Suppose there’s a man with a bad reputation in the community.
He’s impatient, unkind, and uncompassionate, and he takes advantage of people in business deals. He treats people poorly, disdaining those he considers beneath him.
He’s also a church member who holds conservative, orthodox convictions on matters of faith. In fact, he holds his convictions quite rigidly and will not tolerate anyone who deviates even slightly.
There’s an obvious problem here, right?
He seems to believe that the most important part of faith is what we do toward God, what might be called the vertical aspect. If our worship and doctrinal convictions are right, then we’re okay.
Or maybe not.
Jesus opposed that particular perspective frequently and vocally. Look at the second part of his response to a question he was asked, and notice how closely he aligns love for neighbor with love for God:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31).
What does it mean to be God’s child?
Love God, love people, Jesus says. Yesterday we considered the first, but with Jesus the second matters just as much.
In fact, he links them so strongly as to make them inseparable. If you love God, you will love people.
It’s everywhere in Jesus’ teachings.
The hero of his most famous parable was a hated Samaritan—his theology wasn’t too good, but he was praised because he had a heart for helping hurting people.
The unnamed villain of another story was sent to hell for what? Bad theology?
Not so much.
He wasn’t even condemned for treating poor Lazarus terribly. He wasn’t mean or harsh. He didn’t throw the beggar off his property or spit on him as he walked by.
He just ignored him. He was indifferent, unconcerned. His great sin was doing nothing.
But through his teaching and living Jesus taught us that loving God means loving God’s people.
He was gentle with the adulterous woman brought to him in shame.
He forgave the “woman of the city” who let her hair down and cried on his feet.
He hung out with drunks, prostitutes, and tax collectors.
In fact, you can’t read a page of the gospels without seeing his kindness toward people.
And that’s what he tells us to do. It comes through so clearly that we come to realize that we don’t really love God if we don’t.
None of this means God doesn’t care about our theology.
But it does mean we can have some pretty good theology and still not know God.