January 16, 2014

The greatest commandments . . .

Jesus was asked “Which commandment is the most important of all?” His answer compares to the Ten Commandments with the first four relating to God and the remainder concerning relationships with others.

The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall 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: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:20–31)

Prior to opening my devotional reading this morning, I finished reading an assignment article from my current class on Christian Ethics. It was called “Faith and Good Works” and described Martin Luther’s understanding of how these relate to each other according to the Bible. He said that those who love God will have changed lives. In putting Him first, we also love others, but not the same as before believing in Christ. This understanding also points to the structure of those ten commandments.

That is, by loving God, I will serve and obey Him. In obeying Him, I will be loving others, not using them for my own gain nor making idols out of those that care about. The devotional reading points to the idolatry of emotional dependency. It is sin to rely on anyone else other than Jesus to meet my deepest needs.

However, loving God includes both abandonment and receptivity. Those who would be Christian must leave all . . .

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25–27)

Yet in leaving all, we gain all . . .  

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28–31)

How can this be? The answer is that God changes how we relate to people. That is, being a Christian is not about losing everything we possess but a change in how we possess it. When abandoning my old,  human, and self-centered way of relationships, God calls me to love Him with all my hearts, then He turns me around to love others as myself.

I cannot do the latter without the former.. The human heart is an idol-making factory and unless I love God, I will worship something else. In hanging on to other idols, my relationships will be unloving because I will not have in me the power of God to overcome my selfishness, my “what’s in this for me” attitudes.

Loving others does not put people on a pedestal nor does it abandon them so I can be “self-sufficient.” Instead, it gives up all personal motivations and desires. Just as God loves, I’m to do for others what is eternally best for them. But I cannot even know what that looks like nor have the power to do it unless my relationship with God is one of faith, love, and obedience.

Being a Christian is easy and simple, but often seems terribly difficult and complicated!

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