Loving God and Loving People
Snow was falling lightly when we arrived at the launching site with our raft and supplies. It was May in northern Idaho and a cold spring weather system was sitting on the Bitterroot Range. The Lochsa River, a blue-ribbon trout stream and world-class rafting destination was swollen to over 7,000 cfs, making class Vs out of the class IV sections we were about to run.
As we squeezed into our wet suits, complete with hoods, booties, and gloves, our raft looked pitifully under-weight. Our crew of five men consisted of two big guys, well over 200 pounds each, one medium-sized guy in the 180s, and two little guys weighing little over 150 pounds apiece. We tried to add some weight to the bow by filling a cooler with river water and jamming it into the crease between the tube and the floor.
With water temps hovering around 40oF and air temps in the low 30s, we were hoping not to take a swim on this two-hour run. But rivers sometimes have other plans. We successfully navigated several class III and IV sections, and even managed to stay upright through a couple class V rapids with 10-foot standing waves and man-eater boulders. But then we let our guards down in what should have been a simple a class III riffle.
As we entered the rapids, our captain shouted, “Dig! Dig! Dig!” as we approached a four-foot curler that should have been easy to punch through. But the two little guys in front (one of which was me), assumed the big guys in the back could handle this little wave and sat back to enjoy the ride. As the boat rode up the wave, we stalled out because we didn’t have enough momentum to get past the water that was returning back on itself. By the time we realized our mistake, it was too late and the boat flipped, tossing all five of us into the frigid water. The complex currents immediately separated us and we drifted, bobbing through rapids for over a river-mile before we could all get out to safety.
While we each had been assigned specific tasks on the raft, based on skill, experience, size, and position in the boat, we also had some common tasks we were expected to fulfill. Like digging hard when we need some momentum to carry us through a standing wave. When some of us weren’t fulfilling our common roles, the whole team paid the price.
Christians often ask, “What’s my purpose in life?” While I believe God has specific plans for each of us, the Scriptures point us first to common, universal purposes. Purposes each and every one of us is made for.
Maybe the most direct answer to this question that we can find in the Bible is Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee who was quizzing him on his knowledge of the Law. He asked Jesus to recite the greatest commandment in all of Scripture.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
Love God. Love people. Pretty simple. Right?
When Jesus was asked for the standard answer, the one every well-educated Jew would be able to recite, he added a second. Sort of a bonus answer. Not only that, but by doing so, he implied that the second is a close second. Compared to the #1 answer, the second is “like it”, suggesting that it holds very high value. The Pharisees were much more concerned with showing off how much they loved God: fasting, praying, tithing, rebuking – all very visible to the public eye. But they showed precious little concern for the people God so dearly loved. Jesus called them out on it, reminding them that loving people is not a minor law, but, in fact, completes the Law.
Jesus later goes on to say that our love for one another is the one thing that will make us stand out from the crowds, the one thing by which the world will know we belong to him. Not t-shirts. Not bumper stickers. Not a little fish on the back of the car. Not a cross around our neck or a ring on our finger or a band around our wrist with the letters WWJD. Those things are attractive ways to satisfy ourselves that we are different from the world. They’re easy. Lazy. But Jesus tells us that the only thing that will really set us apart is our love for other human beings. Not so easy.
So the next time you wonder what your purpose is in this life, remember the words of Jesus to the Pharisee. Love God. Love people. That’s the best place to start.
Take-home point: We all share the common purpose to love God and love people.
Take-home verse: Matthew 22:36-40 (Love God. Love people.)
Questions for thought
Are you living out God’s universal purposes for your life, even if you don’t know His specific purposes for you?
Is your life marked, first and foremost, by your love for God and for other human beings?
How might you help a young person find and embrace God’s purposes for their life?
Lord, remind me each day of the purposes you have for my life. Remind me that each day needs to count for you. Show me clearly how to live out your purposes for my life in each day’s new context. Take away the excuses that I so easily create, and teach me to love you and the people you’ve surrounded me with. Amen.