Love God, Love Others

loveSciotoTwo simple words have profound implications for meaning. Jesus teaching on the first greatest commandment in Matthew 22 adds the second saying it is “like it,” that it is like the first. Love of God and love of others are intimately connected in the Scriptures, such that you can’t do the one without the other.

This last weekend I had the joy of teaching at Scioto Hills Christian Camp & Retreat. It was a joy to work through the material, interact with guests and staff at the camp, and to participate in a wonderful event. The best part, however, was having my own soul reinvigorated. We all need to be reminded and challenged by what Jesus calls here a summary of the whole law: love God and love others. Love is not easy, and so we need to spend significant time meditating on the gospel to renew and strengthened our love. We can and must love because God has first loved us.

Throughout the Bible there is a strong connection between love of God and love of others. In Jeremiah 22:16, for example, God states through the mouth of the prophet that “judging the cause of the poor and needy” is what it means to “know God.” The disciple John argues throughout his first epistle that no one can love God and hate his brother (1 John 3:17; 4:20). And James unpacks “true religion” as care of orphans and widows (James 1:27). Jesus even makes a stronger connection in Matthew 25:31-46, where he declares that those who don’t serve the least will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s a disturbing and unsettling passage, that frankly warns us that we can’t ignore others and claim to love God.

Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is “like” the first. How? How is love of others like love of God. To love God is to give our all for God. So love of others ought to be similar in nature. We ought to love intentionally, actively, comprehensively, and sacrificially. Jesus demonstrates the kind of love we ought to give others, he even instructs his disciples on it before he acts it out. He tells them that the greatest example of love is to lay down one’s life for another (John 15:13). And while it’s clear that love for God proceeds love for others – it is after the first Greatest commandment – Jesus implies here that there is some equality between the two kinds loves. In fact Jesus’ statement of the second greatest commandment is intended to demonstrate to the lawyer who asked him the question that they do not in fact love God.

The religious leaders are seeking to trap Jesus by this question, “What is the greatest commandment.” Since the answer to that very question had been debated for centuries this “expert in the law” thinks that however Jesus answers he will know a way to refute him. The goal is to discredit Jesus, to make him look silly. Jesus, however, doesn’t do traps. He responds to the lawyer by quoting the most known and repeated reference in all of the Old Testament, the Shema of Israel (Deut. 6:4). The truth was the religious leaders already knew what the greatest commandment was: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The problem was that they didn’t do it. They loved the law more than the lawgiver, and that is evidenced by the fact that they used the law to beat down their fellow-man (Matt. 23:4). Jesus is telling these religious leaders, you know what you are supposed to do, but you refuse to do it.

This is not a matter of trying to earn God’s favor. Jesus does not condone work’s righteousness. Yet, it is clear that as we experience God’s love for us it compels us to pour out that love towards others. Grace received results in grace extended. You can’t love God and hate your brother. You can’t see your brother in need and ignore him, to do so is to possess a dead and useless faith (James 2:14-26). This is the difference between Jesus’ Christianity and our American/Western version of it. You see for Jesus Christianity does actually change the way you live, and it does actually call us to respond, to sacrifice, to change. The disciple James makes that clear has he unpacks the difference between living and dead faith in his epistle.

In James chapter 2 he tells his readers that true religion is more than just knowing the right answers. He quotes the Shema of Israel too (2:19). “You believe that God is one,” he says. That’s precisely what the Shema says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” But for James, as for Jesus, it’s not enough to just know these facts. Such facts must impact the way we live. So James says, “You believe that God is one – good for you, so do the Demons.” The question to ask ourselves, then, is this: is your faith better than that of a demons. Do you simply know right facts or does the knowledge of such facts, and the experience of God’s love, compel you to extend grace to those in need. James says to see a brother in need and to ignore his need is to evidence dead faith. Love of others reveals whether or not we truly love God.

It’s not about being perfect. We know we can’t love God or others perfectly. After all Jesus says to love God is to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Those aren’t separate components of what it means to love, rather they are meant to communicate love from our whole being. To love God is to give our all for God. But that’s not something we can do, not something we do perfectly. We are failures at it all the time. Add to that the reality that we often fail to love our brothers and you have a recipe for major discouragement. I can’t love God or others as I ought, so what does that mean for me? The answer is far better than we could imagine, because in response to this failure God sent His Son into the world to love perfectly on our behalf.

The gospel is the answer to our anemic love. The gospel teaches that God loved us first, and though we didn’t deserve it, and though we are often difficult and frustrating, God poured out his love for us in the sacrificial offering of His son. Jesus died in our place taking the punishment for our sins, our failures to love others. And Jesus perfectly loved the Father, and perfectly loved others in our place. When we understand the gospel we are free to love others. When we know that Jesus has forgiven our sins, has given us a new relationship with God, and has released us from self-love we find that we are free to love others. The gospel frees us to love others.

Love of God and love of others belong together. I was blessed and challenged again by my study of these realities and it is my great hope that the Spirit used my teaching this weekend to bless, challenge, and encourage others too.

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