Jesus wanted His listeners to consider loving God and loving people as inseparable.
"'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV)
Have you ever thought it would be easier to serve God if weren't for people? I mean, people can be so annoying at times.
I wonder if Jesus knew we'd get frustrated with each other. Perhaps that's why He answered the Pharisees' question the way He did.
In Matthew chapter 22:37-40 the Pharisees, religious leaders of that day, asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Jesus answered a question the Pharisees didn't ask. They only asked for the greatest commandment, not the second. But Jesus knew one couldn't be done without the other. Obviously He wanted His listeners to consider loving God and loving people as inseparable. But why? Perhaps Jesus knew we would tend toward one or the other.
The truth is, we can love God and neglect loving people. Of course, none of us would admit to that. But I've been guilty of serving God through my commitments at church and then getting annoyed with people, and not showing compassion or kindness towards them.
When I was the director of the children's ministry 20 years ago, I loved the kids, but the volunteers sometimes got on my nerves. Especially when they decided to not show up based on what seemed like a flimsy excuse to me. After all, I was there in spite of being tired, having a headache, etc.
Judgment and a critical spirit crowded out love.
I've also been so busy serving God that I haven't shown sacrificial love towards my family. One of the first signs of being too busy is my diminished capacity to be kind and loving toward them. It happened a lot when my three boys were little and I was trying to keep the same pre-children schedule. I was constantly frustrated and my children did not always experience a patient and loving mother.
On the other hand, we can also love people and neglect our love for God.
We can lower God's standards, minimize His commands, and twist Scripture so as not to offend others. We can ignore how Jesus is the only way to God, because that would exclude so many "good" people from heaven. Yes, it's possible to love people more than we love God.
So what is Jesus saying here? I believe He's saying we must figure out how to do both. First, we must love God through trusting Him, believing in the goodness of His character and obeying His Word-even when we don't understand things.
In doing so, we must be honest about the condition of our hearts and ask God to help us love others well.
I'll be honest, this is hard for me. It is only through daily prayer, dependence on God, and Him working in my heart that I can even attempt to live out what Jesus called the two most important commandments. Even then, on my best day, I feel inadequate.
Thankfully, God never asks me to do anything without offering to help.
His Word sustains and encourages me. The Holy Spirit guides me. And God's love and mercy for me, a most unlovable girl at times, helps keep me mindful of why I love Him so much, and why I should let Him show others that same love through me.
Dear Lord, thank You for loving me. You have shown me more love than I deserve. Help me to love You more and love those You've placed in my life. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond:
Why is it important to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds? Does this make a difference in how we love people?
Do you find yourself leaning towards loving God more than people? Or people more than God? If so, what changes might you need to make in your life?
Romans 13:8, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law." (NIV)