They are the greatest commandments in all of the Bible, yet sadly they’ve almost become cliche. Love God and love people. Over complicate it and we’re no better than the self-righteous Pharisee who knows nothing of grace. Over simplify them to the point of ignorance and we might as well stop calling ourselves Christians. They are a must, but they’re not meant to be a burden. There is a beauty and a balance in these two commands, summing up all of the Scriptures into two statements that teach us what it means to live to God’s glory.
We all crave to love and be loved. God created us this way. To love is to express often what words cannot describe. Love goes beyond words into selfless action. To love is to act with the deepest affection for someone. Because love is a universal language it’s easy to tell when love is genuine or when one is merely giving lip-service. It’s also not to be confused with lust, which is always out to self-satisfy.
When God created us He did so out of the purest love in the universe. Everything he does is perfectly selfless. Everything that flows from Him does so for His own glory, which is right, since there is nothing higher. That’s why He made us. To love Him and bring him glory, and in so doing, fulfill our purpose.
When God penned the ten commandments and gave them to Moses there were two tablets. On one was recorded the perfect standard for man’s behavior towards God, and on the other was written the standard for how man should treat his neighbor. Both tablets contained impossible tasks. It wasn’t that He wanted us to fail, but that we needed to see that the standard was impossible to meet in our own strength. For all the failed attempts to keep the law, He provided a sacrificial system that would be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. His innocent life would be taken in place of the guilty to atone for sin. God’s justice would be satisfied and the guilty who trust the sacrifice are set free forever.
So when it comes to being a Christian and living for God we do so out of a sense of freedom. We’ve been set free from the bondage of sin and freed up to live for what is supreme. Loving God is not hard, it’s impossible because of sin. But with sin dealt with at the cross we’re truly free to give to God what He deserves, our everything. When we do we find satisfaction in fulfilled purpose and rest in the fact that even though we know we’re not perfect, a perfect Savior has done the impossible for us.
The first command flows immediately into the second. And you cannot have one without the other. On the second tablet of stone given to Moses we find what would seem to be logical requests. Don’t kill, don’t steal, obey your parents, don’t desire what belongs to your neighbor, and tell the truth. But the problem lies in the heart. As much as we might be able to fool the world into thinking we’re pretty good people, in our hearts we fail daily. According to Jesus, to hate is to kill and to even look with lust at someone is an adulterous act. We’re hopelessly lost and without the Gospel of grace we’re all doomed.
Jesus not only loved God perfectly, but He loved people perfectly. Every word, thought and act was one of perfect love and justice. Even His anger was perfect, teaching us that loving people doesn’t mean to simply tolerate what they’re doing. Jesus ate meals with sinners and tax collectors, came to the defense of prostitutes and advocated for the widow. He gave of His time without complaint and labored in prayer for those around Him. He truly loved people. But the ultimate fulfillment of this second great command came at the cross. He did there what we could never do for anyone. Laying His life down at the altar, He shows us that to love others is to do for them what they truly need, even when it costs us greatly.
Christians are called to love everyone, even our enemies. Much of the world even knows instinctively that love should be shared across borders, between the world’s ethnic groups and with those who are weak, oppressed and hurting. But only Christians can do what God is requiring because it is only the Christian that has the indwelling Spirit of Christ living through them and empowering them to love. Loving people God has made is an act of God. When we join Him in that we are loving Him.
It’s the Gospel
The Gospel can also be summed up with these two commands. God loved so He gave. God, out of his perfect being and for His own glory, loved His enemies and died for them in order to do for them what they could never do and bring them to Himself. When we look at these commands now, to “Love the Lord with all you heart, soul, mind and strength” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” We’re doing so with an understanding the God makes it possible. God set the example of how in Jesus. Through His death He dealt with our failures. Through His resurrection He gives us victory. And through His ascension and the pouring out of His Spirit He gives us the power.
There’s no doubt that we cannot do this as well as we’d like every day. Don’t let it be a burden. Don’t just let it be a slogan. See the power of God through the indwelling Spirit, a power that is promised to all who are His through faith.