God with us: Love God, love others

A Scripture study from Caring, part three of four.

If asked to sum up what it means to be a Christ-follower in one sentence, it would be this: Love God and love others. Five words, easy to understand and easy to remember.

Life is a bit upside down right now. Our world has changed seemingly overnight. In the United States, we are accustomed to our freedoms and the privileges that come with living in a democratic nation. We are used to coming and going as we please, crossing state boundaries without a thought. The Constitution guarantees the right of peaceful assembly and we’ve been asked not to meet in groups, but rather stay home. Life is different.

So, if we are not gathering for worship on Sunday morning, if we are not doing our “usual” church thing, how do we impact the world with the love of Jesus? (Perhaps, it’s time for us to rethink what it means to be the church…but that’s another study altogether.) How, in a world being defined by social distancing and seclusion, do we demonstrate love for God and love for others? How do we keep ourselves focused on the things that matter most?

Behind the scenes

When Jesus walked on the earth, the religious leaders of the day were always trying to trip him up, to catch him speaking blasphemy or dismissing the law of Moses. Jesus was dismissing what the law had become, heavy and burdensome, and reminding people what God’s heart was as the law had been delivered. I’ve recently spent time reading the book of Deuteronomy and was amazed by the number of times Moses reminded the Israelites that the first order of business was to love the Lord their God.

Read what Scripture says in Luke 10:25-37 as it begins with that same scenario—someone trying to show Jesus up or justify himself. 

Jesus often taught in parables, earthly stories that help us to understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about. The key players in this parable are four men. The man who was beaten and left for dead. A priest returning from Jerusalem after performing his service in the Temple. A Levite, a temple worker returning from Jerusalem after performing his service. And, a Samaritan, from some of the pieces described, probably a businessman of some sort on his regular route.

The priest and the Levite both walk around the man, neither bothering to see whether he is dead or alive. Neither bothers to find out if he is a fellow Jew. The excuse is likely that they did not want to become ceremonially unclean by touching what might have been a dead body. Here’s the problem…they were traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, not from Jericho to Jerusalem. Why does it matter? They had completed their temple duties, the need for them to remain ceremonially clean had passed. They used their temple responsibilities as a pretext for disregarding the obvious needs of another.

Enter the Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans and would go out of their way to avoid them. They considered them half-breeds and unfaithful to Yahweh. And yet it is the Samaritan who stops, who inconveniences himself, gives out of his own resources, provides for this stranger’s care and demonstrates kindness and compassion.

Beyond the surface  

Luke 10:27 tells us that we are to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Jesus affirmed that what the expert in the law said was correct.

I took a logic class in college. I couldn’t tell you the specifics of most of what we studied, but one definition stuck in my mind. All means all, not some, not most. Therefore, it is not, love the Lord your God with most of your heart and with some of your soul. It is a call to be all in—heart, soul, mind and strength, body, soul and spirit. We are called to love God with our whole person.

Loving God completely involves loving what God loves—justice, mercy, sinners, saints, the disenfranchised, the entitled, the rich, the poor, widows, orphans, drug addicts, alcoholics, all ethnicities, all people groups, etc., etc., etc. Loving God completely involves being brokenhearted by the things that break God’s heart—pornography, racism, abandoned children, divorce, hatred, sexism, sickness, disease, poverty, human trafficking, violence…

And then, we live in a manner that demonstrates our love for God.

Between the lines

One of the best ways we can demonstrate our love for God is to behave in loving ways toward others. 

Jesus gave us one new commandment when he walked among us, as one of us, “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). 

So, first, Christ-followers need to love each other. If we can’t act in love toward those with whom we share an intimate bond of faith, what does that say to those who are yet to know Christ as savior? 

Then, Jesus calls us to love as he loves. What does that look like?                                                         

Christ’s love is sacrificial. Christ’s love is honest. Loving us too much to leave us in our own sin, Jesus calls us to account and calls us to change. Christ’s love never leaves us, even when we are at our worst. Jesus’s love is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping score, not delighting in evil, rejoicing in truth, protecting, trusting, hopeful, persevering, never failing.

So, what does that look like in practical ways, in difficult days? How can you demonstrate Christ’s love to a world that is hurting and confused and searching?                                                                                                                                                                                 Perhaps it looks like only buying what you need at the grocery store and leaving something for the next person. Perhaps it looks like making telephone calls to people you know who live alone and may be feeling especially isolated. Perhaps it looks like writing notes of encouragement. Perhaps it’s offering to grocery shop for someone you know is at high risk should they come in contact with this virus. Be creative!

When we act in love toward the world, it is the best demonstration of our love for God, and it is the best possible example of Jesus to the world.

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LeAnn Van Cleef-Trimmer, Major

Major LeAnn Van Cleef-Trimmer, M.Div., is Corps Officer of the Reno (Nevada) Corps and County Coordinator in Washoe County.