Unconditional, selfless love is a key characteristic that is missing in many Christians today, yet it is the most important duty of mankind. When Jesus was asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” He answered, “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31) The first and primary responsibility for each one of us is to love God with all our hearts. And, as Jesus pointed out, before we can love God we need to know who He is. He started out His discourse by saying, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.” He says we first must know who God is, before we can love Him with all our hearts.
Suppose I ask you, “Do you love John Doe?” Before you would answer you would first want to know who John Doe is. We really don’t love people, in a close way, whom we do not know. The same is true with God. We need to know who He is, and know what He is like, before we can love Him.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” (1 John 4:7) We can be sure that anyone who truly loves, knows God. You cannot truly love unless you know God. The next verse says, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (v. 8) We can also be sure that all those who do not love, do not know God. Because, if they did, they would love Him. Once you get to know God, you can’t help but to love Him.
Paul wrote, “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.… For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:19, 22) All creation is longing to see somebody who acts and talks like Christ. Some people have said that they will start being a Christian when they see a real one first. They are waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.
How are the sons of God manifested? Jesus told us, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) This is how people are going to recognize the sons of God, by the love they have one for another. And that is what the world is earnestly waiting for and expecting to see.
Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) This is the love that the whole world is looking for a love that is willing to give everything for others. That’s what love is.
Let’s read a description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling 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, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. [Love] suffereth long…” (1 Corinthians 13:1-4)
Some people become irritated very quickly, they don’t put up with much. Is that what love does? No! Love is long suffering and kind at the same time.
Love “envieth not; [love] vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Love is not proud, instead, it is humble. It puts others first. Paul wrote, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
Love, “Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) Love does not say, “What can I do to help myself today, to make me happy.” That is not the way love thinks or acts. Instead, love seeks the good of others. It says, “How can I help my friend, how can I help my neighbor today.”
Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:6, 7) This love will go through anything. Jesus prayed for His murderers while they were killing Him. This is what the Bible says the world is looking for. If you were to meet somebody like that you would respect him.
“[Love] never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
This love is the greatest thing any of us can have. That is what the world is waiting for.
What love does not do
We have seen a little bit of what love does let’s look at something that love does not do. Let’s read Psalms 50:16-20. These are some hard words for us but they are the words of God. If the shoe fits, wear it. Here it says, “Unto the wicked God saith,…” Automatically you are probably going to think, “God is talking about somebody else, we can skip over this part.” But let’s read on,
“Unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?” (Psalm 50:16) Now we see that it might be talking to you or me. It’s talking about people who profess to be God’s people. But look what it says about them: “Thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee.” (v. 17) God is saying, you claim to be a follower of the Lord but you are ignoring what I have to tell you.
“When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.” (Psalms 50:18-20) Have you ever heard somebody talk behind someone’s back? Have you ever done it yourself? Do you think professed Christians ever do that? Here we are called wicked if we do that. Slandering could be when someone comes up to you and says, “Do you know what John did? He has been sneaking around with Joe’s wife.” Now, the next time you see John you are going to look at him in a different way. Everything you see him do will be weighed, and likely misconstrued, to lend evidence to what you heard about him, even though it has nothing to do with it. You may conclude that John is no good. That is what happens when you slander your brother. God says this is going on among those who profess to be His followers. Is this love? Not at all! Love doesn’t act that way.
God said, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people.” (Leviticus 19:18 ) I saw a cartoon with two children playing together, with a caption under it, “These two had an argument ten minutes ago.” Next to this was a picture of two men standing back to back with frowns on their faces. The caption below read, “These two had an argument ten years ago.” These children didn’t bear a grudge, but the two men did and they were both suffering for it.
“These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.” (Zechariah 8:16, 17)
One way of imagining evil against your brother is imagining that there is evil in his heart that isn’t there. It may be saying, “Jack didn’t say hi to me when I came in, he must not like me anymore.” What you may not realize is that Jack may have something really heavy weighing on his mind, or a multitude of other things could have been going on. It’s very difficult to know what’s going on in someone’s mind, especially if you don’t talk to them about it. We are not to imagine evil of our brothers. When somebody does something to me that appears to be wrong I try to assume that he had the best of intentions and no ill feelings toward me. Innocent until proven guilty, that is a good motto to have. Because of what I have found is that most problems between two individuals are based on misunderstandings. Too often a grudge lingers because those involved are not willing to talk about it and find out what is really going on. Most people who assume things about someone else do it in a negative way. It is better not to assume anything. Don’t take things for granted, make sure you know the facts.
Our first love
Jesus says, “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:2-4) Even though these people had labored and not fainted, yet the Lord had somewhat against them, they had left their first love. This is the very thing the world is looking for, and Jesus said it is missing in some of His people.
Can you look back to a time in the past when you loved God or your neighbor more than you do today? If so, then you have a problem. You have left your first love. Notice what it says next, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” (Revelation 2:5) If you have this problem, then you are asked to remember what it was like before you lost this love. Then He says, “do the first works.” Think about what you were doing back then, what works were you doing differently than you do today? Were you studying the Bible more? Were you singing songs in your heart to the Lord? Were you witnessing to others, sharing the love of God? Do whatever you were doing back then and repent for drifting away.
John explained, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect,…” (1 John 4:16, 17) John gives a three step process. 1) Know God’s love, 2) Believe God’s love, 3) Dwell in God’s love. When John tells us to know God’s love he is specifically referring to the love manifested in the gift of His Son. A moment earlier John wrote, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” (v. 4:9) We need to know that God loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us. We must believe it, place all of our confidence and faith in it, and stake our lives upon it. We must be able to say, “God, I know you are going to take care of me today; may your will be done in me, no matter what the consequences.”
The three young Hebrew captives in Babylon had this experience. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were threatened to be thrown into a fiery furnace if they did not bow down to worship the kings idol.
(Daniel 3:14, 15) They said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Daniel 3:17, 18) The three Hebrews were thrown alive into the fiery furnace, but God sent His Son to walk in the fire with them and they didn’t even get their hair singed. That’s what God will do for us if we put our faith and confidence in Him. I am sure God is delighted to have opportunities like this to show Himself strong in behalf of His children.
Speaking of dwelling in God’s love, Isaiah wrote, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3) Those three young Hebrews had this perfect peace. The anger of the king didn’t stir them a bit. They knew that God is more powerful than anyone else, and that He is looking out for His children. They had their minds stayed on the Lord, and that’s what we need to do. Have you ever been preoccupied with something, and you can’t get it out of your mind? Whether you’re cutting the grass, or raking leaves, or whatever you’re doing it’s in your mind, you’re continually thinking about it. That is what God’s love is to do to us. Paul said the love of Christ preoccupies us, constrains us. (2 Corinthians 5:14 with Strong’s definition)
Now apply these principles to what we just read in Revelation 2:4, 5, “Thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.” If you can think of a time when you loved God more than you do today, I guarantee that you understood God’s love more, that you had faith in His love more, and that you dwelled in His love more than you do today. So that is primarily what that first works are, is knowing, believing and dwelling in the love of God as manifested in Him giving His Son.
The Bible says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) That word keep means to guard. In prisons there are guards who watch to make sure nothing gets out or nothing gets in. That is what we are to do with our minds. Paul explained, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) Whatever we behold, our characters become changed into that image. It is a natural law. If we are continually beholding immorality, we will become immoral. However, if we are continually beholding the love of God, we will begin to love in the same way.
Bart Simpson is a very popular cartoon character whose actions teach disrespect for authority, for parents, for brothers and sisters or for anyone. this cartoon presents a bad attitude. When you keep beholding stuff like that, then you start doing the same things, speaking the same way, thinking the same way, acting the same way. That is why God says to guard your heart with all diligence. Do everything you can to protect what goes into your mind. If dirt goes in, dirt will come out. That is why God says guard it, watch out what you put in your mind.
God says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) This is what we are to think about—anything that is good, anything that is honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, praise. Most of the things in the world do not fit in any of these categories, do they? If we think about pure, holy and just things, we are going to be pure, holy and just people. That is what God wants.
We have been studying about what the world wants to see, God’s children manifested by their love—love for God and love for our fellow man. Think about those those three young Hebrews do you think the other people who were bowing down respected them? I believe so. Even if they did not agree with what these three were doing the idol worshipers had to respect them because they stood up for what they believed no matter what.
When I was in high school, there was a boy who was different. He had a Bible in his hand everywhere he went. Every time at lunch in the cafeteria he was alone; whenever he was walking around during breaks, he was alone, usually reading his Bible. I had long hair and dressed like a rebellious teenager, but I remember thinking what an upright person this was. I had a great deal of respect for this young man. Even though I was rebellious and into the world, I saw something in that person that was appealing. Because I saw that this person stood up for what he believed in. He didn’t care that nobody was going to eat with him at lunch, that nobody is going to talk to him. He was just going to do what was right no matter what. That’s why I say, even though those people bowed down and worshiped that image, I’m sure they had a great deal of respect for those Hebrews, especially after they came out of the fire without the smell of smoke on them, then they would have to say, “There is really something here.” It even caused the king to take a second look too. He said, “Your God must be real; He has done something amazing for you.”
How do we get that something more that the three Hebrews had? Does it just come naturally without any effort? No! They spent time with their God. They knew God very well, and that is why they were able to go through any hardship. It didn’t matter what came against them.
God wants us to know Him even better than these three Hebrews. Let us look at what God has done for us. Speaking about Jesus when He went into the garden of Gethsemane just before His death, Mark wrote, “And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:32-36) Three times Jesus pleaded with His Father to take this bitter experience away from Him.
Something was going on within Christ that was so severe that He pleaded with His Father to take it away and we know what was happening. The sins of the world, my sins and your sins, were being put upon the Son of God. He had to bear the sins of the whole world and then die for them. When that sin was put upon Him He separated from His Father. At last He cried out to His Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) He felt forsaken by His Father, and He pleaded with God to take away this awful experience.
Luke’s account says, “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:43, 44) People under extreme stress will actually sweat drops of blood. Christ was under extreme stress when He went into the Garden of Gethsemane. Was He afraid of being nailed to the cross or feeling the pain of the nails going through His hands? That’s not what He was afraid of. In fact, when He was before the rulers He didn’t seem to be troubled nearly as much as He was right here. This was a new experience. By the time He was before Pilate, He had already taken it. But what we see here, where He sweats great drops of blood, that is before a Roman soldier laid a hand on Him.
When one of His disciples pulled out a sword to fight for Him, Jesus said, “Put up again thy sword into his place:… Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52, 53) Christ could have prayed this prayer at any time. He could have said, “God, this is enough! I am willing to go this far, but I’m not will to go any further.” If He had done this, God would have sent angels to deliver Him and He would have been delivered from any more pain and suffering, but what would have happened to us? We would have all died in our sins. Christ wasn’t willing for that to happen to any one of us.
What He was saying by this was, “I would rather die for eternity than to live without you.” He was willing to give up His eternal life for us, so that we could live. That’s a wonderful gift that He has given. I just want us to think about that.
The Bible says whatsoever things are pure, true, honest, holy, and just, we should think on these things. This is what will strengthen our love. When we see His love we love Him in return and we become like Him. It is the same with any earthly relationship here. The more we see somebody love us, the more we love them in return. The more that a man sees his wife love him, the more he loves her, and it ends up escalating and escalating because the love just continues to grow.
That is the way it is with our relationship with God. The more we see His love for us the more we are going to love Him in return and then the world will not have to wait anymore for the manifestation for the sons of God. They will have that love for their brothers and sisters and it will be seen. So let’s keep God’s love in our minds so that our love will grow for our brothers and sisters and for God.