Devotional: Loving God to Love Others
I got a call from my mom this past weekend. She and my dad are in the process of finishing their basement and are going through the things we have kept there in storage. While sorting through some of the boxes, they came across a box of my old things. My mom called and asked if I wanted to keep it, so I asked what was there. Among the contents was a journal that I had written in high school. To be honest, I only have a vague recollection of this journal, but in it, I had written some very unkind things about a few people in my life at the time. Recalling this, I immediately felt remorseful and ashamed. But my next thought was troubling: good thing I am a much better person than that now.
After having this thought, I quickly chided myself for taking pride and ownership of the person I am now compared to the person I was before. I know the growth that I have experienced in my life is and only could be a result of the work of Christ. But then I contemplated how often I actually live that truth out. I love doing nice things for people and seeing them smile. I enjoy chatting with strangers and making people laugh with a quality joke. I like surprising people with a coffee or a special treat that I know they will enjoy. But when I do something nice for someone, am I thanking God for His work in my life and for the desires that He has given me to obey Him and His commandments? Or am I patting myself on the back for being such a stellar person, giving all the credit to myself?
After hearing the sermon from this past weekend, I knew that I needed to examine this area of my life more closely. In Mark 12:29-30, Jesus says this when asked which commandment is the most important of all: “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.’” (ESV) Am I loving God when I take pride in my ability to be nice to people? Furthermore, is it really loving to do things for others if part of my motivation is to feel good about myself?
During his sermon, Pastor Barry struck a chord with me when he said, “My biggest problem is loving myself.” Our culture tells us that loving ourselves is crucial to knowing who we are and to living our best life. But Jesus is telling us something different in these verses from Mark - He says that the most important thing is to love God and acknowledge Him as Lord. When I assume credit for my ability to love others, I am breaking the most important commandment by making myself the Lord of my life and loving who I am more than who God is. As I mentioned earlier, I know that the transformation in my life is not and could not be a result of my own efforts; any goodness in my life is a direct result of the work of Christ. And yet, I am so eager to claim this goodness as a personal victory in the privacy of my own mind, dismissing God from the equation. In doing so, I end up forsaking the Lord and loving myself instead.
Praise the Lord that this is not where He has left me. In my recognition of this struggle, I have been humbled by the chance to experience God’s mercy and grace all over again. Despite my desire to love myself more than anyone else, He reveals His love for me in how He speaks to me through His word and pursues my heart. Jesus makes it clear that our first and foremost call as Christians is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Although this is something that God has shown me I struggle with at times, through His grace I am able to repent of this sin and grow in my love of Him. And it is only through loving God that I am truly able to selflessly love others as myself.
I would encourage you, brothers and sisters, to take some time this week to reflect on how you love others. Perhaps, like me, it reflects more about how you love God than you might think. But rest assured that we are safely covered by the redeeming blood of Jesus, so that whatever God puts on your heart may only be used to draw you closer to Him so that you may love Him more deeply and in doing so, love others as Christ has loved us.