IF THE GREATEST commandment is to love God, and the second to love man as oneself, then it follows that the measure of a man’s greatness must be in how well he has followed this law of love. His greatness cannot be accounted merely by what he performs—that is, neither by personal piety and acts of worship (prayer, Bible reading, fasting, corporate worship, etc.) nor by outward religious duties (visiting the sick, acts of charity, etc.).
The inward protest immediately arises, “But I do those things because of love—love for God, and love for man!” Perhaps so, and that is precisely the issue which has been laid bare and must be burned into our heart, mind, and soul: “Why do I do the things I do?”
A Christian performs acts of piety and deeds of love because he has a heart of love; he does not have a heart of love just because he does these things. This distinction is narrow, but definitive; it becomes the great motivational divide between that which is eternal and that which God considers nothing. God stunningly reveals that eloquence, great prophetic ability, superior spiritual knowledge, great manifestations of faith, giving to the poor, and even martyrdom are nothing if not prompted by love (1 Cor. 13:1-3)—a sober reminder, indeed, of the great divide.
This measurement reduces all we do to the least common denominator of love. A river can only accommodate as large a vessel as its most shallow depth permits. The motive of love instantly becomes a pass of Thermopylae through which all our actions must maneuver.
Jesus Himself clarified this true measure of a man’s greatness: the greatest among you will be your servant (Mt. 23:11).
A man can serve without loving but he cannot love without serving. In either instance, he serves by compulsion. In the first, by an outward compulsion—either coercion or fear of man. In the second, by an inward compulsion—the law of divine love.
Truly, the greatest of these is love.