When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together in the same place. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40 HCSB)
I have come to the conclusion that there is a disconnect between Christianity as we understand it today, and the things that Jesus taught when He was walking the earth. I truly believe, especially here in America, that we have become so engrossed in our own personal relationships with Jesus that we have neglected to do what He has commanded. I do not think that Jesus came to give us a new religion. I do not believe that Jesus came only to show us how to get to heaven when we die. To limit Jesus’ mission to earth to that one thing makes all that Jesus said regarding life now of no genuine value. This is exactly what you see when you look at the majority of Christians running around today.
A recent poll by George Barna found that only “18% of people said that completely understanding and carrying out the principles of their faith was the highest priority in their lives.” If Jesus teachings really meant something to the average Christian, this number would be much higher.
As we look at the passage for today, I want us to try to see what it means for our life as Christians in the here and now. Does it have any bearing? I believe so.
Jesus tells us two things here. He tells us what the two greatest commandments are, and He also tells us that they are deeply connected.
The traditional reading of this passage makes it out to say, “First, make sure your relationship with God is right. Make sure you have yourself all composed and together. After that, worry about other people.” I do not believe for an instant that this is what Jesus meant. If we take this approach to Jesus’ teachings, we will never do what He commanded us to do. We will become so wrapped up in ourselves and how we look before God that we will neglect those in need all around us. We really will become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.
A really good example of how this plays out is with a hot-button issue like global warming. I’m not getting on a high horse here or anything. And I am not using this as a platform to promote some weird environmentalist agenda. I am only using this as an example. If you want to know what I believe about global warming, go here.
With the issue of global warming, there is a group of people who deny that it exists or give themselves license for complacency on the grounds that global warming is probably the fulfillment of prophecy. They are not concerned that what they are doing might be contributing to worldwide injustice. They usually spend their time doing their devotionals and studying the Bible and going to church and ignoring what is going on around them. These are probably the people who purposefully walk a little faster past beggers and look in the opposite direction when they see someone on the street in need.
But this is not what Jesus intended. And a flawed understanding of the passage presented here is what leads to it.
No, I think the passage says something wholly different. I think that Jesus is telling us something that should shape our entire existence as followers of the Messiah Jesus. In the text, Jesus says,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39 HCSB)
Jesus says here that loving our neighbor is like loving God with all that we are. And He is saying that loving God with all that we are is like loving our neighbor. The two commands are deeply connected in an intimate way. In fact, Jesus embodies this intimate connection in all that He does. Jesus loves God by means of loving those around Him, somehow. In fact, Jesus shows us a completely different way to love our neighbor than we normally hear in the church today in many cases, but this is for another time.
Jesus’ primary concern is not having a personal intimate relationship with God. He already has that because He is God’s Son. His primary concern was making God fully known to the people who the church of His day was excluding. Let’s parallel this with our lives in the here and now.
We, as Christians, are already sons (and daughters) of God, therefore our primary concern doesn’t need to be having an intimate personal relationship with Him. We already have that. Our primary concern, as sons (and daughters) of God should be making Him fully known to the people who the church of our day is excluding. It is not the religiously right who need Jesus. It is the religiously wrong. Jesus showed and taught us this.
When Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor, He is not giving us a two step plan to get to heaven. He is showing us what it means to love God. You cannot say you love God and turn around and embody hatred for other people. If you do that, you don’t love God. It’s that simple.