Over the years I have spoken at meetings in many places and many countries. On occasions I have had someone come up to me to check out if I am orthodox. They tend to be more Evangelical believers. “Do you believe in the authority of the Bible?” is one such test question. When I say I do, I can see a Brownie point being awarded mentally by the questioner.
Jesus had a similar experience (Luke chapter 10 verses 25-37). One translation says a lawyer approach him, which sounds like a local solicitor! No, this guy was an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.
He asked Jesus: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” Jesus responded: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
Immediately, many people misunderstand because they don’t clearly note exactly what Jesus said. Many people think that the way to heaven is to love your neighbour. But Jesus, in effect, was saying that is not the most important aspect.
The most important aspect is to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”
Many people outside the church are very good, caring, hospitable people. They might be better than some Christians. But they neglect what Jesus teaches is the First and Greatest Commandment: to love God. They might ask God for help but they don’t express their love, adoration and worship to him, privately or with others in church.
No-one will inherit eternal life unless they love God and express that love for him. Another way of putting it is to love Jesus. He is fairly easy to imagine. God is more difficult to grasp.
Can you remember a time when you suffered unrequited love? You met some wonderful person and fell in love. But the other person didn’t respond by loving you. It was very painful. You were pre-occupied, off your food, dreaming of your beloved, looking out for them, wanting to communicate with them. It is one of the most traumatic human experiences.
God is by far the greatest sufferer from unrequited love – ever. Millions whom he dearly loves, don’t love him. And some of those who profess to love him are selfish and unfaithful.
It would be unhelpful to say that I feel sorry for God. That makes him too much on a human level. But I find it incredibly sad that his love is so unrequited around the world. In fact, the greatest motive for evangelism is to encourage more people to respond to God’s love by loving him and expressing love for him.
God doesn’t need our love. But he is love and love calls for a loving response. We are called to love him with all our heart (emotions), soul (the centre of our being), strength (effort, which includes obedience: doing what pleases him) and mind (meditation on him and discerning how to please him).
But we are also commanded to:
LOVE OUR NEIGHBOUR
This is a real challenge: to love our neighbour as ourselves. When the lawyer tries to get off the hook by asking who his neighbour is, Jesus tells him the story of the Good Samaritan. Let me modernize the story. A Jewish Israeli was travelling down the road to Jericho (my wife and I know the road well: it is still quite wild and remote). Suddenly a group of men stopped him and mugged him, leaving him half dead.
Eventually a rabbi comes along, sees the wounded man, but he’s in a hurry to get to the synagogue, so he walks on. Then another Jewish Israeli comes along, sees the wounded man, but is afraid to stop because the muggers may still be around.
Finally, a Palestinian comes along and sees the injured Israeli. He stops, ignoring the risks, cleans up the wounded Jewish man’s wounds, puts him on his donkey and takes him to a local hotel, where he pays for him to stay and promises to return to settle any further costs he incurs.
Through this wonderful old story, Jesus challenges us, following on from regularly expressing our love and worship to God, to show compassion and get involved with our neighbour’s needs; to change our priorities in order to help, to face any risks involved, to give practical and even sacrificial assistance.
Jesus ended his story of the Good Samaritan by saying “Go and do likewise.” In other words, in this passage Jesus challenges both to love God and our neighbour. Then we shall be confident of inheriting eternal life. But don’t forget the first priority of regularly expressing love and worship to God.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction