You must realize how loved you are by God before you can love others like God.
The teacher only asked what the #1 greatest command was. He didn’t ask which one was the runner up. But Jesus gave it to him: love your neighbor as yourself. Essentially its a restatement of the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” So I guess we could say loving God is the Platinum Rule and loving others is the Golden Rule.
Why would Jesus throw that in there? Why did He give the guy a bonus answer? Because they are related. If you love God like you’re supposed to then you’ll love other people like you’re supposed to. That’s one thing to see, but, we also have to see that if Jesus took the initiative to include the 2nd commandment its because God puts a high priority on it – high enough to partner it up with the 1st Command. God wants us to love Him and He wants us to love each other.
It’s kind of like Faith and Baptism. Baptism isn’t required for salvation – faith is. But it’s so important from God’s view that its often stated along with believing. And that confuses people who aren’t careful and they think getting baptized is necessary to salvation but its not. Nevertheless, its such an important thing to do after you have already been saved by putting your faith in Jesus that it is talked about so closely with faith.
The same is true here with Loving God and loving your neighbor. The guy wanted to know the greatest command, that was important to him. Jesus gave him the greatest command and because both the 1st and the 2nd were important to Jesus, and because they are so interrelated, Jesus gave the guy both. I mean, think about what’s happening, God just stated what the most important thing is to Him about us. He wants us to love Him and love each other.
Image of God and Love
Now, think about the fact that we’re made in the image of God. The image of God means we bear His likeness in certain ways, certainly not that we are God like Him – that distinction is always clear. But features of humanhood bear resemblance to God and those similarities between God and us – that He built into us – are the basis of the unique, intimate, transcendent fellowship with Him that isn’t possible in all the rest of creation. Animals can’t fellowship with God like us. The earth and vegetation can’t fellowship with God like us. We are uniquely made, and, thus in a unique position to interact with God.
We say here that there’s some connection between the image of God and love. Since God is love (1 Jn 1), I might say that the image of God in us is most clearly seen when we love. The image of God in others is perhaps the first reason to love people. Think about it, if we love God supremely, we will love the very creatures made in His likeness. Furthermore, if we love God, we will love what He loves. And humans made in His image is what He loves.
Principal’s of Loving Others.
Love makes us Self-Sacrificing.
- “For God so loved the world that He gave….” (Jn 3:16)
- “Be imitators of God” Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “as dearly loved Children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
- “Husbands” Eph. 5:25 says, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her”
- Hosea the OT prophet had a rough marriage, to say the least. In 3:1-2 God told him, “Go show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…”
Love is love when it starts costing us. Loving someone else makes us sacrifices for the other person’s benefit. Loving yourself translates into sacrificing others for your benefit. Love is love when it costs us.
Love makes us Unconditional. Unconditional is hard to grasp and harder to carry out. There is no small amount of sympathy for anyone trying to be faithful to unconditional love. It means regardless of what the other person does: if they acknowledge how I’ve loved them or not, if they return my love or not, if they are actively trying to injure me, undermine me, take from me, ruin me and so on.
- Unconditional love is when your spouse doesn’t recognize the ways you’ve shown love and you are not appreciated the way you think you should be, or see that love coming back to you.
- Its the love a son shows his wretch of a father by still honoring him for being his father rather than disparaging him for the wretch he is.
- It’s the love for someone who wronged you and has left you with a scar.
- Its the love for a boss or a coach or a teacher who seems to play politics and pass you over all the time.
- It’s the love that says, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” That’s what got me in the movie the Passion.
Does this kind of ethic cut against our instincts? Of course it does. It means we’re not being treated the way we want to be treated. But that’s just it, Jesus said, “What credit do you get for treating people well who treat you well? Evil people do that. If you want to be perfect the way your Father in heaven is perfect, then you will love your enemies and pray for them. If they are in need you will jump to help them and bless them.
The Order of Love: 3 steps
Love has an Order: 1) Receive God’s Love, 2) Return Love to God, 3) Redistribute God’s Love to Others. If loving others is made 1st or 2nd, it will miss the mark and be a sub-standard kind of love, a less-than-Biblical sort of love. We can’t follow the Golden Rule, as God intends, until we’ve followed the Platinum Rule.
First, before we love others we have to receive God’s love for us. People tend to think they need to learn how to love themselves first before they can love others. In one sense, sure, I can see that. If you neglect yourself, or abuse yourself, then sure you need to learn self-discipline and self-care. And the 2nd Greatest Command is based on the fact that how we love ourselves ought to guide how we love others. We see this in marriage too, as husbands are to care for their wives the way they care for their own bodies.
Nevertheless, that still misses the mark. The reason is that before you can love yourself you must realize how loved you are by someone else. There are many who still need to submit to being loved. And not by an equal or an inferior to you, but, how loved you are by the most beautiful, perfect, and glorious Being: God. You need the transformational power of BEING LOVED in order TO LOVE. God’s love is utterly revolutionary. His love is your starting point. You must realize and receive God’s love for you first. His love remakes you on the inside and that includes your idea of what love is. Your idea of what love is, once you’ve been loved, is dramatically upgraded. And from that new, upgraded understanding of love, you begin to love people in a way that is better than you would have loved them without God.
How can I say that? Because God is love, He is the source of love – your source. Let us love one another for love comes from God (1 Jn. 4:7), and, “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). You must know before anything else that you are loved by God. That is faith: knowing you are loved by God through Jesus Christ’s cross. Then, and only then can you can adequately go forth to love others, as Paul said “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6)…faith that God loves you and the response in that faith being love for others.
Second, after receiving God’s love you then can return God’s love to Him. The initiative to love Him is not with us. Our love for Him, properly and Biblically, is a response back for His love. His love fills us, enlightens us to what love really is, and is the example of how to love
Third, after receiving and returning God’s love, it is then that love for others properly grows.
Application: Don’t try to love others as the first step. It is 3rd, not 1st or 2nd. Otherwise the love you try to show others is going to get perverted. Love others will actually become a means to a selfish end. It could be to earn the love and praises of others for being a good person. It could be that loving others actually is away to feel morally superior to others. There are many “less-than-loving” motivations for loving people, motivations that are ultimately self-serving. Which is the opposite of unconditional, self-sacrificing, efforts to bless the well-being of others.
So the point is this: You can’t love like God until you’ve been loved by God. Think about it this way: God is not interested in us trying to love others the way we think we should. We aren’t supposed to go around practicing “love” while being uninformed of how He loves us. He is interested in us loving others the way He loves them. Two points:
First, that’s why Jesus phrases the command the way He does: love your neighbor AS yourself. When Jesus says “As yourself” and “as you would have them do to you” is He not saying here that there is something inside of us that works like a guide when it comes to love? Ask yourself how would you want to be loved in this situation? It takes a bit of “putting yourself in someone’s shoes” to do this.
Have you ever stopped and asked, “Where did I get this ‘built-in’ sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?” Regardless of the various ideas of right and wrong, every human being has a sense that there is right and there is wrong. Where did that concept come from? It came from God, and it got in us because we are made in His image. God is a righteous and just God, meaning He is moral perfection. He knows what is good because he is good. Who He is is the standard. He doesn’ conform to some code of good written on a scroll up in heaven. If anything is written on a scroll describing what is good that scroll is merely the description of God’s perfect character. And because God is God, and He is in Himself perfect, He can then judge what is evil because all evil is contrary to His perfect moral character. So knowing that there is a “right” and a “wrong”, and demanding things be “right”, it all comes ultimately from God.
Second, See how that is consistent with discipleship where we are learners of Jesus, wanting to do what He says how He says? Our love is a reflection of God’s love. When others experience our love God should be able to say, “That’s how I would do it.”
Application: What is the temperature of your love for others? It may indicate something about your love for God.
Practical Steps for Loving Your Neighbor
How do we go about loving? Again we turn to the Scriptures
Prioritize Believers. Believers are supposed to take precedence, “Therefore,” Galatians 6:10 says, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of God.” There is a difference between “brothers” and “neighbors”. Brothers are fellow Christians and neighbors are fellow humans. We are to love each other as brothers foremost. We need to be intentional, sacrificial, affectionate with believers, jumping at any chance to help a fellow brother in Christ.
But with outsiders we are to love them as the opportunities arise. The Good Samaratin is a perfect example. That guy was not out roaming the streets on behalf of the local mission to find down-trodden people. He had somewhere to be, people to see, things to do. But unexpectedly, he came across someone who needed help. The moral of the story is not that we the Church are supposed to eradicate social problems from our world, but, rather, the lesson is in the Samaritan’s readiness to stop and help someone in need if they crossed his path. Furthermore, he was a Samaritan helping a Jew, someone outside of his group. The Good Samaritan probably was intentional with other Samaritans, and incidental with non-Samaritans. The point for the Church is this: Be intentional with those in your group: Christians, while being ready to help those out of your group as the chance comes up.
Application: If you are more devoted to loving people you don’t know, who don’t love Jesus, then something is wrong with you. Go ahead and send money to that kid in Africa you’ve never met, but, if you care more for that kid than you do for your church members there is something wrong with you. You’ve got it backwards. Jesus says love fellow believers first.
Meet Material Needs. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and truth.” (1 John 3:17-8) Notice who he’s talking about – “brother” – and who he’s talking to – “dear children”. He’s telling Christians how to respond to other Christians in material need. This is compassion, the same word for “pity” used in the verse, and it is a quality of God. God sees our need, and out of compassion He has pity on us and meets that need. He prizes that same quality in us as His children.
Listen I can’t emphasize enough how much listening conveys caring. Very few things rank near the top like listening – real, genuine listening. Think about it: listening to someone without checking your phone every 90 seconds, without thinking of what you’re going to say at the next pause, without trying to tell someone what to do, without judging or getting annoyed, upset, impatient with them. Real, attentive, active listening will go farther in convincing someone you love them than most things you ever do. You may not have 2 pennies to give but you have 2 ears.
I’ll warn you though: Listening is work. It is demanding. But remember I talked about putting yourself in someone’s shoes. That’s done by listening. In pastoral counseling, and in counseling generally I’m sure too, you counsel people in myriad situations. And those are situations that I’ve not personally experienced. There’s great merit to shared experiences, but, getting counsel from someone simply because they know what you’re going through because they’ve gone through it too is not automatically a good thing. If you’re lost in the woods you may have some comfort from someone who is lost with you, but, what you need is someone who knows the way out. And typically that person isn’t lost with you. But, in order to “get in someone’s shoes” and get as close as possible to sharing their experience you have to listen to them. You have to draw them out
Time. Like listening, how about time as a practical way to show love. Life is busy, time is a precious commodity, so how much does it mean when we take time for someone. Do we take the time to spend building a friendship? Do we give meaningful time to our marriage?
Pray. Be Epaphrus. “Epaphrus”, Paul said to the Colossians, “is one of you… and is always wrestling in prayer for you…I vouch for him that he is working hard for you….”
Be Epaphrus. To love someone is to be their Epaphrus. Be Epaphrus to your spouse; to your children; to your grandchildren; to your pastor; to your church-mates; to your neighbors; to your enemies.
- Pray secretly. “But when you pray, go into your room close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Hopefully reward you by answering your prayer for the other person! Pray so that only God knows you’re praying for them. I imagine getting to heaven and standing around the Judgment Seat of Christ, and watching all of you go up before Jesus and hearing Him acknowledge how often I was prayed for when I didn’t even know it. How much of the cause of Christ is accomplished not in spectacular public fashion, but, believers in secret prayer.
- Pray with people. Don’t promise someone you’ll pray for them, pray with them right then and there. I love seeing people in a corner before and after church praying together. Don’t let a phone call end without praying for someone.
To pray is to love. And, to pray for someone – including enemies – will open your heart up to care for them.
Forgive. Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col. 3:13). Give forgiveness. And seek it: “ It is unloving and ungodly to hold grudges. You now are committing a wrong in addition to the wrong that was done to you. It is also true when the tables are turned and you’ve done wrong. You have to admit it and seek forgiveness. You can’t stubbornly pretend you’ve done nothing wrong. Love compels us to give forgiveness and seek it when we’ve done wrong.
Rebuke. Love without a steering wheel leads to crashes. Sometimes an action is loving, but, sometimes that same action is naive.
Sometimes the benefit someone needs from your love is a confrontation. Sometimes loving someone to help them means a rebuke, or a sit down. Sometimes not doing that is loving ourselves and sparing ourselves the uncomfortable situation, the fear of rejection or their reaction to us. But love is self-sacrificing. And remember if it be love that motivates us, the Bible says love drives out fear. The key to overcoming fear of people is to love them.
SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR
Jesus didn’t confirm the guy was in the kingdom of God, Jesus told him he was close. On the one hand it was an encouragement: “You’re on the right track, don’t quit, you’ve almost got it.” On the other hand, though we could see it as a warning for the guy: “You’re close, but, you’re still not in. Don’t lose out on the kingdom of God when you’re this close. I have to say that the ones who will have the hardest time in Hell will be those who were so close to heaven their whole lives but they never entered in. They will beat themselves for all eternity.
Florence Chadwick was a remarkable swimmer in the 20th century. In 1952, after several incredible successes of long-distance swims over open waters, she attempted a 26 mile swim in the Pacific Ocean between the Catalina Island and the California coast line. While swimming a heavy fog set in and she couldn’t see. She kept going and then finally had the boats pull her in. Almost as soon as she was in the boat they could start to see the California coast less than a mile away. So close, yet so far.
You’re close, today. You’re hearing the Gospel that can save your soul. What will you do with it? There’s a lot of fog in life, but don’t stop short of Jesus. Get to Him.