TO LOVE GOD IS TO LOVE SOMEONE
I John 4:7-21, Psalm 90, Matthew 22:34-46
October 27, 1996 by Tad Mitsui
When you stop to think a little deeper about so-called "Great Commandment", you will realize that something does not quite jibe. Jesus said that the most important commandment of God is, "Love God and love your neighbours." One wonders, if one can command anyone to love. Love is impulsive and irresistible. To us, it is passion that hits us unexpectedly and surprises us. And often it dies against our wish. It is often beyond our control. Love comes and goes as though it has a life of its own. So to command someone to love sounds almost like there is something wrong with the grammar of this sentence.
Incidentally what is interesting about this passage is the fact that the sentences Jesus quoted were not new. Everybody, including the Pharisees who wanted to test Jesus, should have been familiar with them. They were part of what follows the Ten Commandments, "You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbour as yourself." The Pharisees, like many of our lawyers, lost a basic but simple priority of life because they made God”s world very complicated with too many technicalities. When you make too many exceptions and excuses, you lose the most important core teaching.
The great commandment is very simple and while being most profound. You can meditate on the meaning of the great commandment all your life without running out of the things to reflect on. This says to us that many good things of life are quite simple but rich, like motherhood or friendship. Love is one of them. But today let me pick three points that this commandment draws attention to, though you can easily pick hundreds more. First: Love is dynamic. Love can and must change and grow. Secondly, loving God and loving some person is the same thing. To love God is to love someone. Thirdly, there is no true love without healthy self-love.
First: Love is dynamic. It is alive. It changes and grows. In fact, it must change. Notice how the Bible says of our love of God. It says that we must love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. We all know what loving with our heart means. It is the instinctive and irresistible force that draws you to someone or something. When we fall in love, we love someone with our hearts. Passion hits you with a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling. We love it. But we also know that a warm and fuzzy thing does not last every long, like any living thing without nourishment. So the Bible suggests that we must also love with our soul. This is a spiritual dimension of love. It is a matter of commitment and will. So our love that begins with a passion must make us commit ourselves to that love. Love of heart can take you so far but eventually the momentum weakens. There has to be a motor to continue. It often needs a kick start – a spiritual kick from God. Love has to grow to be a commitment. And this is a matter of the soul.
Our brain must work with our soul, too. Our spiritual life dies if we do not nurture it with constant mental support. God created us as a creature who thinks. Unless we give a mental support to our commitment to love, our spiritual motivation will eventually die. This is why some of us come to church and listen to the sermons and study the Bible.
Secondly, the love of God and of people are the same thing. John, in his letter, said it bluntly, "Those who say that they love God and hate brothers and sisters are liars." Unfortunately, among people who claim to love God and the church, there are those who do not like people. There are, among those who claim to be committed to God, people who hate and reject people of different ideas, life-styles, and religions. We must remember that to love God is to accept and love others. They are two sides of a coin. One does not exist without the other. We must see God in each one of our friends and neighbours. In the Old Testament, the word "alien" is used interchangeably with the word "neighbour". Neighbours include those who are not necessarily of our kind or among our favourite people.
Nobody has seen God. So if we must love God, we must love anyone who happens to cross our path. You never know who that person could be. This is another reason why loving someone only with your heart is not always possible, because that person who crosses our path may not always be our favourite person. We need divine intervention – a kick from God to love such a person. To love our neighbour is a matter of loving with our soul, and may not be of passion.
Lastly, an ability to love others grows out of our self-love. The commandment says: "Love your neighbour as yourself." It means, if you do not know how to love yourself, you don”t know how to love other people. You may think that it is natural and easy to love yourself. You can be so wrong. In fact, a big problem in our society today is self-hatred. The secret of many advertisements – I am sure you remember me saying this many times – is to encourage people to be dissatisfied with themselves, so that they buy things to make them feel better than they are now. We have difficulty accepting ourselves and thus often do not feel good about ourselves as we are. We believe that we can never be "okay". This is why we easily become so preoccupied with trying to be like somebody else instead of finding good in ourselves. We feel that we are never good enough. This is why we envy others for being what we are not, and covet what we don”t possess. In fact it is not too far off to say that we become self-centred and selfish, because of our preoccupation about our incompleteness. This is why healthy self-love can lead to genuine love of others.
If the love of others grows out of a healthy self-love, it is also important to remember that such self-love can come only from a strong sense of being loved. It is a gentle and kind circle: being loved by others leads to healthy self-love , and self-love enables you to love others. Of course, the other side of the story is that a vicious circle can result: not being loved enough can lead to self-hatred, and self-hatred can lead to selfishness and the hatred of others. So you see, self-love does not lead to a self-centered and selfish attitude. Rather it is self-hatred which does. Loving yourself and feeling good about yourself lead you to feel confident about yourself. When you feel confident, the whole world becomes a wonderful place to live in. That”s the basis of love.
So you see, we can follow the great commandment because of another core belief of ours. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son." We are Christians because of our conviction that God forgives us and accepts us, because he loves us. This is why it is possible for us to love someone, or anyone. And to love someone means that we can love God in return. Thanks be to God.