At my church lately, we’ve been talking about learning to be a better lover in the context of loving oneself, others and God.
It’s a trifecta defined by Jesus Christ Himself when a Pharisee lawyer asked what the greatest commandments were. Here’s the passage from Matthew 22:36-40:
“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 all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
My church did an impartial survey asking everyone which one felt most difficult to love. Women generally said loving themselves was toughest while more men said loving others was the most difficult. For both, loving God was the easiest of the three.
On the surface, it seems that as long as we love God, we’re doing what we as Christians are supposed to do. But that’s completely missing the point of Christ’s response to the lawyer.
Failing to love any of the three means we’re getting it wrong. My friend Mandy made a great illustration of this a few weeks ago by having some volunteers pour equal amounts of sand in three different colors into the same jar. It’s a trend done at weddings, though usually involving just two colors, symbolizing the union of individuals as one.
Once the sand is poured, you can’t separate one color from the other (or others). And the design you have with the three colors intertwined can be very beautiful.
That’s what loving God, loving others and loving yourself looks like.
Christ Himself said that loving your neighbor as yourself is like the commandment to love God, meaning that it was of equal importance. And loving your neighbor requires loving yourself first.
Mandy and I lead a group at my church, and at each meeting we wear name tags. I think name tags are important because they allow new people to immediately know people by name to begin building community. One of the members of the group — I’ll call him “John” — recently wore a name tag that mentioned his wife — I’ll call her “Sally” — and read, “Sally’s Husband.”
John was joking, of course, but it strikes me that so many of us walk around labeling ourselves one thing or another rather than claiming our own identity. Usually, the label isn’t something we’d wear on a name tag for the world to see, but it usually is something that we display indirectly by how we value ourselves.
If you’re having a rough time in a relationship, that may label you. If you feel overweight, maybe one of your name tags says, “the fat guy.” If you feel regret about something you did or didn’t do years ago, you may be walking around with an invisible name tag that reads, “failure.”
Sometimes even positives — like wealth — can make your name tag say something unpleasant. If you act as though you have a lot of wealth, looking down on those whom you assume don’t, your name tag might read, “Richer than you.” There’s nothing wrong with wealth per se, but there can quickly be something wrong with how you handle it.
The point was that we are all given value — and even better, we are all given equal value — from our Creator. That’s the most important value we have and there’s no value we can build ourselves into that is more important or pure.
I challenged everyone in the group to think over the next month about your name tags, those labels you allow yourself to carry whether you realize it or not. They are more evident to those around you. What do you allow your attitude, your name tag, to say about you?
But I make the same challenge to you. If you’ve read this far, you must care about the subject matter. So going forward this week, think about the labels that you’re placing on yourself. Because it isn’t about who someone else says you are, but who you allow yourself to be.