It's complicated theology, really - we love God. So we love persons because we love God. If we focus too much on our loving God, then the world rarely sees our love for them; it feels like we don't really love them, but are just acting loving toward them out of accommodation to our God. If we focus too much on loving persons, sometimes, our love for God gets lost, and we come across as just "nice" persons. Or "good."
It's complicated all the further by the words of Jesus, words like, "They'll know you are Christians by the way that you love one another." Which seems to put an emphasis on our loving persons, but even here, we do not love others just for loving them; we love others because we love God.
And it's complicated even further than that when we go back to the verses where we started this week, in Amos, where God is pronouncing judgment on the nations for their sins. The non-peoples-of-God nations are guilty of the way they mistreat other human beings, but the nations of God - Judah and Israel - are guilty of "profaning God's name."
How have they done this? (Get ready to get even muddier....)
Judah's pretty simple - they have "rejected the instruction of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes; but their lies have led them astray." We don't get any more specifics than that, except that it's clear that their sin is against God, not against men.
"...they have sold the innocent for silver, and the needy in exchange for a pair of sandals; they...trample upon the heads of the poor, and thrust aside the humble from the way. A man and his father go in to the harlots, thereby profaning my holy name. Garments taken in pledge they spread out beside every altar; and the wine of those who have been fined they drink in the houses of their gods. ...but you made the Nazirites drink wine; and you laid command upon all the prophets, saying, 'You shall not prophesy.'"
Now, those sound like sins committed against...men. Don't they? It sounds like mistreating the poor, prostituting oneself (and women), taking advantage of others.... So if these are the things that God is upset with Israel about, doesn't it seem that He is upset at the way they treat others?
Yes...and no. He's upset with the way that they treat others not because of the sin of their own selfishness or their blindness to better things that has gotten in the way, but precisely because the way the people of God treat others stems directly from their relationship with the God who loves them. For the non-peoples-of-God nations, they don't have the same foundation of understanding that Israel does, but Israel has the very heart of God and they should know it. The way they are treating one another shows that they don't know - or trust - the heart of God the way that they should.
And isn't that the very complaint that our world so often lodges against us? If your God is really all that good and loves you really all that much, then you should be a better human being than someone who doesn't know your God.
That's why it's so devastating to God. Because He knows that the not-peoples-of-God nations are looking at Israel, and if they don't see something in God's people that is fundamentally different from what they see in not-God's-people, then that says pretty plainly that God is not all that special after all. He's not a difference-maker. He's not really the kind of God who matters in the lives of His people. So...why should anyone else be interested in Him?
We have to get this right. We're getting this wrong, but we have to get this right. We have to stop thinking that the world needs to love God and we need to love the world. It's just the opposite, and for this very reason - for the very glory of God - that we need to love God first.