Asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:37-40; cf. Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:26-27; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18). According to Mark 12:31 Jesus stated that there is no command greater than these two commands. Hence, love is of preeminent importance in the Bible.
In the Old Testament, there are many Hebrew words to express the concept of love. By far the most prominent Hebrew word is the verb aheb that occurs over two hundred times in the Old Testament. Aheb denote divine love and human love as well as love toward inanimate objects such as food. Some other words found in the Old Testament, but used not as often is ahaba and dod used primarily of human love, as seen frequently in the Song of Songs. Finally, there is the often-used noun hesed, which is often translated as “mercy,” “steadfast love,” “loving kindness,” and “love”, all of which have the idea of loyal covenantal love.
In the New Testament, there are several words for love in the Greek language, but two are used frequently: agapao (agape). Agapao (agape) is the most frequently used in the Septuagint (LXX) translating aheb from the Old Testament. Agapao (agape) is unmerited or self-giving love or love that seeks to give, even if the person receiving is unworthy or undeserving. The second most frequently used word for love in the New Testament is phileo. Phileo overlaps with agapao (agape) and means affectionate love, characteristic of friendship. Of course, eros is used in the New Testament and means physical or possessive love.
God is the very essence of love (1 John 4:8, 16). The love of God toward people is seen throughout the Bible. God’s love is unselfish and unmerited. Jesus loved His Father (John 14:31). John 3:16 states God‘s love unforgettably; though people have rejected and denied Him, God loves the world, and the extent of His love was the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ, who was willing to lay down His life (see also Romans 5:6-11; 1 John 4:10). God’s love serves as a basis for human love. There are many demonstrations of Jesus’ love for people. While on earth, Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha (John 11:3, 5, 36); John the apostle (John 13:23); and the disciples as a group (John 13:34). Moreover, Jesus gave assurance of His love for believers individually (Romans 8:35, 37) as well as the church as a body (Ephesians 5:25).
On the basis of God’s love, Jesus has commanded us to love God, who is so deserving of love, and to love others and even their enemies, who are undeserving (Matthew 22:37-40; cf. Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:26-27; see also 1 John 4:7-11, 19). This is substantiated in Galatians 5:22-23, where love is seen as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The words immediately following love --- “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” --- further describe the character of love (see 1 Corinthians 13). In the Old Testament, God commands humans to love with their whole being and this commandment continues on into the New Testament with the teaching of Jesus (Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Matthew 22:37-40). The Bible abounds with statements of people’s love toward others: love for neighbor (e.g., Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43); love for one’s fellow believers (e.g., Galatians 6:10); love for family (e.g., Colossians 3) and love for enemies (e.g., Matthew 5:43-48).
God’s love is not only basic, but it continually extends to the undeserving and unloving as seen in His continuing love for the wayward believer in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Thus, there is a deep loyalty in God’s love toward the undeserving, and this the basis of God’s command for humankind’s love. Therefore, God’s love is seeking the highest good in the one loved, and people are commanded to seek the highest good or the will of God in the one loved.