – to show and to demonstrate to the world.

Now, you may think “I do not have this love”. That’s OK – look to Jesus – love Jesus – let your first priority to show your love for God and as you and I do this we begin to grown in these aspects of love. We cannot do it ourselves – the love God calls us to lvoe him and others is not manufactured in us. We do not have what it takes – but Jesus does we go to him and through his work in us we can.

Amen

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