All of this Royal Wedding business has got me thinking about love and relationships. After all relationships are a significant part of life. A big part of being created in God's image is being relational. After all God Himself relates to us personally, as our Father. He also enjoys a perfect relationship with His Son and the Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity.
Our greatest joys in life, as well as our greatest woes are often the result of our relationships. For our lives to go the way they should we have to work on our relationships. We must relate to the right things in the right way and thankfully God hasn't left us to discover how to do this alone. Instead speaking clearly in answer to a Pharisee, Christ shows us what the priority of all our our relationships should be and shows us the true essence of a proper relationship.
“Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). Seems like an innocent question right? Well it is until one considers the context of this question. Pharisees and other Jewish leaders had been plotting Jesus' downfall for some time and this was yet another attempt to “entangle him in his talk” (v.15). Having just exposed their ignorance of the Scriptures and the resurrection in relation to a question about taxes He is now faced with this question concerning the Law.
It was a question debated day in and day out by Rabbis and theologians of the day. Having divided the Law into positive and negative commands (248 positive and 365 negative) they often argued over which were great, burdensome sins and which were small, lightweight sins
Jesus, rather than get caught up in all of these debates gives a comprehensive answer which not only answered the enquirer but also revealed God's will for us. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt:22:37–40).
He sums up the whole Law in His answer and shows us our responsibilities in our relationship with God and our fellow human beings. He shows us that the essences and purpose of all our relationships is love.
God Himself should be our first priority in love. We are to love him completely and supremely. Heart and soul, body and mind should “all” direct and show our love to God.
But what does this kind of love look like? Christ said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). So following God's commands and direction and being obedient is closely connected to loving the Lord, but it is not doing justice to describe love this simply. Love is more than an act of the will. Certainly part of love includes an act of the will, but it first arises in the affections.
John shows this connection in 1 John 5:3 where he writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Loving God means that one must observe and indeed keep His commandments. Not as a burden but instead as a delight. Just read Psalm 119 which repeatedly shows what I'm trying to explain... an attitude of delight in God's Law.
Saint Augustine described the love we should have for God as “the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one's self and of one's neighbour for the sake of God.” So we can see that loving God is really enjoying God, above everyone and everything else and living obediently with gladness to His in love.
But this isn't the end of Jesus' message. He continues to teach that, after loving God with our “all”, our next responsibility is to love other people sincerely and honestly. Now I've heard lots of different teaching on this (haven't we all) and contrary to what some espouse, Christ is not commanding self-love. It is wrong to take Christ's words and use them to imply that we cannot love others until we love ourselves because Christ and the Apostles knew that we already love ourselves enough. The Apostle Paul makes this very point when he notes that “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). This type of self-love is shown by the choices we make which serve only our own personal intentions and interests. No matter how destructive these choices may turn out to be, they are still ultimately expressions of our love for ourselves.
Self-love however hard we try, is inevitable. Once we understand that Christ command to love others as much as we love ourselves is pretty hard to achieve. Think about it, the education you always wanted, the health you wish to enjoy, the sunny beach front property and all that money, along with all the other comforts and benefits of this life that you desire for yourself - you are also to desire for your neighbours.
Not only your friends and family but even your enemies are to enjoy this love. The message however doesn't mean that I am to love them more than God, for I am never to do that, but instead that I must love my neighbour as much as I love myself.
Of course without the grace of Jesus Christ this is impossible. In order to live up to Christ's commandments I am totally dependent upon His grace because I just cannot love God supremely nor people sincerely apart unless His love had reached me first through His msot precious Gospel.
1 John 4:19 - “We love because He first loved us.”