Every pastor who wants fully engaged board members, staff and church members needs to ask three probing questions.
- Do I understand the Greatest Commandment and take it seriously?
- Do I understand that I can love God wholeheartedly only if I have received, embraced, and cherished His deep love for me?
- Do I understand that I can love my neighbors as myself only if I love myself?
If you’re missing that last understanding—if it isn’t true of your board members, staff and church members—then the Greatest Commandment is mere theory. And, we’re definitely not alive at a heart level. Granted, we may be working hard. We may be doing our level best. Then again, let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not fully engaged.
To become more fully engaged, I highly recommend reading (or listening to) Jerry and Denise Basel’s landmark book, The Missing Commandment: Love Yourself.
Earlier this summer I spent three days with Jerry and Denise at their beautiful home north of Atlanta. They’re the real deal with a powerful message. Together, Jerry and Denise resolved a deep three-year nagging question/concern in my own life: What does it mean for me to obey Jesus and love others “as yourself”?
Here is what I learned, and it’s made all the difference . . .
Supreme Priority of the Greatest Commandment
On more than one occasion, Jesus is asked which commandment is most important. Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 NIV).
In his first sentence about loving God, Jesus echoes the words of Deuteronomy 6:5. In his second sentence about loving others as ourselves, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18. The supreme priority of these two statements stands out more clearly in Matthew 22:40 when Jesus declares, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
There is nothing more important in all the Scriptures, in terms of what God asks of us, than to love him wholeheartedly and to love others as we love ourselves.
We Resist Embracing God’s Love for Us
It is not possible to do a good job of keeping the Greatest Commandment, however, if we don’t embrace God’s deep love for you and me. First John 4:19 (NIV) says, “We love because He first loved us.” When God’s deep love for us results in loving ourselves and others well, then reciprocating God’s love back to him in heartfelt gratitude comes easily.
Sadly, many think God does not look on them with love, favor and delight. In their heart of hearts, they feel God is angry at them or, at best, distant and uncaring. This is the great disconnect that the Father wants to deal with in each one of us.
Have we forgotten the most basic fact of the Good News of Jesus Christ? The Gospel begins with the wonderful news that “God so loved the world.” Yes, God loves you and me, deeply. But in our heart of hearts, do we believe it?
In her book Breaking Free, Beth Moore tells the story of a group of women she was teaching about God’s love. She asked them to each look into the eyes of the person next to them and say, “God loves me so much.” Guess what happened all over the room? Beth Moore writes, “The women turned to one another and said, ‘God loves you so much.’”
What a perfect example of how we accept God’s love for others, but struggle to believe in His love for us. Yet the truth is, God loves you and me just as much as He loves others—equally, deeply, completely, constantly, and unfailingly.
Why do we believe otherwise? Why do we change the very words and heart of the Father? Listen to what he says in Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV), “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
Loving Ourselves Is Anything But Selfish
When we come into agreement with who the Father says we are as his beloved children, we become better able to trust his heart and to love others in return. Loving what God loves is the key—and yes, he absolutely loves you and me.
One pastor told his church that even though he knew God loved him, that past week for the very first time he experienced a profound revelation of “Jesus loves me, this I know” deep within his heart. To say he was transformed by this experience doesn’t do it justice.
In other words, if learning to embrace God’s deep love for me changes how I treat myself, and ultimately enables me to love you better, then the result is not selfish.
Everything comes down to embracing God’s love for us and sharing that love with others.
As a result of experiencing God’s love for me in a much deeper way, it’s changed how I see/treat/respect myself—and others. Like the pastor mentioned above, I’ve become fully engaged.
In coming days, may that be your experience—an experience well worth sharing with others.