You probably learned and heard in Sunday school what the most important commandments are, or maybe in the midst of a fight with a sibling your mother was quick to remind you of this often-quoted command:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
When we think of ways to grow in our love for God and our neighbors, we often think of public or visible acts of service in which we give our time and resources: volunteering in church, donating money and clothes, babysitting for a tired mom, cooking a meal for a mourning family, and the like.
But have we ever considered that loving God and loving our neighbors well means that we must know God’s Word well?
Love God with All Your Being
Jesus commands us to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. This is a whole person command. Loving God doesn’t only involve our feelings and emotions. We don’t only love Him with our intellect. Loving God doesn’t only require physical action. Loving God involves all of those components together, and each of those aspects come into submission to the Word of God.
Our emotions must be submitted to the Word. The knowledge that our minds collect must be in line with what the Bible says. Our actions must be obedient to what Scripture has revealed. The Bible, being living and active, equips us for that. As Paul wrote to Timothy:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Bible also fuels us to love God with our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Doctrine and theology should ignite a passion to go and live for God and be obedient to Him. Theology gives us courage to go forward when we are fearful, downcast, or dismayed.
When we are fearful about evangelism, knowing God’s sovereignty over salvation can kill our fear. Knowing God is using our suffering for good helps us find joy even in the midst of our trials. Knowing God, and how He is at work, grows our hearts to love Him more.
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
How does knowing the Bible help us to love our neighbors? The Bible tells us how to love our neighbors, sometimes in ways that the world would tell us is wrong or involves too much giving of our own selves. And, the Bible equips us to love our neighbors even when it’s hard and goes against everything in our being.
The Bible tells us what isn’t loving and does further harm. And, the Bible furnishes us to love our neighbors as ourselves. But if we aren’t careful in studying Scripture, we can easily twist it (possibly by accident) in such a way that keeps us from loving one another as we should.
We are all teachers to some extent—whether formally in a class, in day-to-day life as parents, or as informally as having a conversation with our neighbor. As teachers, rightly handling the Word is part of how we love our students. James calls us to carefully consider our roles as teachers because of the impact of our work.
We don’t want to lead those we mentor or teach into heresy, false teaching, deception, or burdens they were never meant to carry. Many of us probably have those cringe-worthy memories of legalistic counsel we gave, leading a Bible study that was gospel-less with passages pulled from their original context, or an evangelistic opportunity in which we botched the gospel. These memories make our cheeks red with embarrassment. I know because I have those memories too.
Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want to fill ourselves with right doctrine and truth from God’s Word, and so loving our neighbors as ourselves should lead to the same desire and the same careful discernment and discretion we use when teaching ourselves. As much as we care about what kind of theology and teaching we are consuming, we should be filled with passion to feed others the same kind of goodness.
We Can’t Do It on Our Own
Perhaps you see now that your lack of care for handling the Bible has led to a lack of love towards God and others. You’re remembering even more instances that you didn’t rightly use Scripture or you made a bad interpretation, and now you’re full of shame and fear. You don’t want this to happen again.
And so you begin cramming your mind with resources, sound theology, and thorough exegetical study because then you will be able to love God and love your neighbor perfectly.
Friend, let me reassure you—you will still get it wrong.
We are sinful, and we can’t love anyone on our own, not God or our neighbor. Rather, “We love because [God] first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). Before God gave us new hearts to love and obey Him, we were selfish and hateful people. As Paul wrote in Titus,
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)
Though at times we may have shown good deeds and love, our actions were always corrupted by sin. And even if we loved people sort of well, we still despised God.
Unlike us, Christ walked the earth loving God and loving neighbour perfectly—he never gave way to the temptation to be disobedient, to slander, be sinfully angry, or selfish. He obeyed His Father in all that He did, unlike us. And when He died on the cross, He gave us this righteousness and took the punishment for our sins.
When we have placed our trust in Christ for salvation, we can stand before God as if we lived the perfect life that Christ did.
Don’t leave this article thinking that if you only memorized every inch of the Bible or if you collected solid theology you’d be able to love God and your neighbor well. We need to first be redeemed by God and have His power at work in us. We need the Holy Spirit sanctifying us (making us more like Christ) so that we can be obedient.
It is only then that out of gratitude to God for His saving work that we are able to submit to His Word and how it has called us to love God and love others. Out of love for Christ, we submit to Him as Lord.
Growing In Love
We all have room to grow in this endeavor to love God and our neighbors better, and the only way growth will happen is by the Holy Spirit as He uses the Word in our hearts.
Together, let’s go onward, making disciples and being disciples, loving God and loving neighbor, our foundations being the Bible rightly handled.