Religious teachers eager to trap Jesus asked: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Anticipating the question, He replied: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”
Jesus continued, “The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
In 2020, we’ve seen what happens when we hold loosely to the latter commandment but collectively neglect the former. Since April, health experts have been urging Americans to wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to make the moral case for doing so, many have clung to one half of Jesus’ two greatest commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But unfortunately, in the dumpster fire that is this year, we’ve seen that command only applies some of the time. When it comes to protecting those who may be at risk of contracting severe complications from COVID-19, it’s clear: we are absolutely to love our neighbors, society tells us. But what about when our neighbors have political opinions that differ from our own perspectives?
We so quickly embraced the call to love our neighbors in the spring, but in the heat of the summer — at the height of racial unrest, complete with protests, riots, and violence — we forgot all about it. Just a handful of months after we tried to come together under the banner of “love your neighbor,” we’ve seen hate-filled rants over “privilege” on airplane cabins, intentional race-bating in neighborhoods, deadly violence and destruction in cities across the U.S., escalated confrontations between those with differing beliefs, and the suggestion that people can’t be “real” Christians unless they’re voting for a particular candidate in November.
When we neglect the other half of Jesus’ two greatest commandments — to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” — we put ourselves in the position of playing “god,” choosing when, how, and where to apply His other command, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
To love God means to obey His teachings, to follow the dictates of Scripture.
The Jewish leaders of the day were focused on their own political and religious aspirations. To them, Jesus was a nuisance, a barrier to accomplishing their goals. So the leaders tried trapping Jesus, confident they could force Him to elevate one commandment over the others. But Jesus didn’t take the bait. Instead, He referenced an Old Testament teaching the Pharisees and Sadducees would know well: Deuteronomy 6:5.
“You must love the Lord you God will all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength,” the verse reads. The passage goes on to explain how we do that:
You must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
This isn’t a formula for loving God. But it is evidence of the love of God.
In His death and resurrection, Jesus paid the penalty for our wrongdoing, because no matter how hard we try, we can’t perfectly obey God’s law. But rather than allowing the grace of Jesus’ resurrection to trick us into believing we are free to sin perpetually (Romans 6:15), it should compel us to love God so deeply we are committed to following His teachings, working to model our lives after His character, presented to us through the law.
When we work to love God, a true love for our neighbors — and even our enemies — is a natural result of that effort.
This year has given us a unique opportunity to learn an important lesson. We ought to be quick to listen and slow to become angry (James 1:19), ready to love those who look, believe, and even vote differently from us.
I pray we won’t forget that.