Love of neighbor, God most crucial
The Old Testament Law contains 613 individual commandments. Such a corpus of legal code is incredibly lengthy. Yet, the oral tradition that supplements the Law is also extensive. Translated into English, it is a multivolume set of more than seven thousand pages.
So it's no surprise that Jesus was once asked this pertinent question: "Which is the most important commandment in the Law?" Jesus answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind." He then added, "The second most important is similar: Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself." If only practical faith could stay on this level of holy simplicity.
Christians are a verbose group. We always have something to say, prove, defend, attack, clarify, protect or explain. As if elaborate statements of faith will improve upon our Founder's humble words. Complication and baggage just seem to naturally collect like barnacles attaching themselves to a ship.
It requires vigilance — the closest, most careful attention — to keep faith concentrated along the lines of which Jesus spoke. To do otherwise, to let faith go where it will, seems to lead to more words, more demands and commands, and more impediments to actually practicing the way of Christ.
I like the personal story told by Jim Wallis when he was a teenager. Young Jim picked up a girlfriend to take to a movie, an act strictly forbidden in the church culture of his youth. As Jim and his date prepared to leave the house, the girl's father stood in the doorway blocking their exit. He said to the couple, tears in his eyes, "If you go to this film, you'll be trampling on everything that we've taught you to believe."
While the shaming was over the top, the man's conviction is honorable, in a curious sort of way. He was begging those he loved to stay true to the path. I have similar convictions when it comes to simplicity. Thus, I have lost count of the times over the years when people wanted "more" — more words, more dogma, more doctrine and more rules.
If we can learn to love God and love our neighbors (no easy task), it will be enough. It will be more than enough; for "shattering and disarming simplicity," said the great C.S. Lewis, "is the real answer."
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor and author. You can read more at ronniemcbrayer.me.