Why Love Is Much More than a Commandment

Ex 22:20-26; 1Thes 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40

“Love God…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We know these commandments very well. We talk about them a lot. Yet, we often fail to love God and our neighbors. How many of us can say that we love God with all our being and love our neighbors as ourselves?

We probably struggle to keep this commandment because we see it just as God’s command to us. We will surely not lack excuses for breaking this commandment when we see it as merely something commanded by God. If we are going to keep these double commandments, then we must begin to see love as much more than a commandment from God.

There are four things that we must come to realize and accept about love before we can actually obey the commandment to love God and our neighbors.

Firstly, love is first and foremost a person, “God is love.”(1Jn 4:7) We must first know the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – before we can have any iota of love for Him. We cannot keep any of God’s commandments without knowing the heart of God first. Only a life-giving communion with the Divine Lawgiver allows us to actually strive to obey His law of love.  

When we know God as we should, we realize our nothingness before Him and His infinite greatness and majesty. We begin to accept our utter dependence on Him for everything. We will cultivate an appropriate fear of offending God in any way. We can begin to forget ourselves only when we have come to know God appropriately. We will then strive to please Him in everything we think, do, and say. We will love God and others only when we begin to revere God in Himself and in all His creatures made in His image and likeness.

When we are not growing in our reverence and knowledge of God, we cannot love Him as we should, and we just cannot love our neighbors.

Second, love is a gift from God. St. Paul tells us, “Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5) Notice the word “poured.” God is not stingy with the gift of His love. He has generously given us His Spirit of love to move us and sustain us in love from the moment of our baptism. In commanding us to love Him and others, God is inviting us to exercise the gift of love that He has already given to us. Thus, we really have no excuse not to love as God commands.

Are we even aware that we have received this love of God as a gift? Are we grateful for this gift of love as God’s greatest gift to us? Do we rejoice because Jesus Christ the God of love has become one like us? It is gratitude for this love of God that moves and sustains us in loving God and our neighbors, “The love of Christ impels us.”(2Cor 5:14) Instead of allowing selfishness to gain control of our hearts, we should humbly beg God for a fresh outpouring of His love into our hearts.

When we do not realize the gift of divine love that God offers to us, when we lack gratitude and appreciation for this gift, and when we are too proud to beg for this gift of His love, we cannot make a gift of ourselves to love God or anyone else.

Third, love is the way to the true joy. St. Paul affirms the afflicted Thessalonians for being faithful models of love to others. They had inner joy even as they suffered for the sake of the Gospel, “You received the word of God with great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit.” Their joy was also connected to their authentic and exemplary conversion, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1Thes 1:5-10).

When we love God and neighbors as we should, we have this inner joy from the experience of the Triune God within us as Jesus promised, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him.”(Jn 14:23) The sufferings of this life cannot take away this joy because it comes from God’s abiding presence within us.

We cannot hope for this inner joy when we are not loving God and our neighbor as we should. We cannot be witnesses of joyful hope unless our love is authentic. And we cannot have any iota of joy when we are not constantly converting from our idols to the love and service of the living God.

Fourth, love prevents us from many evils. We protect ourselves from committing and experiencing many evils by actually loving God and others. God’s words declare evils for us when we oppress the least fortunate ones in our midst, “You shall not molest or oppress an alien…You shall not wrong a widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up and I will kill you with the sword.”( Ex 22:20-26) These are no mere empty threats but solemn divine promises to those who choose to oppress others in any way. Our failure or reluctance to love has disastrous personal and societal consequences.

We cannot imagine all the evils that come our way because we are not loving God and our neighbors as we should. Many sicknesses, addictions, crippling fears, depressions, suicides, wars, conflicts, and brokenness are linked to a lack of authentic charity in our hearts.

Do we think it is coincidental that as the Synod on Synodality was beginning in Rome, the genocidal Hamas jihadists were busy brutallly murdering innocent civilians in Israel and sparking an ongoing war? The Church’s mission that she has received from her Head, Jesus Christ, is to spread knowledge and love of the true and living God around the world and to provide the graces necessary to love this God and others. As the universal sacrament of salvation, the Church has received from the Lord Jesus Christ, everything that she needs to bring people into communion with God.

Unfortunately, the Synod discussion abandoned her God-given mission and chose to pander to the LGBT propaganda, to discuss the possibility of blessing same-sex unions. Where is the fear of God in such discussions? Where is the knowledge of the heart of the Lawgiver? Where is the acknowledgment that God’s Spirit of love has been given to us to live heroic virtue in our times of moral decadence? Where is that firm universal clarion call for all to turn from the idol of sexual pleasure to worship the true God? Can we really claim that we love our broken brothers and sisters in the homosexual lifestyle while we offend God by having the audacity to bless what is sinful?

By failing to proclaim the authentic love of God and neighbor, by failing to witness to this love of God, the Church cannot bring any authentic inner joy to the world but can only foster the barbaric evils that we all witnessed in the brutal attacks by the Hamas terrorists and the resulting war.

The only remedy for such evil is true knowledge and love for Jesus Christ and participation in His Spirit of love. Evil spreads because we have refused and failed to love God and others as we should. Evils will continue to spread and manifest in different ways as long as we have settled for a morbid caricature of love for humanity that ignores and even rejects the reverential love for God and His commandments.

We have failed to love as we should because we see love as just a command, a command that we could dispense with and avoid with many excuses. It is indeed a command, God’s greatest command to us. But it is definitely much more than a command.

Through each Eucharist, let us seek to know the God of love in our midst, Jesus Christ. He never ceases to reveal Himself to us and graciously offer His Spirit of love to us. Let us receive and beg for the gift of His Spirit of love for the sake of loving others as He has loved us. This is the only way that we can oppose evil and spread that authentic joyful hope that comes from loving God and neighbors as God commands us to do. 

Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!

Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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