Love is the most distinctive feature of Christianity. For Judaism, one might point to the beauty and wisdom of the Law. For Islam, one might speak of the towering authority of God’s will. For the Christian, love is the ultimate law (Rom 13:10) and the nature of God (1Jn 4:8). For the Christian, love is both who God is and what God wills. Consider that love is the only commandment Jesus gives. He doesn’t say it is the Father’s commandment, or something he’s received from the Law. He claims it as his own. He says, “this is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” This commandment is a revelation. It is new. Only Jesus could make it known, because only Jesus shows us the love he commands. If Jesus didn’t show us love, we wouldn’t know how to love (1Jn 3:16), and we certainly couldn’t fulfill the command to love.
Jesus speaks twice of his commandment. Two times, in relatively quick succession, he commands: “love one another.” It is very interesting to notice what lies between this double saying. Sandwiched between these two lines, Jesus speaks of another reality, and again, he speaks of it twice. That reality is our friendship with him: “you are my friends...I have called you friends.” You can almost picture Jesus standing between two people and commanding each one: “love one another.” And yet, at the same time, he is also telling them, “you are my friends.” As he stands between them, they must first both be his friends, they must first love him, before they will ever succeed at loving one another. Over and over again, Jesus urges us to “remain in my love,” for that is the only hope we have at loving each other.
This article began with the claim that love is the most distinctive feature of Christianity. Nowhere is that more clear than in this line from the First Letter of Saint John, “whoever is without love does not know God.” Every religion will promise some knowledge of God, a way of coming to know who God is, what he wants, and what he expects of you. This could be given as a series of commands or dogmatic teachings, liturgical observations, and through a catalogue of sacred writings. All of which, of course, are present in Christianity. But for the Christian, all of these things—which to the outsider might appear dusty and dead—all of them are meant to bring us to Love. For the Christian, every rule, every teaching, every word of the Creed, is there for the sake of Love; so that we might know Love, and knowing Love, that we might know God.