October / November 2019 - Vol. 106

summit Cross on
                                                          mountain top
                                                          above the
.The Greatest Good that Surpasses All Else
Love of God and Neighbor
By Don Schwager  

“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first 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

God's love rules all
God's love directs all that he does. His love is holy, just, and pure because it seeks only what is good, beneficial, and life-giving - rather than what is destructive, evil, or deadly. That is why he commands us to love as he loves - to accept and to give only what is good, lovely, just, and pure and to reject whatever is contrary to his justice, truth, and goodness.

God loved us first
God is love and everything he does flows from his love for us (1 John 3:1, 4:7-8, 16). God loved us first (1 John 4:19) and our love for him is a response to his exceeding goodness and kindness towards us. The love of God comes first and the love of neighbor is firmly grounded in the love of God.

The more we know of God's love, truth, and goodness, the more we love what he loves and reject whatever is hateful and contrary to his will. God commands us to love him first above all else  his love orients and directs our thoughts, intentions, and actions to what is wholly good and pleasing to him. He wants us to love him wholeheartedly, and without any reservation or compromise.

How God loves us
God loves us wholly, completely, and perfectly for our sake - there is no limit, no holding back, no compromising on his part. His love is not subject to changing moods or circumstances. When God gives, he gives generously, abundantly, freely, and without setting conditions to the gift of his love. His love does not waver, but is firm, consistent, and constant. He loves us in our weakness  in our fallen and sinful condition. That is why the Father sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem us from slavery to sin and its disordered cravings, desires, passions, and addictions. God the Father always seeks us out to draw us to his throne of mercy and help. God the Father corrects and disciplines us in love to free us from the error of our wrong ways of thinking and choosing what is harmful and evil rather than choosing what is good and wholesome for us.

We do not earn God's love - it is freely given
How can we possibly love God above all else and obey his commandments willingly and joyfully, and how can we love our neighbor and willing lay down our life for their sake? Paul the Apostle tells us that "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). We do not earn God's love - it is freely given to those who believe in God's word with expectant faith and who trust in the indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit who frees us from inordinate attachments, fears, and sinful desires that block God's merciful love and purifying work in our lives.

Love grows with faith and hope
Faith in God and hope in his promises strengthen us in the love of God. They are essential for a good relationship with God, for being united with him. The more we know of God the more we love him and the more we love him the greater we believe and hope in his promises. The Lord Jesus, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives us a new freedom to love as he loves. Paul the Apostle writes, "For freedom Christ has set us free... only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [sinful inclinations], but through love be servants of one another" (Galatians 5:1,13). 

Getting free of disordered desires and selfish habits
Christian Love is rooted in Christ's love for us. It is wholly other oriented and directed to the welfare and good of others. Our love for God and neighbor is the free choice of our will to do what is good, honorable, just, and kind, even in the face of opposition and rejection. Love which is rooted in pleasing myself at the expense of others is selfish and possessive  it is a self-serving love that takes from others rather than gives to others. It is a stunted and disordered love which leads to many hurtful and sinful desires  such as jealousy, anger, envy, revenge, greed, lust, and coveting what belongs to another.

If we want to grow in Christian love and freedom to live as disciples of Christ, then harmful and sinful habits must be rooted out and replaced with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, self-control, etc) that enable us to grow in the character and likeness of Jesus Christ. 

What can hold us back from the gift of God's love and the command to love others as Christ has loved us? Fear, pride, revenge, lack of forgiveness and other forms of sinful habits and disordered desires must be purged from our hearts and be replaced with the love of Christ who suffered and died for us. We must renounce sin and pride and humble ourselves before a merciful and just God who will bring healing, forgiveness, change of mind, heart, and attitudes, and the strength and courage to always choose what is good, wise, and prudent in whatever situation, trial, and challenge we may have to face now and in the future.

We can freely choose to love as God loves because he has given us his Holy Spirit who works in and through us. If we obey God and trust in his word, then he will enable us to grow in faith, hope, and love and be set free to give ourselves wholeheartedly to him and to the good of our neighbor.

Distinguishing Christian love from disordered desires and vices
The following chart contrasts the distinctive character traits of Christian love
which is fully committed to loving God first and neighbor for God's sake – versus the opposing vices and bad habits that make people slaves to fear, pride, and disordered desires.

Distinguishing Committed Love for God and Neighbor from Its Opposites:
Inordinate Self-centered Love and Insecure Love that Fears to Give Fully to God and Neighbor

Insecure Love that Fears
to Give Fully to God and
to One's Neighbor

Fully Committed Love of God
 and Love of Neighbor
for God’s Sake

Inordinate Self- centered Love that is Opposed to God
and One's Neighbor
Fear of sacrificial love and giving fully of oneself to God and the good of one’s neighbor.

“Perfect love casts out fear”
-  John 4

Christian love is rooted in God’s love for us (Agape in Greek New Testament, Hesed in Hebrew Old Testament).

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” -1 John 3:1.

Inordinate love is rooted in pride, selfishness, and disordered or sinful desires.

Scripture lists a number of vices (bad moral habits) and inordinate or excessive desires which oppose love of God and neighbor.

Fear of making commitments, building stable relationships, including marriage, family, community, and church.
Over-cautious and fearful of commitment to serve others to avoid inconvenience, sacrifice, hardship, or suffering

Anxious preoccupation hinders being attentive to the concerns and interests of others.

Overly sensitive and fearful of what others think or say.

Anxious to please others rather than God first. Use flattery to gain approval and favor.



God’s love is universal (John 3:16), sacrificial, undeserved, merciful, inseparable, chastening, saving and sanctifying.

Christian love is self-giving committed love because God is a covenant-making God. Through Christ we enter into a New Covenant relationship with God: We commit to give our lives fully to God, to love his word of truth and obey his commandments, and follow Christ.

We imitate Christ’s example of self-giving sacrificial love.  “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.
 - Ephesians 5:1-2
Lovers of themselves (who have little or no interest or time for loving God and neighbor), lovers of money (greed for accumulating money and wealth for self, rather than using it for God’s purposes and the good of others, especially those in need) - 2 Timothy 3:2

boastful, proud, abusive (exalting oneself by putting down others through abusive speech and actions)
- 2 Timothy 3:2
disobedient to their parents
ungrateful, unholy - without love
unforgiving, slanderous
without self-control, brutal
not lovers of the good
 treacherous, rash, conceited
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
- 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Indifference, lukewarm, apathy, sloth (acedia) dry up the pursuit of Christian love and other virtues that strengthen love of God and neighbor.

Moodiness, feeling bad about ourselves make us withdrawn and absorbed in self.

Critical, negative, judgmental  attitude towards others


Our capacity to love as God loves is made possible through the gift of the Holy Spirit: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5)

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity
- Colossians 3:14
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
- Galatians 5:22-23

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold - Matthew 24:12

Works of the flesh (vices) are contrary to the fruit of the Spirit:  immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like
- Galatians 5:1-2

Afraid to take a stand for truth and righteousness

Afraid to confront or change sinful patterns of wrong speech, disrespect, abusive behavior in oneself and others

Possessiveness, jealousy, insecurity, manipulative, fear of rejection

Christian love is committed to God’s standard of truth and righteousness
Treats all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ: Love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honor, contribute to the needs of fellow Christians, practice hospitality, live in harmony with one another, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all
- Romans 12:9-21

Through love be servants of one another – Galatians 5:13

By their unrighteousness they suppress the truth – Romans 1:18

Given up to lust of the heart with impurity, dishonoring their bodies, consumed with passion and committing shameless acts with members of the same sex
– Romans 1:24-27

Select bibliography and references:
  1.  Knowing the Truth of God's Love: The One Thing We can't Live Without, by Peter Kreeft, 1988 by Servant Books, Ignatius Press
  2. The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis, first published in Great Britain in 1960 by Geoffrey Bles
  3. Christian Love and Human Desire, by Mark Kinzer
  4. Agape: The Greatest of the Virtues, from New Testament Words, by William Barclay, 1964, The Westminster Press
  5. Back to Virtue, by Peter Kreeft, 1992, Ignatius Press
  6. Faith, Hope, and Love, by Josef Pieper,first published in German in 1986, English edition reprinted in 1997 by Ignatius Press
  7. The Primacy of Love: An Introduction to the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas, by Paul J. Wadell, 1992, Paulist Press
  8. The Sources of Christian Ethics, by Servais Pinckaers, original in French, 1985 by University of Fribourg Press; English edition 1995 by The Catholic University of America Press

> See related articles on Christian Character and the Virtues in the Living Bulwark archives.

Don Schwager is a member of the Servants of the Word and author of the Daily Scripture Readings and Meditations website...

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