God is love. And the greatest commandment stems from that staggering truth, the command to love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and with all your might. The second greatest command is like the first, to love your neighbour just as you love yourself. This sums up the whole law and the prophets.
This command is the central theme of our do's and don'ts. It is so central and magnificent to the extent that if you do not love, if you do not have the unconditional, unfailing and all-satisfying Love of God commanding and motivating all that you do, then you will amount to what the Bible calls "nothing." This is so to the extent that you can even give up your life for another, even in an act of being killed on their behalf, but if that love is absent then all the toil and labour done literally amounts to nothing.
He is saying, that it is possible for a person to give himself away, to give his body to be burned, and even to be wasted for another yet having no love for such a one that he has so gone to such a great extent to impress. That a man or woman can die for a spouse, children, relatives, friends and even strangers but in that act there is no love whatsoever. This phenomena is very surprising to me. Why? Because Jesus Whom I love so much has taught me, and of course the whole world, a lesson that is like no other. Jesus has taught us that "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Jesus did not merely teach this and then leaving it up to us to figure out what this means in practice, but He has essentially and most profoundly demonstrated this great act of "love for another."
Jesus is essentially saying that the greatest commandment that fulfills all other commandments is the command to love. And the greatest act of "loving another" person is to lay down one's precious life for another. That in doing this you are basically loving; you are saying to the other "look how much I love you, to the extent that I'm completely given up for you. I am dying for you." And in that we hear Him saying that love is most demonstrated and celebrated in death.
While He puts such gravity on this very important act of love, Jesus is also shouting a warning. In the warning He is saying "Be careful." Be careful that your greatest act of self sacrifice is not a waste. Because He is also saying that it is very much possible to waste your life in the very act that is intended to bear much fruit and champion love.
He is saying, "Don't be deceived." Don't be deceived that so many people are dying, giving themselves up to be killed for another yet there is no substance of love in their actions. There are people that die daily for others but their dying is a complete waste. Paul calls such dying as "nothing." A complete waste. Meaningless death. A death that has failed. If there is any death that fails in purpose it is this one, because this one has failed to impress God, for it is not out of love.
It is as if you can hear Jesus saying that even death has a purpose. That death, too, has a meaning. You also hear Him saying that there is triumph even in death, where the sting of death lays no claim on you. But that meaning will be swallowed up if love is missing. Here, the Bible is talking about the love of God. Because God is love.
But why is it that some people die, and when they die, giving themselves up, their deaths amount essentially to nothing? How come?
"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you." Hosea 10:12 (ESV)
Love is the greatest commandment. But then there is the greatest calling, the image into which God, in Christ Jesus, is fashioning us into. And that is the calling to righteousness and holiness.
"...put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Ephesians 4:24 (ESV)
God almighty has called His children unto the righteousness that He and only He Himself bears.
From examining this righteousness, we will soon realize that the source of all the fruit of the Spirit, the reason for which all these fruit must show and conspicuously appear in the life of the Christian is nothing less than the righteousness of God Almighty. And from this we therefore understand most importantly that if the Christian is to find peace, love and all these wonderful deeds of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we must essentially be pursuing and seeking the righteousness of God Almighty.
We will also understand that righteousness underscores the mission of every believer.
"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:33 (NKJV))
Righteousness underscores what it means to live, for the believer in Christ Jesus.
Righteousness is the very foundation of the throne of God.
"Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face." (Psalms 89:14 (NKJV))
The whole Kingdom of God operates by this unchanging, ancient and most magnificent and highly exalted Righteousness of JEHOVAH! This is so that even the mission and vision of love in the Kingdom of God finds its ground and footing in this Righteousness.
Love finds its purpose and meaning in Righteousness.
That is why you now find Holy Spirit speaking through Hosea saying that love is a fruit, a harvest and return of the seed of Righteousness that has been sown. He is saying that righteousness is the seed. That righteousness is the rain that waters the seed of righteousness. And the fruit that springs from the heart soaked and overtaken and completely sold out to the Righteousness of God is the fruit of love. Love comes as a result of Righteousness.
Having said that, it is therefore easy for us to understand why Jesus is saying that although the greatest act of love is giving up one's life for another, it is possible to give up one's life for another without the love of God being involved because that act is not founded on the mission and vision of God's Righteousness.
The goal for Christ's sacrificial love in His death on the Cross of Calvary is the Righteousness of God in heaven.
God's love is righteous.
An act can be done by the same person in a loving or in an unloving manner. The determining factor is Righteousness. And that is what has set apart the death of Christ Jesus from all others that have been beaten and crucified to a degree that He, too, was beaten and crucified. The goal for what He was doing was not to impress us, but to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Holy Law of God. That is why His dying on that old rugged Cross is love. God's punishing His Son on that most historic day is love. Everything that was happening was happening as an act of greater love. As He hung on the Cross it was love. Love, love, love. It was all love because the heart of it was Righteousness.
This then brings out a very serious message which you and I by all means must understand. And the message is this that love is not in the act. That the act, in and of itself, is not love. But that love is found in the Righteousness that is coupled with the act. When the act is coupled with Righteousness, love springs forth with a warm smile.
"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love."
The act of hanging on the Cross was not love. Being beaten was not love. Being spat on was not love. But when these acts were coupled with the great, glorious and most grandeur cause of Righteousness, the greatest act of love was unfolded, and the world was never the same again. The Father wants us to be righteous, and because of that, all His acts towards us are all acts of love. The Father beats, in discipline, His beloved children as an act of love because He wants us to be Holy. He punishes the evil doer, even in Hell itself, as an act of love because His goal is Righteousness.
"But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life." (Revelation 21:27 (NKJV))
The mission of Jesus here on earth was that of Righteousness. Jesus did not come to die to merely prove that He could and can die for whomever He chooses to, nor did He come to merely put on a love show and be humiliated for nothing. Jesus was a seed of righteousness that was sown in love to bring forth much Righteousness and love.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." (John 12:24 (NKJV))
What this, therefore, mean is that the definition of Love is "the demonstration of Righteousness." In other words, "Love is Righteousness at work."
This is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Love suffers long and is kind;
love does not envy;
love does not parade itself,
is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely,
does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails...
All these characteristics of love are essentially the works of Righteousness. These are all evidence of Righteousness in a man. That when a man does all these things in beautiful harmony is proof of the indwelling Holy Spirit in that Christian. He thinks no evil. He rejoices in the truth. We know that it is only the unrighteous who think evil of others and rejoice in iniquity and falsehood.
When a man asks "What is love?" and another responds by listing these characteristics of love, the questioner often quickly responds that "no, that is not love but the characteristics of love." Usually, mature Christians do this. And they are right. That is because they seek to have a more concrete understanding and definition of love rather than the listing of its characteristics. And we understand now what love is; Love is Righteousness at work.
So, love is Righteousness demonstrated. And love is best acted out. Love is best communicated through actions. By and in the things that we do. If we love God, then our love for Him is best demonstrated in what we do for Him. Our love for other people is best demonstrated, not by wishing and dreaming this and that for them, but by actually doing something for them. Selflessly. That's why you find apostle John commanding,
"But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." (1 John 3:17-19 (NKJV))
The Father then demonstrates His love for humanity in this manner;
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:16-17 (NKJV))
He gave. He gave as an act, demonstration and tangible proof of His infinite love.
And in the same vein you find Jesus commanding His Church that not just is love best demonstrated in action, but that the best action for demonstrating our love for Him or for other people is that of selflessly giving up ourselves for them in death.
"This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:12-13 (NKJV))
Righteousness is the goal. Love is the means by which Righteousness is best demonstrated. And the actions of love that we outwardly portray are the best demonstration of that love, and they are fruits, the signs and the indicators of the presence of righteousness in a Christian. So, we don't start with actions, but we start with Righteousness, just as the tree does not grow from the fruits to the roots but from the roots to the fruits.
Righteousness commands love. And love commands action. So that, action gives testimony to love, and love to Righteousness.
The central theme of the Gospel is this, Righteousness. That's the end goal and that is the driving force behind the life of the Christian. Outside the realm of Righteousness, we have nothing else to live for, for God, our God, is Righteous and Holy!
"I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness." (Isaiah 60:17 ESV)
I would rather have a taskmaster of righteousness than anything else. Because I know that right away Righteousness commands love. And if my taskmaster is Righteousness then I'll bask in love like never before, and I will suffer no ill or injustice at the hands of Righteousness. That's why "violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise." (Isaiah 60:18 ESV) Hallelujah!