“The one truth everyone seems to agree on, from Moses through Jesus and on to Augustine and the Reformers, is that it’s virtually impossible to please God without loving our neighbors.” Michael Wittmer
I’m going to make this really easy today, and give you several scriptures that say pretty much the same thing, so none of us gets confused about the point. Read each of the following.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 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.”
“The most important one”, answered Jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
A new command I give you: Love on another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
This is my command: Love each other.
So, let’s hit the first point. GOD should be the focus of our love, our hope, our trust. Period. He says so, multiple times, in both the Old Testament and the New. He’s very clear. And while “Because I said so” would be apt reasoning from the all-powerful Creator of the Universe…. as usual, He set it up that way for our own good. Not His.
Not because we owe Him. Not because He needs something in return for all of His efforts. Not because He needs our adoration to recharge Him. He’s God. As such, He is perfect. He is powerful. He is patient….and present…..and perpetual. He sees everything, and knows everything. He is the Alpha and Omega, here from the beginning of time to the end of days.
He knit you together is your mother’s womb, ensuring that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, as all His works are (Psalm 139:14).
He has chosen you…you, and will never reject you (Isaiah 41:9).
He loves you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).
Everlasting – as in, lasting forever. Always – without end. His vision and plan for us are without end, and He always fulfills the points on His agenda.
Get this: YOU are the agenda.
And so is your neighbor.
People are going to screw up. They are going to make mistakes and let us down and say things that are hurtful or wrong. They are going to wound us. It’s inevitable, just as it’s inevitable that we’ll do the same to them. If we are dependent on other human beings as the source of our self-worth or happiness…. If we focus our attention on an Earthly individual or individuals…..the effects of this cycle are devastating.
But if we lift it up, as the song says, when we turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face, then the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
Guess what else this helps us do? The second greatest commandment.
You see, the part of that creed we often miss is what I feel is the key to success in it.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” implies a component of self-love <- not conceitedness or selfishness. More along the lines of self-worth and acceptance. If God Himself loves me with such a fierce intensity, who am I to contradict that? Who am I to argue with Creation and all its splendor? He is intentional in every single thing He does. It would be foolish to think I am the one exception to that truth. It would be foolish to think you are the exception. Or that my neighbor is – or co-worker, or family member, friend, waitress, fellow shopper, frenemy, etc.
You get my point.
When we fully focus on God’s love, accept it, return it, bask in it……we can translate it to others => love our neighbor as ourselves. Unconditionally, with forgiveness, grace and selflessness. With humility. With kindness.
There are no perfect people. None. Yet we are still lovable, still valuable.
And we treat things of value with care.
Galatians 5: 13-15
For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.
Think about the people in your life with whom you have the best relationships. What are some characteristics they share? How do you feel when you are in a conversation or interaction with them?
Now, think about individuals in your life (past or currently) with whom you have poor relationships. What are some commonalities of those connections?
Who are the people in your life who make you feel most loved? List three examples of how they do so.
How can you better emulate those traits to those around you?
I find Paul’s choice of analogy interesting, when he gives us the option to either serve each other, or devour each other. Can you think of times when you’ve experienced each of these paradigms?
It may seem we are exhausting the topic of love and loving others and remaining in love….but we aren’t. God is very particular about repeating His big messages, and this one appears over and over again in countless reminders. It’s important. We all are.
After all, “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13b).
Solidarity, sisters. It’s better to build up than bite.