If faith (trust) is one of the most pervasive terms in Scripture (as I said in my previous post “Show me your faith apart from your works“), another term which is often found alongside it is love. In fact, the ideas of faith and love are often intertwined and interrelated by the authors of Scripture. (Just browse through 1 John to see this connection.)
In Scripture, love is the primary response of God towards people, and love is supposed to be the primary response of people toward God and toward other people. If this is not clear in the majority of Scripture, Jesus certainly spells it out for his listeners in this passage in the Gospel of Matthew:
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40 re-mix)
Jesus’ audience immediately understood the implication of his instructions to love your neighbor as yourself. So, in response, someone asked him to clarify what he meant by “neighbor.” Luke tells us that it was at this point that Jesus told the parable that we call “the Good Samaritan.” While the Samaritan’s love is impressive, we often lose sight of the extent and scope of that love because of cultural and historical differences.
Jews and Samaritans hated one another. When traveling, they would each go out of their way to avoid running into each other. While there were many historical and cultural reasons for this animosity, religious differences lie at the root of the bitter feelings that the Jews and Samaritans had for one another. The hatred was ingrained; it was taught and learned from birth. Thus, the Samaritan’s love is even more shocking given this background. Furthermore, the Samaritan’s love was not simply an emotional response, but instead it resulted in action that benefited the other individual. Jesus is saying that this is the kind of love that we should have for anyone that we meet: a love that goes beyond differences and cultural standards and generously gives and serves for the benefit of the other, that is, for the one who should be hated.
Previously in Matthew, Jesus had said,
For if you love those who love you, what reward to you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet [accept] only your brothers [and sisters], what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:46-47 ESV)
As Jesus points out, even those who are not part of God’s kingdom “love” people who are lovable and who love them back. This is normal love… natural love… worldly love. It is the kind of love that asks the question, “What can I get out of this?” It is the kind of love that is extended because of who the other person is or what the other person does.
This is not God’s kind of love. It is not the kind of love that he demonstrated toward us, and it is not the kind of love that we are supposed to demonstrate towards others. But, this God-kind of love is extremely important for those of us who follow Jesus Christ. Notice that in this passage Jesus said that the teachings of the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets) depends upon this two-fold kind of love: love of God and love of neighbor. Just love of God or just love of other people is not enough. It is the combination of the love of God and love of others that demonstrates God’s kind of love.
But, Jesus said this God-kind of love demonstrates more than the teachings of the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament). Jesus also said that those who love in this way show the world that they are truly his disciples.