“The Great Debate…A Question of Love”

Over the years I have been asked numerous times about where our church stood on a particular issue. Sometimes the issues were theological, sometimes social, ethical, or ideological in nature. My answers have not always been satisfactory for those who question. Baptists have traditionally refrained from being painted into that kind of corner for no one person can speak for a body of believers, and no one issue, save faith in Jesus Christ, is salvific in nature. The issues that divide often seem more interesting to us than that which truly unites.

Looking for a way to draw Jesus into contentious debate, a Pharisee asked him in Matthew 22:37, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”  His answer was simple and straightforward…”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then he said that the second is like the first…“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Among the many theological “hot potatoes” he could have chosen, he called, instead, those who would listen, to remember the words of old that came from the Levitical code…Love God and love your neighbor.

Some might argue that these words are too simple.  Surely Jesus must have recognized the significance of the Law and its broad interpretation that infused the great debates among the faithful. Surely Jesus understood the need for order in the context of his unruly followers who sat down to eat with unclean hands and picked and ate grain from the fields on the Sabbath.  Surely Jesus must have understood that healing on the Sabbath was unacceptable. There were rules to be kept, meetings to attend, righteous leaders and their causes to endorse.  Surely there was more to being a righteous person than love!

“Teacher, what 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 all your mind.  This is the first and the greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Can it be that simple?  Now, I would never imply that love is a simple thing. Love is demanding, sometimes elusive, often calling one to sacrifice and humility.  In reality, love and its demands both draw and repel. Those touched by Jesus’ healing, forgiving words were drawn to the One who transformed their lives.  Those who thought his teachings were too radical, his words and actions too inclusive, walked away or sought his destruction.  Jesus reminded his followers that there was no greater expression of love than the sacrifice of themselves for others.  He didn’t speak of righteousness as a code to be interpreted within the neatly drawn lines of social and religious expectation.  He certainly didn’t speak of love as self-seeking prosperity or heaven-sent favor.  Love, he said, is emptying one’s self for God and others.  No wonder so many “religious” people despised him.  No wonder such love begat a cross.  Love motivated incarnation and crucifixion…loving God and loving others.

There is great debate about many things today in the context of how faith informs our thoughts and actions. Too many of us who call ourselves Christians refuse to follow the simple, yet demanding words and example of Jesus.  He calls his followers to do two things…love God and love others.  It’s hard to improve on that.

By: Dr. Jim Abernathy

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