Sometimes some of the simplest concepts are some of the most transformational.
Assuming you are a Christian, if someone asked you if you loved God, how would you respond? I’m guessing you would more than likely say yes, right? But what if that same person asked you, “How do you love God?” or “Can you prove it?” How would you respond then? Would you give them a list of things that you do that somehow proves that you love God?
I go to church regularly. I pray from time to time. I put some money in the offering plate. I’m in seminary. I went on a missions trip. I read the Bible. I memorize Bible verses from time to time. I sing worship songs. I fast.
Or would you give them a list of things that you DON’T do?
I don’t do drugs. I don’t get drunk. I don’t swear. I don’t break the law. I don’t sleep around. I don’t…
Nice lists. But do they prove that you love God?
Okay. This is something that I have been thinking about recently. I got to this point just a few days ago. It seemed kind of ridiculous. I mean, I love God. I know I love God. But is knowing good enough?
Wow. My quest for transparency and honesty with myself and God just got a bit depressing. What does it mean to love God, and how do we do it?
Through means of conversations, classes, and recent Bible readings I worked through a lot of thoughts and concerns to have it all boil down to one simple truth: by loving people.
Indeed, the way we love God is by loving people. Or rather, as Dr. Osborne, my NT professor said it,
“The way we love people is the way we love God.”
A simple concept, which contains a deeply useful and practical truth. After I heard Dr. Osborne say that, things started to make sense. I sat in my class thinking, Why have I never really thought of it like this before? It’s so simple…
Or so I thought.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized its truth. Especially in the context of the Epistle of James, which was the book we were discussing in class. To me it seems that James deeply cares about whether or not we love all people, but especially those who cannot take care of themselves, making claims that pure and true religion is taking care of the widows and the orphans (James 1:27). He calls out against being partial to people based on external things such as appearance or amount of material wealth (James 2:1-10). He condemns our ability to curse someone made in the likeness of God and then give praises with the same tongue to that God who made those people in His own likeness (James 3:9). And it is at this point that I realized the deeper truth of the matter at hand. We don’t really see most people as being made in God’s likeness. (To see more on the topic of being made in God’s image, see a previous blog post).
It’s really quite a strange thing. We all struggle in this area in some degree. Some find it easy to love the down and out, the hungry homeless man on a downtown street of Chicago, or a widow who needs her driveway shoveled. It seems obvious to love these sorts of people, while others can’t even walk past the beggar asking for some change without feeling awkward and uncomfortable. For some, to love their fellow Christian brother or sister is natural, while for others, fellow Christians are some of the people they despise the most.
I realized this while sitting in class. As Dr. Osborne was mentioning this concept to the class a student raised his hand to ask a question. This student interrupted Dr. Osborne at a time during the class period in which he was trying to quickly move through his lecture to make up for lost time. The student also unfortunately asked a question that was not relevant to the point at hand, and Dr. Osborne quickly answered the question and said that we needed to move on with the lecture. I know nothing about this student, except for the fact that this is not the first time that he has asked a question not in line with the lecture, and that he is a bit quirky. But at the time that he asked the question, the students at the table to my left starting mocking and joking about the student. And as I sat there I had two thoughts that came to mind:
One was: I cannot believe this. Dr. Osborne JUST said ‘the way we love people is the way we love God.’ Yet less than two minutes later these guys are already mocking someone made in the image of God, made in God’s likeness. I mean…are they deaf? Do they not LOVE GOD?
The other was: Wow, Andrew! You are pretty dense. You just realized this truth yourself, and you are already judging other people. Five minutes ago you were blind to this concept, and you expect everyone to understand it just as quickly as you realized it? If this simple concept just sank in with you, what other things are you missing that are also just as basic and relevant as LOVING PEOPLE?
In the end however, this stands as a simple yet deep truth. Jesus Christ said that the way people can know that we are his disciples is whether or not we love one another (John 13:34-35 – He also said to love people as he loved us). John said that the way we love Jesus is to obey his commandments (1 John 5:3). What did Jesus say the two greatest commandments were? To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-28).
If we truly begin to see people as being made in God’s likeness, then we are well on our way to being able to love people. For me this has been quite transformational. We need to love people for who they are: the image of God. I believe that this is HUGE. It influences so much of our practical Christianity. If we are loving people for who they are, we are very unlikely to judge them. If we see people as made in God’s likeness, the respect and love will be well received by non-Christians, and unity will more likely result within Christian communities.
When we see people as made in God’s image, we give them dignity and value. This helps shape our understanding of issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and war. If we understand people to be made in God’s image, it should affect whether we kill them. For me, this is one of the main reasons why I believe human life is so sacred, and should be protected.
There is more that could be said at this point, and a look at some key texts would probably be very helpful for this discussion. But I have found this to be quite helpful in my daily life as I try to learn what it means to love God, and how to show Him and others that our love is not merely a cognitive thing, but is an integral part of what it means to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ.
You can love people without loving God, but you can’t love God without loving people.