No Greater Love
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Most people would define love as an emotion--affection, passion, or tenderness. The Bible, however, describes love in terms of sacrificial actions. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). While it’s rarely necessary to die for the sake of another, genuine love usually involves some level of sacrifice. As Christians, we are to show unconditional, selfless love to others --just as Jesus did for us.
The Pattern Christ Set
Jesus gave His followers a new challenge to love--one based on obedience to Him and commitment to fellow believers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
In Leviticus 19:18, Jews were commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So how was Jesus’ command new? The people of God understood the word “neighbor” to mean a fellow Israelite or Gentile who had converted to Judaism. Jesus’ command has no such limitations.
To answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Christ told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In Jesus’ day, relations between Jews and Samaritans were quite tense. Samaritans were despised for having intermarried with Gentiles and having adopted heretical religious beliefs.
- According to the Good Samaritan story, who is your neighbor?
Jesus’ instruction is also new because it raises the standard. Loving others as ourselves means following the pattern He set for us, and putting the needs of others above our own.
How does Jesus love us? He offers Himself freely to all who call on Him, whether rich or poor, good-looking or unattractive, charming or irritating. He loves needy, immature, disobedient believers just as much as He does stronger, more mature, and faithful believers.
- Meditate on the paragraph above. How does it make you feel?
Jesus intended love to be the defining characteristic of Christians: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
- Why would our love for other believers demonstrate that we are Christ’s disciples?
The Father and the Son loved us unconditionally, while we were unworthy of love. Read Romans 5:6-10 and answer the following:
- How are people without Christ described in verse 6?
- Why do you think the Bible describes unbelievers as “enemies” of God (v. 10)? (See Colossians 1:21 and Romans 8:7 if necessary.)
- In what way were you an enemy of the Lord before you accepted His gift of salvation?
- Contrast man’s love (v. 7) with God’s (v. 8).
- Why do you think the passage mentions our need to be saved from the Lord’s wrath (v. 9)? (See Ephesians 2:1-5 if necessary.)
To “justify” (v. 9) means to be regarded and treated as if innocent; or acquitted from the consequences of guilt from God’s perspective. “Reconcile” (v. 10) means to restore harmony between two persons at variance, by the removal of existing obstacles.
- How do these terms apply to our relationship with God?
- The Lord has justified and reconciled us, but not on the basis of anything we have done. How, then, should we treat people who have wronged us, or those who are otherwise difficult to love?
The Power of the Pattern
Read 1 John 4:7-12, 19-21.
John writes that “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (v. 7). This verse doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences human affection has a personal relationship with the Father. The word John uses for “love” in this passage is agapeo, the Greek term used in the New Testament to indicate selfless, sacrificial love. In the Bible, it is never used to refer to sexual, romantic, brotherly, or familial relationships. Agape love is of God. Only through His power can we agapeo each other.
- Given that the word for love in this passage is agapeo, explain the meaning of verse 7.
- Explain the difference between the phrases “God is love” (v.8) and “God is loving.”
- Why do you think a lack of love for others indicates a problem in our relationship with the Father (v. 8)?
- What does John imply about the power of genuine love in a Christian community (v. 12)?
- Do you agree that someone “who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (v. 20)? Explain your answer.
- What do you find difficult about loving others, especially fellow believers?
First John 3:16 says, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
- How could you “lay down your life” for someone else this coming week?
Prayer: Father, thank You for the mercy You’ve shown us by sending Christ to lay down His life on our behalf. We frequently fall short of the kind of sacrificial love He commanded us to have. By Your Spirit, help us share Your unconditional love with others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Unless you experience genuine affection, you will never know true joy and contentment in life. To love and be loved—that is God's best for us. (Watch No Greater Love.)