How do I love God and love my neighbour? Matthew 22.34-40

Matthew 22.34-40

If we loved God with all our heart, soul and mind, and if we loved our neighbour as ourselves ..


.. we would so delight in God that God would be everything to us: more important than anything that we had here on this earth: our reputation, our comfort, our possessions, our passions, even than the person who we love most dearly here.

[We think, ‘But how could I possibly love God more than I love my child or my beloved?’

CS Lewis writes, “When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”]

 

If we loved God with all our heart, soul and mind, our greatest desire would be to be in his presence. And separation from God would plunge us into the deepest despair. We could not live without God

If we loved God then his wisdom, his ways would be an utter joy for us

We would delight in doing the 10 commandments (the first four are about loving God; the second six are about loving our neighbour).

Khomiakov, a Russian theologian, said the will of God is a curse for the demons, law for the servants of God and freedom and joy for the children of God.

When we pray the Lord’s prayer, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – in heaven God’s will is done with complete joy. It is a prayer that we will learn to love God.

And if we loved God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul, we would love what he loves, delight in what he delights, long for what he longs for and hate what he hates

We would look at this creation, at his creation, and we would see it with God’s eyes: created in love. We would love it as he loves it, we would love it for him, we would love it with him

We cannot separate these two commands. The one who loves God will love the people who he has created.

There is some ambiguity about the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Some people say that you have to learn to love yourself before you can love your neighbour.
So is this a third command: to love God and to love our neighbour and to love ourselves?

I’m not convinced
To love oneself is a little bit narcissistic.
There is the myth of Narcissus who looked into the pond and fell in love with his own reflection. He sat by the pond and pined away, and ended becoming a white and golden and yellow and orange flower.
It is a little bit meaningless, self-referential, to love myself.
Love, by definition, requires a subject and a different object.
In fact, if anything, we are told by Jesus that if we wish to be his followers, we need to learn to hate even our own lives.

Jesus here is quoting from the Old Testament. 
There, when God tells his people to love their neighbour as themselves, he is telling them to love their neighbour as if the neighbour was one of their own.



That becomes clearer in Leviticus 19.34, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself.” They are to do for the neighbour what they would do for their compatriot, their beloved, their child.
We do for them what we would hope that others would do for us.

But if we loved our neighbour as ourselves, we would look out for their interests and not just our own. We would consider them as better than ourselves (Philippians 2.3), as worthy of more dignity and honour. We would be looking to lift them up, and not expecting them to lift us up. We would be delighted when they had success even when we had failure.

And if we loved them, we would see them as they are:

There is a great deal these days about seeing people as unique individuals – not stereotyping, pre-judging or limiting someone because they are black or Asian or white, male or female, older or younger. As human beings we need bigger categories to make sense of things, and there can be some truth in generalisations, but love goes beyond the generalisations and sees each person as a unique individual.

And if we love our neighbour, we will want to help them when they are in trouble. In Luke, when Jesus tells people to love their neighbour as themselves, he gives the example of the Good Samaritan: who goes out of his way, at personal cost, to rescue the man who was beaten up on the street.

And we will also go out of way in order that they may have the best for them: not just for the short term, but for life and even more for eternity. We will go out of our way to serve them. Paul describes himself as ‘a slave’ of the Corinthian people for Jesus sake.

And if we truly love our neighbour we will see ourselves as part of them: that their destiny and our destiny, their identity and our identity are tied up with each other, and we will long for communion with them, a spiritual communion: we will weep when they weep and we will rejoice when they rejoice.

And if we were truly to love: to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, then when people turn away from God, we would weep. 
We would speak to them of this God of love: who loves them and who longs for communion with them, whatever the cost.
We would encourage them, warn them and challenge them
We would give ourselves to be crucified for them if that would enable them to reach out and find God and become who they were meant to be.

There has only been one person who has really loved like that.

That person was Jesus Christ.
He came from God, he lived as one of us, and he loved God his Father with all his heart, soul and mind.
And he loved his neighbour as himself. And his neighbour, who he loved, are us – you and me.

I said earlier that I do not think that we are commanded to love ourselves.
But what we are told is far more precious: there is one who deeply loves us.
Do not try to love yourself but do know that you are profoundly beloved.
That is what gives us our true dignity and value

God created us in love and, even though we rebelled against him, he still loves us.
And Jesus, in his love for his Father and for us, came to die for us – so that we who were enemies of God might become God’s friends

And Jesus says to people who want to love God, but find that we cannot love God, ‘Come to me.
Come to me because I have loved God, and together with me, you can love God.
Come to me, and I will give you my Spirit, and the Spirit will open your eyes so that you will begin to understand just how much my Father loves you, and just how much I love you'. 

Maybe at first we begin to serve God out of obedience rather than love, but as we allow the Spirit to work in us, we will begin to discover that we have indeed begun to love God.

And for those who have begun to hear – not with our external ear, but with our inner spiritual ear – about this astonishing love of God for us, and who have begun to glimpse the beauty and the holiness of God, then a tiny seed, a spark of love for God has been ignited (it only needs to be a spark) – a touching, 
a ‘warming’ of our heart.

And as we come to Jesus and as we stay with Jesus and as we grow in Jesus, so that spark will be kindled and, in time, become a flame.

Please be patient and gentle with yourselves, especially when we realise that our love for God and for others is weak and feeble.

It is good to be aware that your love for God is weak.

Remember Peter, who was so sure of his love for Jesus. He said he was prepared to die for Jesus. And yet, just a few hours after, he denied him.
Later, when the risen Jesus meets a much more subdued but wiser Peter, he asks Peter if he loves him more than the other disciples. The word that Jesus uses is a word for strong love (agape). But now Peter simply says, ‘Lord you know that I love/like you’. The word that Peter uses is a weaker word for love (fileo). Three times Jesus asks that question, and three times Peter replies with the weaker word for love: ‘Lord you know that I love/like you’

But what happens, I guess, is that after that encounter, if Jesus had asked Peter: ‘Peter do you know that I love you’ – then Peter would have said ‘Yes Lord I know that you deeply love me’.

It is out of the conviction of the love of God for us, that our love for God begins to flow.

As Peter writes himself, many years later, to Christians throughout the Roman empire, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
Oh, and the word that Peter uses there, is the strong word for love, agape!

But please, I repeat, do not beat yourself up about your lack of love.

Real love for God is rooted in our relationship with him, and like a good wine, it takes time to grow. 



Love for God is shown in our decision to turn to him. It is shown in the little things that we begin to do and we don't do: the time we take out to pray, the growing love for his word, for the sacrament, for meeting together, a growing kindness. It is shown in the way that there are small and gradual changes: we find that we do not use the name of Jesus as a swear word, we hate untruths more and more, we become more aware of our own sinfulness and God’s forgiveness and we become less quick to judge; we are less irritable and more patient with others and ourselves. 

Love for God is not so much about where you are now. It is about the direction in which you are going.

So be led by the truth that God loves us. 
Don't think that you have to prove yourself to him
Don’t try to save everyone or meet every need that comes your way. We are mortals. We have limited time and limited physical and emotional resources. Remember, as one of my colleagues was told, ‘there is only one Messiah, one Saviour, and you are not him’. 
And there are times when we have to say no to need, and trust God to do the saving.

But at the same time we do what we can.

And if you feel that you are not doing an action out of love – for instance forgiving someone, or giving, or helping someone in need - then again, don't get worried about it. It is OK!
It is OK to do it as an act of obedience. As they say, ‘fake it to make it’. And as we act from obedience, over time we will realise that we are beginning to act out of love. 

And we are told that if we ask God for his Holy Spirit, he will begin to fill us with his love


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