We all know the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Most of us know that this comes straight from the Bible:
“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”
– Luke 6.31
If you have spent much time in the church or if you have read much of Jesus’ teaching, you will also know that He was cornered by some pious men and asked which of God’s commandments was the greatest. Without blinking, Jesus responded:
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
– Matt 22.35-40
The greatest commandment of God, that on which the entire Bible is established is the commandment to love God with everything we have – and let that love overflow in such a way that we love everyone around us in the same way that we love ourselves. The commandment to love is a strange one, however. What exactly is love? We talk about our different love languages – the ways that we express and receive love. We talk about different cultures and how they perceive, feel and express love. We talk about how people should treat one another when they love each other…but it is quite difficult to nail down what exactly love is. Webster’s defines love as:
a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3): affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>
b : an assurance of affection <give her my love>
warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>
a : the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>
b (1) : a beloved person : darling —often used as a term of endearment (2) British —used as an informal term of address
a : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others
b : a person’s adoration of God
In summary of these points, it is primarily an affection that results in putting someone else before one’s self. Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek term used for love (ἀγαπάω, agapaō) as:
– To be full of good will and exhibit the same;
– with acc. of the person, To have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of
As we enter into marriage and as we evaluate the prevalent flippancy of our culture, we regularly discuss the commitment involved and the choice to love even when our emotions fail, but we all must and do recognize the simple fact that there is and must be at some level an emotional side to love. Miserable is the marriage that goes through the motions of matrimony without any care or affection. Sad is the child who receives dutiful care from a mother but no emotional engagement or nurture. Yes, there are times that we choose to do those “duties” that our love requires when our emotions are not there, but in general we recognize, expect and hope for the emotional side of love to accompany the dutiful.
Unfortunately, emotions are not quantifiable and we turn to actions hoping to gauge the presence and proof of that love. This is not only a good thing to do, but a Biblical guideline:
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him’.”
– John 14.23
Jesus Himself stated that anyone who loves Him will obey Him. He said it multiple times and in a variety of ways in this one discourse (John 14.15, 21, 23, 24). We also see in other passages that the fruit of the spirit is love for one another and the keeping of Jesus’ commandments:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
– Gal 5.22-24
If we love God, then we will love one another and exemplify joy, peace, patience, and all of the other fruit of the Spirit. If we love God, the Holy Spirit will abide within us and empower us to obey Jesus’ commandments and His fruit will pour out from our lives. Our obedience, our changed personalities and dispositions are the fruit – the outpouring, the result of our love. Yes, we can force some of them for a little while, but we will not be transformed and it will not be the outpouring of who we are unless we love God, abide in Him and draw our strength and life from Him.
The root is love. The fruit is obedience.
Jesus talks about abiding in Him, remaining in Him, being grafted into Him as a branch is to a tree. These analogies are all painting the same picture: we love Him and that love is emotional, real, and causes in us a longing for Him. As we come to Him, spend time with Him, reflect on His teaching and study the things He said, we are in return deriving strength from Him. By coming to Him, we are becoming one with Him – drawing life-giving sap and nutrients from the core of the tree, being empowered by the new Spirit that has taken up residence in our lives, and being transformed into new creatures.
What does all of this mean? First of all, it means that we do have a tangible way by which we can evaluate ourselves. If we are not walking in obedience and exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, then we know that we do not love Jesus and we are not walking in Him – therefore we are most likely not saved. Yes, there are times that we will struggle with sin and there are times that we will make peace with sin and the Spirit will take time to work those things out. But we should be very concerned about ourselves and one another if we are not seeing obedience and the fruit of the Spirit portrayed.
Secondly, we have a means of accountability with one another. Everyone who loves Jesus will obey His commandments and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit. We must and should keep each other in mind and in heart – part of loving our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves – making sure that they are not making peace with sin either.
Unfortunately, while it is true that everyone who loves Jesus will obey Him and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit, not everyone who keeps a moral lifestyle or attends church loves Jesus. If we are not deeply invested in one another’s lives, then moral people will be able to self-placate and believe themselves safe from damnation within our churches, small groups and communities. They can fool themselves and they can fool others, for a while. There will come a time when true colors come out, however, and this is another reason we need accountability and deep investment.
Thirdly, this reality gives us great hope. Our salvation and unity with Christ are not contingent on our perfect obedience or fruit, it is based on our love and remaining in Him. Men naturally hate the light. If you have an affection for or longing for Jesus, that is supernatural and it is a gift.
“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
– John 3.20-21
In fact, Paul tells us that the very word of the Bible is foolishness to those who are not saved:
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– 1 Cor 1.18
Therefore we can take great hope in the simple fact that we love Jesus, long for Him and enjoy spending time with Him and in His word. If you do not, this is the starting point – not cleaning up your life. Ask Jesus to open the eyes of your heart, to draw you to Himself, to give you a new Spirit and a new life. You cannot long for these things on your own. Yes, you can long to be saved from Hell, but you cannot desire intimacy with Jesus unless He draws you and gives you faith.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
– Eph 2.8-9
Lastly, it simply means that obedience will be an outpouring of love. Yes, there will be times that it will be hard. But by-in-large, when we know and love Jesus, when we are being transformed to look more like Him, we will start to act like Him. We will “obey” Him, because we want to emulate Him, because we want to please Him, because we want to enjoy Him. The fruit will come out of us naturally, we will not have to force its growth and we will not be out picking fruit off other branches and taping to our own. The root is love, and it supplies us with the life-giving sap that produces the fruit.