1 Corinthians 13 is subtitled "The Way of Love." In this chapter, Paul tells the Corinthians that love is the greatest of the enduring Christian characteristics and without it we are nothing. However, love is not as easy or pleasant as it sounds. It is effortless to say "I love you" but so hard to demonstrate in real life. The Bible calls Christians to love "not with words or speech but with actions and truth" (1 John 3:18). It is not that the words are wrong, but they are certainly not enough to qualify as biblical love. And the "actions" aren't just any benevolent actions that please the giver, they are to be specifically aimed at the well-being and benefit of the recipient. They are actions and truths that build up, encourage, correct, challenge, and meet the need of the recipient. Such actions can be difficult, involve sacrifice and are sometimes downright painful. Consider Christ's ultimate demonstration of love. John utilizes its example as the definition of biblical love when he writes, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16a). But John doesn't leave it there, he drives home the call for us to do the same: "And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16b). While the world turns love into an exercise in self-gratification and sentimentality, we as God's people are exhorted to love as Christ did — doing the hard work of giving ourselves for the benefit of others. That is biblical love.
This February, Focal Point is taking a look at several aspects of biblical love. Yet we cannot begin to exercise biblical love to those around us if we do not first learn true, biblical love for God. The call of God on our lives and the message for us in Scripture is distilled into one line it reads like this: "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength." This was the central command of Old Testament Judaism (Deuteronomy 6:5) and it was the primary imperative of the one whose name we bear (Matthew 22:37). But when that clear and forthright standard is held up for comparison with modern Christianity, it seems that only a few are focused on this goal. It appears to be a paltry and seemingly "fanatical" minority among us, who would even name this central biblical command as a part of their life's mission or current goals. But before we call this folk fanatical, remember that the responsibility to love God with all that we are cannot be erased or minimized under the guise of New Covenant grace. When some claim we are unfettered from this calling because we are "not under the law" they fail to realize the promised effects of grace. Jesus said when we have been forgiven much we love much (Luke 7:42-47). Grace doesn't free us from the obligation to love God with all of our hearts, it is the fuel for doing so. The Apostle John penned an entire New Testament book based on the proposition that loving God is the sign of those who are actual participants in the grace of God (1 John). Lastly, it is important to note that this supreme love is not meant for the "god" of our choosing. Seeking to fulfill the primary biblical calling must be aimed at the only God who is — the God of the Bible. As John clarifies, this love will be measured by an honest assessment of our transgressions of his holiness (1 John 1:8,10) and our resolve and growing consistency in keeping his commands (1 John 3). He exhorts his readers, "This is love for God: to obey his commands" (1 John 5:3). When we love God with all our hearts, it will prompt us to truly love others as God commanded us.