“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).
“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). In 1 John, the apostle proclaims: “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (4:19-21). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul sums up the law: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:14). Some say that repentance is a necessary precursor to the act of forgiveness, but even so, we are commanded to love one another nonetheless. Remember, He first loved us.
Jesus told Peter to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22), and then the Lord went on to tell the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. I am not surprised the Holy Spirit led me here, and specifically, to this parable, because I am finding that love and forgiveness can be a lot tougher than I like to admit. Truth is… love and forgiveness have never been easy, but until recently, I guess I’ve been content to be blind to my need. The Unmerciful Servant presents a lesson not unlike the one Jesus taught in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which I wrote about in Jesus Who?—Dinner with Sinners, and my pastor preached on this parable this past Sunday in a sermon titled, Grace: Inviting to Some; Threatening to Others. Okay, okay, I get it… I am finally listening Lord! As my pastor credited Pastor Andy Stanley who put it this way — “Grace is inviting to the unrighteous and threatening to the self-righteous.” I find that I bounce between Pharisee and Tax Collector quite a bit; that phenomenon came up in Sunday’s message too.
Answering the question asked by one of the teachers of the law, which is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded that the most important is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). But Jesus didn’t stop there; He went a step further: “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). If, indeed, we love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, as the commandment states, then how could we not love our neighbor as our self? Conversely, if we do not love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, as the commandment states, then how could we ever hope to love our neighbor (or anyone) as our self? Mark 12:31 is the manifestation, the fulfillment, of Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Let me put it another way—to truly love your neighbor as yourself is to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. The Sheep and the Goats really do bear witness to this precious truth (Matthew 25:31-46).
I am grateful, and always awestruck, each time the Holy Spirit reveals some truth previously unknown or under appreciated. I am in no way a Bible scholar, or a theologian, and at best, I consider myself, maybe, above average in terms of intelligence, and that probably describes me on a good day. I don’t know where I would be without the Spirit’s guidance and support. I am wowed! God is so kind, so tender. The Lord meets us where we are, and He doesn’t abandon us there. In my case, He even drags us kicking and screaming, if need be. I can do nothing without Him, including loving my neighbor as myself, let alone loving an enemy (John 15:5). My perspective is so shortsighted and self-centered, and in my clumsy attempt to understand, I try to fit the Lord into my narrow, self-serving point of view. But God’s ways are higher than mine, lest I forget the words of the prophet Isaiah: ““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (55:18).
There’s a lot of pain in this world, so much so that my problems are small by comparison to most, and I don’t wish to diminish anyone’s personal struggles. With the Lord’s help, I will continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, and hopefully without too much grumbling (Philippians 2:12-13), but the struggle is real. In of myself, I am a sorry mess; I definitely won’t be boasting of myself before God on the Day of the Lord, or on any other.
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