So I woke up to a beautiful, golden, clear day this morning, and, as I often do, put on some devotional music to start the day. One of the first songs was simply about loving God, about how it takes time to do that, love Him every day.
And I thought about that, how simple that is, how almost trite it sounds, bland to the ears of most of us. And yet God told Moses, and Jesus repeated it, that this is actually the first of the commandments. Someone asked Jesus what was the first commandment and He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
“Yeah, yeah, Mark; yeah, yeah! We all know that! We heard that in Sunday school or from our grandmother! But what about…”
Isn’t that the easy reaction? I was just thinking about how easy it is to get so focused on the needs, cares and horrors of this world and to think how essential it is to obey that second commandment, to love our neighbor as our selves. It is so vital, so missing and so desperately needed. But still, that’s the second commandment, not the first.
“Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:8) “Love works no ill to his neighbor.” (Romans 13:10) “The greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) All of these are rather often heard in some circles, circles I and many others travel in. And it’s all true; in our times the simple love of our fellow man is so very missing and desperately needed. Jesus even said of the times directly before His return, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12) Sure does seem like now, doesn’t it?
But the idea that came to me this morning is how that it’s all too easy for any of us to put loving our neighbor above loving the Lord Himself. And maybe I should reference the story I told a while back about “Three Fingers” when it comes to what I’m writing about here. I feel convicted about this myself and see that I have at times been so moved with the needs of humanity in our generation that I may have gotten more caught up with the need to win the world to Him than I have with loving the Lord.
It’s like the thing Jesus said, “These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23b) We need to both love God and love our neighbor. Years ago I had some brief contact with the World Council of Churches and I learned the terminology that’s used to describe some denominations, “verticals” and “horizontals”. “Verticals” describes the congregations whose main focus is on the heavenlies, on the things of God and Jesus and our relationship with and worship of God. “Horizontals” focus more on the second commandment, our charge from Him to love our neighbor as ourselves. These folks are the ones who are often out at the front in humanitarian aid relief and laying down their lives for the brethren or are zealously active in social issues of our day.
But of course, both of these should not work as alternatives but in tandem. And I think only God Himself can help us get the mix right. That’s why it’s such a help, such an essential to have the living presence of His Spirit alive and functioning in us daily. We can try to get it right in our feeble minds. But it all works so much better if His Spirit in us “leads us into all truth” (John 16:13), even personally and daily in letting us know when we need to “come apart for a while” (Mark 6:31) and just really focus on loving the Lord.
The honest truth is that “You can’t do the Master’s work without the Master’s power and to have it, you must spend time with the Master.” It’s like an oil lamp. All our love for and activity for the lost and needy of the world must come from the oil and Spirit of God, not ourselves. Otherwise it will be like a wick burning without the oil. It gets consumed pretty fast and there’s a lot of smoke. But if we stay soaked in the oil of His Spirit, through truly loving Him, then there will be sufficient oil in our lamps to be the light to the World that He wants us to be.
Some people think that God is some kind of cruel monster, trying to chase us with a big stick. But actually He is Love and He’s trying to love us into heaven. A beautiful picture of this is the story Jesus told of “the prodigal son” who had abandoned his father to go do his own thing in a far land. Jesus said that, at length, the son “came to himself” (Luke 15:17) and decided to return to his father’s house, in shame. And what did the father, who represents God, do? Jesus said, “But when the son was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) What a tender picture of God’s love for all of us who’ve gone astray.
Joshua, the leader of God’s people after Moses, said to them, “Take good heed unto yourselves that you love the Lord your God.” (Joshua 23:11) It’s great to love others, it’s a commandment of God and His Spirit will put an incredible love in our hearts that He wants us and needs us to have. But it can be a temptation of the workers of the Lord to put our love for our neighbors above our love for Him.
Lord help us all. Because if we let the pendulum swing the other way so we spend all our time in worshiping Him to the neglect of His sheep, then that’s just another mistake of going off in the other direction. I know some people who’ve done that, who once were really active in winning the world for Jesus. But now they spend most of their time at home alone in personal worship and devotion.
Sometimes loving the Lord can just be loving His Word and taking time to really let it speak to you. Jeremiah said, “Your words were found, and I did eat them, and Your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16) Thankfully we can be sure that “He is love” (I John 4:8) and that “We love him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). “If any many love God, the same is known of Him.” (I Corinthians 8:3)
But in all our Christian service, our concern about the dire plight of the world at this time, the concern about the planet and God’s creation which seems to be suffering as well, it’s good to remember (pointing three fingers at myself at this time) that Jesus told us “without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Without our loving God and spending time with Him, our priorities will be mixed up. And that won’t be the way it should be, for Him or us or the needy of this world, or our dear planet itself.