I have talked before about the dangers of living in constant pursuit of our purpose. This can be a distraction that prevents us from seeing the needs of people and the opportunities right in front of us. But, if we are not to live in pursuit of our own purpose, then how are we to live?
Theologians and philosophers have been trying to answer this question since the beginning of time. Yet, the question still holds many of us captive. During the life of Jesus on Earth, He was asked this question many times. The Jewish people lived by a centuries-old covenant between God and man. They called this covenant the “Law.” To the Jewish people, this law was what guided them and gave them their purpose; they saw the point of their lives to be an example of a people called out by God to live according to the law. Yet, after centuries of practice, most still had very little understanding of their true calling. They had the law to guide them, but still they yearned for deeper answers.
When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to sum up the point of life, they asked Him what the greatest commandment was. His answer must have shook both the Pharisees and the crowd observing the conversation: no one had ever been able to sum up the law before. All commandments were considered sacred. But, this did not stop the Son of Man from boldly answering, “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 neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Love Your God
Jesus was able to sum up the point of life in a very succinct way, but what does it mean to love God? The easiest way to answer this question is to simply point out that in order to love someone, you must know them and understand them. You must care for what they care for and believe in what they believe in. Perhaps the psalmist said it best when he wrote that God asks us to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46). If we ask “Who is God?” we cannot love God. We spend so much time trying to figure out who God is, but we must learn to simply love Him as He is. He is our Creator, the Father of our Savior, Christ Jesus, and He will be our judge.
After Moses led the Israelites out of captivity from Egypt, Moses worried that the people would not follow a God that they could not see. Generations of captivity had taught them that gods were kings and golden images. Moses voiced this concern to God, when he asked the Lord that he should call Him, who he should tell the Israelites they serve and follow. God answered, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). God asks us to love Him in much the same way that we ask to be loved: accept me for who I am. Love me for who I am; nothing else should matter.
God accepts us as we are. His son, Jesus, came to die for all of us, to save us from our sins. He asks for nothing more in return than to accept Him and follow Him. God’s example of love, as exemplified in John 3:16 (I paraphrase), “For God loved the earth so much that he sent his only Son to die for us, so that we could be saved from our own sin.” This is an example of how we are also to love God. There should be no conditions. He is not a genie in a bottle, nor does He make deals with man. He asks only that we love him for who he is. The I am who created us, loves us and died for us, then asked us to be his adopted children, even after we had forsaken Him.
The next step in love God is to care for the same things that He cares for. After Jesus’s death and resurrection, he sat with the apostle Peter, and he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter quickly answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I do.” then Jesus replied, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) Jesus often referred to Himself as a shepherd and to the people as His sheep. Jesus was clarifying what he had already been saying. To fulfill God’s commandments, you must love God, and if you love God, then you will also love and care for your neighbor as God loves and cares for his people.
Love Your Neighbor
I think that we often play the same kind of games with God as did the expert of the law. We think Jesus was not clear about how we are to live. We pretend that God hides the truth from us, but our mission is clear. The whole world is our neighbor and if we love God, we must love all those in the world, not just those who are closest to us or who are easy to love. We must risk everything, even our own lives, in order to love the world. In another attempt to test Jesus, an expert of the law asked how to get into heaven. Jesus gave the same reply that he had been giving: “Love God and love your neighbor.” The expert of the law retorted back (most likely in a sarcastic tone), “Who then is my neighbor?” Jesus replied by telling a story of a traveling foreigner who stopped along a dangerous stretch of road to help a stranger who had been mugged and beaten, almost to death, by thieves (Luke 10:25-37).
Once we realize that we hide from the fact that we must love others, we tend to downgrade what love is. We treat it like it is a feeling, we sing that “Our Heart Cries,” but we do little to actually show our love and passion for God’s world. Love is not a feeling. We don’t get to look God in the eyes on judgment day and say, “Look, God, at all the people that I felt really bad for. Aren’t you proud of me for loving them?” No, love is an action; it is a way of life. It is the foreigner protecting and caring for the stranger.
We have no excuse; we know what must be done, we know how we must live. The question is not what must we do, but are we willing to do it, to live as God has already demonstrated by his own sacrifice and grace? Are we willing to live through love as God defines it, not as we define it?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”