Jesus was hanging out in the temple one day sharing stories as he was prone to do. Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests and elders were systematically grilling him with difficult questions in an attempt to trip him up and catch him saying or teaching something wrong. Jesus handily deflected the verbal arsenal as each inquiry was launched at him. Finally, one particular Pharisee, who happened to be a lawyer, scrutinized him with yet one more question.
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?” he asked.
Jesus gave the standard answer that was often repeated by the religious leaders. Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This was the answer the hearers would have accepted and expected. But, did anyone really expect Jesus to just give a simple answer? As was typical with Jesus, He didn’t stop with just answering the question. He added a statement that struck at the heart. He followed up his first response by adding,
“And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).
This was a difficult thing for the religious crowd of His day. They prided themselves on the outward appearance of their great loyalty to God and adherence to His commands. In a single sentence Jesus challenged their devotion by adding this second component.
It has always struck me as odd that Jesus was asked one question but gave two answers. Why did He do that? I suspect that the reason He gave two answers was because in His mind, in the mind of God, you cannot really separate the two concepts. The result of loving God is loving people. Also, you cannot really love people unless you first love God. You cannot separate the two. If that is the case, then His two answers are really just two parts of a single answer.
What that means is that church attendance, Bible reading, or even singing along with your favorite worship songs are not the truest measure of showing your love for God. In fact, you might say that the best way to show God you love Him is . . . to love people. A better translation would have been, “the second commandment is JUST LIKE the first one.” In this passage it’s almost as if God was saying,
“If you really love God, you will love people.”
Gary Smalley one time said “Life is relationships; the rest is just details.” Many times we mistakenly lead our lives thinking life is about our jobs, our finances, our position, our achievements or our notoriety. We strive and contend. We chase and pursue. We are busy. And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with much of that. But, at the end of the day, everything we do revolves around the people we do it with and the relationships we build along the way. In fact, many times when we build relationships first, the success we desire will follow naturally.
What does it mean to “love” people? Jesus actually gave some fairly clear instructions within the context of His response. He said we are to love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves. In another context, He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12 ESV). When I jump to conclusions, make mistakes, have an angry response and say things I regret, I want others to give me grace, forgiveness and understanding. Sometimes I want them to overlook my shortcomings and give me the benefit of the doubt. Mostly, I want people to treat me with value and respect. If I’m going to treat others the way I want to be treated, if I’m going to love my neighbor as myself, then I should give them the same. Maybe that means is lending a listening ear the next time my teenager does something wrong instead of yelling. Maybe that means giving grace when the cashier makes a mistake or the customer service employee treats me rudely. Maybe it means not getting an attitude or shaking my fist when I’m cut off in traffic. Maybe it means seeking understanding when my boss is acting like a jerk.
With Valentine’s Day on the 14th and the National Marriage Week leading up to it, people are focused on their love relationships in the month of February, and rightly so. Couples are intentional in February. They make a “date” to spend time together, they give each other gifts, they treat each other kindly, and they see the best in each other.
But, everywhere around us are people who need many of the same aspects that we bring to our closest relationships: time spent together, a listening ear, understanding, compassion and care. Any relationship can be strengthened, enhanced or healed when we are intentional and put into practice many of the same things that lead to a strong marriage. Our kids need it, our parents need it, our neighbors need it, our employees need it, and our pastors need it. The cashier needs it, the waitress needs it, and the homeless guy on the corner needs it. And all of them are made in the image of God. If we love God, we will love people.
It’s almost February, so love truly is in the air. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35).