Jesus’s two great commandments tell us to love God with all of ourselves and to love our neighbor as (we love) ourselves. He added, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The two commandments also summarize all His teaching. to follow Jesus, we need to understand what it means to love.
What is love anyway? Here are the four primary words, 2 in Hebrew and 2 in Greek, translated as love in the Bible and what they mean:
Hesed: “unfailing love, loyal love, devotion, kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship”
Ahab: “to love, like, to be a friend, lover or ally”
Agape: “love, in the NT usually the active love of God for his Son and his people, and the active love his people are to have for God, each other, and even enemies.”
Phileo:” to love, to have affection and regard of a very high order.”
What does it mean to love God? to love our neighbor? To love ourselves? To love God is to bring our whole selves—warts and all– before Him in love and obedience and our willingness to follow Him wherever He would take us. We would lay down our lives for Him. We would actively express our love for God and mankind in our lives.
To love our neighbor is to express our love for God by helping another, not just by providing money or food to help them, but to engage with them in their lives, to get to know them and to value them as human beings who are loved by God, all of whom are made in His image. Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, describes love this way: “The first act of Love is to see this person, this object or this reality as it truly is. And this involves the enormous discipline of dropping your desires, your prejudices, your memories, your projections, your selective way of looking…” With God’s love in our hearts we are able to see the truth about each person: that they are also made in the image of God and equally loved and forgiven by God.
To love ourselves means to have the same love and forgiveness for who we are as we do for our neighbor. I contend that we can’t love others unless we first love ourselves, for how can someone who does not love him- or herself possibly take in God’s love and give it out to anyone else? For those of us who can’t love ourselves are holding God at arm’s length, because we don’t feel He could love us either. We have put up all kinds of defensive walls around ourselves so as not to feel that rejection. We project our own distrust of ourselves on others. And so how are we to feel God’s love or to love anyone else when we hold Him at bay?
Until we can look at ourselves with God’s love and forgiveness, as we see it in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, until we decide that if God loves us, surely we can love ourselves, there is no way that we can love ourselves. Then it takes a good hard look at our pain and suffering, our shame and guilt, but this time with God’s eyes, to begin to accept and even embrace ourselves, to forgive ourselves and to forgive the people who wronged us. And then, and only then, can we begin to love ourselves and finally to love others. It changes our relationship to God, too, because we are no longer afraid of his punishment, for we know with our hearts and souls and minds, too, that God loves and forgives us.
When we can finally love ourselves, love means to put another’s needs ahead of our own. We can do this because we trust that God will help us meet our own needs as they come up. So then the proof of our love of and trust in and dedication to God is in how we treat every other human being. When love, God’s love that is, flows freely through us, it also flows freely out to everyone we meet. It’s not something we have to try to do. It just is poured out of us by the Holy Spirit in all that we do. And people feel the difference. It matters to everyone we meet. It binds us in a community of love regardless of where we come from or what our work is or anything else about us. For love always builds communities that embrace each other, as imperfect as we are.
For a community built on love is the goal of the kingdom of God both in heaven and here on this earth. And that love actually corresponds to, it echoes the ties that bind us through our Creator and how He created us to be—tied together into one human family by the Indwelling Spirit of God in all of us, by being made in the image of God. That is our destiny and the fulfillment of our creation.
Questions to ponder over the week: How well do I love God? Myself? Others? Am I holding back anything from loving God and others? What would I need to let go of? What would I need to add to my life in order to love well? Do I live in the love and forgiveness of God? Do I live in gratitude, peace, joy and love?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who love God, myself and others. May we give of ourselves totally in love. May we live in love all our days.
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 Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28
 Goodrick & Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 2nd Edition, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, p. 1407, Strong’s #2876
 Ibid, p. 1361, Strong’s #170
 Ibid, p. 1523, Strong’s #27
 Ibid, p. 1601, Strong’s #5797
 Genesis 1:27
 As quoted in Words of Wisdom, A Quote for Every Week, edited by Anne Hillman, Listening Press, 2002, p. 1
 Luke 15:11-32
 Genesis 1:27