BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
Someone asked me recently, “What does it mean to love God?” His question was borne out of a sincere desire to know how really to love God. I’m convinced that not all Christians today who talk and sing about loving God really understand what it means.
After Jesus’ arrest, which led to His crucifixion, Peter denied Him three times (Matthew 26:69-74; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-17, 25-27). This was despite his assurance never to do so(Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:36-38). Following his disappointment with himself for denying Jesus, Peter went back to the sea side fishing.
In John 21, Jesus, after His resurrection, asked Peter a question similar to the one I am examining in this message. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than the other disciples. Peter answered in the affirmative three times. The question was necessary because Peter was to be the leader of the disciples. If he must take over from Jesus to lead the other disciples, he must love Jesus and His causes more than those he was to lead.
Peter declared his love for Jesus three times in John 21,but not the type of love that Jesus was talking about. The Amplified Bible brings out clearly the difference in the usage of the word “love” by Jesus and Peter. By love, Jesus meant love with “reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the father.” But by love, Peter meant a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Jesus, as for a close friend. Jesus and Peter were not saying the same thing. The Bible says Peter was grieved (saddened and hurt) because Jesus asked him the same question the third time.
The first and second times Jesus asked if Peter loved Him, Jesus used the Greek word agapao meaning “ardently supremely, perfectly.” And Peter answered with phileo meaning “to like, be fond of, feel friendship for another.”The third time Jesus used phileo – loved thou me? That is “phileo thou me?” since Peter had been using phileo in his answers two times earlier and this made him feel hurt.
Please, notice the progression of the questions. (1) Do you love (agapao) me more than these? (Comparison) (2) Do you love (agapao) me? (3) Do you love (phileo) me? Take note of Peter’s answer the third time “Lord thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love [phileo] thee”(King James Version). Did you see Peter’s humility? He no longer boasted like he had done before he denied Jesus thrice or like he had answered Jesus twice prior to this third time.
Twice he had answered Jesus he loved (phileo) Him when what Jesus demanded was to agapao Him. However, Jesus even went further to question Peter’s statement that he loved (phileo) Him, and all Peter could say, in humility, was “Lord thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love [phileo] thee”(King James Version).
What does it mean to love God?
Do you truly love God? Let me emphasize that God wants you to love Him, and you can love Him otherwise God will be asking you to do the impossible. Only God can do the impossible! Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (New King James Version).The last sentence of that scripture shows how God wants you to love Him: with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. That means God wants you to love Him with all your being, with all of yourself – not a part of you but the totality.
Jesus also addressed this issue of loving God when he answered the question asked by an expert in religious law. “One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments”(Matthew 22:35-40 New Living Translation).
Again, from Jesus’ answer, we not only see that loving God must be with the totality of our being, but we also see that Jesus reduced the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament to just two – loving God and loving one’s neighbour as oneself. What that simply tells us is that whereas the emphasis in the Old Testament was the law, the emphasis in the New Testament is love – love for God and love for one’s neighbor as oneself. Paul, amplifying what Jesus said also states: “If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments against adultery and murder and stealing and coveting — and any other commandment — are all summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:8-9 New Living Translation).). Paul also says in Galatians 5:14 “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (New Living Translation).).
What Jesus was saying was that love for God encompasses love for one’s neighbor. Claiming to love God and even singing about it while hating one’s neighbor is sheer hypocrisy. Your love for God is seen in your love for your neighbor. Love for God and love for one’s neighbor are inseparable. Hear how Jesus explained this: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21 New King James Version). From this Scripture, how many people can truly say they love God? Aren’t many people lying about loving God when they don’t love their neighbours as themselves?
Walking in Love
Our supposed love for God who we can’t see physically will be pretence if we don’t walk in love towards human beings that we can see. “If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 New Living Translation). God’s standard is that loving Him includes loving your neighbour as yourself and you must rise to His standard if you truly love Him.
Let me go a step further. What does it mean to love God? Don’t forget that Jesus reduced the Ten Commandments to just two. From this explanation of Jesus, we see that God did not do away with the law, but gave a new perspective to it. Jesus said loving God is the first and greatest commandment, and loving one’s neighbour as oneself is next to it. What does it mean, therefore, to love God? From Jesus’ answer about the greatest commandment, loving God is related to God’s commandments. Loving God is obeying the Word of God. John explained this clearly in 1 John 5:3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (New King James Version). How many people today live in disobedience of God and still claim to love God? What a lie!
3.benefits of Loving God
1.Blessing: Loving God includes following Him, obeying His Word and walking in His ways, and anyone who demonstrates his love for God this way, He will bless. This was what God told the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 11:22-25 and this is also applicable to you.
2. Promotion: Deuteronomy 28:1 talks of promotion for those who love the LORD and obey His Word. Loving God automatically qualifies one for the next level without any struggle. This promise is reiterated in another way in verse 13 of the same chapter. “And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them” (Deuteronomy 28:13).
There is no height that God can’t take you to if you love Him. Judges 5:31 says, “O let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might…”Those who love the LORD will go forward. Promotion comes only from above (Psalm 75:6). The path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18).
3. Preservation: God will preserve all those who love Him, but will destroy all the wicked (Psalm 145:20). It’s unfortunate today that what we’re supposed to get cheaply by simple obedience of the Word of God, we’re trying to get via the labour of prayer, including prayer and fasting. It won’t work because prayer is not a substitute for obedience. We cannot get through prayer and fasting what we have lost through disobedience! Obedience is better than any prayer sacrifice that we can offer (1 Samuel 15:22). That does not mean, however, that we should despise prayer and fasting.
Conclusion: The aforementioned are just few of the benefits of truly loving God. Many benefits will accrue to you when you truly love God, though the benefits are not your focus. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (New King James Version). 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (New King James Version). Do you truly love God? As from today, begin to love God the way the Bible says you should; stop paying lip service. Love your neighbour; obey the Word of God.
If you’re not born again, I invite you to take the following steps: *Admit you’re a sinner and you can’t save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start to attend a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent and confess my sins. I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and surrender my life to him today. I invite Jesus into my heart today. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible believing, Bible teaching church in your area where you will be taught how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I’ll be glad to hear from you. May the LORD be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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