The Greatest Command
The Paradox of Love
Two doctors walk into a room, giving different diagnoses, then walk out of the room. Confused and frustrated, the patient turns to the nurse and says, “Do they always contradict each other?” The nurse replies, “No, they are just a… paradox.”
Jesus, the Great Physician, never contradicted Himself, but He was a paradox – the very embodiment – literally – of many paradoxes. May I suggest that divine love is a paradox? The theme this year is “The Greatest Command.”
God’s Love For Us
We love God because He first loved us (1 Jn.4:19). Primarily, God’s love for us is demonstrated in putting to death another that He loved – His Son. What a sobering paradox. God was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief (Isa.53:10). That verse used to bother me. God was pleased to crush Jesus? But a paradox always looks beyond the obvious. There can be no description, no understanding, no comprehension, no fathoming, of the emotions the Father personally experienced in the death of His only begotten Son. Out of Christ’s pain, God did not pleasure. God took pleasure in the result – our salvation. Divine love is not about emotions; it is about will. Dare I say that God subjected His own emotions to His will? That is why God can command us to love Him. God looked beyond what was to what can be. Is there a greater paradox than the cross displaying God’s love?
Our Love For God
Matthew 22:37-38 – And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ (38) “This is the great and foremost commandment.
From 613 commands, according to Jewish tradition, to two. That’s quite a summation! The first being the foundation of the second. The first being the foundation for everything. The first being that God commands us to love Him. Wait a second. We are “ordered” to love God? Yes! What a paradox, for most envision love as an emotion, as something taking control of our will. And yet that is exactly the opposite of divine love. Will takes control of emotions. How do we demonstrate our love for God? One obvious answer is found in obedience (Jn.14:15). Succinctly put, we subject our emotions and will to God’s will and emotions.
But since a paradox always looks beyond the obvious, maybe we also show our love for God in a way that is not obvious. To provoke thought consider that the primary way of loving God, is not through showing love for God. Instead it is by actively loving others. While one might love their neighbors without loving God, it is impossible to love God without loving our neighbors (1 Jn.4:20).
Our Love For Others
Matthew 22:39-40 – “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ (40) “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn.14:15). But have you ever noticed that Jesus doesn’t say, “If you love me, you will worship Me?” Why? Because loving God is far more than worshipping God. A little further down, Jesus says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (Jn.15:12). In fact, Jesus elsewhere said, I desire compassion, and not sacrifice (Mt.9:13). Jesus condemned the Pharisees as hypocrites even though they were faithfully worshipping God through tithing mint and dill and cumin. Why? Because they had neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness (Mt.23:23). Have you ever noticed that the weightier provisions of the law involve how we treat others, and not how we worship God? Don’t get me wrong…how we worship God is essential – but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others (Mt.23:23). Likewise, pure and undefiled religion is not described by singing a cappella – although that is pure worship – but by showing love to the unfortunate: visiting orphans and widows in their distress (Jms.1:27). Reaching down requires suppressing our will and emotions due to the distress we will be bringing into our lives. We all have shown our love for God lately by worshipping Him. Have we all shown our love for God lately by actively loving others by helping the needy? Loving God involves even loving others who are our enemies (Mt.5:44). If that is not a subjecting of our emotions and will to God’s will, I don’t know what is! No matter how perfect we are in worshipping God, in failing to love one another – even our enemies – our love for God is not love for God. Isn’t that paradoxical?
A story is told in Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water. A Hasidic rabbi is known for his piety. One day the feelings of a devoted, young disciple spilled over in exuberance, “My master, I love you!” Looking up from his books the rabbi asked the young man, “My son, do you know what hurts me?” The disciple was taken completely aback and wanted to be sure the rabbi had understood the depth of his adoration. “I’m trying to let you know how much I love you,” the young man said, “and you have confused me with your trivial question.” The rabbi responded, “Oh, my question is neither confusing nor trivial. For if you don’t know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?”
What truly hurts God is not loving others – Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me (Mt.25:45).
As Jesus embodied love, so must we. Don’t contradict God’s love – walk around like Jesus – be a paradox of love.