Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke10:27; Mark 12:30; Matthew 22:37). Repeatedly throughout the Bible, God commands His people to love Him with all their hearts and serve Him alone (Deuteronomy 6:5; 11:1; Joshua 23:11). But can love be commanded? How can we make ourselves love someone?
Since love is commanded, then it must be within our power, in Christ, to love. Love, therefore, is a decision we make. Yes, love will often be accompanied by feelings, but emotion is not the basis of love. In any given situation, we can choose to love, regardless of how we feel.
The Greek word for “love” used in reference to God is agape, which means “benevolence, delight, preference, or good will.” This is the kind of love God has for us (Zephaniah 3:17; John 3:16). First John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” Since God is love and we are created in His image, we can love as He does (1 John 4:16). He has placed His capacity to love within our hearts. He then teaches us how to love by demonstrating what real love looks like (John 15:13).
Loving God begins with a decision. It is a purposeful setting of our affections (Colossians 3:2). We cannot truly love God until we know Him. Even the faith to believe in God is a gift from Him (Ephesians 2:8–9). When we accept His gift of eternal life through Christ, God gives us His Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13; 1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit of God dwelling within a believing heart begins to produce the traits of God, the first of which is love (Galatians 5:22). God Himself enables us to love Him as He deserves to be loved (1 John 4:7).
As we grow in knowledge and understanding of who God is, we begin to love the characteristics that define Him, such as wisdom, truth, righteousness, and purity (Psalm 11:7; 90:12; Hebrews 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:11). And we begin to find the opposite of those traits repulsive (Proverbs 8:13; Psalm 97:10). Spending time with God causes our hearts to hunger for holiness, and we find satisfaction only in more of Him, because He is the perfect embodiment of everything we long for. Learning to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) allows us to experience the pleasurable emotions of love. Emotion does not create love, but, when we choose to love, the emotion comes. A. W. Tozer said, “Flowers and bird songs do not make spring; but when spring comes, they come with it.”
One obstacle to loving God is love of this world’s sinful ways. We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), and neither can we love God and the world at the same time. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (1 John 2:15). Many believers today need to heed the word given to the Ephesian church: “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). The call is for a conscious returning of the affections to God alone.
Another obstacle to loving God is the mind. Our minds continually set themselves up against the knowledge of God and challenge the faith that has made its home within our spirits (2 Corinthians 10:5). Doubt, anger, misunderstanding, and false doctrine can all rob us of life’s highest pleasure, intimacy with God (Philippians 3:8). These obstacles can be overcome through repentance and a determination to seek God above all else (Matthew 6:33; Jeremiah 29:13). In order to truly love God, we must stop insisting that God explain Himself to our satisfaction. We have to crucify our pride and our right to approve of His ways and allow Him to be God in our lives. When we humbly recognize that He alone is worthy of our love and worship, we can abandon ourselves to loving Him for who He is.