The Love Conundrum
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Isn’t it interesting that the simplest command given by Jesus is, quite possibly, the most complex directive He spoke during His three-year ministry? When pressed by the Pharisees on which was the greatest commandment, He answered, “The most important one is to love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.” He combines both together and says that there is no commandment greater than these. (Paraphrase of Mark 12:29-31)
So, is it me, or is He is advocating that you can’t have one without the other? If you really love God with all your soul, mind, and strength – you will, naturally, love your neighbor as yourself. Or stated reversely, if you can really pull off loving your neighbor as yourself, it’s because of your all-encompassing love for God.
The first directive to love God with everything we’ve got is pretty straight forward, so we can leave that one alone for a while. But it gets a little trickier with loving your neighbor as yourself. So many questions to ponder. So many definitions to set out.
I mean, who, exactly, is your neighbor? People in your geographical location? People in an organizational community? People in your sphere of influence?
Okay – so, how about members of your family? [Organizational Community: check. Geographical Location: possible check. People in Your Sphere of Influence: (you wish) check.] Oh, come on! Surely Jesus wasn’t talking about some of those annoying people! Too much history! Too much hurt! Too much rejection!
Picture your life as a series of concentric circles with you in the middle and all the people God has placed in your life radiating from that point. The first circle that surrounds you is your “nuclear” family: spouse, kids, step-kids. Next would be your immediate family: parents, siblings. Then nieces, nephews, grandparents. Then, maybe aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This ring would include close friends and mentors. Finally, we get to actual neighbors, church members, maybe some co-workers, and so on and so forth as we move further out.
Here's one of those pesky questions I was referring to: How can you even begin to love your “neighbor” if you are struggling to love all the people in your inner circles? The people that God has joined you to by blood and sacred covenants? The people with whom you are the most vulnerable and sensitive?
And what does Jesus mean by “love your neighbor as yourself?”
Perhaps He’s referring to our endless grace for our own perpetual screw-ups. We are so quick to roll our eyes and sigh when we recognize that we are wallowing in unrighteous mire and then we thank God for His forgiveness and mercy; but we continue to keep count of every transgression that can be held against our brother or sister. Our daily sins are as light as floating feathers – but the sins of our neighbor are weighed and tallied.
So, yes, Jesus is asking us to be as generous with others as we are with ourselves. He is asking us to extend an offer of mercy and the unconditional love that we get to enjoy.
… what if we don’t fully love ourselves and forgive ourselves for all of our failings?
What if we see our neighbor through the veil of our own hidden shame and shattered confidence? What if their transgressions feel like salt in our wounds and remind us that we still have some things to bring into the light to be examined and expunged? Things that have been stitched closed, scarred over, and covered with layer upon layer of make-up.
And here’s the follow-on question for that messed up situation: What kind of love can we offer our neighbor when our own heart is full of booby traps, distorted mirrors, secret doors, and cause-and-effect reasoning?
I’m sure some of you out there are great at loving people and are seldom bothered by the barbs of others – and I thank God for you – I want to be just like you when I grow up in full spiritual maturity. When all my closets are cleaned out and all the deep wells of anguish are filled with living water.
But I must admit that I’m not 100% there yet, and in my own strength, I could never even hope to get there. But the Holy Spirit has been doing an intensive work in me. My Father has set a path for me to minister through writing, encouragement, and prayer – and I can’t fulfil that purpose well unless I come up under this love mantle that Jesus has decreed. It’s a constant process of heart purification through purging and trust. Submission and faith. It’s a continual petition for the holy courage needed to excavate buried corpses and set myself free of death. I truly don’t want my heart to be a graveyard – I want it to be a sun-lit meadow. A place with no shadows, that’s safe and appealing to those who need to rest and to be comforted.
I want to be more and more free to love more and more honestly. I want my interactions with my neighbors to be more and more Christ-like and bring more and more glory to God. Jesus has illuminated the destination and the Holy Spirit is helping me move toward that goal. To love with abandonment of myself.
Because I’m not doing this alone, I’ve found an interesting practice that works well for me: whenever I encounter a person that is not easy for me to love unconditionally – for whatever reason – I identify one of their unsavory characteristics that I can own for myself… and then I forgive us both. When I look and see myself in them, I am able to humbly appreciate the grace that covers us as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. And I repent. Each time a measure of arrogance, selfishness, greed, carelessness, apathy, or disobedience falls away, an equal measure of freedom takes its place, and I am able to step deeper into that place of love that Jesus calls me.
Do love the Lord your God with every fiber of your being – and allow that love to transform you into a lover of humanity.
Dare to reflect His heart of reconciliation at any cost. In your family. In your church. In your community. And in yourself.
1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.