I’ll be honest I have long thought this statement (love God; love people) to be a bit cliche-ish and ambiguous. I mean, I know where it comes from it just seems to be ambiguous because in our day and age it is often a challenge to know what “love” even means anymore – what it looks like or how it works.
I think it is better to explain these sorts of things instead of just throwing them out there like some sort of catch phrase or slogan. So, with that I’ll give it a try. This phrase Love God and Love People comes from Jesus’ summation of the greatest commandment noted in the Gospel of Mark:
Mark 12: 29-31: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
In being asked what is the greatest commandment – Jesus says the greatest commandment is the Shema (Deut 6:5ff) – the command that you shall love God. How do we do this?
I believe that while love has elements of affection towards another, when it comes to loving God, we demonstrate our love for God primarily through our obedience to him – meaning obedience to his commandments, requirements, and direction for our lives, both as individuals and as a community of faith. For example, 1 John 5:3 tells us:
This is love for God: to obey his commands.
John then reminds us that God commands are not burdensome – and this is true. They are not burdensome because God is the one who enables us to carry them out, through the power of the Holy Spirit whom he has given us. In some ways, the Shema is the center of Torah or the Hebrew Bible; but really it is the center of a life based on the Torah, or, God’s direction for our lives, which is based on his written Word.
But Jesus didn’t leave it there – he chose to take it one step further and insist that out of our love for God we must love our neighbor. That in essence love for God is seen in and through our love and acceptance of others. Really, we are not able to love others unless we first have a love for God – because as it says in 1 John 4:7-8:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Additionally, there is 1 John 4:21:
And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
So we can see from here that the ability to love comes from God because the one who loves has born of God – in fact, if one is not a loving and accepting person it might be fair to wonder where that person is with the Lord, if they have been born again – I know we cannot judge but generally speaking when a person is born of God, born from above, they should for all intents purposes be a generally loving person.
I also want to point out that one cannot say he or she loves God and yet not demonstrate love and acceptance towards others. This is a false notion of what it means to love God – love for others and loving one another flows out and through our love for God – otherwise it is not a real godly love. Note 1 John 4:20:
If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen.
Now of course, there are lots of seemingly loving and accepting people in the world – but the difference is that the one who is born of God also confesses Jesus Christ as the Son of God and that he has indeed come in the flesh – this person will freely confess Jesus the Messiah. That is the primary difference – the role of Jesus in one’s heart and life.
One last thing. Here is another reason we should show love and acceptance towards one another. In Romans 15:7 Paul exhorts us:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
So every believer born of God, needs to be accepting of one another. Why? Because Jesus has accepted us. If Jesus has accepted us, who are we to reject others who love God and belong to him?
In summation then, to love God and love others isn’t just a slogan or a catch phrase, it is a biblical command.