“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:6-8 | ESV
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously. Micah 6:8 | MSG
Love God. Love Others.
The Great Commandment.
The Jesus Creed.
It is the spiritual center around which everything else revolves;
it is the root from which everything that matters grows;
it is the earth, wind and fire of the kingdom of God;
and it is beautifully captured again in the ancient words of an eighth century prophet in Israel.
Micah asks the question that nags all of us, if we are honest about it: “Just what is it that God wants from me!?”
Micah proposes thousands of sacrificial victims offered in my stead, and we might add rivers of offered oil, billows of incense, countless hours of faithful church attendance, mountains of tithes and offerings, stacks of Bibles dutifully read and recited, myriads of fervent prayers uttered.
Just what will it take to please him?
What does he want from me?
But it’s something much more simple, and much deeper.
Or as Micah puts it according to the Message version: “Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.”
Yes, the first alternatives are actually more doable, we sigh. Your “simple” request will require everything; it will require deep, transforming change, deep within this stony heart.
To which Jesus says with a knowing smile, “Precisely.”
In what ways have you taken yourself too seriously? How are you being challenged to take God more seriously? What might this look like?
Abba, show me what it means to truly love today in the places I go, the people I meet, the situations I encounter. Empower me today for a life of love; to take myself less seriously, and to take you and others more seriously. Through Jesus.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Romans 13:8-10 | ESV
Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. Romans 13:8-10 | MSG
Belonging to the Church of Christ – and therefore, being a Christian – mostly meant being really good at not doing things. Not drinking, obviously, not being snarky and sarcastic, not having sex outside of marriage, not smoking, not dancing, not swearing, not dating people outside the church, and, of course, perhaps most important of all, no mixed bathing. The better you were at not doing these things, the better Christian you were. It did not seem to me, even back then, that God’s grace or the radical love of Jesus is what united people in the Church of Christ; it was their ability to be good. Or at least their ability to appear to be good. And not everyone can pull that off. ~ Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix
How we do collect the nots.
How we tie ourselves and everyone else up in them.
How we define ourselves by them.
How we include and exclude each other on the basis of all our assembled, quantified, defined, nots.
Nadia’s observation from her upbringing in the Church of Christ is probably not too far afield from that of any of us with a religious upbringing – or of the perception of religion from the rest of us who grew up without one.
Religion majors in the minors.
Subtraction is our primary religious/irreligious/human operation – with division as a close runner-up.
Jesus in his Creed would carry us over to a new world of addition, and on its heels, multiplication.
All of our nots are absorbed, funneled, channeled into a new equation yielding an ever expanding, mind blowing sum total of love.
Love God, Love Others isn’t mere platitude or over-simplification by those who don’t want to think or who are soft on morality; it is the game-changing operation by which all the rules we can think of are not changed, but absorbed, transformed, morphed into a divinely expanding universe of Yes, and…
What are the primary “nots” of religion for you? How would Love divinely empower you today to say and be Yes in life-giving ways?
Abba, make my life a loud Yes and Amen of Love that none can miss and all around me will be touched and impacted by. Let the loud Yes of Jesus reverberate through my life today – and bring your kingdom through it. Through Christ.
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. Mark 12:28-34 | ESV
That’s the number of commandments the rabbis counted in the Old Testament law.
If memory serves me right, 365 were negative (one-a-day prohibitions!) and the balance negative (that would be 248).
They were endlessly analyzed, defined, extrapolated, calculated, and ranked.
Which is the greatest?
Perhaps rabbis leaning into the priesthood, temple, and ritual would find one answer, more socially conscious Pharisees another, desert dwelling Essenes another, wild-eyed Zealots still another.
“Honor your father and your mother”?
“Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk”?
“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment”?
“When you build a new house make a parapet for your roof”?
“Make for yourself tassels on the four corners of your garments”?
“If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long”?
That one actually sounds pretty important too – in fact it contains the same motivational promise attached to honoring your parents.
613 contestant commandments. Which is crowned “queen commandment”?
So it was quite the crowded field that Jesus was asked to survey when he was asked, “Which is the greatest?” It was the game they played every day and twice on Saturday in synagogue.
And Jesus chanted the songbird prayer they chanted three times a day, every day of their lives – which would be something like us humming “Jesus loves me, this I know.”
Not exactly theologically deep.
And then, he added a verse. Love God. Love others.
That is all.
This is our theological center.
This is the spiritual crossroads from which all else flows.
Any journey that does not commence from this point is the wrong journey.
The lawyer popping the question, impressed with Jesus’ chanted response, gushed out his own agreement.
To see this is to stand on the threshold of kingdom come.
All other questions stopped.
No more debate.
Only a path to embrace and a Master to follow in it…
Based on how we really live and talk, what would you say we really regard as the greatest commandment? How about you? What is your true “prime directive”? How does it show?
Lord, stun me into silence in the midst of all my debates and questionings and doings, and impress upon me the majesty and primacy of Love. Write more deeply upon my heart “Love God, Love Others.” Get into my bones, marrow, sinews, guts. Make it viscerally core to my very being. Make love the DNA that doesn’t just refine me but that totally redefines me. Daily. Moment by moment. Through Jesus.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:9-18 | ESV
“Adding [to the creed] is exactly what Jesus does. Instead of a Love-God Shema*, it is a Love-God-and-Others Shema. What Jesus adds is not unknown to Judaism, and he is not criticizing Judaism. Jesus is setting up his very own shop within Judaism. Loving others is central to Judaism, but it is not central to the creed of Judaism, to the Shema. So, what Jesus says is Jewish. But the emphasis on loving others is not found in Judaism’s creed the way it is found in the Jesus Creed. Making the love of God part of his own version of the Shema shows that he sees love of others as central to spiritual formation.”~ Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed
Truly loving God issues irrevocably in truly loving others.
This is the ultimate implication of Jesus linking the love of God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength with loving others as ourselves.
John in his first epistle makes that link so emphatically that he throws our loud claims of loving God in our face if in fact we are not loving others: “He that says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, certainly cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this is the command that we have from him, that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 John 4:20-21)
Tell us how you really feel, John!
Jesus, in his last words on earth to his followers gave them the “new command” to love one another as he had loved them, and then told them that all people would recognize them as his disciples by their love for one another.
They are inextricably linked, bound, intertwined.
But what God hath joined we all to easily separate as we “bite and devour one another” – all too often in the name of that very same love of God. And this is the pitfall of focusing on that vertical love of God with the horizontal love for others relegated as something of a footnote or side benefit. It makes us cold-hearted religious zealots who kill others, at least with our looks and our words, thinking that we are doing God service.
At least that can be the more extreme result.
In less malignant forms, we are left smugly self-assured of being on the right path as we cluck our tongues and shake our heads at a world that doesn’t get it.
But as the laws in Leviticus clearly demonstrate, the love of God doesn’t just impact what we do for the love of God in tabernacle service and ritual – it dramatically impacts what we do for the love of others in our fields, with our funds, and in our feuds.
How is your love life? How is the driving, pulsating core of God’s love challenging and impelling you to love others? To what acts of love would it lead you today?
Abba God, show me in deepening measure what it really means to love others as I love myself. Awaken me today from apathy and smug indifference, or, worse, from condescending disdain and derision of those made in your image. Awaken me to new vistas of loving others creatively, energetically, expansively. Through Jesus.
* Shema – the first word in the Deuteronomy 6 foundational prayer recited daily, “Hear (sh’ma) Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One…)
Taking time out from the Gospel of John for one week to reflect on what Jesus identifies as the center of all spiritual and religious life, what we’ll call here the “Jesus Creed”…
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 | ESV
We’re not great at the Great Commandment. In too many instances, we’re not even good at it. That, I believe is our primal problem. That is the lost soul of Christianity. If Jesus said that loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the most important commandment, then doesn’t it logically follow that we ought to spend an inordinate amount of our time and energy trying to understand it and obey it? We can’t afford to be merely good at the Great Commandment. We’ve got to be great at the Great Commandment. ~ Mark Batterson, Primal
Batterson’s book Primal is an exploration of what he calls “love to the fourth power” – love with the heart (compassion), soul (wonder), mind (curiosity), and strength (energy).
It’s a stirring challenge.
It’s convicting that in Jesus’ day the experts in the law, along with the rest of their culture, memorized, chanted, and prayed this passage in Deuteronomy. Three times a day. Every day.
But Jesus still said of those same expert theologians, “You don’t have the love of God in you.”
We need more than the words.
Our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength – compassion, wonder, curiosity, energy – must be captured, captivated, catapulted, consumed, unleashed in an unquenchable, slow-burning fire.
This is what is primal.
This is the center, the crux, the root, the driving, pulsating core of all spiritual life.
And that’s the key here.
The love of God is life. It’s bursting with compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy.
Not so much.
So the question comes to us: that may be a Bible under your arm (or on your Kindle Fire/iPhone/iPad), but what is the driving, pulsating core of your life – and are the words “driving” and “pulsating” words that people would associate with you and your spiritual life?
Would you say you are great at the Great Commandment? How about the church overall? Why or why not? What is the “driving, pulsating core” of your spiritual life?
Abba Father, forgive me for all the times I just memorize and recite the lines. Show me in deepening measure what it really means to love you with all my heartfelt compassion, all my soul-filled wonder, all my intellect-inspired curiosity, and with every ounce of energy stirring within me. And let me see the difference between that and merely being zealous over religion.