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ReVision

The Greatest of These

First, fear God. Then, love Him.

Unite my heart to fear Your name. Psalm 86.11

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him…” Deuteronomy 10.12

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these
is love. 1 Corinthians 13.13

From the first to the greatest

A strong soul begins in a well-kept heart, where all the affections are united in the fear of God to move us to obedience and immerse us in the pleasure of the Lord. Obeying the Lord demonstrates and enhances our love for Him, as Moses indicated. And when we love God with all our heart and strength, then we will be rightly inclined and well-equipped to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22.34-40).

The first affection which we must diligently guard in our hearts is the fear of God, as we have seen. When we fear God as He commands, His salvation is near to us (Ps. 85.9), and we can bring all the other affections into proper focus and function for the strengthening of our soul.

The fear of God is the first of the affections; love – for God and neighbors – is the greatest. The fear of God leads to love for Him, and when we love God with all our soul and strength, we will love our neighbors as He does.

Love most mirrors the way God’s Presence comes to light in His creation, especially in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. And love most fulfills the deep longing of every human being’s heart. Fearing God provides the solid foundation for loving Him and our neighbors.

Love defined
A good bit of confusion exists concerning the true nature of love. The influence of pop culture, the aspirations of politicians and social activists, the careless use of everyday language, and the pervasive presence of relativist thinking in every aspect of life have made of “love” a kind of catch-all for whatever anyone sincerely desires.

Love is what we make of it, as is obvious from how we profess to “love” this or that food, film star, article of fashion, story or joke, work or person, sports team or diversion. Lacking a clear understanding of love, and knowing implicitly – because we are made in the image of God – that love is the greatest of the affections, we squander the true meaning of love, cheapening it by substituting love for such lesser affects as enjoy or like, and using it to justify all manner of good – though perhaps at times misguided – intentions.

In the most general sense, love is that disposition of the heart which seeks the Presence of God for beauty, goodness, and truth. Rightly understood, love brings God’s perspective, Presence, and will to bear in time, seeking His glory and Presence in and for others, even, if necessary, at the cost of self-denial and suffering. It is by love that God’s Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Such love must be learned from God, from being in His Presence and experiencing His love; and this makes it important that we fear God as we should, so that we may learn from this first of the affections how to get right the greatest of them.

The greatness of love
But why is love the greatest affection? A brief overview of its manifestations and ends should help us in answering this question.

Consider first that love creates channels of expression for all the best and noblest affections. Through love, patience, kindness, contentedness, humility, courtesy, self-denial, compassion, and the desire to bless and edify others are funneled into our words and deeds (1 Cor. 13.4, 5), filling our world with Jesus (Eph. 4.8-10).

At the same time, love suppresses those affections which deny or obstruct the manifestation of God’s Presence. Thus, love discourages covetousness, self-vaunting, rudeness, vengefulness, and gloating (1 Cor. 13.4-6).

Further, love is a strong affection. It is not given to whim or flights of fancy, and it is not easily discouraged from seeking its proper end. Love sees through a situation, no matter how demanding, to the goal of its manifestation, that is, the Presence of God and His glory for beauty, goodness, and truth; and love is willing to endure whatever a situation may require for achieving those ends (1 Cor. 13.7; cf. Heb. 12.1, 2).

Such love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4.8). Like the love God has for miserable sinners, the love we learn from Him empowers us to forgive when sinned against; put transgressions in the past; focus at all times on the hope of beauty, goodness, and truth; and undertake works of self-denial and sacrifice to lift others into a greater experience of the Presence of God. We love this way when we know God’s love, so that His love loves through us to make known His greatness and glory (1 Jn. 4.7-11).

The apostle John reminds us that God is love (1 Jn. 4.8), and if we know God, if we possess the gift of eternal life through the love He has shown us in Jesus Christ (Jn. 17.3), then achieving love will be our highest priority in every situation.

Such love must be learned, and it can only be learned from God, in the presence of God, and according to His Word. If we fear God, we will walk in all His ways, following the counsel of His love in all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities. The more we walk in love, the more we will realize just how great this greatest affection is; and this, in turn, will lead us to love God and serve Him with all our heart and soul (Deut. 10.12, 13), and to delight in and keep His Word as the best and surest way of living in love as He intends.

In a fallen world, populated with sinful people like us, many traps and pitfalls exist which can cause us to misapply this greatest affection in ways that neither glorify God nor bring His Presence to others. The greatest danger of all is the powerful working of self-love, bursting its proper bounds and becoming the whole of love, whether as a way of life or the expression of a moment. Unless we understand how to love ourselves as God intends, so that we keep our hearts with all diligence for such love, we will pervert the true nature of love and make love a tool, not for the glory of God and blessing of others, but for satisfying whatever it is we may desire, no matter how banal or base.

We don’t want to miss true love – either to know it or to show it. Thus we must commit ourselves to getting love right, for love is the greatest affection and God’s greatest commandment.

For reflection
1.  Why does it make sense that learning to love must begin in fearing God?

2.  How can thinking about love in terms of God’s Presence keep us from using love for our own advantage?

3.  In what ways do you experience the greatness of love from the people in your life?

Next steps – Transformation: From what we’ve seen thus far, in what aspects of love do you most need to improve? Make note of these, and seek the Lord for help in showing more of His love, more consistently every day.

T. M. Moore

Your soul in the Kingdom of God
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.

Jesus has conveyed us into the Kingdom of God. It is in the context of seeking the Kingdom that we can grow strong souls. Our book, The Kingdom Turn, can help you understand and begin making yourself more at home in the Kingdom of God. Order your free copy by clicking here.

Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

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