A certain lawyer came up to Jesus and asked Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”
Jesus asked him in return what his interpretation of the Old Testament was, and the man wisely supplied that in order for a man to reach heaven it was necessary that he Love God and Love Man. These two commands from the Old Testament, he understood, were the most primary of all the commands (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). Jesus commended the lawyer’s understanding and, agreeing with him, told him that if he did these two things, he would indeed inherit eternal life. (Luke 10:25-28)
Elsewhere, when asked concerning the greatest of all commandments, Jesus Himself supplied the exact same verses, adding that, “one these two hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Speaking to the importance of love in pleasing God, the Scriptures teach us that, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; NKJV)
Later, in the same chapter we read, “Now there remains these three: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) This is not to downplay the importance of either faith or hope. Hope is an anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19) and we are saved in hope (Romans 8:24).
Likewise, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and a living, active faith leads us into the obedience necessary for salvation (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 16:31ff) Truly faith and hope are central to the Christian religion. But yet love is still greater, and, like faith, love is an apt description of what is required to be saved.
Again, remember that the lawyer asked Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life (a question similar to what the jailer asked Paul in Acts 16:30, or what the Jews asked Peter in Acts 2:37). Jesus could have told the lawyer to have faith in He, the Lord, as He told others at other times (cf. John 8:24, 3:16). Or He could have told the lawyer, as Peter told the Jews on the day of Pentecost, to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Both would have been legitimate truthful answer. But instead, the focus was on the necessity of Love. If you don’t have love, nothing else is going to matter, not even faith or hope or baptism or good works. Without love, it all profits nothing.
Something else we could notice, of some significance, is the relationship between loving God and loving man. Jesus said, of the two separate commandments, that they were alike, and that upon them jointly, all the Old Testament depended (cf. Matthew 22:38, 40).
As one analyzes what the Scriptures teach about love for God, and love for man, one comes to the understanding that it is impossible to do either properly without doing the other one. Love for God is shown through love for our fellowman, and we love our fellowman best when we serve God and keep His commandments. (cf. 1 John 5:2-3). Likewise, if anyone claims to love God, but refuses to help his brother, the Bible outright calls him a liar. (cf. 1 John 4:2-21)
You’re not going to make it to heaven and inherit eternal life if you aren’t loving God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor as you would yourself. No amount of prayer, worship, or sacrifice is going to make up for such a deficiency of Christian character. It is to this high calling that we are called in Christ Jesus.
To be a “Christian” means to strive to be “like Christ” and Jesus was most certainly filled with love for both God and man. Concerning His attitude towards His Father, Jesus strove to always do those things that pleased Him. (cf. John 8:29)
And that love was reciprocated by the One who said, “This is my beloved Son.” (Matthew 17:5). Concerning His love for His neighbor, there can be no doubt, for Jesus so loved us He was willing to lay down His life on our behalf. If that is the sort of love Christ had for us, then that is the sort of love we must seek to have for one another. (cf. 1 John 4:7-11)
It is in that spirit of love that the church of Christ invites you to come study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.