God’s Releasing Love
Matthew 22: 34-40:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
A cartoon column I came across depicts a scowling woman telling her story. ‘One day,’ she says, ‘my husband pointed out that every word I said sounded exactly like my mother. So he sent me into psychoanalysis and I worked on it for a year. But when I thought I sounded better, Arnie my husband said that now every word I said sounded exactly like my father. So he sent me back into analysis and I worked on it for another year. But when I thought I sounded better, Arnie said that every word I said sounded like my analyst. So he had me change analysts and I worked on it for another year. Now it is over 6 months, and every word I say now sounds like my husband and he thinks I’m cured.’
The poet E.E. Cummings once said that ‘in a world that is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else; trying to be nobody but yourself means to fight the hardest battle that any human can fight – and the battle never ends.’
Psychiatrists tell us that the refusal to be oneself is a common place problem, and a major cause of inferiority complexes, feelings of insecurity, personal frustrations and even anti-social behaviour.
One prominent practitioner wrote, ‘The greatest tragedy in life is that while we were born originals, we die carbon copies.’ We could paraphrase it as Christians. While God works to bring out our uniqueness, we work to be like everyone else.
I don’t know which morning paper comic strips you read, but the most universally popular is Peanuts. Poor Charlie Brown battles on trying to gain a healthy self-esteem. In one such episode we find Lucy leaning back in her booth signed ‘Psychiatric Help, 5c’.She is saying to her patient, ‘All right Charlie Brown, let’s put it another way. Each one of us has a grocery cart and the world is a supermarket. The world is filled with wonderful things. Push your cart down the aisles Charlie Brown! Push it right up to the check-out counter!’
And poor Charlie Brown, as usual, uses the occasion to put himself down. ‘Which check-out?’ he says, ‘I think I have five items or less.’
Friends, God did not create us to be like Charlie Brown, or anyone else. Rather, God wants us to appreciate the immense value of our own unique personhood. We are not born to be carbon copies of anyone else. God has wanted someone just like you to be alive, where we are at this point in time, in his total plan for human history.
And yet we are not born with this sense of true worth as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. It must be acquired. It is an essential element in the process of spiritual growth. And it is acquired in one essentially spiritual way, through loving God.
We discover our true selves, and our uniqueness in loving God.
It is a by-product of being in harmony with him. It is the by-product of being a justified person acceptable to God, loved by God, forgiven by God through Jesus Christ, and freed to be our true selves.
In seeking God, we discover ourselves. In seeking ourselves only, we lose God, and we lose our true self.
Jesus says in Matthew 22 that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the next greatest is to love our neighbor. The man who asked him about it all was a lawyer. He had 613 Jewish commandments to choose from, and discussing which of the commandments was the greatest was the equivalent of us discussing interest rates! It was a common topic of discussion among thinking people.
Jesus says that this is the commandment that summarises all the rest. Loving God.
Note that it is not simply believeing in God, it is loving God. But you say ‘How can love be commanded? Isn’t it a free decision? Isn’t love what we feel?’
Philosophy’s Shakespeare, Soren Kierkegaard once wrote a beautiful book called Works of Love in which he wrote, ‘Only when it is a duty to love, only then is love secured against every change, eternally and happily secured against despair.’
Only when it is a duty to love is love eternally secured against change. Therefore love can be commanded. It is not a feeling, it is an act of the will. It is a decision.
In a wedding service, I once said to Janis,
‘I, Robert, in the presence of God receive you Janis to be my wife.
To have and to hold, from this day forward,
For better, for worse,
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
As long as we both shall live.’
It was not as one couple wanted to say, ‘I will stay with you as long as I feel in love with you.’
Or as the groom says to the minister in a Herman cartoon, ‘Can’t you put something in there about her not interfering with my stereo.’
Biblically, love is what you will. Only when there is a duty to love, is love eternally secured against change. So Jesus commands us to love. How? With all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It’s a comprehensive command.
As William Lane says, ‘Because the whole person is the object of God’s covenant love, the whole person is claimed by God for himself.’
It includes the heart. The heart is the seat of all reason, will and emotions. The soul is our biological life-force.
Then Jesus adds to the command in Deuteronomy the word ‘mind.’ You are to love God through your mind as well. Your faith is to be a thought out faith. You are to know who you believe in, and why you believe. You are to be able to offer a reason for the hope which is in you.
Faith is to be a thought out faith and not just a taught faith.
Scripture teaches that it is our privilege and responsibility to nurture our children Christianly, to bring them up loving God.
You may say, ‘Well, my kids have left home,’ or, ‘They’re old enough to set their own schedules and values,’ or ‘I don’t see much faith in them. Have I failed?’ Yet parenting goes on even when children have left home, married and have their own little ones. We can still be an influence, an example and can still tell them what a difference Jesus makes to our life.
And we do it because only then will they come to value their uniqueness. School will not Christianly nurture them. Children spend more time watching advertisements every week than they do in Sunday School. Sunday School may not do it, but Christian parenting will do it.
I see it as my first responsibility as a parent to see that my children grow up loving Jesus with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. They may not, but that us what God asks of me above all.
Did I encourage my children through my words and lifestyle to love Jesus? Did I use their precious years to the utmost to lead them towards Jesus?
Therefore God says to us in Deuteronomy 6, never forget these commands. Teach them to your children. Repeat them when you are at home or on holidays. And remember to impress upon them their specialness, and their value to God when they love him.
A lady was telling me how she had an off kind of singing voice. Songs were always too high or too low in pitch, but one day someone pressed her to join a singing group. It was then she discovered that she was able to sing a harmony that no-one else could. She delighted in her uniqueness and self-value.
So it is for us. As we love God we find ourselves as a by-product. We learn to love ourselves the right way, not in an egotistical, self-justifying way.
Love God and you will live.
I was with a Christian friend when an elderly couple interrupted. They abused him, baselessly, over what they arrogantly saw as his poor driving. Hate seethed through their eyes, their words laced with venom, and yet your fellow worshipper calmly talked to them while they raged on. So far as it was possible, he loved these difficult people wielding their verbal hatchets and feelings of malice.
Such love is possible where God’s love enables ours. Let us all practice and seek it.
By George Robert Iles