The question of my heart and mind has always
been: “What did Jesus say was most important?” That
question guides my interpretation of scripture. And in my
reading of church history and doctrine, that has been the
central question – if not always the only question – of the
As Christians we take the name of Christ, of Jesus,
saying in effect that the way of Jesus is our way, that the
words and life of Jesus guide us in all our decisions.
What, then, is most important according to Jesus?
Is there one thing, above all else, by which we make moral
decisions and value judgments in this life? I am convinced
the clear answer is “yes.”
The most important thing is love. Nothing is more
important than the love of God and of one another.
That’s what I learned growing up in church.
Matthew’s gospel tells the story this way. An
expert in the Jewish law, with its more than 600 commandments and a multitude of interpretations, came to
Jesus and asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” I can see Jesus answering
without hesitation because he lived his whole life this way :
“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]
I preached the same message 51 years ago that I
preach today. If we love God and each other, we fulfill the
other desires of God as well. All other laws and commandments
of religion, if they come from God’s will, are
summed up in this one thing. After extensive reading,
study, preaching, teaching, and testing it in life and in the
church for three decades, I am convinced more than ever
that this is true, that this is the central message of Jesus.
Jesus is not the only one who said it, however. He was quoting
Moses, according to the tradition, from Deuteronomy 6 and
Leviticus 19. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome:
[All the commandments] are summed up in this one rule:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm
to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the
law. [Romans 13:9-10]
In 1 John, we read these challenging words to the
church: Whoever does not love does not know God,
because God is love….If we love one another, God
lives in us and his love is made complete in us….God
is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in
him….Anyone who does not love his brother, whom
he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
[See 1 John 4:7-21]
Love as the all-encompassing moral value is the
word of Jesus to us, the Word of God. This is the message
of the New Testament, and I believe of the whole Bible.
All things are determined by our willingness to love God
and to love people. Our moral choices, our cultural and
religious values, our individual decisions – all are to be
formed by this one supreme rule: To love God and one
From Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church