By Brooke Holt
“Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” – Mark 12:29–31
The Jewish leaders were always trying to trap Jesus in what he said, hoping that he would contradict Scripture. But Jesus knew every law and prophecy. We recognize his eternal wisdom as the Word of God (John 1:1–18), but his knowledge was a mystery to the Jewish leaders. They were the experts on the law, they were the teachers, and Jesus was disrupting their status quo. Surely, there must be a way for them to trip him up in what he was saying. Sadly, they could not or would not see the author of the law and the very Son of God even as he stood before them quoting the Scriptures they knew so well. Isn’t this the danger of a hard heart?
When the scribe asked Jesus which was the most important commandment, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4–5, the Shema. Every Jewish person knew and understood the significance of these verses. Then Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Unlike the Shema, this passage of Scripture was not quoted every day. Even if it were, the Israelites had a narrow view of who their neighbor was.
So do we. In fact, we will often respond to this teaching with a self-righteous pat on our backs. We love our family members (most of the time). We love those who sit in the pews with us on Sundays (as long as we don’t talk politics). We love those across the street from us (as long as they keep their dog quiet and maintain their lawn). But what about the family members who don’t behave as we think they should? What about those in the pew who have a different political ideology? And what about the neighbors with the barking dog and the messy yard? What do we do when it is hard to love God’s people?
Jesus answered that question and took it one step further in the Sermon on the Mount: “'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus’ teaching doesn’t give us a pass on loving anyone. Our love for God is expressed when we love our neighbors. To love God is to love people who are made in his image. How can we fulfill this commandment that Jesus says is second only to loving God? Once again, only through the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice that Jesus never said it would be easy. Obedience rarely is easy, yet Jesus was obedient even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). He died for our disobedience and helps us in our obedience. When we surrender our wills to the Lord, we can ask him to create in us a willing and obedient spirit.
Through the Spirit, we can ask the Lord to help us see our family members through his eyes. We can ask him to give us understanding for church members with different opinions. And we can ask him to provide us with opportunities to serve our neighbors instead of judging them. We all need to be seen through the eyes of Jesus, we all need to be respected in God’s image, and we all need to experience the grace first given through Jesus but then through his people.
When the Holy Spirit transforms your heart to love God, it will naturally lead you to love his people!
Where are you making excuses for loving others? Ask God to give you fresh eyes to see others in God’s image and a renewed heart to love them in Jesus’ name. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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