How can God require us to love him?


Some people view the commandment to love God as a commandment to change feelings over which they have no control. However, the assumption that love is an involuntary feeling is wrong on two counts: love is also an attitude and act, and one can influence one's feelings by controlling one's thoughts and actions.

Since this commandment comes from the Bible, it's relevant to look at how the Bible describes love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7)

Being patient and kind, boasting, being rude, seeking to please oneself, keeping a record of wrongs, protecting others, and persevering are all actions. We choose whether to speak gently or rudely, whether to keep track of people's faults and mistakes or their qualities and successes. Envy, pride, irritability, delighting in evil, rejoicing in truth, trusting, and hoping are attitudes over which we have control. We choose whether or not to trust others and whether we want good or bad things to happen to them.

Other passages in the Bible emphasize that love is an action. The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) describes love as an act of kindness and generosity, and Jesus says of love, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). To love others, one must love them through actions - showing kindness to them, helping them when they need it - and through one's attitude - being patient with them, looking for their qualities instead of focusing on their faults, thinking the best of them and thinking of what they need instead of what we want or need. And as it turns out, changing our actions and our attitudes towards a person has an impact on how we feel about them as well.

But how are we to love God? Mark 12:30 reads, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." That is, we are to love God emotionally and mentally/intellectually, with all that we are and to the greatest extent that we can. Loving God means believing in him, trusting him, and obeying him (1 John 5:3). Yet God has enabled us to love him emotionally as well, by first loving us.

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. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins...We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:7-10, 19)


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