What is the Essence of the Christian Life?
This question has brought forth a lot of different answers over the centuries. The liberal scholar of the 19th century might say that, “Love your neighbor,” is the essence of the Christian life. A more conservative Christian might say that, “Loving God,” is the essence of the Christian life.
A religious teacher approached Jesus towards the end of His ministry and attempted to trap Jesus into saying something that they could use against him. “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus' answer was one of the most profound things he ever said. “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
This was an interesting question posed by the religious teacher. The Jewish Law is incredibly complex and contains hundreds of laws. They all are considered to be very important. Elevating any one law above another would leave Jesus open to charges of heresy.
The answer that Jesus gave, however, was so brilliant that there was no way anyone could argue with Him. The first part of Jesus’ answer talks about loving God with all of one’s heart, soul, and mind. This command to love God is not a part of the Ten Commandments. It transcends them.
There are many people in the world that would say that they love God. Loving God, however, implies a relationship with Him. If someone truly loves God, they are going to try and order their life according to His will and desires.
Loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind sounds pretty intense. This definitely sounds more involved than a Christmas and Easter kind of experience. Jesus seems to be talking about a passionate kind of love. It even sounds like the emotional, passionate love that a man and woman might enjoy. A love that is that intense is going to require something of us. God, in fact, is really not interested in a Christmas and Easter relationship. God longs for people who will love Him and put Him first in their lives.
The second part of Jesus’ answer is equally important, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Again, this command is not part of the Ten Commandments. It is bigger than the commandments.
Can someone really claim to love God yet hate their neighbor? It could be argued that one of the ways that we show our love for God is in the way that we treat other people. This command actually fulfills many of the other aspects of the Law. If we love others as we love ourselves, we will not murder, steal, lie about them, commit adultery, etc.
In two simple commands, Jesus summed up the entire Law. If we love God and love other people, we are going to be going in the right direction. If we truly love God, we are going to try and find out how He wants us to live. If we learn to really love other people, our world is going to be a much better place.
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