We have already looked at how Jesus explained that God’s commandments are fulfilled in love. It’s not the other way around. Love fulfills the law, but the law cannot produce love. We’ll look at how the law is fulfilled through Christ in another chapter. This chapter will explain the love of God since it is the foundation everything is built upon. The Bible says that if we gave everything we possess to the poor and even if we give our own bodies as a burnt offering, without love it means nothing, and profits nothing.
The Bible uses this extreme example to show Israel that the process of fulfilling the law cannot win God’s favor. In the Old Testament, God established a Law of Atonement where an animal would be sacrificed in their place as an offering for sin. This atonement was not what fulfilled the law of righteousness. Not only that, if they went beyond the law and offered themselves in sacrifice to God, it still would not be sufficient.
To understand the love of God we must first realize how it compares to human love. The New Testament scriptures were written in Greek. The Greek language has three words we translate into the word love.
Philia is a brotherly kindness type of love. It means to love with warm affection or friendship.
Eros means passion and is often referred to as a sexual type of love. The Bible never uses Eros as a word for love, but the Greeks used this word in much the way we hear it used today. People associate physical passion with love.
The last word is Agape. Agape is self-giving, self-sacrificing, outward focused love. It is the type of love that focuses on another without regard to self. The love of God is always referred to as Agape.
Philia and Eros are normal parts of human nature, but Agape is not. When I love another in my own human nature, it is always in light of how my life is fulfilled. I may give because it makes me feel good to sacrifice, or I may love my friends of whom I expect a returned friendship. Ultimately, I am seeking my own fulfillment through my love for others. While that isn’t necessarily wrong, it falls short of Agape.
Agape is the love of God. It is first given to us, and then we use it to express the love of God to others. Consider Romans 5:5
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Emphasis added)
This is why Jesus said the first commandment is the love of God and the second commandment comes out of the first. We must first experience the love of God and then we’ll have the power to love others because the Holy Spirit has placed God’s Agape love into our hearts.
To put human love into perspective, consider a rich young ruler who approached Jesus to ask how he could obtain eternal life. He begins with the wrong perspective and Jesus lets him know immediately. The man starts by calling Jesus a good rabbi (or as some translations word it, Good Teacher). Jesus responds by rebuking him for calling anyone good except for God.
In the religious culture of that day, people often put their Rabbis on a pedestal, and even called themselves after their teacher’s name. Jesus taught his disciples to not allow anyone to call them rabbi, father, teacher, or master. The reason is the same as Jesus explained to the ruler in this account – with only one exception – Himself. In this account, Jesus told the ruler not to look to him as a good rabbi, but to put his focus on God. When instructing His disciples, Jesus commanded them not to allow others to call them rabbi, and then he pointed to Himself as the only example of a rabbi or teacher.
Jesus rebuked the young man for calling Him good, but then called Himself good when teaching about His own authority. Why the contradiction?
There is no contradiction. In both cases, Jesus is taking the focus off the flesh and pointing toward the spiritual. The young ruler wasn’t looking at Jesus as the Messiah, but as a human rabbi. He was not to be imitating the role of a teacher, but imitating God alone. Take a few minutes to read the story of the rich ruler in Matthew 19:16-26. From the beginning, the ruler was focused on his own human efforts. Whether looking at a teacher or at the rules of religion, the young man was focused solely on human abilities. His trust was also in his own ability to keep the law. As Jesus listed the commandments, the man declared his ability to keep them as though it were a checklist. Then Jesus gave the final test, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young ruler said, “I have kept all these commandments from my youth up.” It’s interesting that this man declared his own perfection, yet deep down he knew something was missing. The man was blind to his own inability to fulfill the requirements of the law. Therefore, Jesus pulled back the veil by saying, “If you will be perfect, go and sell all you have, give to the poor, and then come and follow me.”
Notice, even with this statement, Jesus was not declaring that giving up all his worldly goods would save him. The real solution was in following Christ, for as we shall see, salvation is found in Jesus alone. Yet, his requirement unveiled the problem. The man was not able to keep the law. If he truly loved his neighbor as himself, he would not have balked at giving his possessions to the poor. The requirement Jesus gave was intended to reveal the man’s inability to keep the commandments he claimed to have fulfilled.
Jesus met many rich men during his life, yet this is the only time we see Him asking someone to sell all their possessions. The truth is, money was this man’s god and his own works were his plan of salvation. Jesus dismantled his personal religion with one statement.
The same is true for you and me. If you are trying to love God by your own strength, you are the rich young ruler who comes to Christ wondering why you feel like you’ve done all the right things, yet something is still missing. Like the rich young ruler, God calls us to lay down our own efforts so we can receive the true riches-salvation and the love of God.
 John 3:16
 1 John 4:10-11
 1 Corinthians 13:3
 Matthew 23:8