On a journey to find the silver linings

On a journey to find the silver linings

Monday, January 13, 2014

Love God, Love People. Sounds great... right?

   We've all heard this story from the Bible, right? When pressed by the Pharisees for an answer to, "what is the greatest commandment in the Law," Jesus answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

   That's awesome! I mean, what a great goal! And we've surely all been taught that this is how we are to be as Christians, to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies first and foremost, above all. And to then love our neighbor just as much as we love ourselves. I mean, that's what Jesus said, right?

    Sounds fabulous, until you realize that Jesus gave the Pharisees "Law question" a Law answer. He directed them back to the heart of it, which is where they wanted to be and what they were questioning Him about.

    The Greatest Commandment is just that; a Commandment. It puts us right back under the crushing weight of the Old Testament and those constraints we thought we're all free of and happily deny in our lives as Christians.

    But we are physically and spiritually incapable of loving God the way Jesus commanded. At least, I am anyway. Maybe you're better at this than me. In any given day I fall completely short of that mark - I sin - (which is an old archery term for "missing the bullseye.") As much as I TRY to love God with all of my heart & soul & mind, I don't REALLY love him that way in actuality. And as much as I TRY to love my neighbor as much as I love myself, I can't. And I don't. And then I feel guilty, and then I feel like a bad Christian, and then I wonder what's wrong with me. And I eventually want to give up because I can never get that "love God and love people" thing right.

    So there you go. I do not fulfill what Jesus answered to them, because I cannot fulfill the Law. I suck & I am a sinner. But I'm really quite good at those things.

    And then I have to ask; why on earth would Jesus do that? Why would he lay the Law right on us? On me? The greatest thing He said to do is "love God and love people" and I fail miserably at it.

    Ah, but there is hope. (And I need to remind myself of this every day, every hour). The next thing Jesus says when He turns to the crowds of people and his disciples is about the Pharisees and is what always gets left out of a "love God and love people" message. (Conveniently, because those messages usually involve an "activation" of serving the church's vision or a giving of money somehow). In Matthew 23 He completely shreds the Pharisees publically for putting the people under the Laws and not keeping them themselves, and he unloads both guns. He unleashes the Seven Woes on them for burdening the people with the Laws that no human being (other than Himself) is capable of keeping.

    It may make you think twice next time you hear a catchy "Love God and Love People" tag - and it's everywhere in popular Christianity - very trendy, I must say. Check out just about any evangelical church's website anywhere in the country and you'll see some variation of it. It's in songs especially (a cool song by Israel Houghton comes to mind off the top of my head), and just go to Pinterest and search the phrase.

    Sounds very spiritual to love God first and your neighbor like yourself - pretty noble, actually. Until you realize that it's a Law. And not just any Law - thee GREATEST Law. So don't mess that one up, man. Because once you subject yourself to it, you are condemned by it. As it says in James, "whoever keeps the law but fails in one point has become accountable to all of it." Ouch.

    This truly is the essential problem we could never fix on our own. It's the very Law that requires the sacrifice of a million doves beyond your reach. It's the Law that condemns us with our fallen reflection and sends us to hell for not measuring up to God's standard. It's the very reason why Jesus stepped out of heaven and onto this dying earth in the first place.

    In Galatians Paul is talking to the church about this very thing of keeping the Law, and he reminds them that, " It is for freedom (from the Law) that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

    Keep in mind that anything that you do is law, but anything that Jesus does is grace. Remember who is doing the work when you're loving God and when you're loving your neighbor.

    So yes, I will love God, but only because God himself gives me the faith to since I'm incapable of even doing that on my own. And I will fail at loving him as fully as He is worthy and deserving of, but I will ask forgiveness and be given grace. And yes, I will love my neighbor, but I will also fail at that - at what I didn't do, at what I did do, and at what I didn't do well enough. But my neighbors need my good helps anyway, and I will ask forgiveness for my shortcomings in the process and know that God is full of mercy and patience for me and my measly works.

    In the end I will love God and love people, but not because I have to, but because I get to. Not because of a commandment put on me by a well-meaning church to do so; I will do it under the grace Christ gives because He first loved me.