“Love God, love others” … It is that simple, and it is that hard!

In the Vineyard Churches, whose tribe I have been part of for the last 15 years or so, often I have heard leaders and others describe their philosophy like this: “This is very simple, folks — Love God; love people.”

I like its simplicity, and often have used it myself.  I don’t know where the slogan actually started but recently I saw a sign outside a Baptist church in Indianapolis that said: “Very simple: Love God, love people.”

During one of his encounters with the teachers of the Jewish law, one teacher asked Jesus: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Do you remember how Jesus answered?

“Love God, love people.”  Yes, but not exactly.  His precise words from Mark chapter 12 are these:

29 The most important one,” answered Jesus, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”

This entire “Love God, love others” idea recently popped into my mind as I was reading I John.  I John is full of tests that believers can use to determine whether they are true disciples of Jesus.  One of those tests is found in chapter 4.  If you love God, whom you haven’t seen, how can you still hate those you have seen?  John says here’s how you can put the command to the test: “Those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.”

So loving God and others are inseparable, right?  Of course.  And yet, I know so many people — even many pastors, the group I work with — who love God and others and yet who mightily battle with knowing and accepting their true identity in Christ.  Their dark side — that old person who might pop out when they get pushed into a corner and challenged or criticized — is self-hatred. It’s that place they go to where they neither love nor respect themselves.  They curl up into a ball, figuratively speaking, and protect themselves.  

I know that place.  I’ve been there.  Not long ago a pastor I met with told me he got some push back after he’d done his dead-level best on a church project.  But he also confused his church leaders.  Then he told me what the voice in his head said to him when he got strongly criticized by the tribal chief in his congregation:  

Look at you.  You are a terrible pastor.  You’ve never been very good at this role of shepherding the flock.  Why do you do this work, anyway?  You know you won’t be any better at it tomorrow either. Come on, man.  Give it up.”  

Whew and ouch… That’s called beating yourself up, and it isn’t pretty, it isn’t right, and, frankly, it’s not true. The old evil one has been lying from the beginning, and he’s still at it.  Still, so many, in their shame, go to that dark place when they face a stiff test.  I should say … so many pastors go there.  That’s the group I work with, and I often know some of the things that trip them up.

When we struggle like this we need look no farther than to Jesus. It’s true.  He’s our hero and the one we should most want to emulate.  Do you know where Jesus’ true identity was first revealed, at least as far as we know from the Biblical record?  At his baptism in the Jordan River when he was about 30 years old.  That’s right, at his baptism.

How that identity was revealed is more significant than where it happen.  Jesus’ true identity was revealed at His baptism by no less than God the Father almighty. That’s right. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, God’s mighty voice boomed from heaven saying, “You are my son, whom I love.”

Now that, my friends, is true identity!  Wow…  No wonder Jesus was so good in the ministry!  🙂 🙂 What a blessing he received from his Father!  Do you know anyone who wouldn’t want a blessing like that?    

Talk about true identity emanating from a deep love and respect of who Jesus was! Jesus was loved by the Father for being, well, himself, for just being Jesus.  I’m sure there’s a profound mystery here that is way, way beyond my understanding, but my sense is that at the moment following his baptism Jesus is loved, known, respected and praised for the deep sense of who he was even more than for what he did in his first 30 years of life on this earth.  

Indeed, God our creator, Jesus our Savior, and Holy Spirit our transformer always are unified in stating and affirming our true identity: “You are my daughter, whom I love,” “You are my son, whom I love.” We are loved, deeply loved, for merely being, well, us!  I see pastors struggle a lot between being and doing.  Part of serving in the ministry is accepting that tension.  It is part of the vocational ministry work. Pastor after pastor I talk with fights this tension.  My advice: “Embrace it. Don’t try and resolve it.”

My bottom line is this: Who you are is way more important than what you do.  And who you are — the foundation on which everyone stands or falls — is a beloved daughter, an endearing son.  So yes, being is more important than doing!

Many have told me they never heard the words “I love you” from their parents, and it’s often their father, who was either absent or stoic, not giving their son or daughter the words he or she desperately needed and wanted. Regardless, good old dad somehow couldn’t just say to his son or daughter, “Baby doll, I love you so much. I am incredibly proud to be your dad!”  When people tell me this lack of affirmation pretty much resembles their experience, I feel very sorry.  That should not have ever happened, quite frankly, and it makes me so sad. 

But that’s always what our heavenly Father says first.  “Baby doll, Donny Darrel (which is what I was called for a time when I was very little), I love you so much.”  You see, finally, and really only, it is God’s deep love for us — Doll baby, I love you so much — that compels us to love and respect ourselves humbly yet confidently.  Thus, I would say the popular slogan like this:

Love God; Love yourself; Love others.”  

When I said this to someone who I heard say, “Love God; Love others,” he responded, “Well, the love yourself part is assumed.”  Well, maybe. But I’m not so sure.  If so, then why do so many struggle with self-hatred and feeling unworthy of the call they have received?  And why does the Apostle Paul repeatedly pound this home in his letters: “There is no condemnation for those in Jesus — none!”  In fact, Paul states that twice in Romans chapter 8, one of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible.

Over and over and over as I talk with pastors and Christian leaders I see how often they need to hear, “I love you.  You do good work.  I am proud of you. Hang in there. Stay at your post.” After all friends, isn’t that exactly what God says to each of us?

So I would put the test like this: “If you love God with all your heart, and you genuinely love your neighbor, that kind of love only can proceed from a deep love and respect for yourself, whom God created and for whom he still has great love, regard and enduring respect. Because if you don’t love yourself in this way, can you really love God and others in the way that you say you do?”

Love God; Love others.”  Yes, of course.  But even better: “Love God; Love yourself; Love others.”

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