The Two Most Important Things Jesus Asked Us to Do
“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.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
I have a complicated relationship with the Bible. I know I’m not alone in this, but every so often I believe the lie that everyone else reading the Bible is confidently and appropriately using it to guide their lives. And then there’s me, holding it open with a ton of questions.
Growing up, I didn’t read the Bible. Being raised in the Catholic church, we read scripture that aligned with the liturgical calendar during Sunday mass. However, as a kid this almost always went over my head. In fact, I didn’t even own a Bible until I was old enough to drive myself to a small Christian book store in town and pick one up for myself. That Bible traveled with me to college, and while it mostly collected dust over the years, it’s been packed and unpacked several times, and I still have it with me to this day. Every once in while I look back at the things I highlighted as a 17 year old - when I knew almost nothing about the world.
The first time I read an entire book of the Bible was three summers ago in a small group at my church. We read through Romans, and then James. I found the more I read scripture, the more I wanted to keep reading it. On some level I do think this is how God kept drawing me in.
A year ago I bought myself a study bible, and was reading from it several times a week. I even set a new year’s goal for 2019 to read and study all four Gospels chronologically.
I remember starting to read the Bible when I was a teenager out of curiosity. The same holds true for returning to it as an adult. However, something changed. I stopped reading scripture with curiosity and wonder, and instead started digging for black and white answers to things. When I made the switch from reading the Bible like a colorful, layered story, to studying it like a user’s manual… I became very frustrated.
I became frustrated realizing that the Bible can be very contradicting.
I became frustrated with parts of the Bible that don’t actually make sense.
I became frustrated realizing that scripture can be interpreted many ways. Different translations and commentary in books and blogs can influence our interpretation.
I became frustrated thinking about the authors of the Bible, and how they’re imperfect humans just like the rest of us.
I became frustrated realizing that the Bible I’m reading isn’t in its original text. That it’s been translated, interpreted, and filtered. And that there are several books and letters out there that didn’t make “the cut”. Who decided this? More humans.
I became frustrated seeing people using the Bible to further their personal agenda.
I became frustrated with people using the Bible to condemn other people for their actions.
Then, I became frustrated remembering times when I’ve done the same thing. (And truthfully, I have to watch myself constantly to not fall into those patterns.)
And then, a few months ago, I put my Bible away.
I share this spiraling story not to drag anyone else down with me, but to just explain where I’m at and how I got here. I’ve realized there’s a way to read scripture that is helpful, and there’s a way to read scripture that is harmful - both to myself and the people around me. If reading it doesn’t make me more compassionate and loving, then I believe I’m doing it wrong. There is a healthy way for me to read scripture and use it as a tool to encounter God. However, I can very clearly feel God calling me toward other spiritual practices for this season of my life.
I included Matthew 22:36-40 at the beginning of this post, because it’s a verse I’ve had on my heart over the last few months. I’m confident that if I never opened a Bible again, and instead memorized this verse - I’d be just fine.
The two most important things Jesus asked us to do was (1) love God and (2) love people. It sounds so simple, because it is - but it’s actually very difficult.
Loving God with all of my heart, soul, and mind means letting go of my way of doing things. It means doing my best to walk in step with the Spirit - all day, every day. The more I grow in loving God and keeping in step with Him, the more He strengthens my character so that I can love others well.
Loving people means loving them exactly as they are. Not the version I agree with or get along with, but the potentially difficult version. It’s easy to love lovely people. God asks us to love all people.
For me, this has meant letting go of certain expectations I have of others. Letting go of some kind of idea that I know what’s best for people. I have to remind myself that God does the “fixing” and I do the loving. God works on people from the inside out, which results in changed hearts and motivations over time. Because of this I can always tell when God is working in someone’s heart… but I cannot assume when God is not working in someone’s heart.
This means I have no right to judge anyone for their beliefs or the decisions they make, which is difficult to do in the year 2019 when we’re surrounded by opinions and loud voices. That’s not to say I can’t disagree with someone. After all, Jesus disagreed with and challenged a lot of people’s thinking and actions - including religious leaders, his disciples, and even his own family. This just means I have to constantly check my motivations and heart behind my thoughts and my words.
I do believe the Bible is a wonderful tool for learning about God and growing in relationship with Him. But the Bible is not God. I’m now learning how to step away from “studying” scripture and instead getting back to reading it without an agenda. Lectio Divina has been really helpful for that (if you’re interested in what that looks like, read this blog). But truthfully, at this point in my spiritual walk, I believe God is less concerned about my eyes being deep in the weeds of scripture, and instead wants me to lift my eyes to see Him and the people He loves all around me.