6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.
~ 2Jn 1:6
Some people treat this like it is a definition. This is a huge mistake. You can ritualistically keep all sorts of rules and laws but not really have true compassion for anyone. It has gotten so bad that if someone says, “I keep the commandments not because I have to but because I love God,” then people jump all over them. Frankly, it is the latter group that seems to be lacking in true love.
It is fascinating to watch people criticize others for saying that keeping the commandments is the result of love. “Philadelphia” means “brotherly love”. Yet, it appears that some will criticize those who seem to be hot for love, while being lukewarmly self-sufficient in their perceived spiritual riches, thinking they have no need for that type of love.
Sleight of Hand
Some who go by the definition that love is keeping the commandments also make the claim that they faithfully follow what Herbert W Armstrong (HWA) taught. That is patently contradictory, which makes them out to be the liars they are.
HWA came up with his own biblically based definition for love. He said that love is outgoing concern for others. While love and the commandments are closely intertwined, HWA did not try to equate them, but he did show the world that breaking God’s commandments is the opposite of love.
Why did he come up with his own definition? Not every word in the Bible is defined. Some things were assumed to be understood. Instead of defining love like a dictionary would, the Bible concentrates, as it does in so many other areas, upon showing use what love looks like. Jesus came to the earth to model God’s way of life for us. Jesus showed us what love looks like.
Bible Distinguishes Between Them
Keeping the commandments are the outward expression of love. They are not exactly the same thing.
10 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
~ Dt 5:10
If you keep God’s commandments, you are showing love. However, as you can see by the above, they are not equivalent. If they were, then that verse would be redundant.
127 Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.
~ Ps 119:127
If keeping the commandments is love, then how can the commandments be love? Does the above mean that “I love thy love” or “I keep thy commandments thy commandments”? Again, we have to remember they are closely related but not exactly the same.
What about the New Testament? Did the definition change?
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
~ Jn 14:15
Again, if keeping the commandments was the definition of love, then why not just say, “Keep my commandments”?
1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
~ 1Jn 5:1-3
You cannot just pluck v3 out of the mix, as some are wont to do. The verses preceding it show that there is a difference between love and commandment keeping, in spite of their close relationship.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
~ 1Jn 4:8
When we read “God is love”, do we truly believe that the definition of “God” is “love”? Or, do we understand the poetic nature of the verse? “God is love” means that God loves so greatly that it is one of His divine attributes. After all, God created love!
And, what of the two greatest commandments?
36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”
37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
~ Mt 22:36-40 (HCSB)
Notice that love not only sums up the commandments, but love is commanded. This proves beyond a doubt that love and commandment keeping is somewhat distinct, or else there would be no need for two commandments to love!
This passage also proves that love is the source for the commandments. By saying that commandment keeping is love, we have it backwards. Love comes first. Love results in keeping the commandments because they are the expression of love.
Definitions Are Drop-Ins
In order to define a word, you must explain what it means. A good definition can stand in for the word itself, otherwise it is an inexact definition.
For example, if love is defined as “is fond of”, then “he loves her” becomes “he is fond of her”. If love is defined as “is attracted to”, then “she loves him” becomes “she is attracted to him”.
So, let’s examine the “definition” of godly love as “keeping the commandments” in light of a few Bible verses.
16 For God so [kept the commandments] the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
~ Jn 3:16
Now, that is awkward! Even if you massage the grammar, it still makes no sense.
2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou [keep the commandments], and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
~ Ge 22:2
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt [keep the commandments] thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, [keep the commandments] your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
~ Mt 5:43-44
46 For if ye [keep the commandments] them which [keep the commandments] you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
~ Mt 5:46
Hint: The publicans (tax collectors) were not well-known for keeping the commandments.
No matter how you slice it and dice it, “keeping the commandments” makes no sense as an actual, working definition for love.
Again, the Bible concentrates upon making it clear what love looks like. The Bible concentrates upon showing what sin looks like. The Bible concentrates upon giving us examples of what righteousness looks like. Jesus came to embody all these things.
Next time Soon, we will try to answer the question: “Was HWA’s definition of love sufficient or is there more?”
I updated the article to reflect a change in plans due to current events.