In the Kingdom of God, when people weep in Jerusalem and in Gaza, we in Kuala Lumpur also weep. And we look at God. And at one another. And we check to see if we’ve been reading using the wrong glasses. This is a reflection on love by an Arab Christian once caught in a web of tribalism.
In Matthew 22:37-39, we read:
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 neighbour as yourself.’
Is loving God an easy thing? Does it mean giving thanks for every blessing; practicing worship; praying and watching God answer our prayers?
Each of us personally knows hardship, sadness, distress, joy. Each of us knows this is the common lot of mankind. Amid all our experiences, we believe God loves us. And we resolve to love Him back in return.
We believe God loves us because He caused His son, Jesus, to “become sin” and die on the cross for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Based on what Jesus taught, and what the Bible says, we believe the death of Jesus is God’s expression of love for us (1 John 4:19).
The Great Commandment tells us to love God with “heart, soul, and mind.” This means we must think about God amid all our experiences and feelings. This means we must “read” our experiences and feelings against the background of the Kingdom of God, against the greatness of His creation, against His plan for our eternal salvation. We must not allow Satan to falsify our thoughts through our assumptions or our human expectations. We must choose to be led by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and fear (Isaiah 11:2).
Our nature as humans, since Adam, is to forget God until we encounter troubles or are forced to ponder the troubles of others. The Old Testament is filled with stories of the cycle of life of God’s people: forsake the Lord, become enslaved to enemies, cry out to the Lord, be delivered by a Saviour, return to the Lord. In the Bible, the Saviour is always the central figure.
To learn how to love God, we must understand His love for us. As humans, we are limited in our understanding. But God has taught us. He has taught us that He created us for Himself, made us in His image. Isn’t this a great love?
God created a personal relationship with us. And we broke it. Though we broke it, He made a plan to join us back to him, to redeem us. He revealed Himself to us in the Holy Scriptures. In Jesus. In His activity among us. He has revealed not only Himself, but also insights into what being formed in His image means, into what being fallen means, into why we need to be restored, saved.
Because that revelation has become knowledge to us, we love God even when we face hardships. We view hardships as tests of our faith, tests of our trust in Him. For example, the hardships, slavery, and humiliation the Israelites endured in Egypt were a spiritual training for them. After they endured long suffering, God rescued them through grand miracles. Why? To demonstrate His power to them and to inspire us, thousands of years later, to wait for Him, to trust Him.
Our hearts are prone to hardening. We must work to keep our hearts tender. We do this through our reading of the Bible and through thanking and glorifying God at all times, in joy and in sorrow. We train ourselves to repent and confess our sins to God and to one another. We train ourselves to trust in God and to be led by His Holy Spirit, not by humans. We train ourselves to not leave any room for the devil.
The Jews of Jesus day falsely read the verse “Love your neighbours as yourself.” They read it as if it applied only to their own family, tribe, or community. Jesus taught them the true reading: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(John 13:34-35).
Jesus framed it as a new commandment because it was different from the reading of the Great Commandments taught by the religious leaders of his day.
In Christ, in the New Covenant, the perspective changed. There was a transition from tribal interactions to the kingdom of God as a state imbued with the character of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ (Isaiah 9:6): a state shining with justice, love, equality, and joy. Here, the neighbour is anyone I encounter. The people are from different backgrounds, religions, and races; even my enemies: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Some of us were born rich. Some of us were born poor. Some of us were born in difficult circumstances. Each of us has our own sorrows and joys. No one remains in the same situation forever. But this does not give us the right to wish for others to experience pain. Our Master has taught us: “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28).
Loving others, living in the Kingdom of God, under the rule of Christ, means we must actively avoid looking down on others, backbiting others, placing suspicions around others. By such avoidance we demonstrate that the Lord Jesus comes to us every day and reminds us that He suffered for us sinners. That he shed His pure blood for our sins and for our salvation, as a free gift. That He is the one who feeds us, provides us with housing and clothing. That he watches over us.
God wants us to be close to Him by our honest choosing – through our hearts and souls and minds. To model love. To speak to Him. To hear His voice. To preach the Gospel. To do so amid sorrow, distress, and joy.
We love God by doing good. Without compensation, because we are children of God. Not for pride. Not to remind people what we have done for them. Not for thanks and praise.
To love God is to trust Him with absolute confidence and to be witnesses of His work in our lives.
We must love God and seek help from the Holy Spirit. We must not trust our experiences in life. We must love God by following the teachings of the Lord Jesus and act on them. His teachings are not far from people’s conditions. His teachings touched them. His teachings came out of the reality of life.
To love God is to know that before Him we are all equal. There is no difference between a new believer and an old believer. There is no difference between rich and poor, between Jew and Gentile, between men and women, between home-born and refugees. There is no difference in status between those who memorize the Holy Bible, interpret it, and have knowledge of it, and believers who are ignorant of it. We are all equal. It is God who chooses His children. He is the examiner of hearts and minds.
Let us not forget the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves. Let us resolve to examine our relationships with each other in our churches, which have the Lord Jesus as head (Colossians 1:18) and us as body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We must serve one another, forgive one another, and be true examples of God’s children to everyone we meet. We must yearn for their salvation, for them to enter the kingdom of God: a peaceful kingdom ruled by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Let us resolve to go forth in peace to love and serve our God in His Kingdom.