If we are to worship God in a way that honors Him, we must first be in Christ, resting in His righteousness alone, trusting in Him alone for our acceptance before God. But we must also, as people called by His name, put on love.
In Colossians 3:12–15 Paul tells us:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36), He did not say: “Know all that you can know about God so you can understand and explain all the great mysteries.” He did not say: “Have great faith so you faith can move mountains.” He did not say: “Give all that you have to feed the poor” or “be willing to die a martyr’s death in the fire.”
Note what Jesus did say:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40).
Love to God and love to one another is what should mark us out as followers of Christ.
We should love God supremely—with every part of our being—all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. And we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus concludes: “On these two commands hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
It is our love for one another in the body of Christ that identifies us as disciples of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
This love is manifest in numerous ways. It exults and celebrates with those who are rejoicing. It reaches out with compassion and hope to those who are struggling. It offers encouragement to those who are discouraged and weighed down. It shares in both joys and sufferings, in trials as well as triumphs. It pursues with discipline those who have strayed and turned down bad paths. It admits wrongs, seeks forgiveness and accepts with open arms those who repent and seek reconciliation.
Jesus sets our priority on love.
This is what He taught Moses, when He gave His law on Mount Sinai. It is what He lived out when He perfectly fulfilled His law and went to the cross to die for desperate, needy sinners. It is what He taught His disciples:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:9-17)
As we prepare for worship, we must put on love. Without love—it does not matter how well we go through the motions or say the right words. Without love—it does not matter how good we sound in our prayers and our singing and our preaching. Without love we are a sounding brass and a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13).