Soul Talk Advent Series 2019: 'Words to Live a Life by'
Guest Blogger: Aaron Elder
Jesus faced lots of questions: Where does your power come from? Should we pay taxes? Will we still be married in heaven?
The religious leaders liked nothing more than putting their heads together to try to come up with questions they hoped would catch Jesus out. They were a sneaky bunch. On one occasion an expert in the law asked Jesus: "from all the laws of God, which one is the greatest?"
Jesus replied "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39)
It comes as no surprise that Jesus beautifully answers the question, sidestepping the intended trip hazard and challenging the religious crowd. Time and time again Jesus brings us to the heart of God’s laws. His response suggests that what matters most to God is not religious posing or even ‘right behaviour’ but love.
With this, Jesus undermines the rule-following legalism of his questioner, instead prioritising a relationship with God and with others, that is marked by love.
For those who follow the way of Jesus and seek to live under his teaching, this comes as a simple and yet profound reminder. Jesus is unmistakably clear. We are to love God and love the person next to us.
And when we love, we are to love with all of our heart, soul and mind. These three things make for a great spiritual health-check.
This is about what’s really going on inside. It’s our internal world and emotions. Jesus cares if your heart is open to God or not. Is your heart turned towards God in love? Are there blockages? Is pride or shame or sin keeping you at arm’s length?
We each have a thirst in our souls for something beyond us. An internal hunger for significance. To love God with all your soul is to allow God to be the one who satisfies your life. Is God the one who satisfies your soul? Or are there idols taking the place of God? Other things that occupy the centre of your world?
To love God with all your mind is to deliberately turn your thoughts towards him. To mature as a thinker so that you can increasingly know and love Him. Is your mind centred around the presence of God in your life? Or are there distractions, busyness or worries that are pulling you in different directions?
And Jesus isn’t finished. He tags on a cheeky little counterpart to the first command. The second command is like the first one: "Love your neighbour as yourself."
It seems clear from the life and teaching of Jesus that you can’t say that you love God but hate people. Our relationship with God is deeply, even inseparably, connected to our relationship with people.
It’s worth paying attention to what Jesus is not saying. He is not saying that you have to earn God’s love by loving other people. That would lead us back into a world of religious moralism. Notice the order of the commands. First love God and then love people.
My experience is that when I am deliberately pursuing a growing love for God I become more loving to the people around me. I think it’s because God rubs off on me. When I’m with Him I start to want the things that he wants and do the things that he does.
So what would it be like if we truly lived these words? If we gave ourselves to the greatest commands; to love God and love people?
I think it would mean deliberately filling our lives with the things that draw us closer to God. I don’t know about you, but I want to grow in my love for God. I want to love God more today than I did yesterday. Heart, soul and mind. For me this means creating space to be with God, to fix my mind on him and to live in increasing dependence on him. It seems there are no shortcuts. Love grows through proximity and time.
Taking seriously the words of Jesus means choosing to follow Him in love for the world around us. This almost always lands us alongside the lonely, the vulnerable and the hurting as we get swept along in the wake of God’s love for lost people.
When we do the things that Jesus said, we see His kingdom come. First in our own lives and then in our relationships with others. This, which Jesus considers the greatest of commands, is worth giving ourselves too.
Aaron Elder is married to Amy and together they lead Oxgangs Community Church.
(The photo accompanying this post was taken at the Soul Food meal held at Aaron and Amy's church. Photo Credit: Chris Hoskins)