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 seaside 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. Probably the question was necessary because Peter was to be the leader of the disciples and he had denied him twice before his crucifixion. 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 using the exact word Jesus used for love. The Amplified Bible tries to bring out the difference in the usage of the word “love” by Jesus and “love” by Peter. By love, Jesus meant if Peter loved Him “with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father.” But by love, Peter was saying to Jesus he had “a deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend.” Could it be that 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. Peter was not grieved because Jesus used a different word for love twice previously.
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 – love (phileo) thou me? Peter had used 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).
Whereas some Bible scholars try to bring out the difference between agape love and phileo love, other scholars warn against the over-interpretation of these two Greek words, which they argue can be regarded as synonyms. They contend that usage depends on the context, as God can love with both agape love (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:7) and phileo love (John 5:20; 16:27). They submit that agape should not be exclusively defined as God’s kind of love or unconditional love, as sinners can also love others with agape love (Matthew 5:46; Luke 6:32). Even the Pharisees agapao (love) the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces (Luke 11:43). Other Bible verses support this position.
Nevertheless, the important thing in John 21, which we must not miss is that Peter who had denied Jesus three times confirmed his love for Him three times and Jesus reinstated him into the ministry. Peter loved Jesus.
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.’ The entire law 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: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:8-9 New International Version). Paul also says in Galatians 5:14 “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (New International Version).
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 with human beings that we can see. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 New International Version). 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 will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them” (Deuteronomy 28:13 New King James Version).
There is no height that God can’t take you to if you love Him. Judges 5:31 says, “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun When it comes out in full strength” 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 to 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 a 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? 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 are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and you cannot 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 attending a Bible-believing and 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 God raised Him on the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. 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 and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President of Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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