Jesus said, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22: 34 

What does Jesus really mean when He quotes this Old Testament passage? He had just responded to a question that was intended to trick Him, and the first half of the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” makes sense. It may be a very challenging thing to do, for it is an impossibility without Christ. Without His ongoing presence in my life, I don’t even come close to living out this command. Still, this second command that Jesus gives to us is in some ways even more challenging. 

If love my neighbor is expressed in kind acts such as clearing snow from their walks or picking up trash from their front yards, that is no real problem. If it looks like greeting them when I see them, this is fairly easy, too. If my neighbor is defined as the people who live close to me, this is also relatively easy. They are mostly just like me; therefore, they are rather safe people to engage with, at least at this outward level. I am absolutely certain that this was not Jesus’ definition of neighbor, for none of this applied to Him. He had no permanent house, He didn’t stay on the same well known street of the same town, and He interacted with a wide range of people, none of them exactly like Him. 

What Jesus is commanding us to do is a lot bigger and contains a lot more risk than any of this casual neighborhood interaction. He is telling us to redefine our concept of neighborhood to include the entire world around us. Christ came to love all of the people of this world in a manner that would bring them back to an intimate and a personal relationship with God. Jesus loved people by engaging with them in their lives, by hearing their sorrows, and by healing their wounds and soothing their greatest fears. He met the soul-deep needs of dying people. That is what He commands us to do. So, as Christ is in us, we are called upon to give away His love to the people that live in our neighborhood. This is not an optional part of our lives as Christians, and it is not something that others who are called to be evangelists or missionaries are to do for us. This is the second great commandment from God to each of us. Loving others is the actual expression of the first commandment. This is how the Lord wants us to demonstrate our love for Him. Today is the day to ask someone about their life, to be interested in the pain in their heart. This is the perfect time to join a new friend in the journey of life, and today is the day to tell that person about the real, the tangible answer to your own needs that you have received through Jesus.  

I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 36: 27

When I made the decision to give my will over to God’s desire for me and to surrender my lame attempts at controlling my life to the Lord’s mastery of the universe, I was not left with less than I had before. There was no gaping hole in the functional areas of my heart, mind, and total person. I am not trying to suggest that my journey has been smooth or without some very large detours that took me far outside of God’s desired way of living, but through everyday and in all ways conceivable, my Lord has been with me, and He has continually been available to guide and to direct me. It has been through His specific interaction and, at times, intervention in my life that I have known what relational and spiritual successes that have come my way. In simple words, everything and everyone who is good in my life has come to me through the direct involvement of God, for I am not worthy of any of the goodness, and I am not even capable of recognizing and properly responding to it.

The relationship that God wants to establish with His children is a two way, fully involved, and totally engaged one. He has never operated from far off in the manner of one who dictates the rules of living and then waits for our failures so that He can correct or punish us. Rather, the Lord gets into the middle of my life; He walks with me through all of the aspects of my day, and He stays with me even when I am stubborn and self-centered. Then, He lovingly yet firmly draws me back into His will. This is what the Spirit of Christ does with and for me; just as Jesus promised, He is within me, and the Spirit continually guides me into living more and more fully as the transformed, image of God person that I became when I entered into the relationship with Christ.

In addition to giving me the gift of His Spirit, God has also provided a frame work for how I should live if I am to truly function as His image bearer in this world. Although there are many concrete statements about what living as God intends looks like, the real essence of God’s rules and His statutes is found in the very simple concepts that have always been at the center of His word and that are at the heart of His plan for restoration of our world to its intended state of peace and harmony. This restoration is available for each individual, all relationships, and the entire world. Jesus gave us the central focus for living as God intends when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourselves.” (Matthew 22: 37-39) This is what the Spirit is leading me toward every day; so, I pray that I will soften my controlling grip on this day and allow His will to prevail.

So teach us to number our days

   that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90: 12

Moses knew something of the strange fragility of life. He lived out his days, and then they were done. He saw many others do the same thing. Some of them did great things in the world, but spent very little time in the presence of the Lord. Others turned toward God’s way through life in their later years; yet, they were true champions for righteousness during their last days. Moses had always existed under the Lord’s protection. His early days were secured in the house of earthly royalty as he was singularly selected for future greatness, and the Lord never ceased to provide that sort of care and apparently angelic covering for him as he traveled and wandered through life. Every experience that Moses had was a part of the Lord’s preparation for what was to come in his life. Each encounter that he had with the forces of this world was another instance in which he was led by God’s hand to his place of destiny.

As the leader of the exodus from Egypt is nearing his last breath on earth, he is sharing great wisdom and truth with us. Each of our days is something precious to be considered as a gift from the Lord. Every hour that we have on earth is time to be redeemed for the sake of God’s kingdom as we follow His will. This day will never come again, and these hours will not be returned to us once they have elapsed. Now, in truth, none of us do this very well. People tend to focus on the immediate and embrace the urgent as our first priorities. This was true for Moses, and it has remained so for people throughout time. Yet, this fact of human functionality does not need to remain true for any of us. We can be trained to consider the Lord’s will as primary and His direction as the path that we will follow in all situations, under any conditions, and for all of the days of life that are to come.

This refocusing of life will not eliminate the existence of that which is urgent from our days, but it will provide us with a new and more fully defined response to these situations and circumstances. As God’s Word becomes our first and primary source for understanding what is true and worthy as a response to all that life has sent our way, we will also turn to prayer and the influence of the Spirit of Christ in forming thoughts and in deciding what to do. God’s Word, prayer, the presence of the Spirit, and the fellowship of Christ’s body are the tools that the Lord has provided for us to use in order to live each moment of our lives in service to the Lord’s will. When we are fully yielded to this form of service, Christ will lead us into using the days that God has granted to us for the sake of His glory so that each hour of our lives can be counted as one wherein the gospel of Christ was on view for the entire world to see. 

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1: 13, 14

In Christ we are redeemed! That means that we were purchased out of a life-ending existence wherein sin ruled our days and ravaged our nights, and we have been transported into the opposite form of reality in which true living exists today and eternity is our promise and our hope. This purchase that God the Father brought about was costly. Each and every life that comes into being in this world has great value and immeasurable worth, and this is true for us from that moment of conception onward. God so values being in a relationship with people that He paid the sacrificial price of giving His son, Jesus the Christ, as that ultimate and perfect payment.

Now, in Christ, we dwell in light! This is a place that is unobtainable by any other means. Jesus is the singular source of access to God’s absolute truth, wisdom, love, grace, and justice. He is the one that reconciles all of creation to its Creator, and He is the author of all that is truly good in this world. Without Christ, even the best of intentions will fall short and the best of people will fail to fully depart from the darkness of their souls. On our own we will not enter into the glorious light of God’s kingdom, for when we rely upon our own efforts and inherent goodness to do this, we will always fall short of that eternal glory.

So, through Christ we are forgiven! Our sins and failures and the ways and times of wandering away from God’s truth are set aside. Christ’s sacrificial act upon the cross has granted our escape from that life-long jail into which we were each born, and it has given freedom to all who recognize Christ as Savior and Lord. Our lives are set right with God, and we are granted the gift of new purpose for life and renewed vitality for living it. In this new life we dwell with the great King, and we are fed from His banquet table of grace, love, and truth so that we too are filled to overflowing with these Godly qualities. Thus, we can grant the gift of God’s presence to a darkened world as we bring the light of Christ’s love with us wherever our redeemed life might take our steps.   

 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1: 20, 21

If you or I think that God is caught off-guard or unawares by the struggles that we have in life, then we have missed comprehending the heart of the Father. Should we ever face the issues that lie before us and see no opportunity for redemption in them, we lack a fuller appreciation of God’s commitment to His people. When we feel as if the challenges that those we care about most deeply are insurmountable, whether they are caused by willful disobedience or by situations and actions outside of their control, we need to open our eyes and truly see Christ’s love, grace, and power in their fullness. This world is a harsh and a difficult place to live. There are many traps and pitfalls that we can stumble into, and the landscape is littered with the debris that is the product of broken lives and failed dreams. Yet, God knew all of this before He did anything.

The Father sent His Son as our redeemer. Christ came into the world as a baby, and He left it as a fully formed man, whose life portrayed the intent, will, and power that God continues to pour out into the lives of people that accept His gifts. Christ now leads us into seeking after what has been promised to us from those times before the creation of the world. That is, we are to recognize that all goodness and mercy in our world come from God, and these unworldly qualities are granted to us in full measure through our faith in Christ and by the working of His Spirit in us and in our world. When we face trials, we are to call upon Christ in that faith and expectantly wait upon His understanding and wisdom to provide clarity and direction for any actions that we are to take. These times of prayer and contemplation can seem long when all that we desire is resolution or relief; yet, they serve the purpose of focusing our hearts and minds upon the Lord and taking them out of the naturally self-oriented place where people tend to go in challenging times.

Turning our deepest fears, concerns, and apprehensions over to God can be hard to do. People are generally formed up and function in a manner that is self-reliant and that utilizes our own resources to provide answers to all of the challenges that we face. There is nothing wrong with any of this; however, if we enter into the storms of life with our own skill and capacity as the complete and full set of resources that we have at our disposal, we are missing out on the greatest of all sources for gaining wisdom that overcomes all adversity and for the endurance that we will need to continue a hard journey to its conclusion. Christ can grant us the vision to see beyond the moment and into the glory of God’s redemption and restoration of all that is holy, good, and just in this world. As we place out faith and trust in Christ, He grants us a form of hope that is greater than all adversity, and He fills our weary hearts with a form of peace that id based upon His unfailing and eternal love. 

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3: 6-8

Perhaps this passage seems particularly pertinent today as there are many issues and concerns in my path that are weighing heavily on my heart and on my mind. The weariness of my bones may exist because of an especially long and hard workweek. We all deal with the impact of living lives that are full with activity and responsibility, that are burdened with stress, and that place demands on our physical and our emotional energy. Big things, little things, trivial things; they come at us with a sort of non-stop urgency that doesn’t leave a lot of time and space for quiet contemplation and for meditation on the Lord’s will and way.

We think that our times are considerably more complex and activity filled than at any prior time in history; yet, as indicated by this ancient writing, Solomon’s times must have contained a lot of the same stresses as ours do. His words tell me that I need to recognize God’s presence in all of life; that I need to give the Lord credit for what He does for me and for how He takes care of me in all situations. This idea of seeing God’s hand in every aspect of life is interesting to me, for as I recognize Him, my eyes are turned to His way of navigating through my day; God’s enlightened pathway of truth and love opens before me. Another aspect in these events is that God’s path takes a lot less energy out of my weary body and soul; as He always gives the strength and the stamina required to go in His direction.

As I look closely at the face of God while following Him through my day, another truth starts to resonate in my heart; all of the plans and approaches that I create on my own are silly, futile, and even dangerous. The more I seek to solve life’s challenges on my own, the more difficult it becomes to keep Him in clear focus, and since it is always more difficult to navigate on my own, I end up consuming more energy to get where I think that I need to go than I would have if I had allowed God the opportunity to lead me. This is foolish and dangerous, for when I get tired and discouraged, I grant evil easier access to my thoughts; thus, I can allow a sense of negativity, uselessness, and weariness to defeat God’s purpose for me. So, the stresses of life will continue to be present in my days, but as I turn the eyes of my heart to God and His care, provision, and direction for me, I will be strengthened and encouraged. The ailments that afflict my body are healed by Christ’s loving touch, my worries and concerns are given perspective, for the Lord makes my frame to be more than strong enough to carry the weight of my life and to lift up the burdens of those who God places in my path.   

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3: 18

The language of love is a complex and a very interesting thing. Most of us go through our lives trying to learn how to speak it while also trying to learn how to understand the words that others are saying to us. It can be a bit like trying to learn two complex foreign languages at the same time, for the meaning of the words can get confused and the messages can be confusing or at least perplexing. Still, we have such a strong drive to learn how to communicate at this deep level that we are willing to put an enormous amount of work into making this strange tongue our own.

God has made the acquisition of His love language a lot simpler; however, there is a catch. That catch is the nature of the acquisition of this new vocabulary, for it is best learned and has to be applied as we go about living our lives. It seems that the Lord is true inventor of the immersion concept of learning, for He wants us to go into our world and engage with the lives of others with our goal being to bring a living picture of Christ’s love to them. God also makes it very clear that we are to show our growing mastery of His speech by demonstrating genuine love for each other within the family of God. Christ leaves us with no legitimate means to express superiority, exclusion, separating differences, and inequality. So, when we do or say anything that leads to these sorts of divisive words or actions, we are using a vocabulary that comes to us from our former, fallen flesh.

Christ calls us and He leads us to live in a higher place where His righteousness demands that we take the risks and perform the sacrifices of self that allow us to embrace all people with ready openness and with willing acceptance. However, there is one more aspect to this form of love expression, and that is truth. When we love others completely and when we are able to extend the grace of God to them, we are also required to be honest with them. Yet, as Christ demonstrated, God’s truth is a compelling part of the vocabulary of His love, and giving His love to others requires us to share His truth as well. Thus mastery of this complex language of eternal love is gained as we live life in the presence of Christ, and it is granted full expression as we love others without hesitation, reservation, or exclusion.