When asked what commandment was the most important or 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.” (Matthew 22:37-40.) In Mark 12 Jesus adds strength to the list and explains that these commands are “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Everything spoken by God, everything written in all of the Bible, is directed toward the purpose of loving him and others. Every parable, every psalm, every encouragement, every seemingly harsh teaching, and every rebuke is all written to inspire us and guide us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
When asked to define who a neighbor is in Luke 10, Jesus calls us to not focus on the neighborliness of others. He puts the responsibility on us to be a neighbor to others by showing mercy to them. None of us will be able to say that no one was a neighbor to us. We can’t sit and wait for others to come to us and be our neighbor but we must proactively seek to be a neighbor to others by showing them mercy.
Being a proactive neighbor may not be difficult for some of us. Some of us feel the weight of perceiving a need in others and can’t help but be a peacemaker, calling our brothers, sisters, and friends to be reconciled to God. Many of us do not struggle with being merciful because we are acutely aware of our own need for God and can instantly relate to the plight of those we endeavor to help. Many of us have no shortage of people in our lives that are in need of mercy.
Mercy is the action, heart, and attitude that God desires above all sacrifices and offerings (Hosea 6:6.) This word mercy in Hebrew is checed (kheh’·sed) which is defined as zeal towards anyone, love, kindness, and constant abiding favor. Checed is sometimes translated: loyalty. Consider that God desires loyalty more than burnt offerings and sacrifices. He desires us to be devoted to him and one another in a way that is unconditionally zealous for our relationship.
Loyalty is not casual or passive, it is intentional, passionate, and purposeful. It requires planning and forethought. What does loyalty look like? Loyalty to God and one another looks like pursuing relationship with one another by calling each other, returning calls, and inviting others into our life. It is endeavoring to share even your most mundane moments with one another. It is seeking to understand one another by asking questions and actively listening. It is guarding our heart and protecting one another from our thoughts and opinions. Loyalty is not begrudgingly being part of people’s lives but devoting ourselves to one another.
What keeps us from being loving, merciful, and loyal? Perhaps we are afraid to be that neighbor. Perhaps the cost is too high. Maybe we are afraid we will be rejected by the person to whom we are trying to be a neighbor. Maybe we will lose out on our coveted “me” time. Truly, failure to be a loving, merciful, and loyal neighbor comes from pride. Our time is too valuable to give to someone, they should seek us out if they want our friendship and loyalty. This inflated sense of self only allows us to be loyal to people who share our views, build us up, fit into our schedule, or align with our opinions. It produces conditional love, mercy, and loyalty.When we are conditionally loving, merciful, and loyal to God and others, we fail to be the desired of God. When we are conditionally loving, merciful, and loyal, we are creating division by virtue of choosing not to close the gap This is not the part of the wall we are called to build.
I am not loyal by nature. I am treacherous and self seeking. I am prideful, competitive, and give in to dissension. Due to insecurity, I tend to find other people’s faults and mentally tear them down to build myself up and protect myself. I take the praises of men and defend my opinions as if they were the gospel so that I can feel safe in my knowledge of God. This has shown up in my relationship with church leaders and loved ones alike. It has made me difficult to teach, unable to learn, and blind to the prosperity of friendship in my midst. I have felt alone in a crowd and fully justified of my loneliness. This makes God’s word all the more true when he says, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wasteland; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” (Jer 17:5-6)
Consider the last part of the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Don’t we all want love, mercy, and loyalty? Don’t we all want a merciful neighbor that will sit by us in our lonely, embittered funk and lovingly call us to repentance? Don’t we all want a neighbor that will never give up on us and always see our superpowers? What a man desires is unfailing love (Prov 19:22.) What is it you want from a neighbor? Is it respect? Do you need to know that you are needed and significant? Do you need a neighbor to show you love: to speak kindly, gently, and patiently to you and overlook your offenses? Go and be that neighbor. Give respect, love and loyalty to others and sow generously.
Imagine the outcome! You choose to be someone that gives abiding loyalty and love and, by that one simple choice, your church family becomes more loving. You choose to never leave your family or forsake them and you make every relationship you have that much more secure. Fear is driven out of our brothers and sisters. The people we meet can hope in the Lord and the love and loyalty he will show through you. God is glorified! He will see our devotion to one another and continue to add to our number! We not only see monthly miracles, but weekly, and daily miracles in our midst! It is worth the cost! So in the name of our Lord and Savior, and in his words, “Go and do likewise!”