By Daniel Bobinski
It’s time to talk about love. If Christians are going to have any impact in the healing of a divided country and the salvation of our families’ and friends’ souls, we need to follow the biblical command to love one another. That includes loving our enemies, too.
This is true for Christians everywhere.
Actually, it’s of the utmost importance. After all, when an expert in Mosaic Law asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest command?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and all the Prophets hang on these two commands.” (Matt. 22:37-40, NIV)
These verses came into focus for me 30 years ago after earnest prayer. I was just a few years into my Christian walk, and I was asking God, “I know there are 613 laws in Scripture — is there a priority order? What goes at the top of the list?”
Before long, the Lord led me to the above verses and as I read them I became profoundly aware of two things.
First, the question about the greatest command was posed by an “expert in the law” (some versions say lawyer), and it was a “gotcha” question.
The way Jesus answered surprised me. Jesus was famous for answering “gotcha” questions either with questions of his own or with parables. That didn’t happen here. Not only did Jesus give a straightforward answer, he also provided a second answer. He called it the second greatest commandment, and said it was like the first!
Nobody asked Jesus about the second greatest commandment. He volunteered it! To me, that means it has great importance.
The second profound awareness came from verse 40: “All the Law and all the Prophets hang on these two commands.”
It was like those words came off the page at me.
All the Law. All the Prophets.
Also, the word “hang” grabbed my attention. All the Law and all the Prophets hang on these two commands. The picture that appeared in my head was like that of a mobile hanging above a child’s crib. One strand hangs down, and on that strand are attached supports for other strands, and on those supports hang even more strands.
I pictured the two greatest commandments next to each other, fixed to the eternal covering that is our Lord, and all of the Law and all of the Prophets were hanging from them. Everything depended on those two commands.
Surely, this answered my question about the highest priorities in the 613 commands! Still, questions remained. Love the Lord? Love our neighbors as ourselves? How does one do that?
On the surface, a scriptural search leads to what looks like circular reasoning. When he asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said it’s, “Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself.” Then, in John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
What? The greatest command is to love, but to love we need to keep his commands?
It’s like looking up the word turnip in the dictionary and finding it says, “See rutabaga,” then looking up rutabaga, and finding it says, “See turnip.”
There had to be an answer, so I dug deeper. I pulled out my concordance and found that in the Greek, Jesus was using the word agape in all these verses. (aa-GAA’-pey). And, I was grateful to learn that the apostle Paul gives us a definition of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. (NIV)
Notice that everything about this definition involves verbs — things we do, not things we feel. I don’t think there’s any place in Scripture where God commands us to feel. Agape love is a love of choosing.
I continued to pray over this commandment to love, asking God to show me how I could live it out. After all, I could be impatient. I could become easily angered. On my own, following Christ’s command to love the Lord and love my neighbor as myself was going to be tough.
Then I came across another verse: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). And yes, the Greek word for love in that verse is also agape.
It struck me that since God is love, and because I had already invited God to dwell within me, then the seeds of agape were already inside me. I simply needed to tend the soil of my heart to let God’s agape love manifest in my thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
I’ll tell you it’s a lifelong process, and each time I teach this material, I learn more. But as I said up front, it’s time to talk love. I firmly believe God has called me to do several things, and one of them is tell people about His love. And so, as you read my column in future issues of this magazine, for as long as it takes, I’m going to take a “deep dive” and explore how we can all live God’s agape love better in our lives.
It is, after all, the greatest and the second-greatest commandment.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is an award-winning and best-selling author, and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 375-7606.