A group of Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Bible was, and He answered them, starting in Matthew 22:37 and running through verse 40:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets.
I thought it might be fitting to begin the new year by exploring this commandment. Of course, loving God with all my heart and soul and mind is the starting point. If I don’t love the God who created me and who provides for all my needs, then nothing else really matters. That’s foundational.
Fortunately, it’s very easy for me to love God. When I reflect on my life before I accepted Jesus as my Savior and try to think what my life today would be without Him, I know that I know that I know that I need Him. And if I need Him and He meets my need, then loving Him is easy.
God loves me unconditionally and has since the foundation of the earth. He loved me before I was conceived and has every day of my life. He loved me before I accepted Him and the gift of His Son.
My love for Him is not of the same quality as His for me. As a child and a teenager and a young adult, I didn’t love Him. I didn’t hate Him—I just didn’t think about it all that much. My love for Him is reactionary. He loved me, and only when I became aware of that and of what it meant did I love Him. But my salvation was such a deep and radical thing that my only reaction was a deep and abiding love for Him. A love with all my heart and soul and mind.
Jesus said the second commandment was like the first—to love my neighbor as myself. What does that mean?
First of all, it implies that I must love myself. August McLaughlin talks a lot about the need to love one’s self. She doesn’t approach it by quoting scriptures, but she has a firm understanding of the principle. She tells us to love ourselves as we are, which is exactly what Jesus is talking about here. I must come to terms with myself and come to love myself as I am. Only then can I face the world around me.
Okay, if I must love myself as I am, and I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself, doesn’t this mean I must accept my neighbor as he or she is? It’s not my place to say I’d love so-and-so if he would quit being this way or if she would just be that way. If my neighbor needs to change his or her ways, that’s between him or her and God. He will make that need known, and He will provide that person with the power to change. My job is to love that person as is.
Okay, I’m to love my neighbor as is, but who is my neighbor? According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, the Greek word Jesus used for neighbor, plesion, has a much wider meaning than we normally accord to the English word neighbor.
Jesus wasn’t talking about the person whose house is next door to mine or across the street from mine. He was talking about everyone whose life touches mine or whose life mine touches—friends, relatives, waitresses, store clerks, or anyone else who is a part of my world.
If you’re reading this blog post, you’re my neighbor. If you’re my friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you’re my neighbor. As of Monday morning, Twitter says that I had 7,635 followers. Facebook says I have 1,534 friends. My blog subscribers are probably all in one or both of those categories, so I won’t count them separately, but that’s 9,169 people whose lives I touch and/or who touch my life through cyberspace.
I have personal relationships or have at least met some of these people face-to-face, but most I have not met. But our lives still touch, which makes us neighbors. And I have no trouble at all saying that I love each and every one of you. Not because I’m such a great, loving person, but because God has planted such a deep and abiding love in my heart that it’s easy for me to love you, whether I ever meet you personally or not.
Whether or not I ever meet you, my life is a little bit richer because you have touched it. I hope I’ve made yours a little bit richer also. That’s my desire for you as we enter this new year: that something I have done or said would make your life a little bit richer.
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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