The Elephant in the Living Room

Part 1 of the series, What Makes a Christian?

This is Part 1 of a 5-Part Series: What Makes a Christian?
Read Part 2 Here
 
Sometimes I think that the collective witness of Christianity is best expressed by the expression, “the elephant in the living room.”

I can close my eyes and envision millions–perhaps even billions–of Christians in this large room, all talking, milling about and being energetic about their faith–but virtually ignoring this giant elephant who is right there in the middle of it all.

They even have to bend and contort themselves to see around this elephant, but they continue to ignore him.

What is this elephant?

Let’s look at it this way:

Christians profess that God Himself lived on earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

You with me so far?

God Himself walked among us, teaching, preaching and showing what He meant by His life example. He was very clear what was the most important.

That giant elephant is the Greatest Commandment.

I hear Jesus saying: Of all the things you do, do this.

If you’re gonna put your time and attention anywhere, put it here: Love God and love neighbor abundantly.

Yet, how often is this preached?

Of course, it is mentioned.

What I mean is: How often is it preached like this?

How often is it preached the way Jesus preached it:

With intensity,

Centrality,

And a sense of utter, singular importance?

I’m sometimes baffled by our ignorance–it must be some kind of collective denial. But it is certainly immensely disrespectful to the person Who we claim is God.

* * *

The Greatest Commandment is in all 4 Gospels:

In Mark 12:28-34, Jesus makes a connection between following this commandment and one’s closeness to the Kingdom of God:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus tells us that all other laws are to be read through the lens of the Greatest Commandment. All other laws are qualified by–and cannot be otherwise understood–outside of this context:

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 neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus not only gives the command to love God and neighbor, but he also says this is what you must do to inherit eternal life. How often have you heard that preached at church? I am not a betting man, but it would be easy money to say that most preachers only mention this line in order caution us not to take it too seriously–using other lines from the Bible to qualify–or outright negate–this statement by Jesus Himself. They say that Jesus could not possibly have meant what He, you know, actually said:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He gives the answer in verse 37:

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

In John 13:34-35, Jesus states that our very public witness of our Christian identity itself depends on whether or not we love one another. Otherwise, people will not recognize that we are indeed Christians. Jesus tells us to follow his example. Jesus not only gives the commandment to love, but also states that His life has modeled this love.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

If there is any doubt as to who is included in the list of people to show love toward, the New Testament is clear–the commandment to love includes everyone from those in our own Christian group to the widows, orphans, outsiders, marginalized people on up to and including our enemies. In other words: Everyone. There is no shortage of Scripture citations to back this up. We will explore this further in the next post, stay tuned!
 
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