When you have lived all your life scouring through books, studying sacred writings, learning about history, about people, about creation, enriched by life’s experiences and the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, then portraying by your life the best image of God that limited human understanding is able to produce, and then come to the end of your earthly life and be able to say “Lord, I love you.” Thus, we can say of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, ‘Truly a life well-lived.’ Why? Because we can only say we are truly living—that is, we really have life in us—if we are living a life in God. “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). If there is any purpose to life, it is to know the Living God and to come to love him. “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
In Jewish tradition, there’s a prayer that they make twice a day based on the scripture: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The word “love”, in the understanding of the Jews, is not just an emotion. Love involves the intellect and the will in order to make a decision. The word “decide” comes from the Latin “decidere”, where “de” means “off” and “caedere” means “cut”. In making a decision, we must be able to choose only one and cut off the other options. That’s loving God, according to the etymology of the term.
Christianity is the continuation (fulfillment) of Judaism. As Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). On the law about loving God, Jesus was not only able to fulfill it truthfully and faithfully. He also enhanced and intensified the meaning of loving God by the way he decided to lay down his life for the sake of his love for God, his heavenly Father, and his love for his disciples. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). This is the new standard of love, the greatest law that we have to live by—to love one another as Christ has loved us. That is, with sacrifice, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37) and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39).
The sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross is perfect. The blood that he offered is sufficient for God the Father to forgive our sins and for us to be reconciled with him. There’s nothing more that we can do or add to Jesus’ sacrifice for God to love us or to make ourselves acceptable to him, but we have to respond to his love by loving God in return. Love is free. It knows no bounds or limits. But there are ways, according to the scripture, through which we can express our love for God in a way that is good and pleasing to him.
#1. Obedience to the Word of God
We express our love for God by obeying his Word. “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 John 5:3-4). Every command that God has given comes with grace (divine help) in order to make us fulfill it. By obeying the Word of God, we are proving not only our love but also our faith in him. This is the kind of faith that bears the fruit of steadfastness, strength and endurance during the moment of trial. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
If we have failed to obey the Word of God and continue to say we love him, we are living a duplicitous life. “Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, ‘I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:4-6).“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (James 1:22). When we abide by the Word of God, his Word becomes a part of who we are and it will remain in our memory forever. “Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing” (James 1:25).
#2. Service to the poor and the needy
We also express our love for God by serving the poor and the needy. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:17-18). Serving the poor is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). Serving the poor is part of our discipleship. Secondly, it’s also a part of our purification. “So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you” (Luke 11:41).“Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). “Love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12).
Thirdly, serving others is also a form of spiritual worship. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7). Because giving to others require making a sacrifice on our part, it is counted as a worship pleasing to God. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
#3. Tolerating our differences
Lastly, we express our love for God by loving our neighbors. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21). How do we know we are truly loving our neighbors? In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:26-37), Jesus answered the question who is our neighbor and how should we treat them. And, it all boils down to one word: Mercy. “‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37).
If we are able to overlook one another’s offenses, tolerate our differences and give mercy to those who offended us, it’s a sign of our love for God. “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves” (Galatians 6:1-3).
Love is a loaded term. We can’t say we love God unless we really mean it. If we mean to love him, it will require cutting off the things that are displeasing to God. It will require giving up our sinful ways, bad habits, bad thoughts, bad words, bad books, bad movies/videos, bad games, and everything else that does not give glory to God. When we are ready to give our love to God, remember that he will never be outdone in generosity. We will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. These are the kind of gifts that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has yet conceived, which God has prepared for those who love him.