In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, Jesus reveals once and for all how we as Christians should be living — that is, what should be the one thing we should be concerned about most as Christ lives through us. Strangely, this revelation is given as an answer to a modern day skeptic of his time, a lawyer who is trying to embarrass Jesus with a trick question, “What is the great commandment of the law?” Unfortunately for the lawyer, and fortunately for us, Jesus gives the memorable answer and establishes forever our priorities for living:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
In just a few short sentences, Jesus tells (in reality, commands) us how we should live. First and most importantly, He says, we are to love Him with every fiber of our being, with all that we have. Then, abounding and overflowing with the love that he has so graciously provided in our hearts (“because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” Romans 5:5b), we are COMMANDED to love others, our neighbors, as we love ourselves. These two commandments, He says, are everything. All of us have heard and read this passage many times before, but do we really comprehend what He is trying to tell us? Though we don’t fully understand what “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” really means, each of us has a good idea of what loving someone means to us. We love our wife/husband, we love our children, and we REALLY love our grandchildren. So, we can relate in some fashion, to loving our heavenly father with a deep, sacrificial love we have for those that are closest to us. Further, most of us get the idea of “loving” our neighbors with some lesser version of the love we reserve for those in our families. Of course, we remain really confused on exactly who our neighbors are, but we get the concept.
Sadly, most of us walk away from this passage with only a shallow understanding of not only what it means but how it should impact and literally change how we live. Again, it is God who has given us the capacity to love and has placed those special people in our lives for whom we care so much, and we will do and sacrifice anything for their good. We get the first part of the passage as best as we can in our finite minds with the experience we have on a human level with those in our families that we love. The “loving our neighbors” part is where we fail so often and in fulfilling Jesus’ command. The “zinger,” if you will, that Jesus uses to make himself clear and to bring it all down to our level, is most often dismissed as unimportant by most of us. The phrase, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” is the key to the entire passage. Loving our neighbors AS OURSELVES instructs us on how we are to love them and, at the same time, sets the standard of that love. If only Jesus would have used another phrase, to describe his love: anything would have been easier! What about “as we love our mothers and fathers?” Respect them, yes, but not love them always with this type of love that wouldn’t work because all of our mothers and fathers aren’t always that lovable. What about “as we love our spouses,” or “as we love our children or grandchildren?” No, we don’t necessarily all have spouses, children, or grandchildren. Jesus knew exactly what he would say and what it meant.
The unavoidable truth is that Jesus was right and He should know. He made us. We do love ourselves and it is with THIS love we are to love everyone else. This agape love of which He speaks is the deepest love of all. It is not only the same love that He commands we love Him, but it is also the same type of love He has for us and drove Him to the cross to die for us. Jesus is not telling us we are to love others with some kind of reduced or “fat free” love, reserved for those who are less important in our lives. On the contrary, he is telling us to love others with the most intense and powerful love we know and experience as human beings: the way we love ourselves. He tells us this is the way we are to love others and this is the also the benchmark by which we are to measure that love. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is not a throwaway axiom at the end of a profound passage, but in reality it is fundamental to our really understanding what Jesus is saying. We can live our lives arguing with Jesus that we think we should have other priorities or other things should be more important to us: we all inevitably define and pursue our own selfish priorities. Yes, we can argue, but we will be wrong. Jesus gives life and He alone gets to set the parameters and the rules.
If we could summarize Matthew 22:37-40, condense it down to one word, the one thing Jesus says is most important above all other things, it would basically beRELATIONSHIPS. Our lives only have meaning in the context of relationships with our Heavenly Father and with others. It is through relationships that Jesus lives through us most mightily and movingly. As with all other commands, or requirements that Jesus gives his children, we can only respond with four short words, “I can’t do it!” And once again we’re right, but Jesus can through us. When we realize that in ourselves, we really can’t do anything. It is only through His power that we live and do anything.
can’t do anything. It is only through His power that we live and do anything.
• Jesus CHOSE to spend much of His time on this earth with and we, His followers, should as well.
• We will be blessed if we have relationships with.
• Jesus created PURE people for His purposes and works through them.
When Christ returns, He will separate all people into two categories: the sheep and the goats—the righteous and the unrighteous. To be found faithful amongst the ones who will be rewarded eternally in His Kingdom, He commands us to attend to those who are weak, sick, in prison, and in need. Our calling as Christians, Christ’s followers, demands that we care for these PURE people, who yearn for the Bread of Life, and the freedom from sin through salvation that we have found.
It seems that we have no choice in the matter. If our love for Christ is real, we will act upon it joyfully and reach out to everyone we meet – especially PURE people!