Richard Lovelace once wrote an intriguing poem titled “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”:
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.
In this particular work, Lovelace speaks of the idea that our love for one-another is fueled and supported by love of something greater. With that idea in mind we turn to Christ’s teaching on being His disciple. Christ says in Matthew 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Christ is making the point that if we are to follow His example, there can be no thing and no one who competes with God for the top spot in our lives. He makes the same point using much stronger language in His teaching on discipleship in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” It bears pointing out that Christ is not saying we should literally hate these people. He is using the word “hate” figuratively to emphasize His point that our love for God can have no equal or rival.
This teaching is an outcome of the commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This is the Scripture brought up when Jesus is questioned about which is greatest commandment. Right behind, as the second greatest commandment, Leviticus 19:18 is quoted, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” We are commanded to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength. Not part. This does not mean that we neglect others, however, because we are to love our neighbors as ourselves as demonstrated by the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
What is it that prompts us to obey the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves (or father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters for that matter)? The answer can be found in Christ’s prophetic statement in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep my commandments”. Our love of God is what initiates and sustains our obedience to Him in all things including loving others. When our love of others has its source in our love of God, it enables us to love them with a greater love. It is interesting to note that in Luke’s account of the question of the greatest commandment the lawyer/scribe’s question is framed as “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus concludes the exchange by saying of the commands to love God and to love our neighbor, “do this and you will live”. If we return to Deuteronomy 6, we find the commandment to love God preceded by the admonition, “…be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you , and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you…” (Deuteronomy 6:3). God’s commandments are not just arbitrary rules; they serve the purpose of showing us a better way to live and, in this particular case, a better way to love.
When we love God above all else, we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength allows us to love our father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters better. In loving God first, submitting to Him and being formed by Him, we allow God to love others through us as the love that He pours into our hearts overflows to others. Just as Lovelace notes that he is able to love Lucasta with a greater love only because he loves honor more, so we are able to love others, be they strangers, friends, family, or sweetheart, with a greater love only because we love God most.