This week I got to speak at Sterling College's chapel. Standing in front of hundreds of college students is both terrifying and exhilarating! I got lobbed one of the most famous passages in the Bible, which is the best and worst thing in the world. My prayer as I prepared for this talk - and share this post - is that as we engage God’s timeless words that we would be timely words for us today!
THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT.
If you grew up in the church, you’ve probably heard this passage a 100 times. But I don’t want to talk about the 1st commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
I want to talk about the 2nd greatest commandment – Love your neighbor as yourself – which Jesus says is as equally as important as the first one.
I think that a lot of times in the Church we make a big deal about the first commandment – LOVE GOD – like it’s #FTW or #fail if we can do this well. And we make a smaller deal about this “equally important” command; and I don’t think we get it right. Jesus said that that 2nd greatest commandment is “love your neighbor as yourself.”
So let's talk about this equally important, 2nd commandment: Love your Neighbor. As Yourself.
#1: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR.
This was a remarkable idea that Jesus was talking about. The word “remarkable” is defined as: something that is worth paying attention to. And loving your neighbor in the ways Jesus was talking about is REMARKABLE!
In the American church we’ve diluted this idea to being something like loving who’s right next to me, who literally lives next door to me, or is like me. And while that kind of love is important – OBVIOUSLY! – it’s not what Jesus was talking about.
When Jesus said we are to love our neighbor, the next question was “who is my neighbor?” And so Jesus told a story, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember that story?
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus called his followers to loving your neighbor, which is best defined as someone who is “not like me”. The Good Samaritan was a story about reconciliation and justice. You see the Good Samaritan wasn’t only befriending someone completely unlike himself; he intentionally went out on the dangerous, criminally infested Jericho Road looking to bring about change. So Jesus is telling us that loving our neighbor means RECONCILING gender, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic differences – those who are not like me – AND being an advocate for JUSTICE in the world!
This personally matters so much to me because I am a woman, who married a Hispanic man from an immigrant blue-collar family, who adopted two Ethiopians and birthed a racially-mixed baby. And we spent the last 10 years at a predominantly Asian-American church. Our family intimately knows what it feels like to be on the outside of the dominant white, male American church culture.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the past decade, it is that loving our neighbor in the way Jesus defined it has little to do with being in holy huddles. While GOING to church or chapel is a good thing. BEING the church is even better!
Here’s a reality check on how you love your neighbors:
- Who are my best friends? Are they racially, ethnically, socio-economically, and gender-wise the exact same as me?
- Where do I spend my time?
- How do I spend my money? How much of it is spent on those not like me?
If our lives and churches continue to look just like one another, we miss out on the very reconciling and justice work Jesus came to usher in.
The second part of the equally important commandment is…
#2: LOVE YOURSELF.
Here is where the second greatest commandment gets crazy! Jesus says that we are to love those not like us as ourselves. Which means, when you break it down that we can only love our neighbor to the same degree that we love ourselves.
Catch this: Our ability to love God and others is proportionate to our capacity to love ourselves.
Now when I say “love ourselves” I don’t mean in a selfish, narcissistic, posting “selfies” everyday, kind of way. That’s not love. God’s Word tells us that love is patient and kind. It looks out for the interest of others. It doesn’t boast. It isn’t proud or demand its way. Loving ourselves is about seeing ourselves the way God sees us.
So let’s get practical AND honest about how we love ourselves…
- Listen to your self-talk. Your inner conversations reveal how much you love or hate yourself. Proverbs says “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”. Pay attention to what you say to yourself and about yourself.
- Do you find yourself saying “stupid”, “idiot”, “of course I messed up again”?
- Do you constantly hear the negative voice of a parent, coach, teacher, or sibling?
- … Or do you find yourself giving yourself grace? Treating yourself like you would your favorite person in this world?
- If you were to describe yourself in 5 words, what would you say?
- Care for your body. Our physical bodies are an expression of what’s going on in our souls.
- How are you sleeping? Science repeatedly confirms that we need at least 6-7 hours every night. Do you love yourself by getting enough rest?
- What about food and drink? Are you filling your body with nutritious, healthy food that will give you good energy? Or are you abusing your body by putting junk into it?
- Let’s get real about exercise. Are you treating your body like you are invincible or are you caring for it like this is the only body you have been given in this life?
- Are you resting, playing, and laughing? When we do those things, you remind yourself that you are not God and that God actually has the world in his hands.
- Find a great therapist so you can work through your past. The strongest and healthiest people I know are people who have a therapist on speed dial. I started going to therapy in college and I have been in multiple other seasons of life since then! I think the most important work you can do in your 20s is not getting the best job after you graduate college, but working through your past pains, trauma, and wounds. That work will pay dividends into the rest of your life!
- Meditate on what God says about you. God’s Word is full of truth that we need to soak our heart, soul, and mind in, because the world does a pretty good job telling us that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, fast enough, or pretty enough. Or maybe that’s just me?!?! God’s Word says that we are transformed by the renewal of our minds. So choose a couple passages of Scripture that will re-train you to love yourself as God loves you.
I’ll be honest: Some of the conversations I have in my head don’t honor the person God created me to be. I don’t care for my body everyday in a way that proves that I love myself. I abuse it with the food, drink, and struggle to rest. I get way too frustrated way too often with my little kiddos. My ceiling to love others – including the people I love most in my life!!! – is intimately connected to how I love myself. My desire to love those not like me is directly correlated to how I’m doing loving myself.
Some of the people I care about say they want to love Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind, but they cannot because they do not love themselves well. They want to love their neighbors, but they can’t because they haven’t learned to love themselves.
There is a lie we’ve believed that loving yourself is somehow less spiritual than loving God and loving your neighbor. It isn’t. Jesus said it’s equally important.
My prayer for us today is that we will take one step forward toward loving ourselves. Will you call a counselor, cut the caffeine, eat less junk food, confess the negative self-talk, meditate on a portion of Scripture, fill in the blank…
SO THAT we can love ourselves more …
SO THAT we can love our neighbor and God with all our heart, soul, and mind.