A Jewish teacher of the Old Testament asked the Lord, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Matt. 22. 36. The Jews loved to argue about the finer points of their law. The Lord responded, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment’, Matt. 22. 37, 38. To love God is not a commonly found religious requirement. Most religions are based on fear. The god or gods must be appeased so they will not hurt you. They are viewed as powerful and cruel, gods to be feared, but surely not to be loved. Worship consists of gifts and deeds to earn favour with these awesome, fearful spirits. To placate them some people have offered human sacrifices, even their own children. ‘They burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods’, Deut. 12. 31. Moses spoke to Israel of their God, saying, ‘He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen’, Deut. 10. 21. He is a God characterized by holiness and love, He ‘loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing’, Deut. 10. 18.
David later writes, ‘For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him’, Ps. 103. 11. Holy, loving, merciful, compassionate – this is the God the Old Testament believers came to know and to love. The God presented in the New Testament is no different. Yet, still there was a mystery that men often pondered in those early days. Job asked, ‘How then can a man be righteous before God?’ Job 25. 4. How can a holy God love and accept a sinful man? The mystery is solved when the sinner stands at the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus, understanding that Christ died to pay for his sins. ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’, 1 Cor. 15. 3. God can forgive the sinner justly because Christ has paid the full penalty. It is at this moment of conversion that the reality of God’s love sweeps over one’s soul. The Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, loves me! Amazing love! The ‘beloved’ apostle put it like this, ‘In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’, 1 John 4. 9-10.
God’s love for us, pouring like a torrent into our souls by the Holy Spirit, moves us to become loving persons. 1 John 4 verse 19 clearly teaches that we love God in response to His own passionate love for us. We also now love fellow Christians, 1 John 5. 1. And that love overflows out to those who are lost and perishing in their sins. Did not Christ love the sinner ‘when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them’, Matt. 9. 36? So then, the selfish sinner should become a loving soul when he accepts Christ.
But all this can only begin when we experience God’s love personally. The sinner first learns this as he hears and believes the gospel. He becomes a lover of God. Daily reading of scripture and prayer nurture this love. Love is sustained and deepened by communication with the one loved. Hearing God’s word taught and expounded also strengthens one’s love for God. The early church was fed by the apostles’ teaching, Acts 2. 42. Young believers will grow as they hear the word taught by older Christians. The Lord’s Supper is a special time of experiencing God’s love as Christ is remembered in His death and resurrection and worship rises to Him. This love for God will overflow to other believers and then to lost sinners who are still without hope. The badge of Christ’s disciples is to be love. ‘By this all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another’, John 13. 35. One day faith will give place to sight. Believers who have come to love God will be united with the Lord, whom not having seen they love. Christ will return and believers will be forever with the Lord, 1 Thess. 4. 17.
GERHARD TERSTEEGAN describes the excitement and joy of that meeting:
He who in the hour of sorrow,
Bore the cross alone;
I, who through the lonely desert
Trod where He had gone,
He and I in that bright glory
One deep joy shall share;
Mine to be forever with Him,
His that I am there.
God help us to find this deepest of expressions in our daily lives, just to love as He loved.
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