1 John 5:1-6
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love."
The centrality of love as a commandment to be obeyed is at the heart of the Jesus faith which we embrace. In the Synoptics, we get a different angle on the same thing. [Mt 22, Mk 12, Lk 10] There is a question: which is the greatest commandment. Jesus declares there are two (from Deuteronomy six and Leviticus nineteen) to love God completely and to love he neighbor as yourself. Jesus says that these laws summarize the entirety of Torah. Love, in other words, is what the Jewish Law is all about.
The challenge, however, is always in defining terms. What is love? In our own age love is equated with an emotive state. Love is a feeling, a power at work within us, like affection, desire or a familial bond. Certainly, there is an emotive/feeling side to love, but is this what Jesus means and is this what the Torah demands?
First of all, remember that Jesus says these things so that His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete. The Lord Jesus wants us to be filled with a perfect joy. Yet, He says that perfect love is self sacrifice--to lay down one's life for the beloved. Is it true that our greatest joy is dying to self on behalf of another? Is it true that when we seek the good of those whom we love, that it is in forgetting ourselves that we find the deepest peace, purest joy and the true meaning of life?
In the Fourth Gospel, the cross is less about torture and suffering than it is about Jesus' power to freely embrace death as the means to give life to the world. That is the mystery behind he mystery, the divine core which transforms this human tragedy of injustice into the wellspring of living waters (the waters which will literally gush from His side after the Roman lance penetrates His heart).
To love Him as He loves us is to die into life and find joy
To love one another as He loves us is to die into life and find joy
To love in obedience to His word is to die into life and to find the greatest joy.
This love of God, however, is not merely meted out to Israel. When God promised Abraham would produce a nation, He also promised, that those descendants would be a blessing to the world. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel are the human venue through which God makes His Name known and His glory manifest. The king of Israel, David and His heirs, is destined to rule the world, so that all people will stream to her capitol city and worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. But Jesus, the son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of Mary, the Son of God---Jesus is the fullness of every promise. He is the Torah incarnate, the Word made flesh. He is the love of God in human form. He is God's salvation walking among us.
Peter, a disciple of Jesus, comes to discover (in Acts 10) that the love of God includes outsiders, the Gentiles. God reshapes his understanding of those people who are not Israel. Peter says, all who fear God and do what is right are pleasing to God. Peter says, if the Holy Spirit can fall upon them, how can we withhold baptism. In other words, the love which Jesus declares to His disciples is abundant enough to include us. You and I, Gentile outsiders, are included in the People of God. We believe in Jesus as the Christ/Messiah so we are born of God.
Today we reads such simple words: love, obey, believe... Yet there is such a great depth to each of them that I am unable to explain. What I know is faith and love and obedience are a living whole. Human minds can analyze, divide and theologize, but in the end it is the living and dying of every day life which makes them real. Love is to be to others what Jesus is. Everyone, even the outsider, even the enemy. Obedience to such a command must be grounded in our love for God and the power of His love within us. It is why prayer is required. It is why we must abide in Him. It is why we must read the Word to learn God. It is why we must gather in community. Love requires others: God and Humans.