Many years ago, there was a song where the singer moaned about signs that told him what he could and couldn’t do. There are rules, written and unwritten about a lot of different things we do each day. We have rules and laws that overrule other laws…don’t travel at 70 through that construction zone, it’s 55 there because workers are working. If you look it up on google, you can even find rules for your PowerPoint presentations. If you’ve ever had to sit through one of “those” presentations, the presenter probably didn’t follow the rules.
Speaking of laws, though, the Pharisees had 613 laws that the Jews had to follow. And, as always seems to be the case, sometimes the laws contradicted each other. Following one would lead to criticism for breaking another. So, it made sense that someone wanted to know which law was most important. Which law should you never break. Jesus responded to that question with two laws. “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.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Jesus’ answer was brilliant of course. Our first duty is to God. But, our relationship with Him should not be one of joyless obedience, but of all out love. We need to love God. When we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we can do many things that would be considered obedience from an outside perspective, but we see them as expressions of love. At the same time, Christians have put love of neighbor at the same level as loving God. John later reminds church members that you can’t love the God whom you haven’t seen if you can’t love the brother, or neighbor, that you have seen. The key to the Christian life is not found in following a bunch of rules and regulations; the key to the Christian life is found in loving God and in loving our neighbors. Need I remind you that when this question is asked in the book of Luke, Jesus tells His listeners that we aren’t called to weed out people who are neighbors and those who aren’t: we are called to be a neighbor to all.
The danger in reading those words is that some will think that this leads to an “anything goes” type of lifestyle. If we just say that we’re doing things out of love, we’re good, right? Love for God will lead to obedience. He writes His laws on our hearts and we know the difference between right and wrong because of our relationship with Him. In the long run, we understand that the rules, the plans God has for our lives are for our good and come from His love for us. There are restrictions on what we can and can’t do, but because of our love for God, those restrictions aren’t a burden. It becomes a joy to follow them. Love for our neighbors is to be unconditional, but it doesn’t mean condoning everything they do. Sometimes our love for God will lead to Him dealing with our disobedience. Sometimes our love for our friends will mean that we will nudge them towards godly behavior when they’re going astray. Done lovingly and in the right spirit, it won’t be seen as judgment. We aren’t called to judge, but we can show concern. In the long run though, just as God’s love for us is unconditional, our love for our neighbors must be unconditional as well. When they wrong you, forgive them. When the blow it big time and need consolation, love them and show that consolation. If we love God and we love our neighbors, we can be confident in our relationship with God.
Oh Lord, help me to love You in Your way. Help me to love my neighbor in Your way also.