1 Cor. 16:13-24
“If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema” (1Cor 16:22). It is significant that the Apostle singles out this one thing – to love the Lord Jesus. In this he echoes the words of our Lord Himself saying, “the first and greatest commandment is this; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind…” If indeed the greatest commandment is to love God then of course the essence of the Christian faith is to love the Lord Jesus because He is “the only begotten Son of God … true God of true God … of one essence with the Father … Who for us men and for our salvation … was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man…” Thus if we would be Christians, if we would follow Christ, then the first and foremost requirement is to love the Lord Jesus. Now it’s easy to say, “Of course I love the Lord Jesus, I pray a lot and I come to Church and put some money in the offering. I even take communion once in a while.” But this is not what it means to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, our Lord Himself told us, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for another.” In saying this, certainly the Lord was speaking of His own crucifixion and death which was the result of His great love for us, but He was also speaking to us about our love for Him. If we wish to truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, then we must follow His example and lay down our lives for Him.
The martyrs did just this in a very literal sense – they were killed for their love for Jesus Christ. But not all of us are called to martyrdom and yet all of us are called to love Jesus Christ. We must lose our lives for His sake, die to ourselves that we might live for Him. We must surrender our lives so that we might receive His life in return – not just at the hour of our physical death, but now, today, this very moment. To this end our Lord tells us that if one wishes to follow Him he must, “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”
So then, how do we come to love Jesus Christ so completely, with our whole being? Such a love is divine and it is not possible for us to love God on our own strength. If we wish to love Him, we must first ask Him to give us this love – not just once but every day, every moment. And God Who has promised to give us every good thing will surely give us this essential love. However, God always acts with us, and so there are some things that we must do to acquire this gift of divine love and use it to love Him.
First we must give up our own lives – we must give up the flawed, worldly, egocentric, selfish life that we live now. We must truly “deny ourselves” and instead of living the way we want to live, we must begin to live according to the Law of God; we must live lives of righteousness; we must conform our lives to His. Consider this, if you love someone you will do whatever you can to please them, to make them happy. To that end you will find out what your beloved likes and you will then search to find a gift that conforms to that desire. You will set aside your own plans so that you can participate in the activities and interests of your beloved. You will begin to change your own appearance to appeal to your beloved. This is exactly how we must act towards Christ. He has described the life that He desires in the law and the prophets and in the beatitudes. He has told us what to avoid, how to correct ourselves if we do fall into sin and what things to emulate and seek after. This is the life of righteousness that is the expression of our love for God. It may be that doing all these things is beyond your strength and such a life is not possible for us – but God will help. Remember that with God all things are possible. If we begin to make an effort He will come and cooperate with us and fill our effort with His grace so that it not only affects our external actions but that we are changed internally as well – transforming our very essence.
So this then is the first step – to set aside your own life and to live a life of righteousness. No longer do the things that please you, but do those things that please God Whom you love.
Secondly remember the words of the Apostle John: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” Therefore if we wish to love God who we can’t see then we must also love our neighbor who we can see. To love our neighbor as ourself is also the commandment of the Lord Jesus saying that it is the second great commandment. God loves all men – which by the way includes you. If you would be like God, then it is necessary to love others as you would love yourself. This means that we will kind and considerate towards our neighbor, we will be patient, tolerant and compassionate towards him. We will be merciful and forgiving towards him. (read again the 13th chapter of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians in which the characteristics of love are described and ask yourself if you act this way towards all men) In as much as we do these things to our neighbor, we have done them to God. God knows that it is sometimes difficult for us to focus on that which we cannot see and so He gives us our neighbor as a focus for our love for Him. We cannot see God and so He tells us to love our neighbor who we can see.
Steps one and two – love God, love your neighbor – follow closely on the instruction of our Lord concerning the greatest commandments. There is yet one more thing that we must attend to if we wish to love God.
Thirdly, if we love someone, we are constantly seeking to be with them; to speak with them, to listen to their voice, to feel them nearby. If we wish to love God we must enter into communion with Him. This communion we accomplish by our prayer. Our prayer “rule” is not just a rule, but more importantly it is an opportunity to talk with God, to be in His presence, to listen to Him and to become aware of His presence. If we wish to love Him then we need to take advantage of this opportunity as frequently as possible. When we pray, sometimes we pray according to the prayers that we have learned from the scripture (especially the Psalter) or from the saints who wrote down their own prayers as a model for us. Sometimes we pray with our own words – from the heart as it were – expressing our own pressing needs and desires or telling God of our joys and sorrows or simply giving thanks to Him for the bounty that He has given to us. Sometimes we pray with tears and sorrow, confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us our sins. Sometimes when we pray we stop saying anything and listen to the voice of God within our hearts or hearing Him in the Gospels as we read, or learning from the lives of the saints. Sometimes we pray by ourselves – in our closet where we can block out the world – and sometimes we pray with others remembering the words of the Savior who told us that where two or three are gathered there He is with us. We join our voices and our hearts together to create a symphony of prayer that we offer to God. Sometimes we pray at home and sometimes we pray in the Church. Indeed the Apostle tells us to pray without ceasing and so we should strive to do – in everything speaking to God and listening to Him as He speaks to us. Of all the prayers that we can say, there is one that has been shown over and over from time of the Apostles till now to be the most beneficial and that is the “Jesus prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When there is no other prayer, this one prayer should be on our lips and in our hearts.
To pray is to commune with God and is an expression of our love for Him. This is the third element of acquiring the all important love for God.
The heart, the core, the essence of the Christian faith is to love the Lord Jesus. Let us therefore strive to love Him, not just with empty words but with our whole being. In this way we are transformed by His grace, we become like Him, we are united to Him, we are with Him now in this life as we will be with Him in eternity. When we have this love for the Lord Jesus, then we can say with the Holy Apostle his very next word: “Maranatha” meaning “Come Lord Jesus.”