There is, in my opinion, an overly extreme amount of focus and time dedicated to being an advocate for one cause or another these days. Whether it be an advocate for planet/animal preservation, racial inequalities, or gender inequalities all would be considered doing some earthly good with the time we have. The problem becomes, when one is so consumed with a cause, that they tend to lose site of the bigger picture.
When one who was well versed in the Law asked Jesus “Of all the commandments, which is most important?” (Mark 12:28). He may have wanted to know if it was greater to honor one’s mother and father than to not making a carved image as an idol or if it would be better not to covet anything of one’s neighbor than to not bearing false witness against them. We do know that he meant to test Jesus. Jesus responded with a two part answer.
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30)
This part one of a two part answer is important as it is a quote from Deuteronomy 6. This was a phrase that every Jew would recognize as it was something they would have repeated twice every day, morning and evening, since they were children. To understand this as the first and chief commandment in the law and the principal article of the Christian faith (namely, to believe that there is one God and to worship Him with one’s entire being and might) is very significant to us.
This is no easy task for fallen men, and to love God as an enemy is impossible. However in regeneration, God’s laws are written upon the heart and into the mind and out of that work a love is produced within them. Love for God the Father, who has begotten them according to His abundant mercy, for Christ, who has redeemed them from sin, and for the Holy Spirit, who did the work upon their heart. Those in Christ are given the ability, albeit imperfectly while remaining in the flesh, to love God as commanded.
Jesus went on to say, in his response to the man, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31). In this part, Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” If we use the parable of the good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37 we learn that Jesus’ definition of neighbor is any person, to whom affection should be shown and good done to them as for oneself; as much as can be done by one’s abilities, both in temporal and spiritual things.
But what does it mean to show such a love, such affection and to do good for neighbor as to self? Just as we often fail in the first part, to love God with our entire being, we do so likewise in the second part. All too often we put ourselves before others, even when we mean to do good. We fail to humble ourselves, or to forgive, or to show mercy when they are due. All too often we get lost in the things temporal that we neglect the spiritual things, making friendship with the world and conforming to its ways. We must be careful that in our efforts to uphold the second that we fail in the first.
Those in Christ are given the ability, albeit imperfectly while remaining in the flesh, to love neighbor as self. We are to love each other in the ways in which we love ourselves; not in any sinful ways (indulging in carnal lusts and pleasures, or selfishness; being lovers of self more than lovers of God) or encouraging those sins; rather in the naturally beneficial ways (being concerned of one’s temporal needs and being careful of their bodies, families, and property) and in a spiritual ways, so as to be concerned for their souls and the eternal happiness of them.
We must demonstrate love for neighbor with balance and in light of the ultimate purpose of all things, and doing so without inflicting additional burdens (e.g. 613 Jewish Commandments) on each other in order to achieve it. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
In Jesus’ response, which is paralleled in Matthew 22:34-40, we are given the bigger picture to which we often lose sight of when we become so saturated with a cause. We need to often come back to this teaching in order to center our focus on the bigger picture and in doing so we might be both heavenly minded and earthly good.