Most Christians are familiar with the greatest commandment passage in Matthew 22:37-40: “Love the Lord your God 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 prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It seems to me in recent years, and probably long into the past, we have developed a way of reading these two commandments that make the second commandment contingent upon the first. What I mean is: we say “I will love my neighbor as myself,” as long as it does not interfere with my love of God. The practical application of this is that there are certain people I will not love, or am exempt from loving, because to love them would in some way violate my first obligation to love God.
I believe such reasoning is behind many of the religious rights protection laws that are being promoted around the country. People say I should not be forced to act in a certain way to an individual because it would violate my personal faith and obligation to God the end result being that my love of God forces me on occasion to be unloving towards a particular individual. First commandment trumps the second.
The question I want to ask this week is: Are these two commandments ever seriously in conflict? Can our showing kindness and love to any individual ever really violate our love for God? I do not believe it can. I suppose that there is probably some extreme scenario where it might, but in our general interactions with other people, I find it hard to see how my being nice to someone violates my requirement to love God.
In chapter five of Matthew, we are admonished, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If our love extends even to our enemies, then how can it be in conflict with the greatest commandment?
Matthew five goes on to say that God “causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God’s love, and blessing, is not reserved for just the righteous.
If God’s love is not so constrained, then how do we feel it is right to constrain our love to only those who we feel “deserve” it?
I know some will disagree with this, and some will say it is too hard, but I don’t believe we were ever promised that it would be easy. We may not always succeed, but we must always try to love as God has commanded us to love.