First, Jesus distinguished the first and second commandment. He said, “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” (Matt. 22:37–39). Therefore, loving God cannot be defined as loving our neighbor. They are different. Loving God is first. Loving our neighbor is second. The first is primary and depends on no greater obedience. The second is secondary and depends on loving God. They are not separated, for true love for God will always bring about love for people. But they are different. This means that the behaviors of love toward others are not the essential meaning of loving God. They are the overflow or fruit of loving God. Loving God is not the way we treat others. It is a compelling admiration and delight in God.
THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME
Second, Jesus said to the Pharisees when they criticized the freedom of his disciples, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’ ” (Mark 7:6–7). Jesus says that external actions—even religious ones directed toward him—are not the essence of worship. They are not the essence of love. What happens in the heart is essential. The external behaviors will be pleasing to God when they flow from a heart that freely admires and delights in God—that is, when they flow from love for God.
John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 78–79.
I have just completed a series of lessons on the theme of Loving God. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.