Are your neighbors more likely to encounter a closed garage rather than an open door? It’s possible to get in your car in the garage and open it when you leave and to get out of your car and close it when you get home. A lot of people only go out of the front door to pick up an Amazon package. There does not seem to be much time in many neighborhoods for community. People often feel like there are more agenda items than hours to complete them. Living in community seems inaccessible. When Jesus told us that nothing mattered more than loving God and loving our neighbors, He was giving us our two highest priorities.[i] No agenda items are more important. If you were consulting God at the beginning of the week, what would He say about your agenda? Perhaps there are items on your agenda that reflect a worship of a false-religion.
When Jesus coupled together the two great commandments in Matthew 22, he was answering a particular kind of person. The Pharisee was the kind of person who sought salvation through religious observance. This particular brand of religious observance is works-based. The Pharisee asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment. Jesus gave him two commandments in response. Why did He do this? Jesus was indicting the religion of the Pharisee. David Jackman writes, “…What are… Christians to make of these devastating indictments and attacks on first-century Judaism, from the lips of Jesus… We see an exposure of the works-religion that is endemic to the human race whenever we want to put ourselves in the right with God. Look at all the religions of the world and you will discover a variety of methods, ladders to climb, by which human beings make themselves acceptable to whatever god or gods they believe in. Christianity stands alone as the only world faith to say that there is no ladder by which we can climb to God, no amount of good works or religious devotion that can atone for our sin, or make us acceptable to a holy, just and sovereign God. The glory of the gospel of the kingdom is that God has come down the ladder to us, to rescue us….”[ii]
The reason many neighbors know a closed garage and not an open door is because neighborhoods are filled with people who are busy climbing the ladder of a false religion. In religion, the basis of your acceptance is your performance. In Christianity, the basis of your acceptance is Christ’s performance. Religion draws attention to the observer. Christianity draws attention to the observed. Religion is about the self. Christianity is about the other. When someone becomes a Christian, there will be two things that they will notice and one thing others will notice, but they will not. The new Christian will notice an increase of a desire for God and for their neighbors. Their neighbors will notice a decrease in the desire for self. This is humility. It’s impossible to notice humility without simultaneously losing it. C.S. Lewis says a humble person “will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”[iii]
Works-based religions require that a person seek salvation through accomplishments. This kind of religion preys on an ego wounded by sin. When someone receives a paper cut, their body will continuously remind them of the wound. In the same way, we recognize a wounded self. A wounded ego never stops drawing attention to itself. Tim Keller writes, “You don’t notice your body until something goes wrong with it. When something is wrong with your body, you can’t stop thinking about it. That is how we know that the human ego is fundamentally broken. We can’t stop thinking about it.”[iv] The religious person is always working hard to mend the wounded self, only to discover that an agenda filled work can never heal what is broken. We can never, through mere effort reach the top of the ladder and receive what the self longs for: freedom.
Only God can give the “blessed rest of self-forgetfulness.”[v]
N.T. Wright wrote, ““Once more, what Jesus says here about loving God, and loving one another, only makes sense when we set it within Matthew’s larger gospel picture, of Jesus dying for the sins of the world, and rising again with the message of new life. That’s when these commandments begin to come into their own: when they are seen not as orders to be obeyed in our own strength, but as invitations and promises to a new way of life in which, bit by bit, hatred and pride can be left behind and love can become a reality.” The Pharisee being indicted by Jesus had let his religion get in the way of love. We must not let religion get in the way of love. The Pharisees’ works-based religion was failing because it was not creating an increase in affection for God and neighbors, but was instead drawing attention to the religious observer himself. The Pharisees works-based religion had shut the front door of his heart and closed him off from his neighbors.
If a leader and savior of a people said that the most important thing to Him is the love of God and neighbor, those people should be the best neighbors in the neighborhood. Some Christians, however, are too busy with their false-religion to succeed at relationships. The Pharisees were pre-occupied with religiosity, while many American Christians are pre-occupied with work and consumption. If you don’t have time for your neighbors, it’s because you have not made time for God. Jesus loves your neighbors and gave his life for them; if you spent time with Him, he would be telling you to do the same thing. If you are lacking in love for your neighbors, go back to the cross and receive Christ’s love all over again. We love because he has loved us first.[vi] It might be time to evaluate your agenda. Does your agenda reflect the life of a false religion? If God were to schedule your upcoming week, He would likely have some items that reflected loving God and loving your neighbors. If God oversaw your agenda, your front door would likely be open as a place of refuge for the world rather than a place of refuge from the world.
[i] Matthew 22:34-40
[ii] David Jackman, Teaching Matthew
[iii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
[iv] Tim Keller, Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
[vi] 1 John 4:19