Jesus answered, “The most important [commandment] 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 12:29–31
I’ve never been great at remembering or celebrating Valentine’s Day, much to the dismay of my wife. It has nothing to do with an objection to the holiday, even if it is over-romanticized and too commercial. Rather, it seems that at times I simply lack the proper interest, foresight, and intentionality to capitalize on the holiday and score some easy brownie-points. Of course, I would never presume that every other guy does this, but I am also sure that I am not alone in my ineptitude, either.
That’s because love, and the proper expression of that love, is actually a difficult thing to handle. We all need reminders and parameters of love to help guard and guide our hearts to the right place. And this is what Jesus says the whole law given to Israel is all about: loving God and loving neighbor – and how and when and where and in what way to go about doing that. Today, under the New Covenant, those parameters are different, but the goal is still the same: loving God and loving neighbor. Here are three observations about love of God and neighbor from Mark 12:29-31 and one from a similar account in Luke 10:25-37
Love of God precedes true love of neighbor
By placing the highest importance and priority on our love for God, Jesus is clearly implying that there can be no true, real, or genuine love of neighbor without true, real, or genuine love of God, first. This is huge! It means that all of our good deeds and neighborly acts are not actually loving if they are not first coming from a genuine love for God. Therefore, let us take care to examine our hearts for genuine affection for God, and strive to make that love our motivation for our love to neighbor.
Loving God requires all of your faculties
Notice also what’s involved in loving God: heart, soul, mind, and strength. I think this just about sums up the entire human person. In other words, loving God requires the use of every part of us, not just a happy feeling in our chest. With our hearts, souls, minds, and physical strength, the various elements of our persons become tools used in the expression of our love for God, therefore we rejoice in our affections for God (heart), apply ourselves to the pursuit of knowing God (mind), and resolve to empty ourselves out in the service of God (strength).
Loving yourself is a given, loving your neighbor is not
As he summarizes the second most important aspect of God’s law, Jesus taps into a fundamental human norm: that everyone cares very deeply and is vested in the flourishing of their own bodies. Self-love is innate in every human person, and while it has certainly become an idol in Western culture, Jesus doesn’t necessarily condemn it here. He simply wants us to recognize that the careful attention and prioritization of our own bodies ought to be at least equally applied to our neighbors as well.
Who is your neighbor?
Lastly, in Luke 10:29, an astute but confused lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus aptly responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a desperate man from Jerusalem finds help by the hands of someone who would normally have no societal dealings with him — a Samaritan. The parable teaches that our neighbor is anyone in need of mercy or help that is in our path. This means our neighbor-love reaches beyond our physical neighbors to anyone we may cross paths with.
Friend, consider the ways your love for God might be strengthened, and seek to apply yourself to the cause of others. Begin in the home and on your own street, but be mindful of opportunities on the train, in the coffee shop, or in line at the grocery store. Most of all, may all of this be done for and through the love of God, who has first loved us.