“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
When Jesus was asked by a Jewish theologian which was the greatest commandment of all, he began by quoting a crucial passage from the Jewish law: “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:29-30, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
But then Jesus added something unexpected, something extra, but not really extra at all. Jesus mentioned a second commandment, even though he had been asked to name only a single commandment as the most important. “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (12:31). This was also a quotation from the Old Testament law (see Leviticus 19:18).
Why, we wonder, when Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment, did he answer with two commandments. Wasn’t it enough to say that loving God is the most important commandment of all? Apparently not, from Jesus’s perspective. Love for God, the top priority, is so closely linked with love for people that Jesus mentions both together, almost as if they were a single commandment. We are reminded of what it says in the first letter of John, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
I wonder if Jesus linked the two commandments, not only because they belong together theologically, but also because he was all too aware of the human tendency to be “religious” but unloving to others. Throughout my life as a Christian, I have seen people come faithfully to worship services, invest themselves in the songs and prayers, seeking truly to love God, only to return to their self-absorbed lives. They seem to think that all is well if they love God, no matter how they treat (or mistreat) others. Some of the most pious Christians in churches are often the meanest in their relationships, even with their closest friends and family members. According to Jesus, this kind of bifurcated life is not what God wants from us.
Instead, Jesus reminds us that loving God and loving others are intimately and inextricably intertwined. Yes, loving God is the most important thing of all. But truly loving God will necessarily spill over into your other relationships. In fact, a good measure of how much you love God is to examine how much you love people. You can’t have one without the other.
In tomorrow’s devotion I’ll work with you on how we might live out this truth in our work. For now, let me urge you to think and pray about your own relationships with others, especially in the context of your work.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Are you loving your neighbor as yourself? How? What about at work?
What keeps you from loving others more consistently?
What helps you to love people faithfully, even sacrificially?
How might you love your neighbors at work today?
Gracious God, I do want to love you with all that I am. And I want to love you by loving others in your name. Forgive me, Lord, when I fail to be loving, especially to those who are closest to me . . . my wife, my children, my family, my colleagues, my neighbors. May your first love for me inspire my love for you, and may this love also inspire and enrich my love for others.
Help me, dear Lord, to love those I find hard to love. You know who they are. How easy it is for me to ignore them, to dismiss them, to judge them, to do anything but love them. Forgive me for failing to act toward them with Christ-like love. Help me to extend your love to them through words and deeds of kindness and compassion.
I am reminded today to pray for your church, Lord, that we might love each other. Sometimes it seems as if your people are meanest to one another. Church disagreements can be so nasty, so unlike what you have envisioned for us. Help your people to love one another, dear Lord . . . starting with me. Amen.