It’s been a long time since I’ve written. One of the reasons is that I had the honor of bringing the message to my church family on Mother’s Day, so I spent the two months prior preparing. Since then, I’ve been praying and mulling over how to share some of that message here on my blog without just repeating it. Then Orlando happened. While I don’t have the power or influence myself to make huge, nation-wide changes that make a difference today, right now, there is something I can do today and everyday, right where I am. So sharing the same message is important, even if I repeat myself. Because this is what our lives were created to be about. So here we go.
When Jesus was asked, “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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40) In other words, all that God wants from us stems from love.
In Greek the word used for “love” here is agape. It means wanting the best for the other person. We might define it as unconditional love. Choosing to love someone no matter what they do, believe, think, live, etc. It’s a kind of love that comes by choice, not feeling. We choose to love others this way. It’s the way God loves us. No matter what we do, He still loves us and wants us back in a relationship with Him. That’s why He sent Jesus.
We’re to love God completely, utterly, and with our whole lives. Nothing held back. And, similarly, love our neighbors as ourselves. I’m going to focus on that second part. But please understand, the first part is crucial – loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. I believe the second part, loving our neighbors as ourselves, isn’t fully possible without loving God first.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This begs the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers this exact question in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. From this example, I understand that my neighbor is anyone and everyone, no matter what I think of them, even complete strangers in need.
So everyone is my neighbor, and the second part of that command says to love them as I love myself. Add to that the verse, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) So if I love my neighbor (everyone) as myself, then if I were in their situation and I would like someone to help me, give me some attention, treat me a particular way, then I should treat them that way. If I want to be given the benefit of the doubt (and don’t we all want that), then I should give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If I’d like to be treated respectfully and not gossiped about, then that’s the way I should treat everyone. If I don’t want to be judged, then I shouldn’t judge others. You get the idea. All very easy to say, but very, very hard to live out.
So why should we live this way? What results from loving others unconditionally? If we look at the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10, it is clear that incredible transformation can occur in the life of the recipient of this kind of love. Haven’t you witnessed transformation in lives where someone is shown love, especially when they don’t “deserve” it? It’s happened in my own life. Love shown to me has brought all kinds of transformation in my perspective, actions, thoughts and life.
Transformation also occurs in the life of the person giving this agape love. Judgment and criticism disappear. If we live out Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”, then we accept people as equals, as valuable. You can’t live out this verse with any other perspective, at least not for very long. You have to see them as beautiful creations of God. Comparison also disappears. As we live out Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”, we aren’t looking for differences. We’re just appreciating how God created each and every person. And we’re okay if we’re not the same. We don’t force people to become like us, think like us, act like us, be us. The “us and them” mentality disappears. Differences no longer scare us, because we accept people just as they are, just as God does us. Imagine how people would get along differently just with these two consequences of agape love. Really think about it! It’s beautiful. Don’t you long for these kinds of relationships? I sure do. But it starts with me. Yikes!
This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a topic that is deep, complicated, hard, and messy. It is worthy of praying, studying and discussing, because it is to be the basis of our existence along with loving God completely. I certainly don’t have very many answers. I’m finding more and more where I’m not good at living out this agape love. But I’m determined to continue to let God work in me to increase my love. Love is what can change people. Changing people changes the world. Love keeps us seeing each other as valuable, worthy, fellow humans and prevents hate and dehumanization.
Wonder what this love looks like (and doesn’t look like)? Meditate on 1 Corinthians 13. Here are verses 4-8:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
We’d got a lot of loving to do to make a difference. Don’t wait to start!