And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 NKJV
To the question of what is the greatest commandment, Jesus gives two, the first is to love God:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30 NKJV.
The second command, here in verse 31, is to love your neighbor as yourself. The second command, which Jesus says is like the first, that is, it is also about love. Love is the greatest commandment, first in loving God, then, in loving people, or, specifically, how that love is manifest through our lives, how love is lived, if you will, among people.
Our love for God begins and is sustained by His initial and overwhelming love for us.
“We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:9 NKJV
Without the love of God pursuing, rescuing, redeeming and restoring, human beings would not know His love.
From very early in human history the entire race has been running away from God, not toward Him. For our selfishness and pride, our individuality and shear hardheadedness, convinced us that we are captains of our own fate and have no need of authority, especially the authority of a supposed, other-worldly creator Who is unseen, and, may or may not have our best interests in mind.
It is to this world of fearful, self-driven, prodigals, that God directed His love. God loves people. He values people. He created people for His glory, formed us, created us, called us by His name.
“Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” Isaiah 43:7 NKJV
So vast and great is the Fathers love for people that He gave His very heart for our redemption—when the only begotten Son of God, Jesus, came to earth. God incarnate (in the flesh) to save mankind from sin, and restore us to a love relationship with God.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 NKJV
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
This is the manifest love of God, Jesus our Savior. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him, He came to us. He didn’t wait for us to be good enough, He came while we walked in willful rebellion against Him. He loves people. His love is boundless, and He redeems us from rebellion to love Him boundlessly in return.
Father Thomas Hopko, in a commencement address to his university, said, “we prove our love for Him by loving everyone and everything, beginning with our worst enemies, just as He does, with the very same love with which He loves us, the very Love that He Himself is.”
This is loving our neighbor as ourselves. Loving them the way God loves all people, loving them the way that you, personally, have known His love for yourself. Accepting them when they are most irritable, loving them when they are most unlovable and mean, loving them unconditionally, redemptively, and without judgement. For their Redeemer has come. Their sin, like yours and mine, was judged on the cross of Christ, and is forgiven, covered, cast as far as the east from the west. Their death, like yours and mine, was defeated by the power of the resurrection of Jesus. It is finished.
The only thing that remains for them is to see Jesus, to hear and believe of God’s love for them manifest in Christ our Lord. People need to hear of the simplicity, the beauty, and the power, of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Our role in this is simple—love them as Jesus loves. Jesus said it best in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats when He called people “His brothers and sisters”.
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:34-40 NLT
We love our neighbor by cultivating virtuous lives of generosity, hospitality, empathy, sacrifice, blessing and more. Our love for Jesus, manifest in practical acts of love for others—without distinction.
“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” 1 John 3:18 NLT