I have been writing a paper on what it means to love God. I have some parts and to love God you follow his commandments; if you don't, you don't love God. But how do we define love? I have been thinking about it for a long time. It encompasses a whole bunch, but what is love exactly to follow God's commands, yet if we get burned at the stake, give all we have, and follow what God would say is right, and yet not love, then it is all for nothing. So in a way love is the motivation behind the act. But then again love is something that is constant even when you're doing nothing. I get confused. How does one define it or can one define it?
"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:1-3).
Read I John 5:1-3 carefully. Is the keeping of God's commandments love, or is it an expression of love the keeping of God's commandments. Notice that by saying "when we love God and keep His commandments" John indicates that these are two different things.
It is much the same as James describing the relationship between faith and works. "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:17-18). People do the works that God requires because they have faith. A person without faith has no motivation to do God's works and demonstrates his lack of faith by his lack of works.
In the same way, a person shows his love for God by his willingness to do what God asks of him. "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Keeping God's commandments is a natural result of true love for God. A person who does not love God demonstrates his lack of love by his lack of concern over doing what God said. "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21). Therefore, obedience is a reflection of what is in a person's heart. "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:3-6).
As you noted it is possible, not likely but possible, for a person to do things without love. It is even possible to have faith without love. "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing" (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
The following verses (I Corinthians 13:4-8) gives a definition of love. See "Love Is ..." for a detailed description of each term. Another description of love is found in Song of Solomon 8:6-7, "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised." From this, we learn that
- Love is personal and valuable.
- It is so strong that it will not let go or give up.
- It cannot be overwhelmed by troubles.
- And, it cannot be bought.
Another way love is demonstrated is by its willingness to sacrifice self. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:13-14). That is what obedience shows: a willingness to put God's will before all else, including your own will.
In essence, love changes a "Do I have to?" into "May I? I really want to."
"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me"" (Isaiah 6:8).