When I was growing up, I thought Jesus was the first person to introduce love into religious teachings. When I became more familiar with the word of God, I realized that love was already contained in the Jewish Scriptures. What Jesus did that was different was to combine two passages from two different books of the Old Testament.
In Matthew’s gospel, when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment, and a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Jesus joined Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18. For the first time, the love of God, neighbor and self were all interrelated. In John’s gospel, these commandments were simplified further, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
To understand these commandments properly, we must start with “loving ourselves.” There is a big difference between selfish love and love of self. A selfish person is only interested in “what’s in it for me.” It’s always me, me, me.
Love of self is realizing that our own value doesn’t come from outside, rather it can be found within.
The kind of car we drive, the size of the house we live in or the brand of clothes we wear has nothing to do with who we are. We are made after the image and likeness of God. God loves us for who we are, with all our shortcomings and weaknesses. We should stop worrying about what others think of us. As Shakespeare said so well, “To thine own self be true.” Be the person God wants you to be. Don’t worry about what others might think.
Lucy, in a Peanuts cartoon, once said, “I love humanity. I can’t stand people.”
People can be difficult. Some are hard to love. Some are so illogical, unreasonable and self-centered that we do not like to be around them. Nevertheless, we should love them anyway.
Love is the greatest gift that we can give and receive. A life without love is a life that is not fully lived. Psychologist Abraham Maslow once observed that love is as essential to human growth as food and exercise. He said, “I believe that human beings are built to run on love. We are designed that way. If we are not giving and receiving love, we are not operating on all our cylinders. We are not who we are supposed to be. We are not all that we can be.”
It’s important to remember what love is: It’s wanting what is best for another. Jesus told us in Matthew 25 that we will be judged by our willingness to reach out to anyone in need. Love is not found in the object of our love. It’s in our hearts. That is why Jesus asked us to forgive anyone who has hurt us, not so much for others’ sake, but for our own. If we are to be holy as God is holy, then we must remove any hate from our hearts.
That’s why Jesus also told us to love our enemies. So, how can we love terrorists who are trying to kill us? We can pray for their conversion. That’s what Jesus did when they nailed him to the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
When we learn to love like God, we are loving God.