What is the most important teaching in the Bible? Every Christian should be able to give the answer: It is the teaching about love. Someone once asked Jesus, “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” (Luke 12:28-34).
Above All Things
So the commandments about loving God and others are first and foremost. “There is no other greater.” Jesus even said that “all the Law and the Prophets hang upon these two commandments” (Matt 22:40). And in fact, this teaching is echoed throughout the Bible. Peter wrote, “Above all things have fervent love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8). Paul also said that we should put on love above all else (Colossians 3:14), and that we should “owe no one anything except to love one another” (Romans 13:8).
Again and again in the Bible we find that love is given first place, above everything else. For example, love is called “more excellent” than any other gift or ability (1 Cor 12:31). “Now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). The law of love is called the “royal law” (James 2:8), which we are “taught by God” (1 Thessalonians. 4:9). We are asked to “make love our greatest aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1 [Living Bible]), to “be rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians. 3:17). These laws about love are so important that the Lord said they should be “in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6,7). “Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Power Against Evil
There are some very good reasons why we are directed to have love above everything else. One reason is that love has power over evil. Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). A person who genuinely loves God and his neighbor will want to overcome any evil in himself that is against God or hurts the neighbor. For example, “love does not envy, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not think evil, does not rejoice in injustice” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Since love is opposed to doing evil, it fulfills all the laws against evil. “Owe no one anything but to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law; and for this, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ or if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
Since love leads us to turn from evil, it also brings forgiveness. Jesus once said of a woman that “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). He also said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Love also brings patience. “Love suffers long…bears all thing…endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Jacob loved Rachel very much, and was willing to labor for her father seven years in order to win her hand in marriage. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29: 20).
Born Again by Love
Another reason why love comes above all else is that it is through love that a person is born again. Peter described the process of rebirth as “purifying your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit in sincere love of the brethren” (1 Peter 1:22). John put it more simply: “Everyone who loves is born of God” (1 John 4:7). We pass from death to life when we love others (1 John 3:14).
The reason we become born again when we love others, is that then we become like God. Jesus asked us to love others as He has loved is (John 13:34, 15:12). When we have His kind of love for all people, we become reborn as His children (Matthew 5:43, Luke 6:35).
When Is a Christian a Christian?
Since the first and foremost of all God’s commands is to love the Lord and the neighbor, the primary mark that identifies a Christian is the love he has for others. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Again and again we are asked to judge ourselves by the love we have for others:
Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him (1 John 3:18,19).
If we love one another, God abides in us, as His love has been perfected in us (1 John 4:12).
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death (1 John 3:14).
He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God (3 John 11, See also, 1 John 2:3-5, 3:10; 4:7,8).
Faith and Love
For some people, faith is more important than love. Some are more concerned about whether a Christian has the right beliefs than they are about how he lives and loves. Of course, faith is important–how can a person love God without believing in God? How can you be loving, unless you are also faithful? In the New Testament, these two go hand in hand. Consider how often, for instance, we find phrases like “faith and love” (1 Timothy 1:14; 2:15; 4:12; 6:11; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2:22; 3:10; Titus 2:2).
Faith by itself is useless. It cannot save a person. It is dead faith (James 2:14,17). “Even the devils believe–and tremble” (James 2:19). It doesn’t matter how much faith you have–it is still nothing without love. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Worship and Love
Worship and ritual are likewise useless without love. The Lord desires “mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; 12:7). Love is “more than all the whole burnt offerings” (Mark 12:33), and better than the most careful tithing (Luke 11:42). “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
Love Brings Faith
One reason love and faith should never be separated is that love is the source of faith. Love “believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love “rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:7). A person who loves others “knows God for God is love” (1 John 4:8). Real belief must be from the heart (Romans 10:10). Thus “a person who loves his brother abides in the light” (1 John 2:9,10; compare John 3:19,20).
As it is love that brings a person to believe, it is also love that brings a person to heaven. Someone asked Jesus how he could have eternal life. Jesus answered that he would have it if he would just love the Lord and love his neighbor (Luke 10:25, 28; see also Matt 19:17-19). A person who puts love in the first place, Jesus said, is “not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).