Many have observed the seeming incongruity of love being the result of a command. Love, the observation goes, is an emotion; how can an emotion be commanded? Yet Jesus placed the commandment to love God and neighbor at the supreme pinnacle as the first and most important commandment. How can that be?
We have been looking at the transition between the being and the doing aspects of discipleship, and I think that transition provides insight into how love can be commanded. When our being has been transformed by God’s grace, the ultimate result is that our relationships with God and others have been transformed. Love doesn’t come out of the will so much as it comes from the transformation of our selfish selves through grace. As Jesus frequently noted, the worst outcome from experiencing grace is that we accept it but not be changed by it. That lack of transformation is evidence that we have not really accepted grace but somehow think we have earned or deserved the grace bestowed upon us. The inability to escape that self-centered rejection of grace corresponds with an inability to love anyone other than ourselves.
When grace has truly transformed us, however, the Giver of that grace is recognized as the most loveable Person in our lives. The love that we have experienced—the love that has cherished us, sacrificed for us, forgiven us, and transformed us—transforms our affections, our values, and our priorities. The experience of grace allows us to love with an agape kind of love.
The command to love God and neighbor is not so much a command to love as is it an expectation that we allow God’s grace to transform our lives. When we fail to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we demonstrate that grace has not fully worked its transforming power in our lives. When that transformation takes place in our being, our doing will become a ready reflection of grace working through us in love for God and love for others.