Love your neighbour as yourself

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31

Louis Armstrong

I love listening to music. There are some pieces of music that I could listen to over and over again. One of these is the song ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong. There’s a line in this song that moves me to tears, every time I hear it. Louis sings, ‘I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do, they’re really saying I love you’. I think this moves me so much because I know it to be true. There are people in my life whom I maintain a polite, friendly relationship with but, when push comes to shove, yes, I probably do love them. On the other hand there are also people who I find unkind, or irritating whom I would probably not be inclined to say I loved!

In chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus explains that the second most important commandment is to love our neighbour. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus is asked who is our neighbour and recounts the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story he shows that we are in fact to be love all people, not just those we more readily get along with.

Loving our neighbour, therefore, is quite a challenge. There will inevitably be people whom we find it very hard to love. It may be that we struggle to love a particular person who has hurt us or upset us. It may be that we find it hard to love a particular group of people who we feel are cruel, or uncaring, or even inhumane. Yet we are called to love these people.

Love is both an attitude and an action. We should not hold negative, unloving thoughts about others, but rather try to find reasons to love them. At its most basic, that might be remembering that they were created in God’s image, and we might, therefore, see something of God in them if we look hard enough.

Love should also characterise our actions towards others. We should speak well of people, refraining from nastiness or malicious gossip. And we should strive to love people practically, as God loves us. That might be by being a support for them, by listening to them, by providing for them in their hour of need.

Let’s strive in the days, weeks, and months ahead to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

Originally presented as a Thought of the Day on the Premier Christian Radio ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ show.

Love that resonates inside our being

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Mark 12:28-30

Image by justintosh@flickr and made available under this licence.

I love going to the cinema. I also love sailing, and long walks in the countryside. I love sitting on a beach reading a good book in the sun. I also love my wife, my children, my parents, and my brother and sister.

Love is one of those funny words in English. We say that we ‘love’ all kinds of things. The love that we might have for our family or friends is clearly different to the love that we might have for something like the cinema or the beach though!

Love for a person is something that requires a conscious action. It’s not enough to just say that we love someone, we have to demonstrate this.

The same is true for our love of God. It’s not enough just to say we love God. We have to demonstrate our love through our actions.

In chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus deals with how we should love God. He tells a teacher of the law that the most important commandment is to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Our love for God needs to flow from deep within. This love is more than a flippant statement of love, but something that resonates inside our being. Jesus makes it clear that our entire being, physical and spiritual, is to be dedicated to loving God. All the thoughts and ideas that float around within our heads need to be directed to loving God. Jesus tells us here that to love God we need to commit not just ourselves but all of our money and possessions to God.

What sounds initially like a fairly straightforward commandment is actually incredibly challenging. Indeed, there is no way that we, as fallen humans, are capable of living up to the standards that God has set us. But with the help of the Holy Spirit we can strive to do our very best to live lives that honour God and make clear to all of those around us that we have a deep love for the God who made us, who knows us, and who offers us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Let’s commit ourselves to striving to love God in all that we do today, and in the days, weeks and months to come.

Originally presented as a Thought of the Day on the Premier Christian Radio ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ show.

He first loved us

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16(b)-19

Image by 4thglryofgod@flickr and made available under this licence.

I’ve been married to Claire for seven years. If you asked me why I loved her I’d struggle to condense my answer into a brief sentence. I love her because she’s kind, because she’s thoughtful, because she’s smart, because she cares about me. My love for my wife isn’t just something that I accept, however; loving my wife is an action, an intention. Each day it is something that I work at, and which some days I am better at than others.

In the gospels Jesus tells us that the most important commandment is to love the Lord our God. Some might question this rule and ask why we should love God. Why should we love a God who at times can feel so distant from us? Why should we love a God who we cannot see, who allows pain, suffering and injustice to exist in the world?

The apostle John, writing in his first letter, provides us with an answer to these questions. He says that the reason we love God is because he first loved us.

If we adopt John’s thinking, it becomes much easier to love God. Sometimes we just need to stop and reflect about all that God has done for us. When we think of all the ways that God has demonstrated his love for us, loving God becomes much more straightforward, and something that we can work at doing every day.

It might be that we think about the fundamentals – that God has created us, placed us into a world of stunning beauty, sent his son to die for us, and promised us an eternity with him in a new creation. It might be that we think about specific things he has done in our lives, perhaps giving us guidance, healing us, granting us children. All of these good things are examples of how God has lavished his love on us, and give us cause to love him back.

However much you feel that you love God this morning, remember that loving God is something that we need to work at. Loving is an action as much as a frame of mind. Why not today try to think of all the ways that God has loved you, and try to love him back with all of your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength?

Originally presented as a Thought of the Day on the Premier Christian Radio ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ show.

Love the Lord your God

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Mark 12:28-30

By Wingchi Poon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you were asked what the most important rule is, how would you respond? Perhaps you’d say something like, “do not murder,” or “do as you would be done by.” I work in a school where we have lots of rules, but for us the most important is “be kind.”

Jesus was once asked this by a teacher of the law. His answer, as recorded in chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel, was “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Jesus believes that the most important thing that we can do in our lives is to love God. He makes it clear that we are not to love him just a little. Instead we are to love him with every fibre of our being. We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength.

How do we feel that we live up to this rule today? Sometimes, when we look at our friends we can see love radiating from them in how they speak to and act towards their loved ones. It is clear to anyone who sees them the depth of the love they have.

If we are Christians, then the love that we have for God should be visible to everyone we come into contact with too. When our friends, families and colleagues see us, it should be clear that our love for God is limitless. Just as we might speak lovingly about a husband or wife, or a parent, or a sibling, or a close friend, we should speak of God. Hardly an exchange should go past without us speaking fondly of our relationship with God.

As we begin this new week, what challenging words for us to reflect on. Can we genuinely say that we love God with our hearts, our souls, our minds and our strength? Why not challenge yourself to spend more time with God this week so that you might deepen your relationship with the God who loved us so much that he sent his only son to die for us.

Originally presented as a Thought of the Day on the Premier Christian Radio ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ show.

Let’s kill him!

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

Genesis 37:19-22

 Detail of the Verduner altarpiece in Klosterneuburg, Austria by Nicholas of Verdun. Joseph thrown in the pit.

Detail of the Verduner altarpiece in Klosterneuburg, Austria by Nicholas of Verdun. Joseph thrown in the pit.

It’s funny how when I look back over my life, it’s the most painful, difficult episodes that have led to the greatest moments. At the time, of course, going through difficult patches is deeply unpleasant, but I’ve seen for myself that more often than not God works through these hardships to mould us into the kind of people that he would have us be. When I was made redundant from my job in retail management at the age of nineteen, it felt like my life and career was over. Yet this sudden departure from my intended career allowed me to spend three very happy years at university, followed by another happy year at a different university. When I found myself suffering from acute anxiety and depression it seemed like there was no future for me. Yet having these experiences has shaped me into a kinder, more tolerant, more compassionate human being, a better follower of Christ, and indirectly led to marriage and a wonderful son.

I suspect that Joseph had similar thoughts during his life. At the time described in today’s verses, being thrown into a cistern and left for dead, and then being sold into slavery must have seemed to be the worst possible situation to be in. He found himself alone, far from home, far from the father who cared desperately for him, facing a bleak and uncertain future ahead of him.

Of course, his brothers (with the possible exception of Reuben in today’s verses, and possibly Judah later in this chapter) intended to harm Joseph, indeed to kill him. They had had enough of him. They were sick and tired of Joseph getting all the adoration from their father. And they were especially sick of Joseph arrogantly recounting his dreams which suggested that he would soon rule over them; it is the dreams that they give as the reason for their action at the beginning of today’s verses. Finding Joseph in the middle of the desert and far from home his brothers decide that enough is enough, and that Joseph has to die. Most of the brothers want to kill Joseph and throw his body into a cistern. It is only because of Reuben’s compassion that Joseph lived to tell the tale.

So, what can we take from today’s passage? Once again we see the dangers of anger, the consequences of being fuelled with hatred which can lead us to take rash decisions. We can see that, as Reuben did, sometimes it might be necessary to speak out, to be the sane voice in a group of hot headed people who are not thinking straight. But perhaps most importantly of all, if we know the conclusion of the story of Joseph, we can see that when we find ourselves in the pit of despair (literally in Joseph’s case), it does not mean that we have been abandoned by God; God is still with us and can still work through us to achieve his plans. Indeed, it might be that when we find ourselves at the darkest moments of our lives that God is working most actively in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not.

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