Much like the weather, we, God’s followers, go through different seasons. With each passing figurative season there are certain things we go through which result in us (hopefully) gaining a better understanding of what God places in front of us. With the current season that I find myself in, the overwhelming theme that God has placed in front of me is “clarity.” Clarity in regard to finding what specific problems plague us as an organization, clarity in regard to the overall vision of our specific ministry (and my part in how to fulfill this vision), clarity in regard to our specific needs at this present moment (and I haven’t even touched on clarity in a personal sense!). This season, over and over again, I am reminded for the need of clarity, and placing my focus upon what is important, while resisting the urge to deviate my attention to things outside of our (and my own personal) vision.
Jesus in Matthew 22 gave clarity in regard to what he considers to be most important. When asked by the expert in religious law “what is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt. 22:37b-39). Thank you, Jesus, because if you’re anything like me you need to be reminded about what is absolutely most important on a consistent basis; especially during the times where different things are competing for my attention. You cannot read this passage and be unsure as to what is the most important of all the commandments; Jesus just does not give that option.
Now, from time to time I come across the very valid question that tends to seek clarity in regard to our response to the Great Commandment: “How do I love God, or especially anybody else, if I do not know how to love myself, first?” To anybody who is wrestling with this question currently, please let me say that I appreciate you. Because when someone is going through times of self-loathing or does not feel loved, merely contemplating loving others can seem like an insurmountable task, much less acting upon it. However, loving others when we feel we do not love ourselves is indeed possible, even if it seems unachievable. Sometimes we can read the commandment of loving our neighbour as loving our-self as “because we love ourselves, it is possible to love others.” This can lead to an assumption that loving ourselves (especially in an emotionally charged manner) is a prerequisite for loving others. Let’s see if we can gain some clarity as to understanding what is most important here.
In our relative modern worldview, we quite often have a misunderstanding of what biblical love entails. The English language is fairly inadequate in describing biblical love, because the Greek, the primary language of the New Testament, has four (some may say six) different words for love, so there is something lost in translation. The Greek word used for love in this passage is agapáō, and concerning the believer, agapáō (“to love”), in this context, primarily means actively doing what the Lord prefers, by choosing to do what God himself would do. This type of love is not to be misunderstood as primarily as a feeling, but to be understood as an action pleasing to God. This clarity is what makes the seemingly insurmountable task of loving someone else when we feel we do not love our self possible. Because even when we do not have that emotional balance for which we seek, it is still possible, by and through the grace of God, to make active choices that would satisfy the Great Commandment(s).
Another thing I have learned is that whenever God commands us to do something, it is best to be done immediately and consistently. The longer we wait, the more we use human wisdom and rationale to explain why we cannot do something. If a person can barely make it out of bed in the morning, it is still possible, and best, for him or her to come and serve others that same day. If a person has issues with self-loathing, it is still possible, and best, for him or her to come and serve others immediately. Because even when we have emotional discord wreaking havoc in us, it is still possible to have joy within; spiritual joy that can, and will, supersede emotional and physical disruption, and eventually change it for the better. It is amazing how the Holy Spirit can equip someone when the time comes; we have to trust that God meant what he said when he said he would never leave us or abandon us. This is where we depend on the lifting power of the Holy Spirit.
Two things we need to understand about God’s commandments is that he does not command something that is impossible for any of his followers to do, and quite often the healing that people seek best comes from obeying God’s word. When broken people come and serve other broken people like they are more important than themselves, God tends to open the flood gates of his blessings, and heals people in ways that are not possible otherwise; something I have seen firsthand many times, and have experienced myself. By learning to love others first, we can truly learn what it is to love our self in the most emotionally stable and spiritually healthy way possible. I would make the argument that if we seek to love ourselves first, and then others if it is possible, we rely more upon emotional well-being (something that is temporary), rather than spiritual well-being (something that is eternal). But if we seek to love others before we love our self God will show us, and help us understand, what true love looks like. When this happens, the Great Commandment looks less like rules and regulations, and more like a central part of the human condition as God intended. However, my words are inadequate to sufficiently explain about the kind of healing I speak of, it is something that is best experienced. Thankfully, there are many opportunities to come and serve others.