Love for God and Neighbor Revisited

January 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

With the arrival of the new year, I wanted to revisit one of the core aims of this blog, what Jesus calls the greatest commandments in Mark 12:30-31. Here is what I hope to be a defining and practical analysis of our call to love God and people. The greatest commandment: “‘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.”

Bullet points from God, outside a chiropractor's office in Ellijay, GA

Bullet points from God, outside a chiropractor’s office in Ellijay, GA.

The heart is our volition, from the Greek kardía, meaning the affective center of our being, where desire lives, produces choices that make up who we are. Kardía is found over 800 times on the Old and New Testament and exclusively in the figurative sense, not once referring to the organ in our chests that pumps blood.

The soul is our life and self, from the Greek psyxḗ, (the root of psyche and psychology) meaning to breathe, also a person’s individual personality or personhood. Some also view soul here as our emotional expression.

The mind is of course the human intellect, from the Greek diánoia, to use the mind. The term is rich and encompasses critical thinking, thorough reasoning, incorporating both sides of a matter to reach a meaningful and personal conclusion.

Strength is our physical might, from the Greek isxýs literally meaning to have force. This includes visible love in action and the many forms of service.

If you’re keeping score, those aspects of God’s people encompass everything we have to offer in love, and they are rightly His.

Loving neighbor as we love ourselves of course requires the consideration of how we love ourselves.

We love ourselves by taking care of ourselves, by feeding, bathing, clothing, training, strengthening, protecting, healing, and resting our bodies. We feed and train and protect and strengthen our minds also. We guard our hearts, our dignity, our freedom, and our reputation. We believe in self-defense and justice for our name. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we project that self-love onto others. This is not so difficult to do with family and friends.

“But I say to you, love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:44)

Uh oh. Our enemies qualify as neighbors too. But if we hear of tragedy or misfortune occuring in the life of our enemy, don’t we often rejoice inside? Does it give you satisfaction to speculate about all the evil an evil person may have done, even if it’s more evil than what he’s actually done? If so, you’re certainly not alone.

But think about your awareness of evil in your own life. We know we’re messed up too, but how do we love ourselves in spite of all there is to hate about ourselves? We seek restoration for ourselves. We want to be better. We try to kick the habit, heal the scars and make things right so we can recover. When we love our enemy as we love ourselves, we do the same thing, separating the sin from the sinner and earnestly desiring their restoration. CS Lewis wrote, “love for the man makes us hate the sin that infects the man.” I can hate some of the things I (and others) do, but love myself (and others) for my (and their) good qualities and because as God’s creation we are all worth keeping clean.

God demonstrated His love toward us by sending His Son Jesus to separate us from the sin that enslaved us. If love seeks what is best for another, we demonstrate love for neighbor in the greatest form by wanting redemption for them as well. We want them to know Christ too.

Love for God and neighbor, as is true with anything else, comes easier with practice. Even when you don’t feel like loving someone, act as if you do. True loving will eventually follow. And, of course, ask God for help. He is love, enables love, and wants you to succeed in it.

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