Have We Underestimated the Second Greatest Commandment?
Dear brothers & sisters,
Last week, we talked about the Greatest Commandment and how we, as Christians, are to show our love for God by obeying the teachings of His Son.
This Thirsty Thursday we will quench our thirst for Christ’s Living Waters by exploring what it means to practice the 2nd Greatest Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
These two greatest commandments (loving God & loving others) are naturally linked by the Law of Love that guides our lives as Christians. And naturally—just like with the 1st Greatest Commandment—we will find further direction on how to go about showing this neighbor-love in the teachings of Jesus.
We talked last week about how we often think that we have good ideas (even great ideas!) about how to show our love. When it comes to loving others, most of us think that being polite, friendly, and respectable (at least on the outside!) is all it takes. These simple behaviors can certainly be a great start… but again, we must recognize that our “goods” and “greats” often get in the way of God’s BEST! So let’s start unpacking this 2nd Greatest Commandment to discover how we can take our faith-journey to the next level!
Usually, one of the first questions that comes to our minds about the 2nd Greatest Commandment is: who, exactly, is our neighbor?
Fortunately, Jesus already answered that one in the famous parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). A Jewish man was beaten up and robbed, left for dead on the side of the road. Three others walked by: a priest, a Levite (both of them also Jews), and finally, a Samaritan (a people whowere well-known to be deeply despised by the Jews). While the others walked by, only the Samaritan felt compassion for the victim, and he thoroughly tended to his needs. Then Jesus turns our own question (“who is my neighbor?”) on its head, asking us this question: “Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves isn’t about who our neighbor is, but rather who *we* are to others! Are we acting as a loving neighbor to everyone we meet? Don’t worry about who they are to you, only think of who you could be to them!
And again, in Luke 6, Jesus challenges our ideas about who counts as our neighbors, and therefore, who we are called on to love.
Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43)… “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).
This is not a popular message, probably because it is totally counter-intuitive to our natural (fallen) instincts. When someone hits us, we want to hit right back! But Jesus calls on us to rise above our fallen nature: instead of retaliating against our enemies, he teaches us to shame their hateful actions by “turning the other cheek”, a nonviolent protest that shows a merciful love to our enemies which Jesus himself exemplified on the cross. This is all part of what it means to love our neighbors as we love ourselves!
Now that we’ve begun to get a better understanding of who our neighbor is, we’ve also started to uncover examples of what this love should look like in action!
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus encourages us to take our love for others deeper. We are not called on to simply give a nice smile or offer words of comfort. He urges us to follow the example of the Samaritan man and offer practical help to those we come across. This means that we must be ready to give our time, skills, and resources (such as food, clothing, shelter, and money!) to those in need, no matter who they are. And this message of self-giving love is made even clearer in Luke 6 when Jesus encourages us to love our enemies! Do good, offer blessings and prayers, give freely, be merciful… even to our most bitter enemies. In these ways, we become a loving neighbor and fulfill the 2nd Greatest Commandment!
The passage about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 also gives us some ideas of how to show love to others. Again, we are encouraged to offer practical help (not just a smile and “God bless you”) to those in need. Things like food, water, shelter, clothing, and visits to the sick or imprisoned.
In fact, this is even suggested as a plan for salvation, straight from the mouth of the only one who has authority to grant eternal life! (This is also suggested by the context of the good Samaritan passage from Luke 10.) So not only do these acts of love help us fulfill the 2nd Greatest Commandment, but Jesus also seems to reveal a link between this neighbor-love and our salvation.
We don’t claim to fully understand what these implications mean, brothers and sisters, but we also cannot deny the clear connections that Jesus himself makes between our love for others and eternal life.
Which brings us to our last dip into Christ’s Living Waters for the week: a cross-reference between Luke 18 & 12 that reveals yet another example of both how to love our neighbors and, this mysterious link to salvation.
While instructing his disciples (i.e. the very first Christians, and even us too!), Jesus gave this radical teaching: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out—a treasure in heaven that never decreases, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). And again, Jesus says this to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:22 in response to his question about how to gain eternal life: “Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Both of these passages describe another example of how we can show love to our neighbors: by redistributing our wealth to those who are in great need! This teaching is especially relevant for those of us who live in first-world countries, as we can so easily accumulate a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources without even trying or realizing it. With so much of our treasure stored on earth, Jesus calls us to take a radical leap of faith, sell our possessions, and give the money to the poor (hint: there is more poverty in third-world countries than). This way, we will transfer our earthly treasures into heavenly treasures (like a transfer between checking and savings accounts!), which provides relief to those in need. And not only that, but it is also suggested as another path to salvation in Luke 18.
So to tie it all together, Jesus shows us—his disciples—the way to practice and fulfill the 2nd Greatest Commandment through many of his other teachings. He teaches us about who our neighbor is. (That’s everyone, even our enemies!) And he gives us numerous examples of how to put our neighbor-love into action. (Everything from prayer to charity, our time to material resources, and more!)
We learned last week that when we obey Jesus and all that he taught, we show our love to God, too! So this means that the Law of Love is perfectly intertwined in a beautifully balanced harmony. By genuinely loving our neighbors, we also love God; and by loving God, we will show love to our neighbors!
And what’s more, we’ve also begun to uncover a deeply perplexing (and truly inspiring!) connection between the 2nd Greatest Commandment and eternal life. We encourage you to keep exploring these remarkable connections, and share with us anything that you find in your studies! We will surely do the same with you, dear brothers and sisters.
So, we’ve covered a lot of ground today, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. But now we’re off to a great start, firmly grounded in the foundation of Jesus’ own teachings.
Can you think of other ways to show love for others besides the examples Jesus gave which we included here? Let us know in the comments below or by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for joining us this week! We’re looking forward to the next Thirsty Thursday from our Living Waters series. And in the meantime: may you follow the Lamb wherever he goes!
Love & Prayers,
Luke & Allie
Faith Worker Ministries