75: What it really means to love others with Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant

Love your neighbors.

Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant says he believes this is one of the most challenging aspects of the greatest commandment.

There’s people we don’t agree with—maybe even don’t like. People who’ve wronged us—maybe even gotten away with it.

And yet, Mark 12:30-31 says this: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 neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Dean Pallant is Communications Director for The Salvation Army United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland Territory. He has served with The Salvation Army across the world as a corps officer (or pastor), International Health Services Coordinator, Director of the International Social Justice Commission, as a member of the International Moral and Social Issues Council and more.

He’s the author of the book, “To Be Like Jesus – Christian Ethics for a 21st century Salvation Army,” addressing many of the big issues challenging Christ-followers today. 

And as he says, to learn how to love others, we must look to Jesus.

Dean Pallant recently spoke at a virtual Salvation Army holiness retreat about loving others. His exploration is powerful and practical, so we’re bringing it to you here in two parts.

First, what does it mean to love others?

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

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Throughout this “Virtual Brengle” weekend, we are considering Jesus’ response to the question: “What is the greatest commandment?”

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus replies: “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 neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”’

Yesterday, Colonels Janet and Richard Munn reflected on “Love the Lord your God.” Tomorrow, Captain Rowe will help us think about “Loving ourselves.” So here we are, in the middle, with “Love your neighbor.” I think this is the most challenging aspect of the greatest commandment. Loving others is very difficult! Especially people we don’t like; people we don’t agree with; people who do wrong and seem to get away with it. How are we supposed to love them?

Jesus was not sharing a new idea when said we should love others. Leviticus 19:18 commands: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Throughout his life, Jesus brought a completely fresh understanding to this ancient commandment. In the way he lived his life, Jesus showed us what it looks like when we love our neighbor. Jesus gave up a position of power and privilege in heaven and was born to a young mother, in an animal shelter. Soon after his birth, his parents had to flee a tyrannical ruler who wanted to kill him. Luke tells us at the end of chapter 2 that Jesus grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was on him.

That’s a lovely description of a child growing into an adult, “becoming strong, filled with wisdom and grace.” It would be wonderful to hear that said about anyone at any age—becoming strong, filled with wisdom and grace.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus showed us what “loving others” looks like—the way he led his disciples; his approach to women and children who were looked down upon by the male-dominated society. And, of course, the greatest example of loving your neighbor—being executed on a cross. Loving others was not easy even for Jesus. In Luke 9:23, Jesus taught us to expect similar challenges when he said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” So this is tough stuff we are thinking about today.

Let’s return to Jesus’ answer to the question “What is the greatest commandment?” His response had a great impact on the first disciples and the early church. The commandment to love others is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It also commanded in Romans 13; Galatians 5, 1 John 3, James 2, etc.

Matthew’s gospel has an interesting extra sentence in chapter 22:40. Jesus had just brilliantly answered a tricky question from the Sadducees. So, the Pharisees now try to catch him out.  

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Verse 40 is the final sentence. It is very significant. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Everything else in the Bible…every other commandment, rule and prophecy hangs on the commandments to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. Like a big, old tree with a huge trunk…every branch, twig, every leaf, every fruit that we see in the Word of God…all of this hangs on Love God, Love Others and Love Yourself. For Jesus. there is nothing more important than this. This is what perfect love looks like: Love God, Love Others, Love Yourself. What a privilege to be able to spend time this weekend diving deep into this stuff.

After Commissioner Colleen Riley invited me to present this session, I received several words of confirmation that “loving our neighbor” is God’s word for The Salvation Army today.

First, did you see Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama chatting a few weeks ago? (Watch it here, especially minutes 1:22 to 2:06.)

The idea of “loving others” is central to western democracy because those who developed the principles of democracy in both Europe and the USA were deeply influenced by the Christian and Jewish faith.

Loving your neighbor is also something we are talking about here in the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland. I am the Secretary for Communications and for the past 12 months, I have been co-chairing a task force set up to clarify the identity of The Salvation Army. We’ve grappled with questions such as: Who are we? What are we trying to do? How do we describe ourselves?

I’ve spent many hours with some wonderful UK Salvationists teasing out the different aspects of our identity. We are a church, we are a charity, we care for homeless people and survivors of human trafficking; we have bands and songsters and youth work, older people as well as children’s ministries; we help people get employment; we track down missing relatives; we have thrift stores, a massive recycling operation, an insurance company, and more. Just like The Salvation Army in the USA we do so many different activities.

A Christian communications and branding expert came to the first meeting of the identity task force and asked us a simple question: “What connects all these different activities? What is the shared idea that generates your passion, generates your vision, generates your identity?” He called it our “generative idea.” It is not a slogan. It might never appear in a mission statement or a list of values. But it is the idea that holds together everything we do.

We’ve spent a year discussing this—sadly the work was delayed by the pandemic so this is not yet finalized, but we keep getting pulled back to a simple generative idea for The Salvation Army in the UK and Ireland. All the activities and aspects of life in the Army are energized by four powerful words: “Love God, Love Others.”  

I have a strong conviction that at this time in our Army’s history, the Lord is wanting his Army to grapple with the implications of the greatest commandment. We are, after all, one Salvation Army that was raised up by God just a couple of miles down the road from where I am standing now. It should not be surprising that God has similar messages for Salvationists around the world. I hear God is saying to us: Salvation Army remember the greatest commandment—Love God, Love Others. It is not enough to do one part of the commandment. You can’t just love God and ignore your neighbors. Neither, Salvation Army, should you become merely a social service agency that helps others but dares not mention God for fear of causing offense.

“Love God, Love Others” needs to be embraced by every part of The Salvation Army. Every employee, every volunteer, every soldier, every adherent, every junior soldier, every officer. “Love God, Love Others” is our reason to get out of bed every morning with a spring in our step! It’s our generative idea.

Now I am not saying anything new. The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine is a wonderful book. I do hope you have a copy and refer to it regularly. The Handbook of Doctrine explains that loving God and loving our neighbor is central to everything we do. Here’s a superb explanation of why The Salvation Army does what it does:

All our activities, practical, social and spiritual, arise out of our basic conviction of the reality of the love of God and our desire to see all people brought into relationship with him …

Our doctrine reminds us that salvation is holistic: the work of the Holy Spirit touches all areas of our life and personality, our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, our relationships with our families and with the world around us.

Through the life, teaching, example, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we know what loving our neighbor looks like. By sending his son to earth, God’s love is available to everyone. We can live like Jesus! We can be like Jesus! We can have transformed relationships with God and with each other; our understanding of ourselves can be transformed; the world around us can be transformed. People of The Salvation Army, we must love God and love others in every area of life, in every relationship, in every part of our Army, in every part of the world. Even when we are relaxing—and it is important to rest—we are seeking to be like Jesus.

We must also love every aspect of our neighbor. We are not called to love part of our neighbor. I’ve heard people try to argue that we are only called to love our neighbors’ souls—as if we can separate out the soul from other parts of our neighbor. Reverend John Stott, one of the most prominent global evangelists of the 20th century and a good partner in the gospel and friend of Billy Graham, tackled this head-on. Stott said something Salvationists might find surprising. Stott said: 

“I have never had a love or passion for souls. I can’t envisage a soul as being an adequate object of my love, affection or passion. What God has done is create human beings, and human beings are more than a soul: they are bodysouls and they are body-souls-in-a-community.

Therefore, if I truly love my neighbor, the second great commandment obliges me to serve my neighbor in his or her physical, social and spiritual dimensions.”

This is an important word for The Salvation Army. God’s mission to the world is to save wholes not souls. Our doctrines include both the “immortality of the soul” and the “resurrection of the body.” We must be very careful not to get confused on this matter. When we talk about soul-saving in the Army we mean the whole person getting saved. We must not fragment people and act as if the soul is more important than the body. As Catherine Booth put it in a sermon in 1881: “It is not a scheme of salvation merely—it is a scheme of restoration. He proposes to restore me—brain, heart, soul, spirit, body, every fiber of my nature to restore me perfectly, to conform me wholly to the image of his Son.”

We also need to ask: saved from what? 

Loving our neighbor is not an activity we do just to keep us busy while we are living on earth before we escape this fallen world and fly off to Heaven. No. Loving your neighbor is an essential aspect of God’s mission to save the world. We must love our neighbor and build God’s kingdom until the day when Christ returns to reunite heaven and earth. The well-respected Church of England Bishop, author and leading New Testament Professor NT Wright explains:  

“What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.

These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether…They are part of what we may call building for God’s Kingdom.

This is a powerful vision for The Salvation Army. Every activity we do—filling food boxes, cleaning up after a sick addict, caring for a vulnerable older person, leading a Bible study, attending Brengle West, inviting friends around to watch the SuperBowl tomorrow evening…all of this counts in God’s economy. Nothing is a wasted activity when we do it for the Master.

If only, we who claim to be Christians were better at sharing the gospel with people who don’t follow Jesus. People are searching for meaning in life. They want to live life to the full—and there is nothing more challenging, exciting and transforming than the gospel of Jesus. But we are so often such awful salespeople! Oh that we could help people catch the vision of possibilities that God wants us to enjoy. It is so radical and ambitious.

There is a paragraph in our Handbook of Doctrine that challenges me every time I read it: “Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament law had promised and anticipated. He taught that the Law was, in fact, fulfilled in love. This was the ethic of love. To realize Jesus’ radical ethic of love is to treat all our relationships as holy covenants. God is able to love through us. This transformation is what makes social holiness possible and what enables us to live by the radical ethic of love.”

This is what loving your neighbor looks like—we are called to treat all our relationships as holy covenants. Wow! My wife, Eirwen, and I have been married for 28 years this year. We made a covenant with each other and with God to love, serve and care for each other. That is our holy covenant.

Let’s be honest and admit it is not always easy to keep covenants with people we love. How are we expected to treat all our relationships as holy covenants? This is the outrageous, audacious, mind-blowing way of living that Jesus is calling us to: Love your neighbor as yourself by treating all your relationships as holy covenants.

We make this promise when we become soldiers in The Salvation Army. Here is an extract from the Soldier’s Covenant: “I will maintain Christian ideals in all my relationships with others: my family and neighbors, my colleagues and fellow Salvationists, those to whom and for whom I am responsible, and the wider community.”

This is all about loving our neighbor!

This is not easy so we need to build deep, covenantal relationships with people who can challenge us when we are going off the tracks; comfort us when we are facing tough times. Being a Christ-follower is a deeply relational experience. Jesus was and is always in deep relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. We were created to have deep relationships.

I need mature believers to challenge me, inspire me, teach me and sometimes correct me. This is only possible if we have deep friendships with mature members of the body of Christ. Who do you have in your life who challenges you? Who corrects you? Do you encourage them to do so or do you, like me, sometimes feel threatened and get defensive?

There is also much to be gained from having deep friendships with people who are not followers of Jesus. Non-Christian friends help sharpen our faith in Jesus, they will quickly challenge any hypocrisy in our actions and keep us grounded.

This event is called “Brengle.” It is named after a famous Salvation Army officer, Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle, who died in 1936 but his influence lives on. Commissioner Brengle taught about the importance of loving others. He wrote an article titled, “What About The Future Of The Salvation Army?” Nothing changes! Still today Salvationists love to discuss the future of the Army. Many of us worry about the future of the Army. We have invested so much of our lives in this beloved movement. However, when Salvationists get together and talk about the Army too often the tone of the conversation is negative. It is easier to criticize and complain than to love others and build each other up.

We are blessed to have Commissioner Brengle on film to tell you more. Listen carefully. These prophetic words are critically important for today’s Salvation Army:

“I have recently been asked what I think about the future of The Salvation Army. This is an old question, about as old as the Army itself. It was going the rounds when I joined The Army over 40 years ago, and someone has been asking it ever since. Both friends and foes of the Army have asked it. Officers and soldiers whose lives and whose families have been linked up and entwined with The Army have asked it; and I doubt not our leaders have pondered over it and given it their profoundest and most anxious thought…

Many years ago, just after a tour that had taken me ‘round the world, an old officer asked me with a quizzical look: ‘Are you going to leave the Army ship before she sinks?’ I assured him that from a rather wide range of intimate observation I saw no signs that the ship was seriously leaking, or likely to sink, but that even if I did, as an officer my business was to stick to the ship and do all in my power to save it, or go down with it and its precious freightage of the souls of men and women and little children. ‘The hireling fleeth when he seeth the wolf coming. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.’ And the true officer gives his life for the Army and the souls who are in its keeping.

Doubters and timid souls have been prophesying the end of the Army from its very beginning, but still it lives and prospers. But what will be its future? Will it continue to live and prosper? Or has it fulfilled its mission?

Like a great bridge hung upon two buttresses, so the Army is buttressed upon God and man…The future of the Army depends not only upon God—I say it reverently and in his fear—but also upon man, upon men, upon you and me and all who have to do with the Army…

If The Salvation Army of the future is to prosper and win spiritual triumphs, we must follow the Master, not seeking first place or power, but glorying in the cross…

God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

If the future of The Salvation Army is to be spiritually radiant and all-conquering, we must not simply endure the cross, but glory in it. This will arrest the world, disarm Hell, and gladden the heart of our Lord.

We must ‘by love serve one another.’ We are following him who ‘came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.’ We, too, must give our lives for others, shrinking from no service, holding ourselves ever ready to wash the feet of the lowliest disciple.

We must still prove our discipleship by our love one for the other. It is not enough to wear the uniform, to profess loyalty to Army leaders and principles, to give our goods to feed the poor and our bodies to be burned. We must love one another. We must make this the badge of our discipleship. We must wrestle and pray and hold fast that we do not lose this.

The Army is so thoroughly organized and disciplined, so wrought into the life of nations, so fortified with valuable properties, and on such a sound financial basis, that it is not likely to perish as an organization, but it will become a spiritually dead thing if love leaks out. Love is the life of the Army. ‘If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.’ But if love leaks out we shall lose our crown, we shall have a name to live and yet be dead.

We may still house the homeless, dole out food to the hungry, punctiliously perform our routine work, but the mighty ministry of the Spirit will no longer be our glory. Our musicians will play meticulously, our songsters will revel in the artistry of song that tickles the ear, but leaves the heart cold and hard. Our officers will…hob-nob with mayors and councilmen and be greeted in the marketplace, but God will not be among us. We shall still recruit our ranks and supply our training garrisons with cadets from among our own young people, but we shall cease to be saviors of the lost sheep that have no shepherd.

If the future of The Salvation Army is to still be glorious, we must heed the exhortation: ‘Let brotherly love continue.’ We must remember that all we are brethren and beware lest through leakage of love we become like the wicked of whom the Psalmist wrote: Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son (Psalm l:20), and find our hearts full of strife and bitter envying where the love that suffereth long and is kind should reign supreme.

This is that for which Jesus pleaded on that last night before his crucifixion: ‘This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.’”

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