Love: The Core Of The Christian Life

October 10th 2023

Love: The Core of the Christian Life

What is love? According to Google Trends, this question is frequently the number one most searched inquiry. And yet, while it’s an age-old question, it’s also one that our contemporary culture is continuously seeking to answer for us. They preach to us about love through TV shows, movies, songs, social media, books, and magazines.

And what is their answer to the question? They tell us that love is merely a feeling, an ever-changing emotion that comes and goes. But “may it never be!” Thankfully, as Christians who follow the God who is love (1 John 4:16), and who defines love for us in the truth of his Word, we don’t have to settle for the culture’s shortsighted definition.

The Necessity of Love

Understanding the nature of love is critical, because when Jesus was asked what the great commandment in the Law is, he responded by saying,

“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” (Matt 22:37b–40).

In other words, if you are loving God, you will love your neighbor, and it’s impossible to love your neighbor without first loving God. Reciprocally,  the more we love God, the more we will love our neighbor.

Therefore, love is central to the Christian life. According to Jesus, all that God commands us in Scripture depends on and flows from these two commandments. The word “depend” in verse 39 literally means “suspended from.” All of Scripture, then, is suspended from, or hanging, from these two commands of love, and is an expression of loving God and loving your neighbor.

To illustrate this, look at the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1–17). The first four commandments are vertical expressions of loving God, and the next six are horizontal expressions of loving your neighbor. In speaking about loving our neighbor, Galatians 5:14 echoes this when Paul writes, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The New Commandment of Love

Ultimately, when we sin, it is an issue of love.  If you’re selfish and put yourself first in a self-centered manner, you’re functionally not loving God or your neighbor. If you’re not kind to someone, or gossip about someone, or cause division in relationships, or get sinfully angry with someone, or lust after a woman who isn’t your wife, or belittle someone, you’re not loving God or your neighbor.

Jesus even raised the bar in John 13:34–35 on how to understand the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Shortly before he was arrested and crucified, he told his disciples,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just 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.”

What was new about this commandment? Wasn’t the command to love our neighbor already given in Leviticus 19:18? Certainly, but Jesus raises the standard of loving one another to the level of his own sacrificial love for his disciples.

1 John 4:16 says, “God is love,” and here is God incarnate, love incarnate, Jesus, commanding his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. This must have blown their minds. What must it have been like for them to have experienced the perfect, sacrificial love of Christ in the flesh? And now he’s commanding them to love in the same way.

Jesus said this to his disciples shortly before he gave the ultimate expression of his love for his people on the cross. He willingly hung on a cross of shame and was crushed for our iniquities (Isa 53:3), enduring the penalty for our sin, as the Father poured out his unimaginable wrath upon his Son. Unimaginable wrath for sin and unimaginable love for his enemies.

The Nature of Love

So, what is love? There’s much that could be said, but 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 is helpful in defining love for us. Paul writes,

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Do you notice what’s missing in Paul’s description of love? Emotion and feeling. That doesn’t minimize or discount feelings and emotions, but love is something we do, not primarily what we feel. This is why Jesus could command us to love our enemies. We’re not typically going to be able to muster up warm, loving feelings for our enemies, but that’s not what he’s calling us to. In Luke 6:27–28 he says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Those are verbs, not nouns.

Love is an action, and Jesus loved us, his enemies, in action, when he was crucified to redeem us. And now, he calls us his friends and children of the living God. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The perfect God-man did that for us, and he now commands us to love others the way he has loved us. And when we do, the world will know we’re his disciples. Love is one of the identifying marks of a Christian and is at the core of the Christian life.

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Author: Curtis Field

Curtis has been a pastor for 18 years. He has served in a variety of roles over the years, including being an Area Pastor, Pastor of Care and Counseling, and Family Pastor (Marriage, Men’s, Women’s, Kids, and Awana). He currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Shepherding at Redeemer overseeing the pastors and directors who lead the Counseling and Care Ministry. He is married to his beautiful bride Angela and has four daughters he adores.