In the book of Mark, Jesus is asked: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “…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
I use to believe that obeying the Greatest Commandment, to love God and love your neighbor, began with learning how to love God and allowing that love to compel you to love your neighbor. This common model is one that many Christians operate under. I am not arguing that we shouldn’t live under them, we must. However, this two-fold commandment begins with learning to love God and then allowing that love to prompt us to love our neighbor.
Loving God as a singular command is fairly abstract. It may take some time to learn to love Someone that is invisible and intangible. And because figuring out how to love an intangible God can be difficult, we may approach loving our neighbor with an attitude of duty. I have seen this “attitude of duty” lead many Christians to burnout and frustration. So what could be the answer to learning to love our neighbor without an “attitude of duty?”
I believe the answer lies in Jesus’ new command, to love each other, and thus in community. In John 13:34 Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Jesus could have asked us to do our best to love each other. He could have even left it at “love your neighbor” since that pretty much covers everyone. But instead, He made sure to tell us that He was giving His followers a new commandment. I’m confident that Jesus gave us this command (“…love one another”) so that we would have an environment to receive healing and be restored to wholeness – to equip us to obey His command to love God and love our neighbor.
Christian community allows us to learn to love others in the safety of the body of Christ. It is in this community where we practice the love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. Community is where the fruit of the Spirit is cultivated. It is where we practice confession and healing prayer as instructed in James 5, in the company of our brothers and sisters.
The essential elements of community allow the Holy Spirit to bring us to a place of healing and wholeness. When we become healed and whole, we are able to love our Christian brothers and sisters as He desires. As we learn to love, we become better equipped to love our neighbor, which is the outward expression of our love for God; in essence we are loving the Lord our God, with all our heart, soul and mind. We are able to care for widows and orphans in their affliction, which becomes a natural outpouring of the love that exists in our community.
As we become the likeness of Christ, we become better equipped for every good work of His ministry (i.e. loving others.) Growing our love for God points to and glorifies Him. This is God restoring us to wholeness as a means for caring for others and for the purpose of lifting Him up.
And it is this “real religion” that honors God and reflects wholeness in Christ. It is here we begin to fulfill Christ’s declaration in John 13:35, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is in that fulfillment that we reveal wholeness and invite others to receive the same.