This is the second: ‘You shall [unselfishly] love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus had just identified the “greatest commandment” in the Scriptures, the most important directive God has given us: Love God with everything you’ve got. Now He adds an addendum to that directive. When we love God with all our hearts, it affects our human relationships too. The second command also focuses on the power of love: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“As yourself.” Jesus could have said, “Love people a lot” or “Love people the way you love your pets,” but He said that our love for others should compare favorably to the attention we give to our own needs. When we’re hungry, we find something in the refrigerator. When we’re sleepy, we go to bed, (or at least, we should go to bed). We don’t spend a lot of time wondering if we have this need or that one. If it’s obvious, we just meet it. Our love for others should have the same reflexive quality. When we see their needs, we simply meet those needs.
Too often, we get wrapped up in our own little worlds, and we’re consumed with our own needs without even noticing the needs of those around us. Or we’re so exhausted at the end of each day that we can’t imagine giving out to anyone else, especially to demanding kids or a spouse who is at least as tired as we are.
We have to break the cycle, back up, regroup, and bring some sanity to our lives so we’ll have the perspective, energy, and compassion for the people we see each day, and especially those who live under the same roof with us. Then we can live them like we love ourselves.
The highest and best way to love others is to apply the SALT Principle:
SEE others as Jesus sees them.
ACCEPT others as Jesus accepts them.
LOVE others as Jesus loves them.
TOUCH others as Jesus touches them.
As Jesus was observing Passover with the disciples His final time on earth- what Christians call the Last Supper or Love Feast, He began to talk to them about loving one another. One of the things we learn is that although they had been with Him as followers, they still were divided and somewhat self-seeking. Not long before this gathering James and John had requested to be given the seats of honor and power on His left and right hand once He restored the kingdom. We shouldn’t criticize them too much for their view of Christ as the Messiah was the traditional one patterned after the kingdoms of the world. They had observed that even the religious leaders strived for the highest seats of power and honor. Much like Peter who asked about forgiveness-seven times- which was at a higher level than the accepted, no doubt they felt they would make great assistants to Christ. They simply forgot about the other nine disciples. I’m sure that most of us don’t actively ignore those around us. We’re just so focused on ourselves and our needs that we fail to consider others. But the love that Christ calls us to requires that we consciously think about those around us and before we make decisions we consider not only how it might affect us but also how it might affect them.
The Bible says that as they gathered together with Christ to observe Passover, there was quite a bit of tension in the room. It was obvious that the other nine resented the audacity of James and John to presume they were the chosen ones. I’m sure when Jesus told James and John that it wasn’t His decision as to who occupied those positions, they were deeply disappointed. Here they were in the very presence of Christ observing one of the most important observances-Passover- remembering their release from slavery, and they were still self-focused. Our lesson is that we too can be Christ followers and yet hold on to our old self-centered ways. I think that we all can find evidence of that in our own lives. Paul says that the only cure is to be “crucified with Christ” and to “die daily.” That is not an easy task and we certainly can’t do it by ourselves. What we can do is to come to God daily and ask for His help in loving others. The other thing is that the more we surrender ourselves to Him, the more we can become like Him and the more we can love others.
Even those who may love others as themselves often come short of the mark for there are many who don’t really love themselves. I’m not suggesting by any means that we become narcissistic but neither should we loathe who we are. We all have been made in the image of God and though sin may have distorted us, the grace of God has power to restore us. We might even justify the fact of not loving others by using the fact that we don’t love ourselves, but Christ on that night set the bar higher.
As He girds Himself with the towel and washes the disciples feet, He is powerfully illustrating the principle of love. Those whom we love we serve. Those whom we love we elevate. If we are to love as Christ loved, we take the lower place and we place others before us. I’ve often wondered what went through the minds of that group of bickering power-seeking disciples. I wonder if they were ashamed of their conduct and selfishness. Here they had been competing with each other and the One who was the Son of God had served them instead of demanding they serve Him. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells us about what will happen when He comes again:
“Blessed (happy, prosperous, to be admired) are those servants whom the master finds awake and watching when he arrives. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, he will prepare himself to serve, and will have them recline at the table, and will come and wait on them.”
You might want to read that again to grasp its significance. I confess that I can’t wrap my mind around such a revelation. I can’t conceive that I sit at the table and Christ serves me. My reaction is the same as that of Peter, “Not so Lord, You can’t wash my feet. You’re the Master and I’m the unprofitable slave.” My trouble is that I frankly have not comprehended being loved like this.
So then how are we to love others? Christ spoke to those disciples and us about what He expects:
I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”
Christ is calling us to love one another not just as we love ourselves but to love as He has loved. That’s a tall order and some may think an impossible one. However, Christ never calls us to something that He doesn’t give grace and help to accomplish. Go back and read the SALT Principle and ask God for grace and help to live it out. Christ said that it would be our love for each other that would cause those who know us to recognize that we are His disciples.
Dr. John Thompson