Things left undone: the holy command to love others

Edwin Crayton

By Edwin Crayton/Opinion

God gives two types of commands. Let’s just say, the first type you might call the “thou shalt nots”. These are the things we are not supposed to do. Theologians refer to these as “sins of commission.” Actually, they are so familiar, I am sure you probably learned them as a kid: “Thou shalt not steal” “Thou shalt not kill.” “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The other type of commands might be called the “Thou shalts”. These are the things we should do and if we neglect doing them, well, that’s a sin too. When we neglect to do these things, theologians call that “sins of omission.” They are things like feeding the poor, visiting the sick, loving your neighbor as you love yourself and most important of all—telling unbelievers about Jesus so they can accept him as savior and lord and receive eternal life in heaven. These “thou shalt do” commands are usually very underrated and tend to slip under our radar because the “thou shalt nots” tend to get all the press. Hollywood loves the “thou shalt nots” because they make either great blockbusters or Oscar-winning movies. But, in fact, the “thou shalt dos” are truly important. Truth is, Jesus himself said “all the law and the prophets” depend on two of them. You’ll find his statement about these “thou shalt dos” in Matthew 22: 37-40. Someone asked him which commandments are the greatest. How did he respond? “Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy thyself, on these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets.” The “law and prophets” reference refers to the Old Testament Bible.

If you will stop to think about it, everything in the full Bible is really about how to either love God or love your neighbor. Interestingly, if you will obey these two “thou shalt do” commandments, you will also end up obeying the “shalt not dos” as well. For instance, if you love your neighbors as you love yourself, you will not walk into a crowded neighborhood supermarket, pull out a gun and shoot down every shopper you can hit. Therefore, you will be obeying the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment. Also, if you love God, you will want to please him. So, if he tells you to do something, or give something up, your love for him will inspire you to obey. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). Therefore, you will sacrifice your desires for God. Even if it means leaving a sin you particularly enjoy, or abandoning a lifestyle that God has condemned. Just as Abraham was willing to give up the son he loved, because he loved God more, we believers must give up our desires and our will and submit to God’s will. What that means is you will not continually disobey God if you love him. In other words, your “shalt do” (love for God) will stop you from committing a sin by indulging in a “shalt not do” (disobeying God’s biblical commands).

But make no mistake about it. The “thou shalt dos” are as hard to obey as the “thou shalt not dos”. That is because even when we want to do good, we also usually do something bad. (Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:21: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present within me.” Here are few real-world examples that illustrate that concept more fully:

Some churches travel thousands of miles overseas to spread the gospel and help the poor build new homes. Nice. But the same churches often neglect to spread the gospel and help the poor on the other side of town—“the bad” side of town where few of their members are willing to go.

We preach and teach about a heaven where all races will live in harmony and brotherly and sisterly love. Good. But in fact, many of us who teach that, attend churches that are racially segregated. Why else do we use the words “white church”, black church or Hispanic church? White churches usually hire only white pastors. Black churches usually hire only black ones. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was supposed to have said, “the most segregated hour in America is 11 am Sunday morning.” Unfortunately, decades later, his words are still true. We pray to go to an integrated heaven, while being quite comfortable and satisfied worshipping in obviously segregated churches on earth here and now. Be honest. Does that really make sense?

Some of us Christians run compassionate feeding programs for the needy. But then we do not always share the gospel with these needy people—we give them physical food, but not spiritual food. Which is really more important? Other times, some individuals who claim Christ, will donate to charity and then promote it in the press. Christians are not supposed to do that (Matthew 6:1-4). So why can’t we get it right? Because we are trying to do it out of our human flesh. In other words, there really isn’t anything we can do for God out of our own strength. God has to work through us in order for us to serve him. We have to surrender to his will and allow his Holy Spirit to convert our hearts and minds. The Bible tells us that we must have our minds renewed and not conform to this present world (Romans 12:1-2). Do your actions imply that you are more concerned about making it in this world than you are about preparing for what you will experience in eternity? In Matthew 7: 21-23 Jesus predicted that one fateful day, many people will claim they spent their lives serving him. But he said he will reject them, telling them he “never knew them. He meant, he was not in their hearts. We who claim Christ, must be careful not to try to serve Jesus without first letting him into our hearts. Without God’s Holy Spirit inside of us, we are just fooling ourselves and serving ourselves, no matter how great our ministry or charity work may appear, or how much the world validates us. As in the case of these people who will be rejected, Jesus knows who among us are truly his.

I am a Baptist by denomination. I was raised as a Baptist for the first 9 years of my life. Then, one day, my mother switched our family to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. One thing in particular that I loved about that church was how every Sunday morning the whole congregation had to verbally admit out loud that we were sinners, unable to free ourselves and that we had sinned both ways: by what we had done. And by what we had left undone. Those potent words really moved me even as a fairly troublesome 9-year boy. The words reminded me that there were bad things I had done (in addition to my usual bad acts) that I didn’t even realize I had done. And they also reminded me that there were things I should have done, but did not. It made me begin to examine myself and my actions. It was sobering. That is what I believe Jesus wants us to do regularly. When he said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love one’s neighbor as oneself, he knew we could not do that without his help. That is one reason it takes a book as big and bulky as the Bible to tell us how to do it. And we still need the help of the Holy Spirit.

You know what I’ve found? Mature Christians may need help with these commands just as much and in some cases more than new believers. Because self-examination means becoming humble and honest in a childlike manner in one’s self appraisal. It squeezes the pride out of us. I’ve noticed that some mature believers will refuse Bibles or spiritual literature. Offer some of them either a Bible or spiritual literature and they will say, “Give that to someone who needs it.” Well, of course I realize they’re just trying to be considerate. And that consideration is thoughtful. But on the other hand, maybe they should stop to realize maybe God wants them to take that Bible and give it to “someone who needs it” (Matthew 28:19-20). Other mature believers don’t think they need to attend Bible studies. But again, God has asked us to come together to encourage one another. It’s not just for what we can get from it. But rather it’s also so he can use us to give to others and we will all grow together in Christian fellowship under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit amongst us (Hebrews 10:25).

What can we do? What if we were to take a page from the playbook of those Missouri Lutherans and be more honest and open about our failings? James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults, one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” What if we then prayed to God for help? And finally, what if we allowed God to cleanse us, his way by sincerely praying the words of Psalm 51:10? Those words are: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”

I believe that if we will do those things, the Holy Spirit will show us what we are leaving undone. Seems there is always something. God will help us do whatever those things are. I am confident that blessings will follow for us and for others.

“Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” – James 4:17
“God is love”—1 John 4:8