“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The mission of my church is “to change the world by developing Christ-followers who love God and love people” (find it here). And since I first committed this mission to memory, I’ve always taken loving God and loving people as two separate things. I am to love God. I am to love people. In the way same Jesus answered the lawyer’s question above, I am to love God first and I am to love others second.
Yet recently God has written something important on my heart. Loving God and loving people are not just two separate commands; they are together evidence of one loving relationship.
When Jesus told the lawyer he was to love God first and then love his neighbor as himself, I believe Jesus also knew that there was more than a hierarchy present. Jesus wasn’t just giving us a spiritual checklist, with number one to love Him and number two to love people. We can’t just muster up our will to love others. We can’t just go through each day with a checklist in mind, hoping we can put a checkmark next to each commandment. We can’t love people one day while not loving God; and we can’t love God one day while not loving people. They go together; they are connected. In the same way a man leaves his father and mother and becomes one with his wife, when we choose to follow Christ, we become His bride, and thus our love for Him and our love for others become one (Ephesians 5:22-33).
Yes, God should be first in everything we do, for He is God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:5). And yes, He alone is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise (1 Timothy 1:17). Nevertheless, it is in loving God we love people. After all, “love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). It is while we are loving God that we will love people. For if we confess Jesus as Lord, “God abides” in us, “and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:15-17). This means as we abide in the vine, He’ll produce the fruit–the greatest of which is love (John 15:5 and 1 Corinthians 13:13). It is because we love God that we can love people. For “if anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen…whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). It is as we love God that we will love people. Jesus Himself declared more than once “as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35; John 15:12).
By this people will know…by our love. When God’s love is in us, then God’s love shines through us. Loving God. Loving people. They are intertwined–and I dare say inseparable. Our love for Him emerges as love for others. For it is while we love, because we love, and as we love that God loves others through us.
So I encourage you today in this: Are you born of God? Love. Do you know God? Love. Does God abide in you and you in Him? Love. Love God. Love people. For God not only loved you first, but He also perfects His love in those who love Him (1 John 4:16-17). God dwells with, lives in, and works through those He loves and those who love. Love Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). And as you love Him–as you seek God first in everything–you will in turn see Him loving others through you. For to love God is to love people. And when you love God and love people, you will indeed change the world.