"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut 6:5) defines the relationship which God intended between Himself and Israel and all mankind. Though this requirement is not explicitly stated in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20; Deut 5), it is, according to our Lord Jesus Christ, the essence thereof, and the first and greatest commandment given by God to man (Mat 22; Mk 12; Lk 10).
If this is the greatest commandment, then failure to love God with one's entire heart, soul and might must be the greatest sin of which one could be guilty. Indeed, not loving God is the root of all sin. Nor is our Lord's explanation of the Ten Commandments a condemnation only of atheists and pagans. It is also a terrible indictment of most Christians. How shamefully little love we give to God! "With all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might!" said Jesus. My own conscience has been deeply convicted.
The second commandment, according to our Lord, is, "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Obedience to this command is the essential evidence of truly loving God. John reminds us, "he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 Jn:4:20). Love of neighbor is the inevitable result of loving God. These two commandments (to love God, then neighbor), like blossom and fruit, are inseparable. There cannot be one without the other. Moreover, "On these two commandments," said Jesus, "hang all the law and the prophets" (Mat:22:40, etc.). Here is the essence of all Scripture and of God's requirements for mankind.
Were it not for God's grace and the redemptive work of Christ, this clear teaching from Scripture would hang over us like a death sentence. We have disobeyed the first and greatest commandment, and as a result could not keep the second. The penalty for sin is death—eternal separation from God and from the life and love which is in Him alone. How desperately we need a Savior! And, oh, how God's gracious and complete provision in Christ should create in our hearts the very love for Him that He longs for from us!
The church is busy with conferences, conventions, seminars and workshops where numerous subjects from healing to holiness, from prosperity to prophecy, from miracles to marriage counseling, are taught and discussed. Yet the subject of loving God is conspicuous by its absence. Instead, there is much emphasis upon loving self—a teaching unknown in the church until recently.
Jesus said, "upon these two commandments [first, loving God; second, loving neighbor] hang all the law and the prophets" (Mat:22:40). Since these two commandments are the essence of Scripture, nothing further need be nor can be added. Yet to these two has been added lately a third: the love of self. Moreover, this newly introduced "law" is declared to be the first commandment and key to all else. It is now widely taught that self-love is the great need; that we cannot fully love either God or neighbor until we first of all learn to love ourselves.
This modern perversion of Scripture is due to the influence of humanistic psychology in the church—a fact that is freely, even proudly, admitted by Christian psychologists. For example, Bruce Narramore's oft-quoted admission: "Under the influence of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, many of us Christians have begun to see our need for self-love and self-esteem. This is a good and necessary focus." The source of this lie is significant.
In 1,900 years no one had found the necessity for self-love and self-esteem in the Bible. Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Spurgeon, Moody, et al. found just the opposite there. It was the humanists who discovered this new "truth"—and now even Christian leaders find the lie appealing and pass it on to their flocks in books and sermons.
Far from teaching self-love, Christ was rebuking it. He was saying, "You feed and clothe and care for yourselves day and night. Now give to your neighbors some of that attention that you lavish upon yourselves. Love your neighbor as you excessively love yourselves." Christ would hardly tell us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves if we did not already love ourselves enough.
Tragically, love for God is not only neglected, it is given a secondary position, and self-love is made preeminent. Instead of being convicted of our failure to love God with our whole heart, soul and might as the gravest of sins and the root of all personal problems, we are being urged to focus upon loving and esteeming and valuing ourselves! What a perversion of Scripture.
There is a growing emphasis today upon world evangelism, and surely that is needful and commendable. We ought to obey the Great Commission given to us by Christ. There is also an awakening social conscience, a concern to demonstrate practical Christianity in caring for those around us, from the unborn threatened with abortion to the homeless and deprived. Yet that which must come first—deep love of God—is largely forgotten.
"Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned" (1 Cor:13:3), may be commendable deeds, but if they are not motivated and sanctified by an all-consuming love for God, they are of no value at all in His eyes. Have we really faced the teaching of this great love chapter? How amazing and sad that love of God is buried in the flurry of activity to serve Him! Indeed, the average Christian, while he may love much else, including even the world which he is forbidden to love, gives little serious thought to loving God.
Heaven will be the ecstatic joy of eternal and infinite love. What a taste of heaven we could have now—and at the same time bring satisfaction to our Lord!
Many issues of great concern legitimately occupy the attention of church leaders and their flocks. Yet the greatest commandment, and that which God desires from us above all, is scarcely mentioned, much less given the prominence it ought to have in church fellowship and individual lives. How tragic! And what an indictment of Christianity today! None of us is innocent of this great sin. My heart has been broken as I've been convicted anew of how far I fall short of keeping the essence of God's commandments. I have cried out to Him with new sorrow and longing that He would help me to love Him with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself.
The Bible is filled with injunctions to love God, with explanations of why we ought to and of the benefits to be derived thereby. Here are a few examples. Look up others for yourselves and meditate upon them. "And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deut 10:l2) "...that thou mayest live" (30:6) "...for he is thy life, and the length of thy days" (30:20).
"O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments" (Neh:1:5) "...all things work together for good to them that love God"(Rom:8:28) "...eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor:2:9). God even tells us in Deuteronomy:13:1-3 that He allows false prophets to work signs and wonders as a test to see "whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." We live in a time of such testing. Loving God fervently will keep us from apostasy.
Yes, love is commanded. True love begins in the will, not in the emotions. That love is commanded seems incomprehensible even to many Christians. The world has conditioned us to believe that one "falls in love" and that love is a romantic attraction between the sexes. "Boy meets girl and falls in love" is the most popular theme of novels and movies. Yet "love" without God brings sorrow.
"Falling in love" is perceived as being helplessly swept up in a mysterious, euphoric, overpowering feeling over which one has no control and which, inevitably, loses its magic. One is thus equally helpless in "falling out of love," and thereafter "falling in love" with someone else. A commitment of the will is missing. We are commanded to love with purity—God first of all, with our whole being, and then our neighbor as we, by nature, excessively love ourselves. Love is a commitment to God that demonstrates itself in human relationships.
Yes, falling in love transforms for a time those who experience it. They suddenly become different persons. Someone else becomes more important than oneself, bringing deliverance from the slavery to self that ordinarily imprisons us all. Self no longer receives priority, but another has become the primary focus. The love and attention that once was lavished upon oneself now is given to the one who has become the object of one's love—and that brings tremendous freedom and joy. This temporary release from self-centeredness explains more than anything else the ecstasy of love—a fact which those "in love" generally fail to realize.
If loving others is so transforming, how much more so to genuinely and deeply love God. How can this come about? God is so great, so far beyond our finite ability to comprehend, that it seems impossible to know Him. And it is impossible to love a person (except with God's love) whom one doesn't know. Love is above all personal.
It is being taught in the church that the best way to get to know God is to visualize Christ, who is God manifest in the flesh. Visualization is the most powerful occult technique. Visualizing an entity, even "God" or "Christ," puts one in touch with a masquerading demon. (See Beyond Seduction, pp 190-240.) Yet visualization is becoming more popular than ever in the church.
Denying any occult involvement, teachers of this technique declare, "Visualize Christ as your favorite artist paints Him—then talk to Him and He will respond." What a delusion to enter into a relationship with an imaginary "Christ"! Even if the picture created in the mind were absolutely accurate, which it is not, it would be like "falling in love" with a picture and imagining that it was talking back. Such behavior borders on insanity, yet it is seriously promoted by leading Christians.
It is also suggested that visualizing Bible scenes helps to understand them. Such a practice, commended in a recent SCP Journal, is not only occultic but illogical and misleading. Obviously, visualizing oneself seated among the listening multitude will not help to understand the Sermon on the Mount. Most of those in His day who saw and heard Jesus with their physical eyes and ears neither understood nor obeyed what He said. Knowing God and His Word is not aided by images, even if accurate—much less by imagining scenes for which the Bible gives insufficient data to recreate them. "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard," but God reveals Himself and His truth to our hearts "by his Spirit...because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor:2:9-14).
Images appeal to the flesh. Beauty is only skin deep. Solomon calls charm and beauty "deceitful" (Prov:31:30) and Peter warns against outward attractiveness and commends "the hidden man of the heart" (1 Pt 3:4). What folly to think that an image of Christ created by one's imagination helps one to know and love Him!
Love is not primarily a feeling. It is a commitment. This is the missing ingredient in much that is called love today. A genuine and lasting commitment to one another is often lacking even in Christian marriages due to worldly influence and the promotion by church leaders of loving, esteeming, accepting and valuing self.
Commitment is also the missing ingredient in many a Christian's relationship with God. Rather than working up a feeling that you love God, make a commitment to Him, to love and obey Him. Jesus promised, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me...and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him...and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him" (Jn:14:21-23).
We need to know God and His love in our hearts. As we seek Him in His Word and in prayer He will reveal Himself by His Spirit. We are to love Him with our whole heart, soul and might. May He grant us a fresh conviction of the sin of not loving Him as we ought, and may the desire to obey this first and greatest commandment become our passion. Only then will we begin to manifest that love for one another which Christ said would be the mark whereby the world would be able to recognize His true disciples—those to whom He said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." TBC