The Two Great Commandments and Power through Christ
I recently attended a non-denominational church service at the place I work, and the pastor was talking about the power we receive through belief in Christ. Belief in Christ brings us the power to serve, to love, and to become the children of God.
In Moroni 7:33 we find the same promise: “If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.”
The two commandments that are MOST expedient or necessary in Christ are found in Matthew 22, where we are told to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” as well as to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” We need to understand that the commandment to love should be our number one priority in life. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” I’d like to focus on the power we receive through Christ that can help us obey the commandment to love.
On an individual level, what does it mean to love God and to love your neighbor?
As luck would have it, I found a scripture that outright tells us how we must act if we truly love God. John 14:15 simply states, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” We’re also left with what is said in Matthew 25:40, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” In other words, we serve and love God by serving and loving our neighbor. I’ll leave it at that for the time being and talk about how we as individuals must learn to love our neighbor.
Loving your neighbor includes loving both your friends AND your enemies, and everyone in between. I love some of the points made by C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity, about love. He talks about the difference between what he calls a worldly person trying to love, and between a person who is trying to love the way Christ loves. He says,
“The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds him liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.”
I love that because the principle is so true. Love grows as you treat people right.
He goes on to say,
“Some people are ‘cold’ by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more.”
I think we’ll all agree that there are certain people in our lives that are more likeable than others. Because of this, if our goal is to love our neighbor, and if our neighbor includes everyone, friends and enemies and everyone in between, then it’ll take a lot more than our natural abilities and tendencies to achieve this goal. We have the perfect example of someone who treated everyone right—that is, Jesus Christ. I think there is great power in having an example or a role model, but for me, the power between a role model and a Savior have become distinct in my life.
The pastor who was talking about the power we receive as we believe in Christ—the power to become His children, to be born again, to make lasting life changes, to love more purely—made me reflect on how my belief in Christ has changed over the past several months. I’d like to share my belief and testimony I have today, that Christ gives us power that a simple role model could not. From the time I grew up until about a year and a half ago, I was a “true believing Mormon” and had no reasons to doubt the religion I grew up in, or God, or Christ. I was filling out my mission papers and excited to join the throng of fresh young missionaries. About a month after I made this decision, a series of concerns about the church led me through a serious faith crisis. I won’t go into those concerns right now, but when I was at the point where I did not believe in the church at all and had definitely given up the mission plan, I was also severely at odds with the possibility of Christ being a Savior and of God even existing.
This time of my life is very precious to me, however, because I know I learned a lot about loving my neighbor by learning to be less judgmental. I loved seeing a variety of people, of opinions, of lifestyles, because I had never felt free to appreciate them before. I had been too quick to judge. So I started to see people in a new way and explore perspectives and ideas that continue to bless me today. At this time I thought a lot about Christ. Although I did not believe in Him as my Savior, I still believed everything he taught about loving your neighbor, everything he taught about love being the most important thing in life. I still tried my hardest to be a good person and hold on to love. Christ was my role model because all I really had left to believe in was love, and Christ is all about love.
It would take too long to summarize why the heck I am where I am today, back in the church and leaving on a mission in just hours, so I’ll skip all that and get to my point. I said I learned to love my neighbor by being less judgmental, and that’s true. I was progressing without believing in Christ as a Divine Being. What I’ve realized since then is the power and help I get from Christ now that is different from the help I got from him as a role model. Christ enables us to love people better than we can by ourselves. He helps us by changing our desires and hearts. I’m grateful that any time my desires are unholy or unloving, I can pray for help to change. I believe this is different from following a role model, even from asking “What would Jesus do?” because the help we get from God is about our desires, not necessarily our actions.
I’ve had a friend’s words on my mind this week—I remember him saying, “When I think about Christ, I just feel better. I stop thinking about myself, my schedule, my problems, and start thinking about others.” Christ is an example to us, but more than that. He is our Savior and wants to save us from the burden of being self-centered, judgmental, and lonely. Because we believe in Him, we are given the power to love and overcome.
As a ward
We learn to love better in our wards in the Church. We are put into wards or congregations not based on our similar interests, our similar talents, or similar testimonies. We are put into these wards geographically. Eugene England talks on how being placed in this situation helps us to grow.
“Oppositions in the church… push us toward a new kind of being. LET US CONSIDER why this is so. In the life of the true Church, there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve—or possibly even associate with—and thus opportunities to learn to love unconditionally. There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be “active”: to have a calling” and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other people’s ideas and wishes, their feelings and failures; to attend classes and meetings and to have to listen to other people’s sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response; to have leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion; and then to be made a leader and find that you, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous. Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical, and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, though disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be— and thus gives us a chance to be made better than we might choose to be, but ultimately need and want to be.”
[full essay: http://www.eugeneengland.org/why-the-church-is-as-true-as-the-gospel]
As we seek help in loving the people in our wards, perhaps we will realize the person we thought was stuck up is maybe just shy at first, or the person we thought was boring is actually really clever or really funny, and we just needed to get to know them first. Serving, teaching, and interacting with people in your ward gives you an opportunity to grow. You are learning to love the way Christ did and does, because he loves everyone.
As a church
I want to again read the last sentence of those verses on loving God and loving your neighbor. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This commandment to love is serious business.
Thankfully God seems to have made the two most important commandments pretty simple and easy to follow…right?
Here is where I want to talk a little more about loving God. So we’ve talked about how Christ says if we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments. Obeying commandments honestly takes a lot of humility and a lot of thought. Some commandments are simple to understand, but many are not simple and straightforward. We get faced with decisions and put in different situations that put not our blind obedience to the test, but our adaptability and our creativity. God does not ask us to be cookie-cutter disciples; he did not make us to be that way. He has not given us an exact formula for every decision we need to make. I think obedience, as well as situations where the answer isn’t clear, can be judged by if your actions help you obey the two great commandments—that of loving God and loving your neighbor. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Because we are all given the same two great commandments, but because we are all different human beings, it can be confusing when those around us have different perspectives or fail to live up to what we perceive as “the right way.” We can get caught in the trap of unrighteous judgment, or even self-righteousness. As a church, we are the body of Christ. We need to believe that each of us is needed and wanted, not despite our differences, but because of our differences.
The Church of Jesus Christ was restored because a young man named Joseph Smith desired to know where he could find a church where the people loved each other as well as those not of their faith.
Joseph Smith cannot be credited with creating a church where love is the most important commandment, Christ gets the credit for that, but because of his desire to be forgiven, to know of God’s love, and to love those around him, he was entrusted to restore the Priesthood to the earth and recover the Book of Mormon. These things have brought me to a greater belief in Christ and have given me the power Christ says we’ll have if we’ll just believe in Him.
The greatest power we receive through belief in Christ is the power of His Atonement. We can repent and not only feel lifted from our mistakes, but receive strength and comfort that helps us change and transform our lives and desires.
Moroni 8: 26: “And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.”
I’m grateful for the Atonement and that it is possible to repent and feel of God’s love. It is the sweetest thing.
The Gospel of Christ
Here are a few words from the testimony of Thomas B. Griffith:
“What drives the faith of a Christian is a belief that what the New Testament reports happened on Easter Sunday actually happened: a man named Jesus of Nazareth died, but came back to life in bodily form as God. If that happened, it changes everything, and we must live our lives to take account of that fact. And so it is with the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I’d like to kind of echo the testimony that he continues. I go to church and I’m a member not because it’s exciting—to be honest, church is really good a lot of the time but kinda boring sometimes. I’m also not a member because everything that’s said by our beloved friends and neighbors in church lessons is absolutely perfect and true—because it’s not always. I go to church because I am convinced the gospel of Jesus Christ is real, the power of the priesthood is real, the events surrounding the Savior in the New Testament are real, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God that can bring us all closer to Christ.
Elder Bednar spoke at a stake conference while I was living in Provo and he encouraged all of us in our study of the Book of Mormon and look for the phrase “in the strength of the Lord,” or anything that means the same thing, and to highlight it. I would encourage anyone else to do the same thing during personal or family scripture study because I learned so much by doing it! You will come to recognize the kind of power, strength, and comfort Christ gives you.
Those who have a hard time believing in Christ or having a testimony of the gospel, I’d like to encourage you. I don’t want to say anything that would seem to diminish the validity or importance of your struggles, or non-struggles, or disbelief. Heaven knows I couldn’t take any “have more faith” rhetoric while I didn’t believe in the church. I don’t think that you are in any way deficient or wrong simply for not having a testimony—just as I know it was never a fault of mine, it was just something that happened to me. But I’d like to encourage you to follow Christ as a role model.
Because whether or not you believe in Christ as a Savior, he taught the most important thing for all of us, and that is love! As any of us try to be more like Jesus Christ, we will be blessed in so many aspects of our lives and relationships. This time we have right now with family, friends, and neighbors, is so short, and so important. Let’s all seek for the power of Christ to help us serve better, love better, and be better.
I’m grateful I’m taking off to Tennessee and can’t wait to see God’s hand and power in my life and those I’ll be working with!