“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? ‘ And he (Jesus) said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend ALL the law and prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40 ESV (emphasis mine)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this ALL people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35 ESV (emphasis mine)
You may have seen the image above floating around your Facebook timeline or somewhere else in the land of Internet. The first time I saw it, I remember thinking, “that’s really good.” But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the image came to my mind sometime later and it’s statement began to bother me. You see, there is a fundamental flaw to the image and it’s message. It contains two people who come upon a symbol, which they both interpret to be a number. The one clearly sees the number six and the other clearly sees the number nine. The statement below the image implies that they are both right, and that it is all simply a matter of perspective. This isn’t true. The truth is that one of them is right and one of them is wrong. In this picture, however, even the one who is right is also wrong. Let me explain.
Now, in order for my point to make sense, we have to make a couple of assumptions. Those assumptions are: 1) neither of these two people put the number there, and 2) they don’t know who did. With these assumptions in mind, do you know why I believe both people are wrong? They could be wrong because it’s actually a ‘g’ and not a number. Maybe it’s not a letter or a number. But let’s assume that it is a number. Logically, one of them would have to be right. Right? Yes and no. Without knowing who put it there, we can’t know, and the people in the image can’t know who is correct. Whoever is correct is still wrong, however, because they could not explain ‘why.’ Without knowing who put it there, or why they put it there, there is no way to determine if that is a six, a nine, a lower case ‘g’, or something else entirely. Neither one of the people’s perspectives matter without knowing the intent of the originator of that symbol.
To understand the symbol in the most adequate and accurate fashion, would one need to know the originator of the symbol and the context in which they put the symbol. Without that, determining who is “right” is a waste of time. Too often, right and wrong is based on what WE think right and wrong are. So when our perspective is different than someone else’s, it’s easy to say that we are right and they are wrong. But unless we are the originator of those concepts, we cannot ever be ‘right.’ It’s all a matter of perspective. Without knowing the source, any thoughts we have are merely opinions gathered by our own perspectives, which are inherently biased.
In order for either of these people in the image to be ‘right,’ they would need to search out the originator of the symbol and hear their story. This is where the big problem comes. Very few people today are willing to listen to each other’s stories. We are quick to make judgments based on our own biased views of morality, right and wrong, sin and righteousness. We listen too often for how to frame our arguments and perspectives rather than listening simply to hear people’s stories and gain insights into who they are and why they are who they are. We all have stories. You have a story, I have a story, and every story matters.
Your story isn’t the ‘right’ story, nor is it the ‘wrong’ story. It’s simply your story. The same is true of others. The motives with which we listen, however, can be right or wrong. If someone tells me their story and says, ‘my life is a six,’ I’m wrong to declare, ‘you’re wrong, it’s actually a nine.’ All I am doing is viewing the story with my eyes, from my perspective. That is not listening. That is not motivated by Christ-like love. Motives matter. We spend a lot of our time today arguing over sixes and nines and we’re all missing the point. So what is that point?
I titled this post, “The Power of Simplicity.” What does that mean? I just spent multiple paragraphs taking a seemingly simple image and making it super complex. My point is that the simplest, and most powerful way to know what the symbol in the image means, is to find the originator and listen to their story. Not only would it give each of the people insight into whether it is a six, nine, or something else, but they will also understand WHY it is what it is. Every time they come upon the symbol then, they know exactly what it is, why it is, and could then share the originator’s message and meaning with others. To do this, however, is to be intentional about WANTING to know and understand others, and not simply engage in an attempt to share “our truth” with them.
The same can be said of the message of the gospel of Jesus. To truly share the gospel, we must seek first to understand it – not from our personal, national, or cultural perspective, but from the perspective of its originator – from Jesus’ perspective. In order to know His perspective, we must know Him – His character, His nature, and His purpose. That takes time, an intentional effort to listen and learn, and the ability to set our own agendas and biases aside. It is the same effort we must put into engaging with others, and especially those that don’t live or believe like we do.
It sounds really difficult, and nearly impossible, but the truth is that Jesus has made it quite simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but it does mean it is not complicated. The power of the gospel is really in its simplicity. Jesus illustrates that in the two above passages. In the first, Jesus is engaged by an expert in the law – one who would have likely known all 613 Jewish laws and commandments. In asking Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest, the expert was not expecting an answer, as it would have been foolish for any Jew to highlight one law over another and risk the ire of God, or even worse, the religious leaders! Yet Jesus did just that. He narrowed 613 commandments down to two – Love God and love your neighbor. Everything hinges on these two, Jesus said, and He was right. For one to love God and love their neighbor truly and perfectly, there would be no need for any other law. Pretty simple, right?
In the second passage, Jesus simplifies things even more, however impossible it may have seemed. The scene is shortly following the last supper Jesus shared with the disciples, and He was moments away from being arrested and beginning His journey to the cross. A man facing inevitable death is likely to speak only words that he deems the most important and necessary. Jesus’ words were powerful, yet simple. He gave His followers a NEW command, what was to be the foundation of the new covenant Jesus would bring forth through His death and resurrection. Here, Jesus simplifies the command from two to one: love one another. For the expert in the law, Jesus had to clarify the importance of loving God and neighbor. To His closest followers, however, He left them with the simple charge to love one another. He took care of everything else by adding this simple, yet again powerful, qualifier: AS I HAVE LOVE YOU, you are also to love one another. Just as loving God and neighbor would satisfy every requirement of the Jewish law, so too would loving other people as Jesus loved the disciples satisfy everything within the new covenant.
How did Jesus love? He emptied Himself, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (or held on to), and became like us (Philippians 2:5-8). He got down on our level – and even lower – by serving the very ones He created and formed. He even washed feet. Jesus has every right to play the “God card” and simply exert His authority over mankind. Yet He took on our perspective. He experienced our pain, our abandonment, our neglect, and our sin. He wept as His people mourned loss. He wept as He saw His people lost and broken, like sheep without a shepherd. He agonized as He wrestled with the reality of His coming arrest and death in Gethsemane. He watched as His closest friends deserted Him, some even denying they knew who He was.
More than anything, Jesus loved. He loved the people then, and He loves you and me the same today. He loves with the same selfless, humble, caring, compassionate heart with which He has always loved. Now He commissions us to do the same – to love one another (and others) as He has loved us. Jesus isn’t a political party, nationalist, “pro” or “anti” anything. He is love. Fully God, yet fully man. The Creator of all things, yet the servant of all. He. Is. Love. Powerful, yet simple, for there is power in simplicity.