Now when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked Him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:34-40
Have you ever played Mao? It's a card game designed to drive you crazy. There are seven rules, but no one can tell you what they are. You have to figure them out as you go. There are always people who know the rules, but they only tell you a rule after you have broken it, and only so they can award you a penalty for breaking it.
The first time I played the game I almost lost my mind. It made no sense why I wasn’t allowed to know all the rules up front, and it seemed unfair to be penalized for breaking a rule I was unaware of.
When I learned the rules, I began to love the game. The game gets more interesting the longer you play because at the beginning of each round a new rule is added to the list. After playing 15 rounds, you are fighting to remember all the rules, and it makes for an entertaining scene.
I remember teaching my grandmother how to play. She has a terrible memory and after a few rounds she was overwhelmed with trying to keep from breaking a rule. When it was her turn to play, she slowly moved her card to the discard pile while looking around at each of the players with a look of horror, hoping to read our faces to see if she was breaking a rule by the card she was about to play.
Many Christians today live in constant fear of breaking a “rule,” so they don’t enjoy the game of life. The stress of living a good and godly life sometimes paralyzes people into a life void of excitement and adventure. What a sad way to live.
When Jesus said He wanted to give us life to the full (John 10:10), He never intended for us to live in constant fear of “breaking the rules.” Jesus brings freedom, and whom the Son sets free is free indeed! (John 8:36) So, how do we live a God-honoring life free of fear and condemnation? We do this by living the two commands of Jesus: Love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And love our neighbor as ourselves. Live Love. It’s that simple.
What does it mean to love God with everything we are? First, we place God as the highest value of our lives, more than our Xbox, sports team, Netflix or any extra-curricular activity we are part of. Loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind means letting Him become our first priority. This sounds easy, but it’s actually quite difficult. When was the last time we met with Jesus in prayer? Or read our Bible for something other than a few minutes a few minutes during church? Why is it we have a hard time sitting still
in a church service for more than 30 minutes, but we have no problem sitting for two hours to watch the latest action movie? It might be a sign that, no matter what we say with our lips, our actions prove we don’t really love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
Now, does loving God with our heart, soul and mind mean we can’t play sports or watch our favorite movies? Of course not. It just means we should include God in everything we do, and we should set aside significant time just for God and our relationship with Him. Live love.
What about loving our neighbor as ourselves? This is also easier said than done. It’s easy to love those who love us, but what about our enemies? Does Jesus really expect us to love them as well? Jesus says it this way: “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…” (Matthew 5:43-44)
What if Christians began loving their enemies as much as they love themselves? Don’t you think that would make a difference? If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will do certain things we might not have originally done. And we will not do certain things we might have done if we were only living for ourselves. We will serve others because we would like to be served. We will speak positively about others because we like it when someone speaks positively of us. We won’t harm others because we don’t like it when we are harmed.
Is it really that simple? All we need to do is love God and love people? Live love? Look at what Jesus said when asked what was the greatest commandment. 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 neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 22:37-40)
When asked what was the most important thing in all the world, Jesus said to love God. But then He added the second most important thing by saying, love your neighbor as yourself. Why did He give more than they asked for? I think it was because of what Jesus said at the end. He knew that focusing on these two commands would actually help us live up to all the others.
Imagine playing Mao with 613 different rules to remember. We would break multiple rules every time we played a card. Imagine living our life in constant fear of breaking the Jewish laws, most of which were actually created by the religious leaders and not by God. Jesus came to bring freedom, not more condemnation. (Romans 8:1)
If Jesus intended to give us abundant life, He needed have to refocus us on what matters most. Love God with everything and love people like we love ourselves. These two commands are like the “decoder ring” for us to know how to please God. If we do these two commands we will actually fulfill all the other commands as well. This helps us grow toward maturity and live the life God called us to.
So the challenge for today is simple. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself. Today, don’t stress about religious rules. Instead, enjoy the journey of life, embrace your relationship with the Father.