The Gospel according to Matthew records that a Pharisee who was an expert in Judaism asked Jesus to test him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with your soul and with your entire mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets and on these two commandments” (Mark 12: 29-31; Matthew 22:23:23-35-40; Luke 20: 27-40). ‘Love’ is the quintessential message of Christianity. Jesus answered the Jewish religious leader by quoting the Old Testament books of Leviticus 6:5; Deuteronomy 19:18). Jesus did not say many things new. He put into practice in his personal life and work. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Nobody obeyed the Law perfectly; only Jesus did this. And he gave his life in order to manifest God’s perfect love for man.
The Holy Bible speaks of God’s love for mankind with multiple examples and in multiple situations narrated in the Old Testament. I am not mentioning many such instances. God solemnly declared before his servant Moses, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34: 6-7). This is a repetition of what is already said in Exodus 20:4-6 where God said, “You shall not make for yourself idol . . . for I the LORD, your God, am a jealous God punishing the children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but sowing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”. We can note that God’s love is not unconditional. But his love and care for the ones who love and obey his Word exceedingly outweigh his wrath against those who do not obey and love him. If God does not punish sin and evil he cannot be just and right.God loved us first; we are commanded to follow him. John, Jesus’ disciple wrote, “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In his epistle John wrote: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1John 4: 7-12). John has given great emphasis on theme of ‘Love’ as we can see from the fact that he used the word at least 32 times in chapter 4: 7- 5:3)! This is not for nothing! It is of Spiritual love that the apostle talks about.
The word ‘Love’ is a verb. It is to be manifested in action, in actual manner of life and conduct. God loved the world and he gave his Son to the world. All kinds of love, indeed, are meaningful only in and through action. It is God’s command, not merely a suggestion or good advice or any option. It is no mere emotion, but a decision. It is a teaching of the Bible that we should love God because he loves us far greater than we ever can think of loving him. We ought to love him for our own benefit and blessings. 1 John 3: 1 exhorts us: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
The Bible teaches that God loves not because we are all loveable, but because he himself is love in his very nature. The Bible commands us to love each other deeply, unselfishly, and for the good or the benefit of the one loved.
We do well if we try to understand what ‘Love’ means in Christian thinking. In New Testament Greek language we find at least four words for one English word ‘Love’: they are storge, philia, eros and agape to mean the respective different kinds of love. Storge is affectionate love or love in family circle, philia is love between or among friends, eros mean erotic love between a man and woman, and lastly, Agape means divine, selfless and unmerited love. All the three types of Love are selfish. But ‘agape’ is unselfish as it is divine in nature and source. This ‘love’ is spoken of in the Bible above every other kinds of love. It is divine love for undeserving wayward man from God. Apostle gave a very unique and classic explanation of this love in his epistle to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 13). He lists the different ways agape love is manifested. He says love is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, this love does not parade itself, is not boastful, it is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily irritated; people having this love do not think of evil for any other, not even for an enemy; one does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in truth.
The writer is a Christian Theology teacher and a church leader