“… the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13
Christian values begin with love. It is that simple. As Christians, the manner with which we relate with God, with neighbor, and all of humankind – every faith, every race, every nationality – begins with love. This is Jesus’ perspective as he speaks of the Samaritan kneeling at the side of the wounded Jew and doing all he can to help – as Jesus himself reached over and put his hands on the leper, whom no one else would touch – as he called the most despised man in town out of the tree so he could have dinner with him.
Agape. I care about you simply because you are a fellow child of God. A sister, a brother. How does that line go from our hymn America the Beautiful, “America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
In Jesus’ beautiful economy of words, he summarized the heart of his message. “You shall love the Lord your God… (and) love your neighbor as yourself.” Out of our love of God we look into our neighbor’s eyes and want their lives to be filled with the same joy we seek for ourselves. Those are the fundamentals. This is what we are about as followers of his – responding to my neighbor as instinctively and lovingly as I would to myself.
But Jesus’ teaching didn’t stop there. He then gives this message his grand finale as he adds, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” There is the exclamation point! This final statement puts love of God and neighbor in its proper place – at the center of our faith.
All of the law, all of the teachings, all of our values are to be seen through the lenses of love of God and neighbor. Loving-kindness, then, is at the heart of living out a Christian life. Love of God and neighbor – meaning all of humankind – come first. Everything… everything in the law and the prophets hangs on these two directives. Love is the primary value and priority on which our lives are to be based. Love is where we begin and end. The Alpha and Omega.
Love begins the listing of the “fruit of the spirit,” and Paul underscores the same lesson in writing to the church in Corinth: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) Love can’t get elevated any higher than that. Faith and hope are some impressive company. But the most important of the three is love. Love is what our lives are, first, to be about. It is to be my foundational intent. Every other value – no matter how honorable – has to take a back seat to loving compassion. Everything hangs on these two commandments.
Prayer: O Lord, may our hearts join with you in putting love at the center of our lives. In Christ name. Amen.