October 17, 2014
Christianity in a Nutshell
By Skip Heitzig
When a scribe asked Jesus, "Which is the first commandment of all?" Jesus answered, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:28, 30-31).
Here, quoting from Old Testament Scripture, Jesus took all of Christian life and responsibility and summarized and prioritized it. It is Christianity in a nutshell.
Why is this the greatest commandment? One answer is that God wired human beings to be relational, and the peak of human relations is real love. Every person craves love and would do almost anything to be unconditionally loved for just who they are.
So here Jesus commanded us to choose to act toward people in love. It's the irreducible minimum, the summary of all of the commandments. This love is a love of the will. It's not a feeling you can't control, but a choice that you can control!
It's a sacrificial love, exemplified by John 15:12-14: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you."
It's an unconditional love, exemplified by Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."
It's a never-ending, nonreciprocal love, exemplified by Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
"Love as I have loved you" makes Jesus the standard by which to measure our love. Jesus doesn't love people who deserve love, and God's love is not based on our worthiness or performance but upon His choice. This sacrificial, unconditional, never-ending, nonreciprocal love is what a husband should have for his wife, parents for their children, and Christians for each other.
Okay, by now you're probably thinking, "That's impossible. I'm not God. I can't do that!" And you're absolutely right! You can't…in your own power. It requires a power greater than yourself for you to pull it off. That's why we've been given the greatest power to do it: the Holy Spirit living in us. God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5), and that means every one of us can do it. That's why John wrote, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11).
When we choose to love this way, it proves to ourselves that we are saved: "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). And it proves to the unbelieving world that we're for real: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
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