Why is it that everyone seems to have a monopoly on Jesus? Everyone wants more than just a piece the “Jesus pie,” they want the whole thing. Everyone thinks they have Jesus figured out. The Muslims claim him as prophet. The Mormons claim him as American preacher & brother of Satan. The Orthodox and Catholics present him through catechistic incantations of divine mysteries. The Protestants and Evangelicals claim him as Lord-Savior-Best friend. The humanists claim him a paradigm-shifting moral revolutionary. The scholars seek to present him as a historical apocalyptic prophet. Everyone tells us who Jesus is, what he wants, and how to love him. Why don’t we let Jesus speak, instead of listening to people speak about him?
The most important thing
When Jesus was asked: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
How to love Jesus?
Jesus said the two most important things are to love God and to love people. This seems to be pretty simple, yet I fear many of us don’t always consider the full meaning. Let’s just handle that first question, How is it then, that you love God, especially if Jesus is God in the flesh?
- Is it an emotional reaction to the name “Jesus”? What if you heard the word Jezi or Íosa or Îsa or Giêsu, would you have the same reaction? Yet those are all translations of the name Jesus. They don’t have the same emotionally familiar ring, do they?
- Is it religious zeal in going to church? Other people go to church, and some of these churches have ideologies that vastly differ, in fact most religions, even have some kind of “church” as the word church is only a translation of “assembly.”
- Is it a passionate expression through musical worship? Ecstasy in music is found in many religions, and even more so, outside of religion. There are many concerts I have been to where the emotional excitement and ecstasy have far surpassed religious meetings. And even better yet, Jesus never hosted any concerts, and (unfortunately) Bono was not yet around to thrill audiences of antiquity.
Again, before we start grabbing ideas from our theological tradition, let’s hear what Jesus said himself:
- “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John14:15)
- “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
He never specifically emphasized emotional reaction (though it certainly isn’t bad), or going to church, or worship music. None of these are bad or useless, not by any means, but they are certainly not the primary way of “loving Jesus” even though many of us often assume they are. Instead its about that dirty word: obedience.
How to obey Jesus?
Obedience in the English language is often a harsh word associated with cold forcefulness and detached religiosity. Fortunately the translators used “keep” my commandments rather than “obey.” But in my opinion it might have been translated even better as “hold dear and observe” my commandments, as the original Greek word means to “keep, guard, observe, watch over” and implies a deeply emotional or meaningful connection to these commands, not merely cold or heartless obedience. (1)
To love Jesus means to obey his commandments. To obey Jesus means to take his words deeply to heart and follow his way earnestly.
The Christians and Jews of Antiquity called their faith “the way.” (2, 3) In fact, Paul even calls Christian’s “followers of the way” and this is arguably the first name the Christians called themselves. (Acts 9:2) This introduces a very interesting concept of faith as a journey, way, or path, rather than a destination that one has already achieved. How do we follow this “Way” of Jesus? Below are some key themes and practical commands of Jesus, that if followed, prove a love for God (and surprisingly also take care of the second commandment, to love one’s neighbor). Some things Jesus said are abstract or complex, and theologians are still fighting over them to this day, but below are simple commands for followers of the Way.
- Instead of vengeance, offer friendship and service: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-40)
- Give good things above and beyond what others expect of you: “As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:41-42)
- Be humble, gentle, merciful, pure, and peaceful: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:3-9)
- Instead of religious duty, focus first on reconciliation: “So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
- Don’t be angry, don’t insult, or call people names:“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
- Don’t abandon and cast aside your spouse for another person: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)
- Don’t resort to grand oaths to show you mean it, instead just always tell the truth: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all… let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)
- Don’t pray to be seen by people, let your faith be very private: “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people… But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
- Instead of selectively loving people you approve of, also love those you “hate: “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary?” (Matthew 5:43-47)
- Do good towards people without expecting anything in return: “But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)
- Instead of condemning others for their actions, first judge yourself and then help them: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned…Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? …First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:37,41-42)
- Love others to the point of sacrificing yourself for them: “This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. This is what I command you: Love one another.” (John 16:12-13, 17)
- Don’t try to appear as a good moral person and do religious duty for show: “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the marketplaces, the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher punishment.” (Mark 12:38:40)
- Instead of forcing or manipulating others, you should serve them: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27)
- To serve God means to welcome others and kindly serve them: “The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me…. And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple — I assure you: He will never lose his reward!” (Matthew 10:40-42)
- Don’t seek to make enemies, anyone not against you is not an enemy: “For whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40)
- Don’t seek to ensnare, offend, or hinder others from being moral: “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)
- Instead of amassing great wealth, share it with those less fortunate: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)
- Do not be anxious or obsessed with material possessions and needs: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat; or about the body, what you will wear… For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.. Can any of you add a cubit to his height by worrying? If then you’re not able to do even a little thing, why worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:22-26)
- Be empathetic; treat others as you want to be treated: “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12) “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.” (Luke 6:31)
- Forgive people for their wrong, for an infinite amount of times: Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times? “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4)
- Instead of focusing on possessing the world, focus on the good news for the world: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the good news will save it. For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?” (Mark 8:35-36)
- Don’t despise the insignificant amongst us, for they matter greatly: “See that you don’t look down on one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angel continually view the face of My Father in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save the lost. What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the 99 on the hillside and go and search for the stray?” (Matthew 18:10-14)
- Teach others to follow in The Way and observe these above commandments: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. (Mathew 28:19)
The simple conclusion
Here is the four step process that gives you the totality of information about how to live.
- To love God is the most important thing.
- The way to love God is to obey his commands.
- The way to obey God’s commands is to love your neighbor.
- Thus to love your neighbor is to love God.