In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked a question. Like so many of the questions lobbied by the Pharisees, it was a trap. It would be the last one they would attempt to set. Jesus’ answer would silence them for good and force their hand to action in one way or the other. You see, no rabbi worth his salt could possibly narrow down the Law to one important command. To do so would be to do the unthinkable. It would essentially negate the importance of every other command. The answer he gives is so simple yet cuts so deeply. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
Avoid extremes. Loving God and loving your neighbor cannot be separated. This is our greatest tendency in most things. We love God – at least we love what he does for us. It is easy to find ourselves on either end of the spectrum. We love God, and claim to love people, but our actions betray our proclamation. Professing to love our neighbor does not equate to actually loving them. The command to love our neighbors is non-discriminatory. We love our neighbor because they are created by God and animated by his breath. Even though they may not choose to live a live in step with Christ’s calling, they are still people whom God loves with the same sacrificial love he has offered to me. The command to love your neighbor has another extreme. It is possible to love people so much that we skew our understanding of the standards God has set for his people. These two commands cannot be separated from one another. Love God with everything. And love your neighbor.
The Holy Spirit does not take us out of this world. Rather, he leads us right back through it. We often desire to isolate ourselves from the influences in the world around us. Because of our love for God and our desire to maintain a level of “holiness” or “purity”, we build walls. We put distance between us and the desires of the flesh. We have to spend a healthy amount of time among the community of God’s people. That is where we harvest inspiration, encouragement, edification, and maturity. But the Holy Spirit takes root in our hearts. It takes us by the hand and beckons us to follow his leading. Then it proceeds to lead us right back through the mess from which we have come. Love God. Love your neighbor. Loving people is messy business. It is messy and costly. There is no cheap way out of this mess. The cost is death. Loving God with everything we have requires sacrifice – whole self-sacrifice. And in the middle of that sacrifice, we find ourselves among people – neighbors – who desperately need the love of a Savior.
God hates sin, but renews, reshapes, and restores the sinner. God is about the business of restoration and renewal. The Gospel transforms the hearts it touches. As we follow the Spirit of God back through the world, we find ourselves required to love people that we may have once deemed unlovable. Racist people, oppressive people, hateful people, abusive people, and violent people all have one thing in common. They are your neighbor. They need the Gospel of Jesus to renew, reshape, and restore their hearts. And we, who have answered the call of the Gospel hold the answer to all that ails our culture and our community. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform our communities and our culture. But how can they respond if we are unwilling to take the message outside of ourselves, outside of our place of shelter and comfort, and into a warzone.
You have been called by your Redeemer, your Savior, and your King to live a life of love and sacrifice. You have been called to take the Gospel into a broken and twisted world full of people who will spend eternity outside of God’s presence. Will you answer the call?