Olivia shifted uncomfortably in the pew. The pastor had just told the story of the Good Samaritan, reminding Olivia that Jesus wanted her to be a good neighbor too. She knew this, of course, but why was it so hard sometimes?
“Jesus loves you,” the pastor continued. “He loves you so much He died for you even though you were a sinner. He also died for those who don’t know Him yet. That’s why Jesus tells us to love our enemies–so they can see the love He has shown us.”
After church, Olivia’s mom asked her why she was so squirmy during the sermon. Olivia hesitated, but finally told her what was bothering her. “My friend Samantha is spreading lies about the new girl, Yusra. Yusra wears a head scarf to school because she is Muslim, and I heard Samantha telling everyone sitting around us on the carpet during Library that Yusra must be bald or she wouldn’t be wearing a head scarf every day.”
“What did you say?” asked Mom.
“Nothing! Everyone giggled, but I thought it was mean. And Yusra looked so sad. Should I have said something to Samantha? How can I be a good neighbor to both Samantha and Yusra?”
“Let’s pray about it,” said Mom. They bowed their heads.
The next day, Samantha approached Olivia on the playground. She looked mischievous. “Next time we have Library, I’m going to pull Yusra’s scarf off her head,” Samantha said. “It will be funny! Besides, on the news, Muslims are enemies, right? Will you help me?”
The bell rang. Olivia felt rooted to the asphalt. What was she going to do? All she could think about was how Jesus said to love your enemies. Was Yusra even her enemy? Yusra had always been kind to her. Besides, Jesus loved and died for Yusra too, even if Yusra didn’t know it yet.
Olivia shook her head. “Jesus says to love your neighbor, and Yusra is our neighbor at school. I’m not going to treat her like an enemy.” Olivia ran ahead and joined Yusra in line.
“Yusra, will you go with me to the library? I’m sorry about what Samantha said last week, and I want to talk to the librarian and make sure it never happens again.”
Why do we love legalism and rules? The desire to have clear boundaries, and a concern for decency and order to guide communities is both necessary and prudent. That’s why the Jews had 613 rules to follow. The Pharisees loved the rules for rules’ sake, and it led to self-love and their belief in their importance. In contrast, loving God leads to love for others. If we love God we will love Him and serve Him. We will also love people and do all we can to help them. We will serve God by serving people.
In Matthew 22:33-46, the Pharisees again tried to trap Jesus in a controversy, with one of them asking a question that apparently was being hotly debated in their own circles. The Jews divided the Old Testament Law into greater and smaller commandments. They had not determined which commandment was of the greatest importance. Some thought it was the law respecting sacrifices. Others thought it was the law respecting circumcision. Still others thought it was the laws pertaining to worship and purifying.
Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. We are to love God with all of our power, more than all other things and beings. This is the first commandment in terms of importance, dignity, excellence, extent, and duration. It is in loving our neighbour that we express our participation in love of God. To love is to open our lives intimately to that of another. To open our lives to God means to open our hearts to Him. This is similar to the Golden Rule. It prompts us to measure our love for others by what we wish for ourselves. Love for God and love for everyone made in His image are the backbone of everything God says to us. The phrase “heart, soul and mind,” represents the whole person, not separate categories of human experience. Love for God must naturally lead to love for those who are made in His image. These two interconnected laws-love for God and love for people-summarize all of the Ten Commandments.
When we love God, all of our other loves are rightly ordered. Loving God turns us toward our neighbours and their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It also turns us toward the non-human world, so beloved by God. Loving our neighbour brings beauty to God’s experience of the world. In a very real way, we love the Creator by loving the creatures.
A few years ago, Billy Graham answered a letter in his daily newspaper column from someone who was upset that churches and charities don’t pay a cent in taxes. The writer was upset that he had to “pay until it hurts”. In his reply, Dr. Graham said that if all the food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, community centers, addiction rehabilitation centres and other organizations were forced to close, millions of lives would be hurt. If they did close, governmental agencies would be forced to fill the gap-at enormous cost to taxpayers. He closed his reply with the following words:
“No system is perfect, but I urge you not to turn a blind eye to the good done by the vast number of churches and other organizations who are sincerely seeking to serve others. Christians take seriously Jesus’ command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
Too many people approach God, Christianity and the Church in the same way the Pharisees approached Jesus. They come with their own agendas, standards, expectations and ideas of right and wrong. They try to judge God, Christianity and the Church according to the criteria and standards of today’s culture. How well do the traditional teachings of the church measure up to the contemporary canons of political correctness and inclusivity?
The religious leaders had to see the Messiah not only as a person, but as God somehow present in a person. Only then could they accept Him as the one who could forgive sins and explain the truth about the law. Until they received this new understanding, they would never really accept Jesus as the Messiah because He would be too different from their expectations. Once we have acknowledged Jesus’ divine nature, we can accept His claims-especially the one about love being the fulfillment of the law.
A lot has changed since Jesus’ time. He didn’t address heart transplants, nuclear warfare, global warming, in vitro fertilization, or the Internet. Instead, He left us a teaching that throughout the centuries would guide us in addressing these issues and many more as they arise. He calls each of us to have God as the center of our thoughts, feelings and actions. The way we know that we are living Jesus’ commandment of total dedication to God, who is unseen, is to make that love visible by loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. In addition, we are to give that love as a gift and not as a burden.
If Jesus gave us a clear set of lots of laws and rules to live by, we might be able to claim that there are some areas of life not covered by one command or another. Instead, we have his dual-natured great commandments. Nothing falls outside their guiding lights because we are reminded that the heart of the gospel and our lives in God’s reign require us to love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves.
But what if loving our neighbour means that we need to listen to the world and be engaged with it? There was a time when neighbours helped each other out by having building bees where neighbours came together to build barns or houses. Other times they came together to help each other with the harvest or to care for sick neighbours or elderly parents. Those are examples of loving people as God loved us. The way God knows that we love Him is by how we treat people. Whenever we demonstrate kindness, patience or gentleness, we see the Lord’s love at work through us, especially when the other person has been unkind and doesn’t deserve such pleasant treatment. Our relationships with others demand priority over things that won’t last or won’t matter in a few years. If we love God and love people, we will naturally obey the rest of the Commandments. That’s only natural. After all, the two Great Commandments are an example of the Golden Rule.
What do we think of Christ? Is He our best friend? Whoever He has made us to be, wherever He places us, we are to lead like Jesus with a heart devoted to loving God and others. Love for God requires daily commitment and frequent renewal. Our relationship with God is both vertical and horizontal. It reaches up to God by the work of Jesus and reaches out to others through the Holy Spirit. It calls for nothing less than all we have and all we are.
Our convictions are a good thing, but they have to be prioritized and focused on what is really important. We can have convictions without letting them override our Biblical duties to love others and seek unity. If we prioritize our convictions, we will remember that our main conviction is to love God and love people.
As we become more dependent on Christ, the process of submitting our thoughts to Him will become more and more natural and joy-filled. As this happens, God will take us to new depths of intimacy with Him. We have a God who first and foremost wants our love. He doesn’t want our fear, our penitence or our piety. We have a God who wants every one of His children to also feel loved by us-not punished, not chastised, not judged, but loved.
When we become Christians, God’s truth should be utmost in our thoughts as we love Him with all of our mind. One way of measuring that is how often Scripture is cycling through our thoughts and leads us to praise and adoration of God. When we love God with our whole being, there won’t be any room for anything or anyone to supersede Him. As our lives flow from our love for Him, there is no limit to the awesome things He will do.
It’s easy to love ourselves, but it’s hard to love others. Loving others as we love ourselves doesn’t teach self-love. It teaches us to extend to others the same kind of personal consideration that we already and naturally give to ourselves. So how can we love ourselves? There are five steps:
- Focus on God’s love for us.
- Believe what He says about us.
- Confess all bitterness and ingratitude.
- Thank God for the way He made us.
- Yield ourselves to His Lordship.
If we don’t love ourselves in a healthy way, we won’t be able to love others in the way we should. People see us the way we see ourselves. If we stop focusing on our flaws and start loving ourselves in healthy ways and be proud of who God made us to be, then as we send out these difficult messages, it will bring new opportunities, new relationships, and new levels of God’s favour.
Every Sunday we proclaim these two Great Commandments, but in almost every church if there is space for us to leave gaps between us, we make full use of it. We often gather, go through the service and then disappear as quickly as possible, speaking to as few people as we can as we rush to get home.
So how can we grow in our love for God? There are four ways:
- By allowing God’s love for us to move us.
- By asking God to help us grow in love.
- By praying and growing in love when He answers.
- By keeping His Word.
Authentic and healthy self-love gives us energy for the long haul. If we don’t love ourselves-that is, if we don’t feel at home in our own skin and affirm our very existence in our own uniqueness-our behaviours will often be motivated by the need to be loved rather than bringing joy to ourselves and others.
At times we hold back from God, wanting to believe God will in fact be there for us but not really knowing for sure. It feels safer to preserve our autonomy, to handle things ourselves as best we can, to maintain our sense of control over our lives, to love God cautiously and from a distance. This is the God who has promised never to leave us or forsake us. This is the God from whose love nothing can ever separate us. This is the God who urges us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Those who dare to leap into God’s arms will find him to be a safe refuge, a stronghold in time of trouble. The invitation we have from Jesus in these great commandments asks for nothing less than a whole-hearted response to the God who has reached out to us in love.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1322)
- “Being a Good Neighbour at School.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
- Augsburger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson; 2006)
- Allister Begg, “‘til Now…” Retrieved from email@example.com
- “With All Your Heart.” Retrieved form firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 30th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Ron Moore, “Vertical and Horizontal.” Retrieved from Crosswak@crosswlakmail.com
- Margaret Manning Shull, “The Spirit and the Letter.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Richard Innes, “Love God…Love People.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
- “What’s Really Important in Life?” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “With All Your Mind.” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- Dr. David Jeremiah, “Mind Reader.” Retrieved from TurningPoint@davidjeremiah.org
- “Love Yourself? Part 2.” Retrieved from www.forthright.net
- Dr. Jeff Schreve, “When you Don’t Like Yourself.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor Dick Woodward, “Where is God?” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Brother David Vryhof, “Loving God-Totally.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org
- Christine Caine, “How’s Your Heart?” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Joel Osteen, “Love Yourself.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- T.M. Moore, “The Great Commandments.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost-October 25, 2020.” Retrieved form www.patheos.com
- Debie Thomas, “The Greatest Commandments.” Retrieved from www.journetwithjesus.net
- “The Lord Said to My Lord.” Retrieved from https://livinghurch.org
- Craig Condon, “The Greatest Commandment of All.” Part of the author’s sermon library.