Can We Do Two Things At One Time?
J. Dan Gill
I admire my wife’s multi-tasking abilities. She skillfully deals simultaneously with a variety of issues – balancing priorities and successfully negotiating her way through life’s challenges. I think all of that has something to do with the skills developed by a woman by raising children, cooking, cleaning, educating, looking after a husband and a variety of other matters which require concurrent attention. I on the other hand have a mind that runs on one track! Give me a task and I will pursue it relentlessly. I will not veer from it till the matter is satisfactorily resolved. I suppose that each of the two approaches has its advantages and disadvantages in life.
I have noticed, however, that much of the time, one track mindedness rules many of us as Christians. I have observed that in our walk with God, there is a propensity to follow after one or the other of two things: We either focus on the importance – essentialness of God’s word – his truth. Or, we tend to diminish the significance of truth while emphasizing the importance of loving our fellow man. I am convinced that in reality neither are optional for us as Christians. We must love God’s word and love our fellow man – at the same time.
Jesus taught that God’s word is spectacularly important. He relied on it to overcome temptation in the wilderness (Mat. 4:3-11). He made “continuing in his word” an indicator of true discipleship (John 8:31). He tells his disciples of a direct relationship between hearing his word and him being their Shepherd (John 10:27). He goes on to say that in the last day people will be judged by his words (John 12:48). He takes the matter even further by showing that there is a relationship between doing his word and receiving the life to come (John 8:51, 12:50).
On the other hand, that same Jesus taught that loving our fellows is crucial to keeping his word. He tells his followers that they must love one another and it is on that ground that people would know they are his disciples (John 13:35). He presses the matter further by saying that they must love one another as he has loved them (John 13:34). He takes the issue of loving our fellows to perhaps its most challenging level by teaching his followers that they must love even their enemies (Mat. 5:44).
To truly love Jesus Christ, we must love his word and people – at the same time. And, we must balance those two things every day of our lives. Jesus did – as his disciples we must too. We fail as Christians anytime we neglect either of these matters. Jesus wholly embraced the word of God and wholly loved people at the same time. We can never rightly use doing one as an excuse for ignoring or in any way diminishing the other.
However, there is a hierarchy in these matters. For Jesus, our love for God and his word is our first priority. When Jesus identifies the greatest commandment, it is not to “love your neighbor as yourself’.” The first of all commandments in terms of priority is to recognize that: only one is God, and that you must love that One with “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:29, 30).” Only after that does Jesus announce that the second commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).” Clearly our first allegiance is forever to God and his word. By that word he has then commanded us to also love one another.
What should all of this look like in our daily lives? The answer can be found in reviewing the life that Jesus lived. How did he love God’s word and at the same time love his fellow man? To answer that question fully, we may need to read the gospels afresh. Perhaps we need to look again at the incidents of Jesus’ life and how he related to God’s word and to his fellow human beings. When we do, I think that we will find that Jesus held to certain essential principles:
(1) He equated loving God with loving and keeping God’s word. It does little good to claim that we love God and at the same time disregard or diminish the importance of his words. Jesus brings that same principle down to himself and his own disciples. He tells them: “If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).”
(2) Jesus was unswerving in his love for his fellow human beings. Remember, he died for us. Yet, he never honored his fellows at the cost of in anyway disregarding his God or God’s word. In fact, for Jesus, to love people meant bringing them the word of God just as God had given him (John 17:8). Anyone who will not tell his fellow man the truth when he could, does not love his fellow as he should.
It is essential that we recognize that the words of Jesus have to do with more than just loving our fellow man. Loving our fellow human beings is critical but not the whole picture of what Jesus taught the people. To say that “we will love our fellows and that will suffice,” is far too limited an understanding of God’s will and is simply untrue. Without God’s word as our guide, how would we even know that he wants us to love our fellow man? And, how would we know in what ways – by what actions – that love is accomplished?
I think that John captures both sides of this matter well in 1st John. He writes:
“But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.
By this we may be sure that we are in him (1 John 2:5)”
Four verses later that same John writes:
“Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness (1 John 2:9).”
Can we do two things at one time? Can we balance our love of God and his word with a genuine love for our fellow man? Jesus did. So must we. It is our challenge as Christians every day. It is one of the most difficult things that we may do. Yet, on any day in which we do not hold these two in right balance, we have failed in our mission. And this is a mission in which we must succeed. God in his kindness wants us to be successful in our work for him. If we look to him, he will show us the way.