The word “love” gets tossed around a lot. I love pizza, I love the beach, I love my EC. I love my kids. The word is a bit over-used, and loses a lot of its impact. The word love is also used in important ways in our theology. You are probably well-acquainted with this exchange:
A Pharisee asked the Savior, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Hang on while while we dissect these familiar verses. First, when the Pharisee asked about “the Law,” he was referring to the Pentateuch, also known as the five books of Moses – the first 5 books of the Old Testament.
Jesus answered very directly by quoting two verses from “the Law.”
- And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
- Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)
He established that the commands to love God and our neighbor have been around for a long, long time, and that they were still in force – as they had been for thousands of years. It wasn’t a new concept.
On the night of the Last Supper, Christ was teaching his disciples important things they would need to know, as his departure was eminent. One of the dictates he gave them was this:
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.“ (John 13:34) (Yes, the Primary song will immediately start playing in your brain.)
I looked at that verse and tried to figure out what is “new” about it. Loving one another is old school and repeated often in the scriptures. What could be “new” about that? Clearly it was important, as it was one of the finally challenges he gave to his apostles before he was crucified – but new?
So what is new? Since it isn’t the idea to love one another, perhaps it is this: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
What had changed? Why did Christ need to add to what he had already said as Jehovah? Christ came to earth and spent his life showing his disciples how to “love one another.” A living, breathing, personal example of how to do it right.
Let’s go back to the two-part command:
How do we keep the first great commandment – love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind?
Easy: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
He adds a little bit more in another scripture, “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.” (D&C 42:29) This falls in line with what Christ told Peter when he asked him “Lovest thou me?” The answer? “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
This is also not “new.” Back in Dueternomy, the Lord asked this question, “
“And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” (Deuteromony 10:12)
Simply put, if we LOVE God, we will seve him and keep his commandments. If we don’t love God, we won’t keep the commandments.
Oh, and here is the kicker: The #2 commandment of loving our neighbor is one of the things we must do to accomplish the #1 commandment of loving God. Basically, it is a package deal: We can’t claim to love God and not love our neighbors.
The first great commandment is simple to understand. The second one is a bit tougher for me.
Love one another.
What does that really mean? I hear all the time, “Love one another.” “Love your family.” “Love your children.” Love your neighbors.” “Love your enemies.” “Love your spouse.” The Beatles even wrote “All you need is love.” Okay. I’ll accept that premise, but what does it actually MEAN?
How do we love all these people? I don’t believe that it is solely an internal thought process. I don’t think we can sit in our room and think deeply, “I sure love everyone!” and be okay with that. I think there is more to it. We have to define what loving our neighbor really means, and what we actually have to DO to show that love. (As we do things to show God that we love him.)
This is where the difference between the Old Testament counsel, and the new, New Testament counsel can be instructing. We need to love one another as Christ loves us. Here are a few thoughts about how he has shown his love for us: (These would be the “as I have loved you” insights.)
• He sacrificed his life for us. (Not often are we required to lay down our entire lives in one shot, but it is often required in 5 or 60 minute chunks. (or years.)
• He atoned for our sins and offers us forgiveness. That is something we can do to emulate Christ: Forgive quickly and often. He even specified that he expects a lot of us in this department. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.“ (D&C 64:10)
• He taught and shared the gospel. Elder Ballard linked love and missionary work when he said, “So let the power of love guide us in sharing the gospel with family members, friends, neighbors, business associates, and any other people we encounter as we go through life.” (link)
• He showed us what Christ-like love is. Thankfully, Mormon took the time to itemize some of the hallmarks of the “pure love of Christ.” “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.“ (Moroni 7:45)
I can’t think of a better time than right now to focus on what it means to love one another. Are we long-suffering? Are we kind? Are we no easily provoked? It seems to me that I have seen a lot of hair-triggers lately, and a lot of unkindness. I admit to some of those same feelings as well. Funny how the words “charity” and “politics” rarely appear together.
Are we letting the conditions around us dictate how Christ-like we are in our responses to each other?
Are we searching for ways to be kind and forgiving, or are we fostering contention?
Are we letting differences in opinion provoke us into forsaking the 2nd great commandment, and by default the first?
If we make an effort to be less “vague” about what it actually means to love one another, we can hold ourselves more accountable, and make greater efforts to overpower the negativity in our lives with the remarkable power of charity.
It isn’t enough to profess love, we have to do love.