I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my good friend Jerry that changed my relationship with Jesus. It was about 6 years ago now where Jerry described a conversation he had with Jesus in his car while driving that changed the way he loved God. Jerry told me that as he was driving, the Lord brought to mind Matthew 22:37-40 which reads “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’c 38This is the first and greatest commandment.39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
As Jerry was talking to Jesus about this particular scripture, Jesus brought up this idea of loving Him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jerry responded with “yes Lord, I’ll love you with my heart, soul, mind, and strength but what about other people? I should love them too right?” with which Christ responded “No, just love me”. “What about my family?” said Jerry, Christ responded with the same answer. “How about the Church? I should love your bride” Jerry once again asked only to be told “No, just love me”. This perplexed Jerry for sometime and as he was wrestling with this it finally clicked. Jerry realized that his own love was flawed, that he couldn’t love perfectly on his own. Christ then said these profound words to him; “When you love me with everything you have, you can’t love anything with your own love, instead I will show you how to love.” When Jerry explained this to me my world was rocked forever.
We often hear things like “make Christ number one in your life” and while I understand the point, I think it’s a terrible thing to say. When you have a number one in your life, you’re bound to have a number 2,3,4 etc. This creates a mentality in our heads that if we do our daily devotions, pray often, and make Christ number one (Whatever that means) then we can have our personal time, time that we can do whatever we want in other times in our life. When we compartmentalize Jesus (even if it’s the number one compartment) that means that there are other compartments where Christ is not in our life. This is not the way to be thinking about our relationship with Christ.
When Jesus answered the Pharisees in Matthew He is not only quoting the Torah, He is also summing up what it means to follow Christ in one statement. When He tells us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and says right after that this is the first and greatest commandment, what He is saying is that everything, our whole life, flows out of this. If our whole essence is not committed to loving the Lord and engaging in that relationship then we are missing out on what a relationship with Christ looks like. In that command, every part of what makes us human is covered. God is telling us to give everything over to Him, not just the number one slot.
It makes sense, because like you, I know I am flawed, I know that my love isn’t perfect, and that whenever I try and love people, things, or anything else on my own strength I either do a really bad job or whatever I’m trying to love becomes more like an obsession and that becomes my new god. When we love Christ with everything we have, He then shows us how to love things properly in our life. We can’t miss this because it is the foundation that our beliefs must flow out of. If we miss this foundation then what happens is that we become rigid and robotic in our relationship. If your relationship with Christ only happens on mornings when you read your Bible and pray then you’re missing the heart of what Christ came to do. In the Torah it was prophesied that God would come down to us, that He would bridge the gap between Him and us. They called His name Immanuel meaning God with us. This is the beauty of the Christian faith, it offers God with us, all the time, right now.
There is nothing wrong, in fact it is healthy, to have a rhythm with God. My mom is in that Bible every morning without fail. I think this is a very good, healthy practice to participate in. My concern however, is when it stops there. I have had the mentality of “I did my devotions today, so I’m good!”. When we do that we rob ourselves of things that God wants to bring to our attention that day, we miss out on the on-going conversation God desires to have with us.
This conversation happens best when we realize that God doesn’t just want the number one spot in our lives, He wants our whole life. He wants all of our love not just certain parts. When we do that, we can’t love anything on our own. Not our spouse, not our job, not our passions, not our kids, nothing, and this is the way God wants it. Because when we have nothing left to give, He shows us how to love through Him. God is the author of love, and when we ask the author how to best do what He created, He shows us how to do it perfectly.
To sum it up, when we compartmentalize God, even if it’s the number one compartment, it’s still not what God wants. He wants all of us, He wants every part of us so He can show us how to live the way we were designed to live. This is the beauty of Matthew 22:37, it breaks through all of our stuff and hits right to the core of who we are. Christ didn’t say “the most important thing you should is God, then you can love other things”, He goes way to the extreme telling us to love God with everything in our being, and when we do that, we have no love to give anyone else, God then begins to rebuild our flawed practice of love and shows us how to love everything through Him, with only a love He can give.