The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall 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: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:29-31).
Professional theologians and everyday Christians have long recognized that the second commandment is dependent upon the first and primary commandment: as you grow in love for God, you are to grow in love for your neighbor.
More specifically, this means that as we love God with our minds – by how and what we think – we are to love our neighbors better.
The Apostle Paul expressed this idea brilliantly in his letter to the Philippians:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).
The book of Proverbs is filled with this theme: wisdom and knowledge lead to righteousness, while folly and stubbornness promote sin and disaster. The opening verses are about this theme; numerous proverbs reinforce it:
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:1-7)
With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered (11:9)
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge (29:7)
Examples can be multiplied from across the canon of Scripture. But we don’t need to proof-text the point, because actually, all of the Bible speaks to this theme. As Paul teaches in 2 Timothy 3,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (v. 15-16).
Here’s the key question: does your theology lead you to love your neighbor?
- Let’s say you believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, affirming that every word is inspired by God and 100%, absolutely true. Knowing that God “says to you” His word through the Bible, does this motivate you to humbly love your enemies (Luke 6:27)?
- Let’s say you believe in the total sovereignty of God, as the One who predestines the course of all history. Does this encourage you to have a “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in your heart” (Romans 9:2) that others might come to know Christ?
- Let’s say you believe the Holy Spirit is indispensable for the work of God to be done. Are you therefore more zealous to use your spiritual gifts for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)?
- Let’s say you rejoice in the sufficiency of the gospel to bring people to faith in Christ. Does this motivate you to cross cultural boundaries and practice racial reconciliation (1 Corinthians 9:15-23)?
To ask the question more broadly: how and where does your theology encourage passivity and disobedience?
Or conversely: Where does your lack of theological knowledge discourage you from a bold and active Christian life?
We need to diagnose our theology and see if it is not only Biblical but actionable.
Because we are taught to love God with our minds, we must become knowledgeable of the Bible (what a joy!).
We are to have a theological vision for our lives and communities.
And this knowledge is to inform our approach to our neighbors, that we might have an intelligent and active love for others.
Questions for Reflection:
- Where do you need to apply your theology? Which cherished truths need to motivate action?
- Where do you need to rework your theology? What cherished beliefs are inconsistent with Scripture?
- What is the culture of your church? Is knowledge of the Bible valued and prized? Does truth lead to transformation?