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Why do we struggle with loving our neighbor as we love ourselves?
The first reason why we struggle to love our neighbor is obvious, we don’t have the right view of God. We struggle to love horizontally because we struggle to love vertically. We haven’t truly grasped what it means to love God with everything that we are because we haven’t fully accepted everything that God claims to be. If you’re anything like me, you find yourself making excuses as to why God doesn’t get the best, the first, and the primary focus. After all, He as the problem, not us… right?
To love God with everything that we are is to admit that we have the problem. We have the sin issue. We have the inadequacy. We are primarily to blame for our suffering. Loving God, at the core, is to take responsibility for ourselves while embracing the right view of God. Remember, it was in the context of the Old Covenant that the question was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). The law brings wrath, condemnation, and death (Rom. 4:15; 7:10; 2 Cor. 3). The law relentlessly points out our failures. It is in perspective of the Law that we discover our need for grace, salvation, and mercy from a Holy and Righteous God. The reason why the Law points out our failures is because it is holy, given to us by a Holy God (Rom. 7:1-12). We are the man in need of saving, not God.
The second reason why we struggle to love our neighbor may not be so obvious. We struggle to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because we have the wrong view of ourselves.
As we walk the straight and narrow, we may find ourselves erring on the side of self-hatred or, on the other hand, selfishness. The only people who are capable of fulfilling the great two commandments are people who recognize “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15). When we have the right view of God and the right view of ourselves, we’ll be able to make headway on fulfilling the two great commandments.
If you struggle with these two issues relating to the greatest commandment, I want to encourage you to attend our Sunday morning service where we'll be tackling what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The series will be called, "In the Middle." Hope to see you!
You can only choose between one of two options, which would you choose?
A) Do the right thing most of the time with the wrong motives.
B) Do the wrong thing most of the time with the right motives.
Funnily enough, Israel often found themselves doing the wrong thing most of the time with the wrong motives. Like us, they had the greatest commandment at the forefront of their identity, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4). God was, and still is, primarily concerned with the inner moral character of a person and not the outward appearance.
When God told Samuel to make David king, He made his standards well known, "The Lord sees the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7). Yet, time and time again, God had to remind Israel of this foundational truth through trials and tribulations. For instance, during Israel's rebellion God said "They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Isaiah 29:13). Jeremiah recognized Israel's heart condition when he wrote, "You (Lord) are always on their lips but far from their hearts" (Jeremiah 12:2). Ezekiel said this of His fellow people, "My people come to you (Lord) as usual, sit before you, and hear your words; but they do not put them into practice. Although they express love with their mouths, their hearts pursue dishonest gain" (Ezekiel 33:31).
Fast forward 700 years and we find Isaiah's prophetic truth being applied to by Jesus to Israel, "Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: 'These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Mark 7:6).
God wants our hearts (motivation), not just our actions. He's wants His followers to be authentic in their walk with Him. This requires us to question and examine our motives (why we do it) behind our actions (what we do). I don't want to come to the Lord, sit before Him, and hear His words without putting them into practice. I don't want to say that I love God with my lips and all the while pursue dishonest gain. I want a pure heart and clean hands (Psalm 24:4).
On the other hand, what do you do if you're struggling with the right motives? What if you're heart isn't buying into it? Simply put, you position yourself under the waterfall of God's grace as you persistently follow Him. Eventually, your heart will catch up to your head.
I’ll admit it, I’m kind of a weird guy, and not simply because I’m a Christian. I have a joking personality and somewhat of a weird thought process. My late uncle, a former co-worker, and wife all made a comical remark to me, “Dude, you’re not right.”
When I think about some of the things that I’ve done, words that I’ve said, or ideas that I’ve had I can’t help but chuckle and laugh to myself. I’m just a weird dude. Christianity is kind of weird as well. I mean, think about it, we gather together every Lord’s Day to eat His flesh and Blood. We let someone else dunk us into a big pool of water so we can have the forgiveness of sins. We give a large portion of our income to a Church mission. If you were not raised in the Church and knew nothing of Christianity, it would be a culture shock.
While Christians do things that are beyond our reason, that doesn’t make them unreasonable. Christians are certainly called to be different, but not delusional. They are called out to be holy, but not crazy. They are commanded to pick up a cross, not pick their noses. While I’m not delusional or crazy (and I only pick my nose when I’m alone or with someone) the Cross bids me to come, lose my life, and pick up my own cross.
When Jesus spoke to His disciples He said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39 NIV). Interestingly enough, Matthew uses the word “psuché” for “life.” This is the word for “soul.” What did Jesus mean by this statement? Simply put, if we are not ready and willing to surrender ourselves to the Father, even to the point of death, we cannot save ourselves. In fact, the exact opposite will occur. We will be lost. We will aimlessly wander through the desert. Faithfulness requires wholehearted devotion. There is no room for divided loyalties or partial affection. Jesus requires all of us.
This is what it means to love God with “all our soul” (Matt. 22:37). We must unselfishly serve the Lord. We must do what needs to be done regardless of our personal comfort or cost. We must praise the Lord most high while carrying our cross. We must surrender our selfishness and self-seeking life. We must relinquish control of our possessions, powers, and interests to the will of the Father. We must boldly proclaim, “Jesus is Lord” even if it costs us our life.
It is only through this ultimate surrender we can discover true life, “whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” It is a great Christian paradox. The only way we find our lives is to lose it. The only way to live is to die. When we lose our worldly value, we find a heavenly value that makes life worth living! This might seem weird, but remember, we are too.
What is the greatest thing you can do in 2019? Perhaps you want to lose weight, pay off debt, travel, or learn something new. Maybe you desire to revitalize your marriage or reconnect with lost friends. Goals are important. They help keep us alive and give hope.
In the same way, Jesus had a goal that gave him hope. The bible says, "Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:3b NASB). The goal was the right hand of God and the burden was the cross.
It is easy to grow weary in our ambition for success. We want to lose weight, but we may be surrounded by those who glutton themselves on pizza and donuts. We want to pay off debt, but we live in a culture of instant everything and selfish ambitions. We want to travel, but we also live in a competitive culture of home buying and portfolio building. We want to learn something new, but we may be surrounded by the naysayers who tell us we'll never be able to do it. Hebrews gives us a little more insight to our burden in our Christianity,
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3 NASB).
The barrier in front of Jesus' goal was the cross, but what enabled him to endure? The week leading up to the cross, Jesus was asked, "What is the greatest commandment?" In other words, "In the midst of enduring your burden, what is the greatest thing?" Jesus unsurprisingly responds, "Love God and Love Others" (Paraphrase of Matthew 22:34ff). It was His love for the Father and His love for others that enabled Him to endure the cross. Love wins.
Similarly, what will enable us to endure? What will carry us through? It is love for God and love for others. When we love God more than food, we will endure, and lose weight. When we love God more than stuff, we will endure, and pay off debt or travel. When we love God more than the opinions of others, we will endure, and learn something new. When we love God more than we love ourselves, we will endure, and become a better spouse.
The greatest thing in 2019 is Love God and Love others. This year, love more than you've ever loved before.
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