“Teacher, what is the greatest Commandment?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” –Mat. 22:36-40
I grew up in a small Southern town. I went to the same school from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and when I graduated, I knew everyone in my class. My hometown was the type of town where everyone pretty much knew everyone, and the grapevine of gossip was alive and well. As much as I love my hometown, I could remember moments when people weren’t the nicest. If you were different in some way, or people just didn’t understand you, you were talked about and looked down upon. Many of these judgments would be masked in Christian churches and would come out of the mouths of people claiming to be followers of Jesus.
I’m not condemning those who would judge because the truth is, we’ve all been there. I know I have. It is easy to show love to someone who is exactly like you. It is harder to show love to someone you don’t understand, or, if I can be so bold to say, agree with. But Scripture doesn’t say that we should only love the people we can get along with. It doesn’t call us to only love the people with the same religion, the same ethnicity, and the same sexual orientation. Scripture calls us to a love much greater than our own understanding of love. It calls us to love all people. Period.
But how do we do that? How can we love people? How can we love people we don’t understand?
- Love God. The first and most important, really the only answer, to loving people we don’t understand lies within the passage as well. It is the first and greatest commandment: Love God, If we truly love God, and we truly strive to live for him, continually seeking his face, everything we do will flow from it. Our love for others comes from our love for the Father. If we love God and believe that all men and women were created in His image, we know he loves his creation. Only through a relationship with God can we experience true love and can we truly love others. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and loves God.” –1 Jn. 4:7
- We can’t save people from their sins. It’s hard to love someone who we view to be a sinner. We try to tell them their sins are separating them from God, and we get frustrated when they don’t listen. We focus so hard on getting them to repent, to extinguish the sin we disagree with in their lives. Scripture tells us that we can’t save people from their sins. Only Christ can. I think it’s important to spread the gospel and encourage others towards repentance, but there is a danger when we take on the role of exterminators trying to eradicate the world of all their sins. “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.” –1 Pet. 4:8
- Relationships are important. God calls us to love others, and loving others requires relationships. Because we don’t agree with certain people, we focus on that one thing we disagree with. Often we forget that they are human too, with passions and dreams. Relationships are important. It tells the person that you care about them as a human being, instead of as someone that needs to conform to your ways. If you focus on forming relationships, you might be surprised how much you come to love that person, despite your differences. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.” –1 Jn 3:18
God’s view on loving people is so important that he listed it as the second greatest commandment. Because of this, as followers of him, we have to take this command seriously. The two greater commandments, love God and love others, should transform the way we live. Not only should we seek the Lord more, but these commands should call us to treat people differently. We know a love that is the greatest love of all. A love where a man, despite being perfect and holy, died a most humiliating death so that we, who don’t deserve it, can have full and abundant life. In order to show the broken world that kind of love, we must learn to do what he did–to truly love the broken people who are in it.