But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question,testing Him, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38“This is the great and foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
In my last Chapel Challenge installment, I made some observations about Jesus’s powerful words recorded in Matthew 22. It is essential for believers to make the connection between loving God and loving others. There is a fundamental truth that our love of God manifests a dynamic faith-relationship with our Lord, and it is in the context of this relationship that the Holy Spirit does His work in us and enables us to love Him in return and to love others. We love, because He first loved us (I John 4:19).
But there is a third component to this passage: We are to love others as we love ourselves. The inference is that we have an appropriate regard for ourselves and exercise commensurate self-care that we can then translate into an appropriate regard and care for others. I suspect that trying to put this law of love into practice often leads to confusion for some and frustration for others. Many of us do not love ourselves well; nor do we know how to do so.
It is only as we accept and come to experience God’s love for us that we can begin to truly love ourselves. Most of us spend a good part of our days and our lives trying to become or prove ourselves lovable and to hide any evidence to the contrary. We gather symbols of success and serve the opinions and expectations of those around us in order to be perceived as “nice” or “good.” We justify our unkind words and insensitive behavior and distance ourselves from them as quickly as we can. But we are not nice, or good. Our attempts to demonstrate our lovability fall short. We are left with the awful truth that we are indeed difficult to love. And since we know ourselves and our shortcomings better than anyone else, each of us is in the position of knowing just how difficult it is to love himself/herself. Our unloving words and behavior simply expose the truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior and Redeemer.
We are loved by the Creator and Lord of the universe. As astounding as that is, it is one of the central truths of God’s Word. This is where love and life begin! It is also where we can begin to love ourselves. God loves us as His personally created expression of Himself, uniquely designed to glorify Him as we pursue the good works of eternal significance for which He has created us. We are image-bearers of God with eternal significance. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become heirs of heaven, princes and princesses of the King.
God loves the world and everyone in it. But it is only by faith that we can access that love and establish a love relationship with the Lord. Believers are in the unique position of seeing God’s personal love for each of us as his uniquely created image-bearer of Christ. We are loved because God is the lover. He loves us regardless of our appearance or performance. We do not earn or merit God’s love.
And herein lies the challenge. We are sinners, and it is all too easy to follow our prideful sin nature and try to do life ourselves. Like Eve, we are the perennial two-year-old who insists that “I will do it myself.” Even as we know that God loves us and Christ died for us, we want to feel worthy of that love. And so we focus on performance. Our inevitable shortcomings in the performance arena remind us that we are not as lovable on our own as we would like to be. And if our response is to simply try harder to perform we will continue to encounter those reminders; a performance mindset also leads to a competitive perspective that will never help us to feel worthy of love (there is always someone “better”). At the same time, the insistent and demanding competitor within us makes it all the harder to love others.
This conundrum brings us back to the initial concept of this passage: our love relationship with the Lord. God is love. It was for love that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 58). It is in and through Christ that we are known and loved anyway. By grace through faith we encounter Love Incarnate; as we experience the powerful, tender, unconditional love of our Creator and Redeemer, we become better able to love ourselves without the ball and chain of performance. And as we become able to love ourselves, we are in a position to genuinely love others without needing anything back from them. To be sure, our fallen nature can make it exceedingly difficult to feel beloved and then make the translation from beloved to lover; but persevering in this exercise is at the heart of Jesus’s words.
We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. As we pursue a love relationship with the Lord, we are brought into His presence. Relationship is about knowing: we open ourselves to be known by God, and we also come to know Him. The give and take of this builds a new perspective. We are, on our own, filled and covered with the ugliness of our sin. There is nothing we can do to cleanse ourselves. But God is the Lover, and He loves us anyway! We are beloved! As we experience God’s love and try to love Him in return, we are brought deeper into the mystery of God’s love. Trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior means that He has covered our sin and we are ugly no more.
Loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind is a response to His love of us. But as we do so, we are changed. He becomes more; we become less of our prideful selves and more of who He created us to be. We become able to accept being a beloved heir of the King and find less need to earn it or prove it. As William Young would say, learning to live loved is an expression of our love relationship with our Lord.
As we walk in a growing love relationship with our Lord, and as we love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, we learn to rest securely in His love and in our identity as an eternally beloved child of God. We are better able to see our God-value and exercise self-care and stewardship over what the Lord has entrusted to us. Our relationship with the Lord defines us, and we have no need to see others as a means to feel good about ourselves. Loving others becomes a dynamic and powerful fruit of loving the Lord.