The Love of God
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.“Teacher, which is the greatest 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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
"And the second is like it.” With this phrase, Jesus links what it means to love our neighbors with what it means to love God. Which raises another question for me - how is the second commandment like the first?
It can’t mean we are supposed to love our neighbor in the same way or to the same extent that we love God. That would be idolatry. Jesus is startlingly clear about this: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Relationship with God trumps everything else. All other loves must be submitted to this one.
Perhaps the second is like the first because both commandments have the same source: the love of God. It did not occur to any of us, on our own, that we should honor, delight in, or exalt the maker of heaven and earth. If we have done those things, it’s only because God has revealed himself to us. “We love him because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Relationship with God begins with a response to his love, and it grows with increasing revelation. Paul wrote, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
According to these passages, God’s love is the source, the root, of our love for him. It is the invisible structure that feeds and supports all the visible growth of the plant. His love is the vital nutrient we’re soaking up. Nothing grows, no fruit appears, if we are not connected to him.
In his book, Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves describes God as “eternally self-giving.” He writes, “Here is a God who is not essentially lonely, but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for this God at all; it is at the root of who he is. [Jesus] is the one eternally loved by the Father. The Father so delighted in his Son that his love for him overflowed, so that the Son might be the firstborn among many sons.” (pgs 41, 43)
God’s love is the eternal fountain of affection, delight, harmony, and exuberance that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have in each other. Rather than being directed inward, it is always outgoing, always overflowing toward another. This makes it profoundly different from self-love.
It is not the Father’s deep affection for himself but for his Son. It’s not the Son’s joyful pleasure in pursuing his own will but in submitting to the Father’s. It’s not the Spirit’s overflowing delight with himself but with Jesus. Similarly, when we share in God’s love, we are not moved to increasing levels of delight in ourselves or in the pursuit of our own will. Instead, we experience an ever-expanding joy in knowing, submitting, and belonging to another, to one whose perfection presents endless opportunities for such joy to grow.
To be hidden in Christ is to live in the stream of this constant affection. This love - God’s love - is the fundamental source of our identity, individually and as a community. It is the foundation of our relationship with him and with each other.
On the night before he died, in the middle of dinner, Jesus got up and changed his clothes. When he came back, he was dressed as a servant with a towel wrapped around his waist. Bending down over a basin, he washed and dried his disciples’ feet.
Then he told them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Not only is our love for God a response to Him, so is our love for others. We are the happy, humbled, well-washed recipients of God’s love, and out of his fullness, we extend that love to others.
If we’re going to love each other like Jesus did, we’ll need to be filled with the same love he was. Wonderfully, that’s what Jesus wants for us, too. It was one of the themes of his prayers the night before he died:
“The glory that you have given to me, I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me…I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:22-23, 26)
The glory that belongs to God’s one and only Son - that he is eternally loved by God, known by God, and living in unbroken unity with God - has been shared with us. Because Jesus has brought us into relationship with his Father by the Holy Spirit, we can love our neighbors as God loves them.
Here’s Michael Reeves again:
“The Spirit remolds us so that we begin to find the Son’s own joy in being like our Father, with his concern for the world. It is the new heartbeat of the children of God: sharing the joys, the passions, the heart cries, and the concerns of the Son. And entirely unlike our own heartbeat of flesh, which grows ever weaker, this grows only stronger as the Spirit breathes into us life eternal.” (Rejoicing in Christ, pg. 92)
Isn’t it wonderful to know that our capacity to love others isn’t limited by our capacity to love ourselves? What a relief that we have better stores to draw from than our own (comparably shallow) resources! Rather, God’s love has been shed abroad in our hearts. Drink deeply. Extend it to others. Drink again.