Sometimes, when I read a familiar verse or passage in the Bible, I tend to assume that I do know what that verse says, even when in reality, I haven’t understood what it means. Every so often, I skim past a popular verse, and I feel lead to think about what I just read. When I do, the message that was a haze becomes all too clear. Does that happen to you too..? I wonder how many times I’ve read Matthew 22:37-39, until I could truly grasp the meaning behind the verse.
The words of Christ Jesus goes like this,
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 neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
This verse to me, used to represent the liberalism of the Bible, as my focus was always on the latter part of the verse: ‘the Law and the Prophets, are contained in these’. All I could think when I read this verse, was of how Jesus replaced the old commandments and made things easy for me. “No longer do I need to remember multitudes of restrictions. No more, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.’ What a relief, right..?” But.. what about that little thing called ‘love’..?
I mean, it’s not like I could not read what was plainly before me. I knew that the command was about love, but.. I hadn’t thought of what that actually meant. Love is something that comes from within, right..? An emotion that drives you to deeds that are most beautiful..? The command to love, couldn’t actually be about THAT love, could it..? I mean, how is that even possible..? Could I change how my heart feels toward another..?
All along, the vague understanding I had of this verse, focussed on those most beautiful of deeds, but never too much on the emotion behind them. When you can’t change how you feel, perhaps those deeds might just be enough..? ‘Loving’ actions, you know..? In the end, it is the actions that matter, right..? Like when you absolutely hate a person, yet hold all that hatred within and still manage to be good to them..? Like when you don’t really feel a thing about someone who is poor or in need, yet do charitable deeds because that is what you are commanded to do..? That I can do, and should be enough, I guess. How could it be otherwise..? How can I love, when all I feel toward someone, is hatred..? Or how can I feel compassionate toward someone.. when I don’t..?
But.. could it be otherwise..? Does the Bible have anything more to say about this..? Going by Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, it does. And it couldn’t be any clearer….
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing..? If I do all the good in the world that I could do, yet my actions aren’t motivated by love, I gain nothing..? Absolutely. I will gain nothing from living such a life, if there is no love in me. But.. I do know the man that I am, and that at most times, there is no love in me. Am I destined to live a life in Christ, with no gain..?
God hasn’t called us into His fold to live life in such hopelessness. In Him, there is always hope. All I needed was to further my understanding of this verse, and God in His grace, was leading me there….
I knew that through the cross, every trespass I had made against the commands of the Old Testament were forgiven, as Jesus had fulfilled every single one of them for me, even unto death. What I failed to see though, was that these two commands were actually contained within the Law of Moses, in the Old Testament. In fact, this verse was Jesus’ response to a Jew who questioned Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?“ Most of you might know this already, but if you are unaware as I were, do read Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
The life that Christ Jesus lived, fulfilled not just the outward working of the law, but also the inward requirement, even amidst the excruciating torture He endured. He loved the soldiers when they beat Him and humiliated Him. He loved them when they spat on Him and tore His beard. He loved them when they pierced His head with a crown of thorns and crucified Him. And when He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” He wasn’t just expressing His goodness, but He was fulfilling a commandment – a commandment to love – that you and I could never ever fulfil by ourselves.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
And what does He do after fulfilling such an arduous commandment..? The gain – the righteousness that comes from living such a pure and perfect life – He freely gives, to all who believe.
Doesn’t that Robe of Righteousness with which He has covered us, seem all the more brighter when you think about this..? The Lord sees me – a man who cannot even love perfectly those who love me – as a man who loves the whole of mankind; even those from whom he endures unjustified hatred. The words of the Apostle Paul echoes in my head: ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.‘
Christ went through all that He did, fulfilling the most demanding of commandments, to win us the Robe of Righteousness. But why..? So that we could live with Him in His Kingdom for eternity..? Absolutely. But also, that He could live with us in our hearts, even today. Through His sacrifice, our Lord tore apart the veil of separation that stood between God and man. Through Christ, God has sanctified for His dwelling, His most favoured temple: You and me….
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
All that I longed for, is now mine to possess, through the power of the Spirit of God, who now dwells in me. For all the emphasis the Bible lays on love, is it any wonder that when the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned, ahead of all else, there is love..?
Lord I thank You, for You have loved me, even for the loveless man that I am. I am grateful that through the righteousness that You have gained for me and through the power of Your Holy Spirit, I am now equipped to love with a love that is pure and true. By Your grace, help me exert this privilege in my life. Help me to bear fruit in You. I ask this in the most precious name, of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13