A man came to Jesus and asked Him what was the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your heart, and with all you mind…and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39). Nearly 2,000 years have passed and God’s Word to us is still the same – Love God and love others. God’s directive sounds easy enough in theory, but the problem is that we often don’t know what this looks like practically speaking in our day to day lives. What does it look like to love God and people with such intensity? What are practical examples of us doing so?
Before we answer these perplexing questions, indulge me in a brief exercise. Grab a pen or pencil and something to write with. List all of the ways you identify yourself and how you interpret life. Include such things such as nationality, religion, education, sexual orientation, life experience, family of origin, race, political persuasion, marital status, and any other thing you can think of. Once you have your list, take it and fold it in half and then place it aside. Now we are ready to talk about the Word.
According to the Word of God, loving God means putting Him above all else. It means putting Him before family (Matthew 10.34-39), before wealth (Luke 18.18-26), before career (Mark 1.16-20), and even above our own comforts (Matthew 16.24-28). Loving God means meditating and abiding in His Word, talking about it wherever we go with whomever we are with (Deuteronomy 6.4-9). And it also means keeping, or obeying, His Word (John 15.10). Practically speaking, loving God takes the form of following spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, fasting, and giving. But it also means keeping oneself from committing certain behaviors that are displeasing to God such as lying, theft, slander, murder, adultery, sexual immorality among many others.
Loving God also means loving others. In fact, the Word tells us that if we hate others, we don’t really love God (I John 2.7-11 and I John 4.20). We love others by treating them the way that we ourselves would like to be treated – with respect, dignity, mercy and more. We love others by forgiving them when they have sinned against us (Matthew 6.12 and 18.21-35) and also by being reconciled to them when a fracture in the relationship has occurred (Matthew 5.21-24). We also love others by meeting their needs. If we don’t, the Word of God tells us that the love of God doesn’t abide in us (I John 3.17). We are to heal them (Matthew 10.8), give them food to eat, water to drink and visit them in prison (Matthew 25.34-40), preach the gospel to them and set them free from spiritual and physical oppression (Luke 4.18, 19), and share our wealth with them (Acts 4.32-35). It doesn’t get much more practical than this!
Now that we have looked at the Word, lets go back to our folded list. The reason I had us do this initially was to expose our presuppositions. You see, we often interpret the Word based on our experiences, not based on what it actually says. The result is that we end up viewing the Word of God through those experiences, instead of looking at it with fresh eyes. In the same way that wearing rose colored glasses distorts the image of the world around us, reading the Word through our presuppositions, distorts what God really has to say to us. Unfortunately, we then take our misinterpretations of the Word and live our lives according to them, and also expect others to do the same. No wonder the world is in the state that it is in!
Here is a serious question that we must ask ourselves as we look at our list: Which of the things that we have identified keep us from loving God and loving others the way that God requires? Is it culture? If it is, we need to start looking at our culture with fresh lens so as not to abandon it but to critique it and live in a fresh, new way in it. Is it our past experiences, maybe somewhere along the line someone has hurt us so badly that we can hardly find the strength to love much less forgive. If it is, its time to lay that pain at the foot of Jesus Christ, allowing Him to heal the deep scars that still lay raw on our soul. Is is prejudice against another people, another race, or someone who is simply different than us? If it is, its time to lay aside the stereotypes and misinformed fears that we have towards the other and love from the heart, the same way that God loved us.
The areas that each of us need to work on may look different, but the goal, nevertheless is the same – to Love God more deeply and to love others more fully. To be clear, this is not easy work and there will be days where we fail at this on all fronts simply because we are human beings that have fallen short of the glory of God. However, we cannot allow, neither does God accept, this as an excuse. We must keep pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of Jesus Christ in our lives .