Mark 12: 28-31
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
'The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘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 mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’
1 John 4: 19-21
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.
Jesus is asked to choose one of God's commandments which He considers to be the most important. Notice what He says: 'Love God, love other people. If you do those two things, you’ve pretty covered everything God wants from His people.'
It all sounds so simple, doesn't it? Very straightforward. Love God. Love people.
Yet, I’ve been a Christian for almost 27 years, I’ve been full-time ordained ministry for 11 years and during this time I’ve noticed that in the church we can get caught up with so many issues, agendas, programmes, meetings, conferences and arguments about peripheral and non-essential issues. We argue and fall out over worship styles or the finer points of theology or the colour of the new carpet in the church hall or what brand of tea bags we serve after church – and in the midst of it all we totally miss what Jesus says isthe main thing – loving God and loving other people.
Notice something: the teacher only asked for one commandment. He didn’t ask for two. By placing them both together Jesus is saying: 'These two commandments are inextricably linked. You cannot love God without loving other people. The two go intrinsically together, they are inseparable.'
In Northern Ireland, where I grew up, we have this unfortunate legacy over the last 50 years of men and women who claim to have been converted, to have come to Christ, perhaps they raised their hand at Gospel mission, they've 'prayed the prayer, they go to church, they've been born again – they claim to love God - and yet they have hated their neighbour, their hearts have been full of bitterness, sectarianism, unforgiveness, anger and even violence. Sometimes they have even murdered in the name of the God they claim to love.
They say they love God, carry big black Bibles with them (normally the King James Version) and condemn anyone who doesn’t agree with them. And the very Bible that they are waving calls them liars. Our reading from 1 John makes that very clear:
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”
John simply says: 'You can’t say you love God and hate other people at the same time. You can’t say, 'I love God and I love those who are just like me, but I don’t love those whose religion, politics, skin colour or ethnic origin are different to mine.'
As far as Jesus is concerned, we show our love for God by loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. And let’s be honest, we all love ourselves just a little bit. We think about ourselves more than we think about anyone else. If someone shows you a photograph and you’re in it – who do you look at first? Yourself! Then depending on how you look, you decide if it’s a good photograph.
What is the most popular type of photographs to take with our mobile phones – selfies. Pictures of ourselves. There’s a stunning world out there full of beauty, nature, creation. There’s close to 7 Billion people on the planet. However, when it comes to who we want to take a picture of and look at – we point the camera towards ourselves!
I honestly believe most of the misery and unhappiness in the world today is because we get so wrapped up in ourselves. And a Christian life that is inward looking and self-focused is generally a miserable, joyless life. Churches that are inward looking tend to be miserable, joyless churches that are always arguing about ridiculous things of no importance. Because that was never how the Christian life was meant to be lived. It was always meant to be directed outwards, externally-focused, loving people, reaching out to others.
But it’s not easy. The Christian life is simple – love God, love people – but it’s not easy. In fact, it can be dangerous to love. It can be risky to serve the world around you. It can be dangerous to surrender and sacrifice. It’s so against our culture to care about anyone except yourself. Yet, nothing will make an impact on the world more than reaching out and showing the love, grace, compassion and Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This week we are going to think about what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves. As we do this, we’re going to look at a really familiar story from Mark 2 and see that having a radical faith means showing dangerous love and that will lead to us having faith-filled, roller-coaster, white-knuckle adventures in life.