Summary: Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” He also taught, “Love you enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” He further taught that the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thy self.” And the apostle Paul wrote that “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” But how exactly are we to love others and why is it so important that we do? This article provides the answer to that question.
As Jesus ate his last meal in mortality with his disciples he told them, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34,35).
To be a disciple of Christ means to be a follower of what Jesus taught, and he taught that people would know they were followers of Christ by how well they loved one another. But who was Jesus referring to that we should love? Was he talking about showing love just to other believers in Christ?
Earlier in his ministry Jesus told his followers, “I say unto you, 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). But exactly what did Jesus mean when he said that we should love our enemies? In what way are we to love them?
When writing to the saints living in Rome, Paul said, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). Does this mean that when someone does something hateful to us we’re not supposed to do anything in return that is harmful, or does it mean that’s we’re supposed to actually love them just like we do with our closest friends?
At another time during his mortal ministry, Jesus was asked what we must do to inherit eternal life, and he answered by saying “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thy self; this do, and thou shalt live. ” He was then asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus answered his question by telling the parable of a man who fell among thieves but no one would stop to help him until a Samaritan came by, who bound up the man’s wounds, took him to an inn where he could rest and receive care until he had recovered from his injuries. When Jesus finished telling the story, he asked, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 22:25-37).
The man who was robbed was a Jew but the man who stopped to help the injured man was a Samaritan, whom the Jews despised. The point of this parable is that everyone is our neighbor, regardless of who they are. If that is true, then that means even those who hate us, curse us, persecute us, and despitefully use us are our neighbors, and the way we show love even to people like them is by showing mercy towards them.
But the Samaritan in this story did more than just show mercy towards the man who had been robbed. Instead, he cared for him by attending to whatever needs the man had. This then is what it truly means to love another person. We can therefore define the word “love” as caring for someone else as much as, and perhaps even more than we care about ourselves.
But Jesus gave us yet a deeper understanding of what it means to love.
One day the disciples of Jesus got into an argument with one another over which one of them was greater, or the most important of them all. When Jesus heard them talking like this “he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But [among] ye [this] shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. (Luke 22:24-26). “He that is greatest among you [is he who] shall be your servant… and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11,12).
This statement by Jesus just described what it takes to be great in the kingdom of God. The more a person serves others the greater their stature in heaven becomes. But this doesn’t pertain just to the way we behave here on earth. The reason why we must learn to serve others now is because we are preparing ourselves to be able to serve others to a greater degree once we get to heaven. The way we become exalted beings is by learning how to serve more and more people with love, and that effort only increases when we get to heaven.
Service isn’t a duty we are required to perform but rather it is something we do because we want to. Therefore, the heart of service is love. We serve because we love people which is what motivates us to care for their needs. In the parable of the man who fell among thieves, the Samaritan helped the wounded man, not because he was compelled to so, but because of his feelings of compassion.
In our day the Lord has explained that “All kingdoms have a law given; And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified” (D&C 88:37-39).
In order to live in the celestial kingdom we must be willing to abide by the laws, bounds, and conditions that govern that kingdom. Those who are not able or willing to do this are not justified living there and so they must of necessity go live in a different kingdom. But what are those laws and conditions?
To understand what they are, we must first understand what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about and what its purpose is.
Most people think of the gospel of Christ as being a set of commandments we must be faithful in keeping all throughout our life, up until we die, but that’s not entirely correct. The word “gospel” is a Greek word meaning “good news.,” and the good news isn’t about how we get to live in heaven if we keep a long list of dos and don’ts. The good news is that we get to repent when we don’t keep the commandments as we should, which gives us another chance to try again to do it right.
If it wasn’t for the atonement of Christ repentance would be meaningless, because no amount of saying “I’m sorry” can undo even the least sin. But because Christ paid the penalty for all of our sins, we can say “I’m sorry” to him, and because of his great mercy and love for us, he allows us multiple chances to keep trying to live the commandments until we are able to so perfectly. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about repentance, period.
Then what is keeping the commandments all about if it’s not part of the gospel?
The reason why God gives us commandments is because they are the laws which govern the celestial kingdom. In other words, by learning to keep the commandments here on earth, we are practicing how to abide by the laws of the celestial kingdom when we finally get there after the resurrection. What the gospel of Jesus Christ does is gives us the opportunity, through repentance, to practice keeping the laws of the celestial kingdom before the resurrection happens. If God didn’t give us commandments now to prepare us for heaven, then when we got there we would completely unaware of what laws we would be expected to follow and would be unprepared to live them.
As stated before, the apostle Paul told the Romans: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” The “law” Paul is referring to is commonly understood to be the law God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. However, when Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment in the law he answered saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all hy mind. This is the first and great commandments. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
All of the commandments in “the law” have one purpose, which is to get us to love God and love our neighbor with all of our heart. This is what Paul meant when he said that love is the fulfilling of the law. Love is at the heart of the law, not just during our time here on earth but in heaven as well.
The scriptures tell us that God (who lives in heaven) so loved us that he sent his only begotten Son to die for us, and that Jesus loved us so much that he willing died to save us from our sins. If we are to become like Christ and be worthy of living with him in heaven, then we must learn to love as he and his Father love.
Jesus didn’t pay the penalty of sin just for those who believe on him. He paid the penalty for every man, woman, and child who has or ever will live here in mortality. When he lived on the earth, there were those who tried to tempt him in a deliberate effort to humiliate and discredit him in front the people. There were those who hated him so much that they bore false witness against him, spat on him, struck him, mocked him, and looked for ways to kill him, and yet Jesus willingly paid the penalty for their sins as well as the sins of his most faithful disciple. And he did this, not because he had to, but because he loved us. This is why Moroni refers to this as the “pure love of Christ.” Paul refers to this kind of love as charity.
Whenever the scriptures speak of love it is in the context of serving others, which is exactly what a servant does. When we truly love someone we willingly serve them as a servant would. In fact, in most of the epistles found in the New Testament, the apostles refer to themselves as “servants of the Lord,” “servants of God,” and “servants of Jesus Christ.”
Another word used to describe this kind of love is “shepherd.” A shepherd is someone who watches over his sheep and cares for their well-being. A shepherd makes sure his sheep are feed and protects them from danger. If one of the sheep strays from the flock, the shepherd goes searching for them and when found brings them back into the safety of the flock. Thus, the role of a shepherd is to serve the needs of his sheep with loving care. This is why Jesus is called “the Good Shepherd” because this is how he cares for those who have become his followers.
But perhaps a more commonly used word to describe love is “ministering.” We read of “ministering angels” and “ministering spirits,” and Paul talks about him “ministering to the saints.” In fact, the word “ministry” and “minister” refer to someone who “gives service, care, or aid; who attends to someone’s wants or necessities.”
Jesus exemplified this during his three-year ministry. He cared for the physical needs of the sick, the lame, the blind, and the hungry. He also spent time caring for the spiritual needs of the people as he sought to teach them faith in God and the right way to live. But, by far, his greatest act of caring was demonstrated by willingly taking our sins upon himself and then shedding his blood as a sacrifice so that we might not have to suffer if we would come to him and repent.
Whether we talk about love, charity, service, being a servant, shepherd, or minister, all of these words and titles are describing the same attitude of caring for and attending to the needs of others. It doesn’t matter whether those people are our close loved ones, friends, casual acquaintances, strangers, or even our enemies, the commandment is that we are to love everyone equally.
But why does God want us to care so much about everyone? The answer is, because that’s the kind of attitude it takes to live with him in the celestial kingdom.
The gospel of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to keep striving to learn how to keep the commandments of God, and the commandments of God are all about teaching us the many and varied ways we can show love to others. For example, God’s work is all about saving his children, so when we pay our tithing, we are showing our love to God in helping fund his church to carry its mission of saving souls. The role of a Sunday School teacher isn’t just about teaching a gospel lesson as it is to help strengthen the spirituality of the members of their class. The job of a ward librarian is to help teachers have the items they need in order to give more effective lessons. And as we look at all the other things God asks us to do, ultimately each one comes down to serving or shepherding, or ministering to the needs of someone in some sort of capacity. These acts of love may sometimes be small but they are nonetheless important.
If we are supposed to be learning how to become more like God, then the reason why he expects us to keep his commandments is because they are the tools he uses to teach us how to become like him. And if he wants us to become like him, then there has to be a reason why that is important to him. And that reason is because God spends all of his time loving, serving, shepherding, and ministering, to the needs of his children. Thus, to become like God means learning to love all of God’s children the same way he does.
The Lord has revealed that those who inherit the telestial kingdom are ministered to by those in the terrestrial world who are assigned to minister unto them, and those who inherit the terrestrial world are ministered to by those in the celestial world (D&C 76:86-88). In the celestial kingdom there “are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory” (D&C 132:16).
What this tells us is that those who live in the celestial kingdom don’t sit around on clouds all day, playing harps, and doing nothing but singing praises to God. Instead, they are busy at work, spending nearly all their time serving others in some way. The reason why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is called the kingdom of God on earth is because it operates in the same way and on the same principles that the kingdom of God operates in heaven. In other words, the way the Church of Christ operates is patterned after the way things are done in the celestial kingdom. Therefore, just as every member of Christ’s church here on earth has a calling, which is an opportunity for them to serve others in love, that same pattern also exists in heaven.
If what we’ll be doing throughout all eternity is serving others in one form or another, then that should be something we find great satisfaction in doing, otherwise if caring for the needs of others is just a duty that we’re expected to perform, it will soon become a chore rather than a joy. That is why learning to love as God does is important to our salvation.
Related articles can be found at The nature of Salvation