by Joe Leavell
In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked by a religious expert which was the greatest of God’s commands. Jesus famously responded by stating that the greatest command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” But Jesus didn’t finish answering the question with just stating the one most important command. The second greatest, He continued, is to “…love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38). Love God and love one another; so simple, and yet, utterly complex. Why did He respond with the question of which was greatest with not one, but two separate commands? Jesus gives us the reason in His answer. He says that “the second is like it.” These commands are inseparable, because it is impossible to obey the one without obeying the other.
As believers, we often appropriately spend a lot of our energy on the first priority of loving our God. This command truly is critical to our relationships with Christ, and we must practically understand what it looks like to love God with all of our being. We are to glorify God with all of who we are because He made us, loved us, redeems those who trust in Him, and makes us His children. As a result, as Paul stated, we are to present ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, as a humble act of worship that is the only reasonable response to who He is, and what He has done for us (Romans 12:1-2). We see the importance of the command to love God every Sunday in our congregations, where we correctly respond to the Gospel in singing and praise, by taking communion, praying together, by giving back to God through our money, and by hearing the Word of God honored and taught through preaching. Through the week we hopefully commune alone with our God in private prayer and reading of His Word. All of these things are so important if we desire to love Him with all of our being.
At the same time, however, we were created not only to be in relationship with God, but with one another. In this way, Jesus said the second command is like the first. In other words, we cannot ignore the command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because we are piously too busy studying our Bibles. You see, as we truly grow in our loving relationship with God, we will begin to take on His characteristics. It is similar to how you take on the traits of anyone with whom you spend much time. In this way, a loving relationship, where you are secure in your love with God, will naturally translate into a genuine love for others because you will begin to see other people through God’s eyes. We will understand how He has both loved us and loved our neighbor. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus did not just command us to love our neighbors and even our enemies. Jesus demonstrated His love to His enemies by dying on the cross on our behalf and tells those who would follow to, “take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Jesus is quite detailed on the extent of our love for one another. As He spoke with His disciples the night before He went to the cross, He told them in John 13:34 that we are to love one another, “As I have loved you.” Jesus continues to tell the disciples that their love for one another would be the defining characteristic that indicates to others that they are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). The bottom line is that we cannot truly obey the command to love God with all of who we are, unless we love our neighbor as ourselves. Consequently, we cannot truly love our neighbor without a genuine relationship of love with our God.
If we sincerely desire to follow Christ in loving obedience, these commands naturally raise a lot of follow up questions. For example, a lawyer who wanted to justify himself asked Jesus the follow up question, “And who is my neighbor?” Other questions also come to mind, such as, what does this love for my neighbor practically look like in our day and age? Does Jesus simply give us commands in Scripture and then just leave completely up to our interpretation of love to practically apply the command?
Many people come to BCA for counseling with similar questions to these. They come to us because they are experiencing conflicts and struggles in their relationships with one another. Oftentimes, they struggle because while they understand that God loves them and they should love God, they do not practically understand how the good news of the Gospel practically relates to their marital struggles, their family dynamic, their employment, or their church. Often they are unaware of the fact that the Bible speaks extensively and practically to their relationships with one another, giving critical principles on how to live together in love. Through our times together, we walk them through the truths of Scripture. We seek to help them recognize that God’s Word practically speaks to every aspect of their lives, speaking to what is most important in their relationship with God and with one another. Throughout the epistles, the Bible gives us a myriad of practical and distinct follow up “one another” commands that detail the “how” and the “how not” to what loving one another looks like. In addition, God describes His definition of love in detail through an entire chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 that depicts the characteristics of God’s kind of love.
Through subsequent blog posts we desire to provide a helpful resource and practical examples to churches and individuals of these “one another” commands, and will intersperse these posts throughout the blog in the coming months. We pray that they will be a blessing and real help to those who desire to grow not only in their love for God, but in practically loving their neighbor as themselves.