Love by Command? 


If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 4:20-5: 3)


St Nikolai Velimirovic comments:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.‘ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second depends on it and has its origin in it. Does love exist by command? No; but there must, sadly, be commandments about love, because man’s darkened heart has forgotten the natural love of man for Him who loves man. A mother does not remind a child to love her unless her child so forgets that it despises and saddens its mother, and starts down the slippery slope of earthly love. Love for one’s mother then becomes a commandment, not so much for the mother as for the child. God gives the angels no commandment about love, as they are close to God and naturally love him. It is a matter of profound shame to the human race that it has called forth this commandment about love, for a commandment about loving God is as much a reprimand to the human race as it is a commandment.


Every one who has any idea of what God does for him and what he owes to God must truly feel the deepest shame that stubborn man has given cause for such a commandment. For a man to love God is more natural than for a child to love its mother, and therefore man’s love for God should, without any commandment, be more evident than a child’s for its mother. Why does a child love its mother? Because it senses its mother’s love for it. And why does man not sense God’s love for him? Because his heart has become hardened, and his spiritual sight darkened by sin. Christ also came into the world to make men’s hearts ready for a refined sense of love for God, and to open man’s darkened spiritual sight.


(Tikhon of the Zadonsk, in his Works, Vol. 1, says: ‘God is the greatest Good, from whom come all good and all blessings. To live with God is happiness in misfortune, riches in poverty and comfort in want. Love Him, therefore, as your greatest good and blessing; love Him more than any creature, more than father and mother, wife and children, and more than yourself.’)  (HOMILIES Vol 2, pp 152-153)


St Nikolai’s point is worth repeating: loving God should be the most natural of things for us, God’s creatures. The fact that God has to issue us a command to love Him tells us how far we have fallen away from our Creator. And it raises the difficult issue of whether love is a natural reaction  to someone or whether love is a choice. As it turns out love is something that we have to choose. It is natural to us, but to love as God loves is to choose love – to act in love towards others rather than reacting to them. So it is shameful that we don’t naturally feel love for our Creator, however, God accepts our love even if God has to prompt us to love Him. God is not ashamed to accept our love that doesn’t occur naturally in us but is a result of God’s own prompt or command. God loves us a lot deeper and better than we love God or love one another. Even when we were still sinners, God loved us enough to die on the cross for us.