The first time I heard those words they were spoken by Dr. Ralph Smith, who at the time was pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. It was the mid 1970’s and Dr. Smith was teaching on the book of James. Specifically the second chapter of James which says, in verses 8 through 10, the following. “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of sin.”
Woah! That is HEAVY stuff. Not loving your neighbor is as bad as adultry or murder or theft? That can’t be right!
Or can it? Sin is disobedience to the known will of God, and no matter how hard we try to ignore it, forget it or twist it, Christ made God’s will on certain things very clear. He wants us to treat each other with love and with mercy, and He wants us to do it unconditionally.
That means we can’t stop and say, “Well, they need to try to help theirself first,” or “they need to repent from sin first.” Our most important job as a Christian is not to stop them from sinning. It is to love God, and then to love others like Christ loves us. Thankfully, for all of us, Christ loves us with mercy, forgiveness and understanding. He died for us, when we were so mired in sin we didn’t even know it was sinful. He forgives us, even though we keep making the same mistakes over and over. THAT is how He wants us to treat each other and how He wants us to treat non-believers.
How important is it to Christ? Well, when the disciples asked Christ, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (That’s where James got the idea). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this. You find reference to it in other books of the New Testament, such as James. The greatest two commandments, according to God Himself, are to love God and love others!
That isn’t the strongest or most clear statement from Christ on the matter though. In Mattew 25 starting at verse 31 Christ tells us that when Christ returns in all his glory, with his angels, he will sit on his throne in glory with all the nations gathered around him, and he will separate his sheep from the goats, with the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Notice what is not in there? What is not in there is, “You protested against that funeral for that sinner!” What is not in there is, “You told that guy begging for help on the corner to get a job and you cut aide to single parents so they didn’t waste the money.”
I have to be honest now and admit that those verses weren’t the real attention grabber to me. It was the next set of verses in the same sermon (taught by Christ Himself) that grabbed my attention.
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Christ, who was so full of love and mercy that he died for us, sending people to eternal punishment is a real attention grabber for me. What in the world could anger Christ so much that he would say it deserved the same punishment as Satan deserved? Ignoring the second commandment, to love others. Ignoring the dos of Christianity.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or a thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minster unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, “Verily I saw unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me”. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
We Christians don’t teach that much anymore. We focus on trying to beat those splinters out of other people’s eyes. We use the excuse that Christians are saved by faith, not works. That is true. The bible says it very plainly. “Ye are saved by faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Sadly, we boast anyway. We boast that we aren’t guilty of the sin someone else is guilty of. We boast we go to church on a regular basis. We boast we know the books of the bible in order.
However, the fact that we are saved by faith does not mean we should ignore the dos of Christ. Remember that verse back in James? The one that said if you break any of the law you’re just as guilty as someone who broke all of the law? The verse that reminds you that all the law hinges on love?
We can never be “good enough” to earn forgiveness for our sin, but that doesn’t mean good works don’t matter. They matter a great deal to Christ. In this human world if someone tells you that they love you and respect you, but they never consider your feelings, often hurt you, and never match their actions to their words, you begin to understand that their words are empty lies. Christ is smart enough to know the difference between truly loving him, and in just saying you love him. He warned us to watch out for people who pretend to be followers of Christ, but in fact are there to destroy.
Matthew 7:15 .
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves
(Want to see a false prophet? Turn on the news to the man shouting messages of hate to a mother mourning her son’s death. Open the paper to the guy who killed the staff of an abortion clinic and claimed he did it to serve God).
Not every one that saith unto me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven.
(Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Heal the sick. Visit the prisoners. Take in the strangers. Give drink to the thirsty. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone).
I love the story of the adulterous woman brought to Christ, especially when taken in context of James 2. If all the law hinges on love, and all of us have failed to love, none of us are in a position to be tossing stones. It behooves us to remember that.
Many will say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?” And then will I profess unto them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity”.
It isn’t enough to do something in His name. You have to know Him. You have to love Him, and if you love Him, you will keep his commandments.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved by my father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
And if you love him – and keep his commandments – you will love others, not just with words, but with deeds. You’ll feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the lonely. You’ll act with love, and not just talk about it.
For the Father himself loved me, so have I loved you, continue ye in my love.
Show a little love for Christ today by spreading a little unconditional love here on earth. Or, as Colbert said, admit you “just don’t want to”.