“This is my command: Love each other.” ~Jesus
Most of us have seen the original Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, which was released in 1991. I was ten when it came out and we got it on VHS shortly after, so I can quote the entire movie nearly verbatim. In one scene, the Beast is standing outside Belle’s bedroom door in his mansion, commanding her to come downstairs to eat dinner with him. Of course, she didn’t want to, and rightfully so–he had just kidnapped her!
Still yet, he slams his fist on the door, *WHAM! WHAM! WHAM* “Hurry up and come down to dinner!”
Lumière, the French candle-stick, tries to help him woo Belle, “Master, I could be wrong, but that may not be the best way to win the girl’s affections.”
But the Beast isn’t having it! He needs her to love him so the curse can be broken and he can return to being a normal man. So he bangs his fist on the door again and yells at her in a fake, softer voice, “Would you please join me for dinner?”
“I’m not hungry,” Belle replies, from the other side of the door.
“FINE! THEN GO AHEAD AND STAAAAAAAARVE!” the Beast screams and storms off like a giant, hairy brat. He so desperately wants the girl to love him that he tries to force her. Have you ever tried that? Have you ever put all of your effort into making sure someone loves you? How’d that work out?
Friend, love cannot be forced. If love could be forced then it wouldn’t be called love, it would be called duty. Duty is not love and love is not duty. Love must be chosen, it can never be obligatory. Jesus knew this when He created us. He understood full well what He was getting into when He formed this planet and decided to put creatures on it who have the ability to love. In order to have this ability, He gave us the free will to choose not to love (see Colossians 1:15-16, Romans 8:28, Revelation 3:20, John 14:5).
So how do we love others, including God? Is love just a sappy feeling? Oh no, it’s so much more than that!
In order to be able to love properly, first we have to love ourselves. We can’t give away what we do not have. How do we love ourselves? As strange as it sounds, the first step is to admit we are sinful. That is, before placing our faith in Christ. Once we place our faith in Christ and receive His free forgiveness, we are no longer sinful! We are saints! We are children of God forever! We are holy, blameless, and set apart! We have everything we need for life and godliness! Our identity has changed! We are recreated to do good things! We have inherited heavenly DNA and a new spirit–a sinless spirit! (See Romans 6:6-7, Galatians 2:20, John 1:12, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 1:22, 2 Peter 1:3, Ephesians 2:10).
What does this have to do with love? Everything! By receiving a new spirit which has been joined with God’s Spirit, His love is placed in you because He is now in you and He’ll never go away! He then teaches you your value and you begin to love yourself! (See Colossians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6:11,17, 1 John 4:7, 2 Timothy 2:13).
As a Christian, you now have the ability to love as God loves. You did not have this ability before you believed. Can unbelievers love others? Sure. But it’s not the same love as God’s love. God’s love is an agape love. This Greek word, pronounced ah-gah-pay, is the highest form of love. It’s unconditional and never-ending. Only Christians can house this type of love in their spirits because only Christians have the Spirit of God in them.
God’s Spirit is love! (See 1 John 4:8). Love is not just a characteristic of His, nor is it a description of our Creator, but love is what He is! He loved us so much He sent Jesus here to die a sinner’s death as a perfect human being! (See John 3:16, Romans 5:8). Why? To pay for our sin-debt with Him! And even more loving, He allows us free access to this sin-punishment-pay-off in the simplest way ever: BELIEVE!
So how can you tell that you have the love of God in your heart? Because you can’t get rid of it. Even when people hurt you or annoy you, you still love them. Even when you go off on someone, or you forget that you’re a saint and do your best to get them back–you still love them. You can’t get away from it. Love flows through your spiritual veins. You’ve been reborn with love in your supernatural genetic makeup. You never feel more like yourself than when you are loving others–even when you’re in pain.
This love also empowers you to stand up for yourself, it teaches you how much you’re worth. God’s love enables you to take a stand against unacceptable behavior–but to do so with gentleness and respect. It allows you to establish healthy boundaries to protect yourself from constant harm. God’s love in us does so many amazing things! But it must be chosen. Jesus said:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35)
How can He command us to love if love must be chosen? The answer is in the second sentence of that verse: As I have loved you. We are to love as Christ has loved us, but this is only possible by first receiving His love into our own spirits. After we’ve received Him, Christ’s command of loving others happens without effort because it’s who we are. He may as well of said, “As I breathe, so you must also breathe.”
“No way, Matt! It is us who has to love God with everything we are! You got this all wrong! In Matthew 22, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind! We gotta be obedient and love Him back!”
Friend, I’m sorry, but that’s wrong because it’s out of context. I too, thought that same thing for years. That exact verse led me to a fleshly effort of “trying” to love God by my works, which is impossible. This was Jesus’ whole point. He was answering the question of a legalistic Jew by teaching them love according to the Mosaic Law. Just look:
One of them, an expert in the Law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:35-38)
As you can see, He was quoting Law–that’s why there’s quotations! Nobody could do this and that’s why He said it! The Law is obsolete for believers in Jesus so this does not apply to us! We live under the New Covenant of grace, which is the only Covenant available! (See Hebrews 8:6,13, Romans 7:4, 10:4, Galatians 2:19).
For this exact reason, Jesus gave us a new command–a command to love as He has loved us. This can only happen by way of being infused with Him. Our efforts to love God are a joke, as if He needed anything from us. He’s God! He’s complete and self-sufficient! Therefore, to love as Jesus loves we must be reborn and become loving from the heart! (See Acts 17:25, Romans 6:17).
So today, my friends, know this: Christian, you are loving. Love is not a prerequisite for becoming a child of God, love is an actual description of you as a child of God. I’m not talking about your actions and attitudes, I’m talking about you. So be yourself, and love. You don’t need to be commanded to be yourself.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, today I want to thank you for your everlasting love FOR me and IN me. Through Christ, you made a way for me to become one with you and I’m forever grateful! What an awesome love! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who don’t understand your love, reveal it to their hearts! Begin to send new people into their lives who will help them understand your love better. Teach them that love is not simply a feeling but so much more! Love is a noun! It’s you! Love is a verb! It’s something that we do! Please take us deeper into the knowledge of your love and empower us to live it out! In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 2. Get your copy here!