I have heard those two little sayings spoken so many times in church. It is found on banners and spoken amidst fiery sermons. Sunday school teachers remind you of it; Christian friends and family do the same.
Love God and love people, has had such a powerful hold over the body of Christ, yet the exact phrase can be found nowhere in the bible. It isn’t the inspired word of God, but rather the implied Word of God. Implications should not be the bases of our faith.
Muslims could say love Allah and love people. Buddhists could say love Buddha and love people. Pagans could say love gods and love people. Do these two little commandments really symbolize our relationship with God through Christ? What does God’s Word say?
Love God and people is an overly simplified version of the Old Testament law. It’s simplified in that it doesn’t, for instance, answer how deeply you must love God or how much you need to love others. God’s law is very specific in this. Love God and people weaken the brunt of the law. It steals the law’s power and replaces it with mellow indifference.
Love god could mean many things. Love him a lot! Love him a little. When you feel like it, love God, in your own way, on your own time, and in your own effort.
The same goes for love people, whenever you can… love ‘em. This causes superficial love, pretending to love on the outside when you really don’t. It’s all about keeping up appearances.
You may go to church smiling and lifting your hands, but inside, you are thinking of lunch. You may help your friend to move out of her house but deep inside, you’d rather be watching a movie. So you have the appearance of love… just not with all that you are, and just not all the time.
The world is fine with this mentality because they believe you can’t always love others. You have to love yourself a little, right? God understands that you can’t love him every second of every day… right?
The church encourages us to be like the world every time they state love God, love people (even while getting angry when we think of lunch instead of the sermon). But unlike the world, they make sure you feel guilty for not loving God enough! If you don’t watch it, you’ll be encouraged to work so hard at the church to love God, that you can barely love people, namely, your family and friends. Thus you fall fully into condemnation, which has nothing to do with the grace of God.
The unmerited favor of grace is a foreign concept to the justice of the law. You can’t demand someone to follow rules (even simple ones) while, at the same time, being lenient when they fail. Law demands conviction and judgment when you break it! Justice is the power of the law. Grace demands abundant love and mercy in all things and at all times. Love is the power of grace. Grace and law just don’t mix. You can’t have it both ways. Love god and love people implies that you can.
If such a phrase isn’t the complete law, what is? You can read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but all of that amounts to nothing if you can’t follow the greatest law of all.
A teacher of the law asked Jesus this once. Here is his response in Mark 12: 29-31.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.”
Love God and love people, simplifies this… making it almost doable. But look at it in context… the perfection of God states that we must love him with all that we are and at all times. You can’t imply this! It must be stated as firmly as the bible states it. The second greatest law says that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. This means you cannot love yourself more than others. It also means you cannot love others less. The law is very clear. If you break it, then you are cursed.
And I ask… who can follow even these two great laws?
Only Jesus Christ!
Some have considered me a grace fanatic. They have even said that I ignore the law in all that it is. The truth is, they are the ones who ignore it. Many who view the law as doable aren’t really looking at the law. They are seeing bits and pieces of it and trying to do those. But James 2:10 states:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
So you can’t be choosy. It’s all or nothing!
I don’t think the law should be preached less… I think it needs to be preached more! At the very least the two greatest laws should be firmly established (not the simplified love God love people, mind you, but instead “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.” And , “Love your neighbor as yourself”).
After this is firmly established… ask the question: “who can follow it”.
The only answer is Jesus!
“…but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” John 14: 31
The law is God’s perfect desire. It points out how we don’t measure up. It convicts us of our failings. Every time we fix one thing, another fault pops up. Then we fix that, and the previous issue comes right on back. It proves that we are imperfect, that we are in need of a savior!
There is another law of the spirit written upon the tablets of the heart. Receive the pure grace of Jesus. Follow the new law of the Spirit and be free from the old!
Jesus’ commandment is only this:
…love one another, just as I have loved you. John 15: 12
Preceding this, he states that he kept God’s laws… we must only keep his.
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. John 15: 10
The old law causes man to fear the Lord’s judgment. The new covenant of grace is all about receiving, through Jesus, God’s love, and then abiding in that love… and then loving others.
Not one religion of the world can top this truth. It is the power of God unto our salvation! It is the good news of the gospel of peace!
Because of Christ, we have free reign to be blessed and highly favored as children of God. This means we need no longer fear God’s wrath!
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19
A better statement to put on the banners and preach on, one that is exclusively Christian, would be:
Jesus loves us, therefore we love!
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself—puts it all on us. Jesus said this before he fulfilled the law. Trying to fulfill it yourself leads to a frustrating life of condemnation.
Love god and people—simplifies the law making his perfection doable by our effort. This leads to self-righteousness.
Jesus loves us, therefore we love—puts it on Christ, leading us towards his righteousness, which Paul calls a gift in Romans 5:17.
For if, by the trespass of one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Whom do you wish to follow?
I choose Jesus, the one who loves me!