I have been thinking a lot about love and what it means to love others. Recently during our morning scripture reading, we read this verse that stuck out to me:
Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them. (Mosiah 23:15)I then found some other references that said the same thing. Alma taught his people that when there is contention, we love ourselves more than others. Paul wrote the same thing to the Philippians:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Philippians 2:3)Similarly, after Jesus visited the Nephites, they had no contention because of the love they had for each other:
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.We Are Commanded to Love Others As Much As We Love Ourselves
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. (4 Nephi 1; emphasis added)
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he declared that there were two commandments which were the greatest. First, love God and then he said, "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 22:39) We are to love others as much as we love ourselves. Sounds easy to do, but it isn't. Our actions and thoughts are a good indication though of how much we love ourselves compared to others.
When we are impatient, offended, lose our temper, lie, or contend with others for example, we are demonstrating that we love ourselves more than others. When we negatively react to people's behavior not meeting our expectations, we show we love ourselves more than them. Even when we subtly try to control others through the use of various defense mechanisms, we are showing we love ourselves more than others. In fact, anytime we sin, we are showing that we love ourselves more than others (and more than God). We are choosing our own will. We are choosing what we think is best. However, when we choose to demonstrate charity, we are longsuffering, humble, and we do not seek our own desires/will/needs above another's. Paul lists several other attributes that encompass acting charitably (see this blogpost for more on charity):
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,We cannot sin against others and still love them as much as (or more than) ourselves. This is why Alma and Paul taught (in the references listed above) that there is no contention when we love others as we love ourselves. Loving others can only be done through keeping God's commandments. When the scriptures say "keep the commandments," they never mean keep some of the commandments or we simply do your best. Read this phrase literally. It means obey all the commandments all of the time, and when we don't, repent and change, forsaking our sins, by not repeating our error. Charity is only possible when we keep all the commandments all of the time. The greater our obedience, the greater our love.
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13)
5 ... I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.Jesus said that the greatest love we can have for others is the willingness to lay down our lives for them (John 15:13). Many think they would be willing to die for another (Consider how many songs have the lyrics about being willing to die for another), but until they are willing to love them as much as themselves and not sin against them, they are in denial about how much love they have for those individuals.
6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. (2 John 1)
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3)As I look back on my life I can see that I have loved myself more than others, including my husband and my children. When I noticed something my husband did that I didn't like, I would become silent and emotionally retreat or I would make a snarky comment. I was trying to control him! I loved myself more than him. When my kids were driving me crazy, I yelled and screamed to get them to calm down or obey. I was giving into my building frustration inside and chose my own will to release that frustration by yelling. This showed I loved myself more. When I could see that my actions demonstrated that I loved myself more, I instantly made the choice to change. Some patterns of behavior take time to change, but currently, every time I am tempted to act in unChristlike ways (such as feeling frustrated with the kids), I am trying to consider that I want to love others at least as much as I love myself. Practicing this love is the first step to obtaining it.
We Are Commanded to Love Unconditionally
As I am learning to love others like myself, I am also learning to love others unconditionally. We know God loves us unconditionally (Romans 8:35, 38-39). No matter what we do, God will love us. He cannot always bless us (since blessings are based on obedience to law/truth), but He will always love us more than we can fathom. Those who have felt of His love have only an inkling of what this love is like. It is indescribable.
At the last supper before Jesus was crucified, He said,
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.Jesus told His disciples that we ought to have this same unconditional love. (see this blogpost on treating others the same way God treats us)
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. (John 15; emphasis added)
Many of us "love" others conditionally. We want others to look, act, speak, and think in ways that fit our expectations and the way we see the world. We hold them accountable to our expectations and our behavior towards them results from how we view their actions. Perhaps we retreat emotionally or withhold affection. We usually show them in some subtle way that we don't approve of their behavior. However, if we approve of their behavior, we show that we accept them and approve of them. This makes us a respecter of persons. (Read this post on being a respecter of persons.) This isn't real love.
Love by its very definition is unconditional. When we love unconditionally, whether or not we agree with others, we don't withhold our love from them. Our behavior towards them is not based on how they act or think or look. Instead, we show love, compassion, patience, and so on no matter how they behave or how they treat us. When we do this, it makes sense that we could and would love everyone, even our enemies: "Love 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." (Matthew 5:44)
32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.Consider those whom you love. Is your acceptance or behavior towards them conditional on things they do or say? Do you act hurt and offended at times? Do you act out in anger because of another's behavior? Do you feel more kinship with someone who lives up to your expectations? Does another's actions cause you to become defensive? If you answered yes to any of these, your love is not yet unconditional and you have some work to do to change.
33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. (Luke 6)
Ramifications of This Commandment
Moroni (writing the words of his father) discusses charity and then said that he ought to pray for this kind of love:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:48)Charity is unconditional. Charity is never loving ourselves more than another. Charity is a gift bestowed on us when we have become pure, keeping all the commandments we have been given. It is then that we can stand before Jesus with confidence, seeing Him as He is, knowing that He sees us as we are. Love is the key though. We cannot have Jesus physically appear to us and feel confident in His presence until we have become love and we are obeying not only the first great commandment of loving God, but also the second of loving others as ourselves. John wrote:
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.If we do not develop this kind of love, we will never come to know God, since we can only know Him as much as we have become like Him. Love is such an intrinsic part of God's character. When we developed His type of love, then we can come to truly know Him.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4)
Examine your actions and determine which are self-serving and loving yourself more than others. Beg God to open your eyes to see yourself as you truly are. Repent and begin to act in loving ways. Slowly over time, you will become love. Through this you will come to know God more and be filled with His love for you and others. You will be given the gift of charity.