I honestly don’t remember where I first heard it, but it was probably some church’s magnificent catchphrase. Love God. Love people.
I’m not a big Christian cliché fan, but I am a big “sum it up and simplify it,” guy. When it comes to just about anything, I want to know what the main idea is. Can you just summarize what you’re trying to say? Before you go off listing twenty zillion other unimportant details, let’s nail down the main point. You know, the central theme.
I feel this way especially when it comes to life. I realize my natural tendency to get caught up in the details—potentially the wrong details—to the point where I could miss out on what I’m supposed to be doing. Heaven forbid, I get to the end of my days and realize I spent my whole live-long life doing the wrong things, all the while believing I was doing the right things.
And so when I heard love God and love people, I was like, “That’s it! There’s something I can sink my teeth into—something that will help me understand my life’s purpose. Something I can teach my kids that will help them make sense of this life.
I grew up in church. I was a leader born into a leader’s family. I was a passionate follower of Jesus from the day I gave my heart to Christ at four years old. Even so, there were many days in youth group where I just didn’t understand anything the youth pastor was talking about. It all seemed so complicated. So overwhelming.
Repent. Live for God. Do right. Go to church. Help the needy. Rejoice in difficulty. Give. Be kind. Wash people’s feet. Reach the lost. Work hard. Obey. Worship. Tell the truth. And on and on it went.
Then I heard about loving God and loving people, and it all cleared up for me. Just that quick.
And now, every morning—just about every one for the last ten years—starts off with a short family Bible study. Five to eight minutes. One of two biblical truths we can meditate on as the day begins. And as my kids walk out the door after a short prayer, I say, “Two things?” And they shout back, “Love God. Love people.”
Sounds a little ritualistic, I know, but I’ve discovered, if I have to choose, that short consistent, daily samplings of God and his Word are way better than random large samplings—though we typically encourage both.
I remember sitting down with my four kids in an attempt to help them understand the overall idea of the Bible. I held up my big custom leather, beat up bible with my name stamped into it and said, “Can anyone tell me what this book is about?” And of course, little hands started flying, and lots of good answers were shared. Lots and lots of good answers. Almost too many. Of course, wouldn’t you know, the best answer was a one-worder—Jesus.
People will tell you all sorts of things when you ask them what the Bible is about. They’ll say it’s about forgiveness. They’ll tell you it’s about do’s and don’ts. They’ll say it’s about salvation or peace or faith, and of course, many will say it’s all about love. Some will insist it is all about Jesus, and they wouldn’t be wrong.
But the best, purposeful, practical definition I’ve heard is, “Love God. Love people.”
Everything in the bible is pretty much summed up in those four words. From the Garden of Eden to the cross. From Jonah and the whale to the exodus. From the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the 10 commandments.
Yes, even the 10 commandments. It’s interesting when you think about it. The first four are clearly about our direct love and honor toward God, while the other six are clearly about maintaining and increasing our love for others.
- Do not worship any other gods = love God
- Do not make any idols = love God
- Do not use the Lord’s name in vain = love God
- Observe the Sabbath = love God (and love self)
- Honor your parents = love people
- Do not murder = love people (clearly)
- Do not commit adultery = love people
- Do not steal = love people
- Do not testify falsely against others = love people
- Do not covet = love people
Pretty cool! And in my estimation, we could probably skip the 10 commandments all together and just go with “Love God. Love people!”
That may sound a little irreligious, but don’t take my word for it. Jesus said the same thing. When asked in Matthew which commandment was the most important, here’s what he said:
“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40
There you go. Not only are Moses’ 10 commandments founded on the idea of loving God and loving people, but every single rule, law, credo, regulation, and biblical decree, as well. Everyone one of them!
That is why I love this so much. Wikipedia will tell you that there are 613 laws found in the Bible. I don’t know about you, but that’s too many to keep track of. I’m just not that smart. But I can keep track of two. Love God. Love people. And with the Spirit’s help, I can learn to obey them too.
And why? Because loving God and loving people is not only God’s rule of law, it is also fundamentally fulfilling and beautiful, both in hope and in purpose.
The rarely tread book of Ecclesiastes highlights Solomon’s hunt for purpose. He sought to find fulfillment in life from a million different sources. Women. Possessions. Wisdom. Work. Wealth. Power. Accomplishment. Pleasure. Food. Alcohol. Happiness. Foolishness. And so on.
The problem with all of these is that they are rooted in self. And you may have noticed that our little phrase doesn’t say, “Love Me. Love God.” Or “Love People. Love Me.” Unfortunately, as Solomon discovered, each of the things on his list is about searching for something wonderful to make me happy. Me, myself, and I. But thankfully, this isn’t the way God designed for us to gain satifaction in life. In fact, the search for meaning in life will never come to an end while self is at the core.
Fact is, everything in life works best when we run it through our little filter, “Love God. Love people.”
Even with parenting.
If one of our kids tells a lie, we ask, “So, was lying about that situation showing love for God or people?” And of course the answer (with eyes rolled) is, “No.” How about when it comes to choosing a career? “How does that career choice help you love God and/or love people?” How about the response you gave your sister when you yelled at her? Or the piece of candy you took from the store? Or the music you’re listening to? The girl you’re dating? If the opportunities and situations I’m choosing in life don’t aid me in loving God and loving people, then clearly I need a change of scenery.
One of my favorite things about this phrase is that it is cyclical. You see, when you love God by obeying him or singing to him or hanging out with him, you are also indirectly loving people. And when you truly love people, by offering them a cup of cold water, doing what you agreed to do, or simply telling them they are beautiful, you are also indirectly loving God.
So when life gets crazy, and you begin to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. When everything is whack, and you can’t find the meaning. When you suddenly seem to lose all purpose. Remember this one thing; love God, and love people. That’s what it’s all about.
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