Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments [is]: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. ‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This [is] the first commandment.
“And the second, like [it, is] this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31; NKJV]
In order to obey any biblical commandment, choices are required. With this in mind, we can draw an inescapable conclusion: Love is a choice.
With Mark 12:28-31 in mind, to obey Jesus’ words, one would have to make choices to love God and one’s neighbor, and while these choices are more difficult for some than for others, they are choices, and they are required. Why, I wonder, is “Love” not taught this way?
Hang out near any church in America today and the topic of “Love” will come up often, but just as often, real love is not very visible in most religious settings. Entire ministries have focused on “Love”, and millions of sermons, books and DVD’s have been sold to our love-starved congregations, but almost nowhere will you hear love being taught as a choice. I did not arrive at this conclusion without significant emotional cost.
For most of my adult life I unsuccessfully grappled with the concept of God being able to love me. I never saw anything particularly lovable about myself, and instead of rejoicing in God’s love, I questioned it suspiciously. This pattern of thought continued until one day I had a revelation: I realized I would never understand it, and I would just have to accept it. That took some time, and repeated prayerful choices on my part, until the day finally arrived when the battle was resolved – in God’s favor. He chose to love me, period. My understanding was not required, but my acceptance was. I finally realized that if I had to wait for my understanding to catch up, I’d die first. And whether we are aware of it or not, loving others works the same way, like forgiveness.
The Bible says that we love God because He first loved us (1st John 4:19). My own translation would render it: ‘We (are able to) choose to love God because He first chose to love us.’ And if we love God, we will eventually want to please Him with our obedience, and loving others pleases Him. But it’s always a choice, otherwise we’d all be trained religious monkeys. Come to think of it, ‘trained religious monkeys’ describes a lot of what we see in churches that have elevated their doctrines above the Holy Spirit.
Real love is not to be confused with our warm and fuzzy contemporary view of it. Real love comes complete with sacrifice, and sooner or later we have to be willing to pay the price. When we first gave our lives to Jesus Christ, we sacrificed our ownership of our lives. We became His property, and we did it on purpose…by choice. And while much of the time we have constructed our lives to avoid feeling or thinking about sacrifice, ultimately we will have to acknowledge it. If Jesus loved that way, we will too.
Honestly, many Christians are difficult to love. That’s because they are all flawed humans, just like you and me. If I wait for the clouds to part and love to pour all over me for others, I’ll probably wait too long, but I can choose to love them now.
My purposeful choices to obey God open the floodgates of His blessings in my life. When I obey Him – He is pleased, and to alter an old saying, “When you’re blessed, the Son’s always shining!”
Love is a choice. Get used to making it – we’ve got to start sometime, and it gets easier!
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