“‘YOU MUST LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, ALL YOUR SOUL, ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND ALL YOUR MIND.’ AND, ‘LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'” LUKE 10:27B
These incredible directives are rarely spoken of yet they are the first and highest commands of God. There could be many reasons for that, but I presume it is because we think we understand them or that we comply. Yet, the issue of love is the hinge pin for one of the most dynamic rifts in the history of the Western Church. Who we love, how we love, whether or not we can love and leave, and the penalty for certain expressions of love are being questioned. Secular culture is confronting the Church’s inability to articulate the greatest commandment. Out of this vacuum, a humanist morality is emerging that seeks to satisfy our need for love apart from God. The outcry for love that meets our need for human dignity is quickly redefining what was once a uniquely Christian virtue.
I think it’s time we take a second look at “love” to rediscover how it is the backbone of all of scripture.
Every week, I face the dilemma of reconciling humanist perspectives on sexuality to Christianity and am called upon to address the issue among Christian leaders. In my many conversations about homosexuality, I observe the challenge of seeing that behavior as sin, yet desiring to reach out in love.
Over and over, I encourage Christians to experience and extend God’s love to gay people so that they may be drawn to seek Him. Ultimately, the exchange of love for God and Him for us, empowers us to obey His words. This love is essential for any of us to follow Christ.
“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
I’ve spoken to some who are puzzled that our efforts at loving seem unfruitful. But, you see, Christians don’t have a monopoly on love. God created humanity in His image to love. It uniquely describes the human experience. We all seek to receive and extend love. In fact, some would argue Christians do not love well; and yet, we know the One who does. Christians are the only people who experience the love of God daily and may invite others into it.
WE MAY NOT LOVE WELL, BUT WE CERTAINLY KNOW THE ONE WHO DOES. OUR ABILITY TO CONNECT PEOPLE TO GOD DISTINGUISHES CHRISTIAN LOVE.
True Christian love always seeks to bring people into His presence, where they may experience the beauty and satisfaction of the love they were designed to enjoy. But let me take this one step further and connect us to the first command: to love God and our neighbors wholeheartedly. The love spoken of in this command is others-centered. It draws us away from ourselves to seek the well-being and fruitfulness of God and our community. It is self-sacrificial love that seeks to promote and empower others into the fullness of God’s purposes.
Sometimes we only see sacrifice in this passage, but that is not at the heart of this command. You see, if we all focused outwardly like this, we would also be the target of someone’s love. It is a joyous liberation from having to meet our own needs. Imagine if everyone around you was for you. What if you didn’t have to rely solely on loving yourself well, or the love of your parent or spouse, in order to feel fulfilled? What if your life experience wasn’t just God’s love and you on an island? I think that’s how many of us feel as we struggle to love ourselves, but God’s heart is that we would be fully loved by our “neighbors.”
None of us can envision that. Take a moment to imagine that your neighbor, friends, church congregation, boss, all loved you as much as they possibly could in order to ensure you felt valued, empowered and whole. Loving yourself might not feel so challenging if your entire life experience incorporated love from others. Certainly it would be a delight to love your “neighbor” if you knew she loved you.
Through the first command, God invites humanity to experience the fulfillment of being honored and delighted in by God and the community. No doubt it is a dynamic experience within the Trinity. Jesus carried this outward focus in all He did and said. He not only washed the feet of others, but established their well-being through healing and restoration. He actively sought to serve others, as God actively seeks to serve us by answering our prayers. Jesus was, by all accounts, completely fulfilled in this endeavor—even through the cross and beyond. And, as God loved Jesus in this same way, Jesus was satisfied internally by God’s love.
THE POWERFUL IMAGE OF GOD’S FIRST COMMAND IS SO RADICAL, FEW OF US EMBRACE IT. IF WE ACTIVATED THIS COMMAND, OUR CULTURE WOULD BE CHANGED!
Set against the backdrop of sexual confusion, the first command invites us to open our hearts to gay people. How? By connecting them directly to God’s love through prayer. That is, through a direct encounter with God. Can you recall the most recent time you experienced His love? Perhaps it was a moment when you felt ashamed, fearful, or confused. God offers us shelter that invites us to His security—without punishment. In fact, corrective words from the Lord are easy to take. Though they may seem pointed, somehow my response is always, “Yes, that IS true. I want your way.” He is so convincing! God’s correction invites us into His excellence, which is attractive. I never feel condemned when I hear from the Lord.
What makes our love for gay people sacrificial, aligning it to the first command? It is that we have denied ourselves and directed the individual in front of us to God. We have become an ambassador that acknowledges that while our own love may fall short in some ways, God’s love is always perfect.
Originally published on elizabethwoning.com.
In her early 20s, Elizabeth Woning “came out” as a lesbian and embraced the LGBTQ community. She attended a Presbyterian (USA) seminary openly lesbian, but upon graduating, an encounter with Jesus dramatically shifted her perspective. Over time, her relationship with God led to transformation and healing. Today Elizabeth is free of same-sex attraction and happily married to her husband, Doug. She teaches at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry and is a member of the Moral Revolution team. Her ministry highlights the power of intimate relationship with and knowledge of God to bring identity, wholeness and fulfillment. She is passionate to provide consulting to church leaders as they navigate the complexities of sexual and gender identity in our culture. Elizabeth holds a Master’s Degree in Theology and is a licensed pastor at Bethel Church.