The Greatest Commandment

If you are like me there are certainly times a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has come in handy. In fact, I enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every once in a while. I even know people who can eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for launch every blessed day of their lives. Whether you are like us who like peanut butter and jelly sandwich or not one thing is true of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Once you put the peanut butter and jelly together in a sandwich you cannot separate it no matter how hard you may try! It is only not hard; it is impossible to separate peanut butter and jelly once in a sandwich. I have not heard of or met anyone who tried to do the impossible job of separating peanut butter and jelly. If you want something that can challenge your mind in the New Year, try separating peanut butter from jelly once the two have been mixed in your sandwich. I imagine no one will waste his or her valuable time trying to do the impossible.

Unfortunately as Christians, we try to do the impossible - separate loving God and loving our neighbor. (Just in case you need to be reminded of who your neighbor is, re-read the Good Samaritan story found in the gospel of Luke 10:25-37). No doubt, the Christian community is so fractured and fragmented as we try so hard over here and over there to show how much we love God and at the same time failing so woefully in loving our neighbors. (Again, from the parable of the Good Samaritan remember who our neighbors are – not necessarily the people whose opinions we agree with or the friendly family down the street. Our neighbor could be the guy next door whose political opinions or laud music make us want to strangle them. Or our neighbor could be someone from a race or religion we are uncomfortable with).

John, the disciple Jesus loved, said it this way in 1John 4:20-21, "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." If you think John's opinion does not really carry a lot of weight, although it does, or that Johns command limits us to loving only our Christian brothers and sisters, then consider Jesus' words on this very matter in Matt. 22:37-40. Jesus is responding to an expert of the law whose questions seeks to justify in his mind the neighbor he wants to love. The question is posed in v. 36, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." While John might have had in mind the love of fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus broadens it to include others outside the Christian family. In this increasingly immoral culture and violent world we live in, loving God and our neighbor is an uphill task, but one Jesus has not exempt us from.

We have just celebrated the incarnation of love - when God became a man in other to perfectly express his love for us; when God choose to love his not so friendly neighbors – rebellious us. Paul puts it this way in Rom. 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loved us when we were to him like the neighbors we want nothing to do with them. That is why we must not try to separate loving God from loving our neighbor. Just as it is impossible to separate peanut butter from jelly once it has been put into a sandwich, it is equally difficult to be a Christian who only loves God and not our neighbor. Such a Christian is in the words of Jesus a hypocrite.

The good thing about celebrating the birth of Christ  at Christmas is that we are all pumped up with the spirit of love; consequently, entering a new year is always a great time to take stock on how well we did or did not do in the past year loving God and loving our neighbor. As we enter a new year, let our resolve to love God and neighbor not be a New Year resolution that expires on the 31st of January; let loving God and our neighbor be a life time resolution.  And as we make the commitment to love God and our neighbor in 2016 we must do well to remember that it is not by our human might and human our resolve  and with out human resources that we will be able to do this; it is "by my Spirit says the Lord of Host," (Zechariah 4:6).

With God on our side and his Spirit directing our steps, I am confident we will make remarkable strides in our efforts to love God and our neighbor this New Year. May the Lord God on the bases of the finished work of his Son Jesus Christ, and working through the power of his Holy Spirit who is now working within us, do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine this coming year so that to him will be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!

Happy New Year to all VBC members and thanks a bunch for your love not only of God but also of neighbor - that would be my family and I. We have truly experienced your love this year and know that it is the results of your deep love for God that overflows to our benefit. To the friends or VBC my family and I wish you a richly blessed 2016.