What do you do with those two little words at the end of Christ's Greatest Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself"?
Can you confidently say, "I love myself"?
Joel N. Clark suggests that learning to truly love yourself may unleash your full strength for loving your neighbor.
This is an excerpt from what I call Joel's "Christian adventure memoir," Awake: Discover the Power of YOUR Story (The Book You Can Watch). -Adam Forrest, Zondervan
The Least-known part of the Great Commandment
|Joel N. Clark|
I was visiting a church recently and found myself listening to a sermon on Jesus' greatest commandment. The pastor read a verse I think I've heard more than any other verse: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor." He quoted the verse at least ten times throughout his message.
Something was annoying me, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I picked up my Bible, found the verse, and read it. I was right. The actual verse reads,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The pastor is a great guy and he was preaching a good sermon. But it was as if those two little words, "as yourself," got in the way of what he was trying to say. They were unimportant.
[The Greatest Commandment] is like the CliffsNotes for life.
The verse is found in Matthew 22, and this entire section is amazing... The religious leaders asked Jesus to tell them which was the most important... Jesus broke down a thousand plus years of law into these three statements. I think this is pretty huge. It's like the CliffsNotes for life...
I have only ever heard one sermon about the "as yourself" portion of this Scripture... The pastor said that loving myself had something to do with eating right, going to the gym, and generally looking after myself. It meant that I should stand in front of a mirror and talk to myself, affirming those things I like about me. Even as a child I remember thinking that this was a very silly message.
If I understand language at all, "as yourself" is put on an equal level with "loving your neighbor," just one step under "loving God." If this is true, then it is one of the three most important things we could ever do with our lives. Yet I understand why it's not talked about. Pride is something that nobody needs to learn. We don't need to be taught to think highly of ourselves; it is humility that's the hard lesson. I'm sure this is why we spend most of our time learning how to love God and love others.
If anything, it would be easy to look at the world and say we all love ourselves too much. With much of the world obsessed with making more money and buying the newest "toys," it would make sense to say we need to learn to teach, teach, teach people how to live outside themselves and spend time loving their neighbors. But excess and pride have nothing to do with love...
I think the reason for much of the excess and egotism in the world is precisely that we haven't taken the time to learn how to love ourselves.
I think the reason for much of the excess and egotism in the world is precisely that we haven't taken the time to learn how to love ourselves. It is in loving ourselves that we learn humility. It is in loving ourselves that we begin to understand that excess isn't the answer. And most important, it is in loving ourselves that we are able to fully love others.
I no longer think that breaking down Jesus' second greatest commandment into healthy eating, exercise, and positive self-esteem is what Jesus was talking about. Although he doesn't spell it out for us precisely, I think that when Jesus told us to love ourselves, he was commanding us to live fully awake...
Loving God + Loving Neighbor as Yourself = Living Fully Awake
I believe one of the key ways God shows his love to us is through the opportunities he gives us to awaken our hearts. Each time I step out in faith and embrace life to its fullest, I awaken to a deeper intimacy in my relationship with Jesus. I believe the way we most fully experience God's love is when we make the choice to love ourselves enough to pursue what he has placed in front of us.
When we are fully awake, experiencing God in our hearts, in the beauty surrounding our stories, in our imaginations, and in our dreams, love is the natural outflow. When we are fully awake, even the impossibly hard choices become easier to make. [For example, see the stories of The Priest and Jonathan Lee.]
Jonathan Lee: 13 year-old prankster & peace activist. Fully awake.
Thirteen-year-olds aren't supposed to have anything figured out. No one expects much from their kind. In fact, I usually just feel bad for them. It seems like thirteen is God's big joke — hormones rage, zits sprout, and everything is awkward and gangly.
Yet somehow, in the midst of living a story that could literally get the kid beaten up, ripped away from his family, and thrown into a cell, Jonathan was able to keep his heart awake to the beauty, magic, and wonder around him. He never took himself too seriously or considered his "mission" overly important. Jonathan made time to laugh and crack jokes and go to the Beijing Lego store. He found the time to pull pranks on his little sister and dream of what the future might bring. In Beijing, away from his normal life, these are some of the things that awakened Jonathan's heart. [Meet Jonathan Lee in this video from the book Awake.]
I spent hours trying to scare the kid. I wanted him to fully understand the gravity of his choices. I wanted him to realize that life isn't all pranks and fart jokes. Yet somehow Jonathan was able to see the risk in front of him and do his best to understand it. Then, in the moments between the intense and hard choices of his life, Jonathan was able to love himself. And I believe it was this love that allowed him to make confident decisions to love others.
Young Jonathan Lee stepped up to the plate in a way that many people much older than him would struggle to do. He had a dream for peace, and though he has yet to achieve it, he has not given up. As Jonathan grows, so too will his wisdom and his impact, but for now, he is doing the best he can with what he has, and in the moments between, he's not trying to be all grown-up about it.
Jonathan loves himself. He doesn't need anyone to tell him that he needs to laugh. He doesn't feel guilty or immature for craving wonder and beauty. His faith is childlike, yet he is a young man. I pray he will not lose this faith as he grows older.
-Joel N. Clark
Learn more about Awake: Discover the Power of YOUR Story (The Book You Can Watch).
Danger Isn't Enough an interview with Joel N. Clark
Facing Knives in the Street: An Object Lesson in Living "Fully Awake" via Joel N. Clark
(Some styling above is a web-exclusive feature not included in the text of Awake. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)