Most people in our society think they only need to treat their neighbors kindly and that is all God expects of them. They do not realize that God requires them to keep the first great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Without the love of God, we will have an incomplete love and we cannot even love others the way God would have us love them. Without the love of God, we will have a selfish love.
Over the last few years I have attended memorial services for men I worked with, men I was related to, and men who were related to friends of mine. Those men were always good living men who were good to their families, honest, hard workers, and good citizens. They did not go to church. They did not read the Bible. As far as I know they did not pray to God. If they thought there was a God or there might be a God, they thought their lives were pretty good and God would probably reward them. People would make statements in the memorial service or after the service about how the man was in heaven and perhaps looking down on the rest of us and smiling or laughing. However, the truth is that those men had incomplete love.
The story of the rich young ruler in the Bible illustrates the error in the thinking of so many people in our society. “And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” Mark 10:17-22.
Jesus mentioned every one of the Ten Commandments relating to love of your neighbor except the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” Exodus 20:17. However, when he said, “Defraud not,” that sin would be related to covetousness. Jesus left out those parts of the Ten Commandments that require us to love God. They are: The Lord must be our God and we must not have any other gods. We must not bow down to idols or graven images. We must not take the name of the Lord in vain. We must keep the Sabbath day holy. To cover those commandments, Jesus said, “come, take up the cross, and follow me.” If the rich young ruler would do that, he would be keeping the four commandments relating to the love of God, because Jesus was God in the flesh. If the rich young ruler would sell all that he had and give to the poor, he would be keeping the tenth commandment regarding covetousness and he would be turning from the love of money to the love of God. Jesus said you cannot love both money and God. (Luke 16:13) People are breaking the first commandment if they love money.
Jesus was quite clear in another conversation he had that we must love God and love our neighbor. Otherwise we have incomplete love. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” Luke 10:25-28. That is complete love, love for God followed by love for our neighbors. Loving God means taking up our cross and following Jesus. We must die to ourselves and be born again in his likeness. We must become children of God and follow Jesus. That is complete love, and that is the way into the kingdom.
The men I mentioned that died and were remembered in a service by their relatives did not have love for God, only for other people. Their love was incomplete. They did not meet the requirements needed to enter the kingdom of God. Their love was humanistic, not God centered. To be in fellowship with Jesus Christ for eternity we must love God first, above all else. If we love God, we will love our Christian brothers and sisters. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” 1 John 5:1-3.
In each Christmas season there is much talk about “peace on earth” and “good will toward men”. These ideals are very important, but if we do not worship the one whose birthday we celebrate we have only accomplished an incomplete love and we have missed the central message of Christmas. The multitude of Christmas angels got it right. The first thing they said was, “Glory to God in the highest.” They understood complete love. Let us be sure that we have our priorities right with complete love and that we are ready to enter the kingdom of our Lord at his calling.