And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
There are many people who are good at “serving” their neighbor because in a sense, serving your neighbor comes back to you. Let’s say a waiter or a waitress works really hard to serve their customer, in the hopes of getting a good tip. Are they really serving their neighbor in a Godly way, or in a way that is self-serving, and if it is self-serving, is it really serving at all? The second-greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, which generally manifests itself as serving your neighbor. The greatest commandment, however, is to love God. Ideally then we show our love for God in service to our neighbor that is self-less. If there is a collateral reward, that’s just a bonus, but not an expectation.
Let’s reflect on the greatest commandment, which is to love (and serve) the Lord. Because love is not just a state of being, it is a choice and it is an action. Sin is the failure to love. We talk a lot about multi-tasking in the world today. I often do something else while I’m eating, like talking, or reading. Loving and sinning are two actions but they cannot be done simultaneously. I can love while eating, I can sin while eating, but I can’t love while sinning. Failure to love also comes in two forms. There is the sin of “commission”, where I deliberately do not show love to someone, such as hitting someone or cursing at them. There is also the sin of “omission,” where I see someone in need and fail to render help to them. Remember that sin is not only doing something wrong, but failing to do something that is right. This is why I counsel people regarding how much is too much when it comes to drinking. If one is too inebriated to render assistance to a neighbor in need, that’s where drinking becomes sinful. Because that means one is potentially committing a sin of omission when he or she is unable to help a neighbor in need.
In Matthew 22:36-37, Jesus is asked what is the greatest of the commandments. He answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” When Jesus answers the same question in Luke 10:27, He adds “with all your strength.” That is a lot of love—to love the Lord with ALL our heart, with ALL our soul, with ALL our mind and with ALL our strength. Many people, maybe everyone to some extent (I know I do it) puts the Lord in a compartment. We tend to love Him when it’s easy and at other times we easily forget about Him. When I’m in a fit of anger, I’m certainly not thinking about loving God (or anyone else) with all my heart and my strength. All of my heart, mind and strength is being given over to anger, which makes me, at that moment, incapable of love.
Let’s look at it from the opposite perspective—when I am loving God with all my mind, heart, soul and strength, it will be hard to give in to anger, because my feelings will be so laser-focused on the Lord. Rather than start the day in anger and hope that love will somehow seep through it, we need to work on starting each day, and each interaction from a place of love, working hard to make sure than anger doesn’t seep into the situation.
If someone says that they are truthful 90% of the time, that means they are untruthful 10% of the time. If someone lies 10% of the time, will you be able to trust them? How do you know when you will get the 10% and when you will get the 90%? Same thing as asking how strong is your love for God if we love Him 90% of the time and disregard Him 10% of the time. These are hard things to think about. It’s hard trying to focus on God and on love all the time. It’s hard suppressing anger, especially anger that we perceived as justified. And yet this is the stand that God has called us to—to love Him with all of our being. God doesn’t love us 90% of the time and withhold love from us 10% of the time. Jesus gave Himself 100% to death on the cross for us. His love knew no bounds and ours shouldn’t either.
People struggled to even comprehend, let alone obey the 613 commandments of the Old Testament. That’s why Jesus summarized all of them into two commandments—loving God and loving others. And both of those can be summarized in one word—love. If we want to serve like Jesus, then we have to focus on loving—with our whole soul, our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole strength and our whole life. Is that possible? No. Because every time we sin we are failing to love. Can we make improvements here, can we take strides here? Absolutely. As we wind down 2023 and start to look ahead to 2024, think of some practical ways to express love and avoid sin. We will not eradicate sin, but we can all look for ways to lessen sinful tendencies by focusing on practical ways to love God more deeply.
When Augustus reigned alone on the earth, the many kingdoms of mankind came to an end; and when You became man from the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule, and the nations came to believe in one God. The peoples were enrolled by decree of Caesar; we the faithful were enrolled in the name of the Godhead, when You became man, O our God. Great is your mercy. Lord, glory to you.(Doxastikon, Kekrgaria, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: What does loving the Lord your God with all your heart and soul practically look like?