Love Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:34-40 NIV)

Upon encountering these verses in a morning devotion earlier this week, I found myself wondering how many times I must have read or even quoted Christ’s reply to this question without stopping to consider its full implications and duly examining my own heart in response.

Our familiarity with this passage tempts us to casually pass over it as though Christ might have answered, “Love the Lord your God and love others as yourself. Next question?” Or even “Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and mind and love others likewise.”

But given that Jesus said these are the greatest commandments and that all the Law and the Prophets hang on them, it certainly behooves us to ponder that sticky little word, all, which adds tremendous gravity to our Lord’s reply.

At first glance, one might easily assume that loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul might come at the expense of our love for others as though our capacity to love might be limited somehow. But love is not a zero-sum game. In fact, when love is properly directed, just the opposite is true.

Scripture tells us that God is love. (1 John 4:8) As our love for God increases, his love actually expands our heart’s capacity to love others. I believe that is why Jesus links the two in this passage. I have seen this truth manifested in my own life. As my wife and I have grown closer to the Lord through the years, it has only deepened and enhanced our love for each other.

After wrestling with this passage and confessing “Lord, I do love you with all my heart, mind, and soul”, the echo I hear in response is “Now channel that love to others.”

When I truly examine my heart, I’m well aware of how far short I fall of God’s glorious standards (Romans 3:23), whether it be in this, the greatest commandment, or any other area of concern to him. But that only increases my love for the One who is perfect in his love for me – so much so that he sent his Son to live the life I cannot live and to pay the debt I cannot pay.

It is that love that compels me to pay closer attention when I encounter these words of my Lord, to strive to make loving God my first priority every day, to love him with all my being, and to be mindful of anything in my life that hinders that wholehearted devotion.

“No love of the natural heart is safe unless the human heart has been satisfied by God first.” – Oswald Chambers


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