“Love your neighbor.” Here is a sentiment most everyone can agree on. Even the harshest critic of Christianity approves of this concept. In fact, according to our popular culture, it’s perhaps the ultimate measure of a person. Regardless of your creed or your religious organization, do you love your neighbor? If so, does it really matter what else you believe?
But Jesus spoke of another measure of a person. It is not love for people but love for God that is most important. Love for people comes next. And notice Jesus said this second commandment is “like” the first; the two are intrinsically linked.
The Bible does not separate love for God and love for others, as though we can reject the One True God and still expect to have true love for people. To be separate from God is to be cut off from the One Who is the source of all love, Who enables love, Who in fact is love (John 4:8). Without Him the definition of love disintegrates into erotic emotion or apathetic tolerance. Without His Spirit love can only be pantomimed or contrived, for “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22).
If we are going to love our community, we must love Him first. We must resolve to obey the first commandment if we are to have any hope of obeying the second.
Jesus’ three closest followers were gifted with the opportunity to see Him powerfully transfigured, radiant and majestic. Yet even in that moment their eyes were tempted to drift away from Him to the others who had miraculously appeared with Him. But when the Father’s voice thundered from heaven, He spoke only of His Son – “listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5). A moment later the disciples “saw no one except Jesus Himself alone” (17:8).
It is moments like this one, moments of seeing Jesus alone and gazing lovingly upon only Him, that enable us to then turn around and love others. This is why God formed a community not around a goal or a motto but around a Person. “Listen to Him!”
The Gospel at its core is not a plea to love others. In fact, the Gospel tells us unequivocally that we cannot love others. But it draws us to One Who can, and Who can empower us to do so. We kneel at the manger where He came to offer that love to us and to the world.
Which people in your life are hardest to love? Before you attempt to better love them, run to the One Who already has infinite love for them and for you. Let His love fill you and overflow to others.
Written by Jamie Mitchell