Neighbor Love No Substitute for Love of God
KEEPING one law does not excuse one from obeying other laws. For example: If you drive an automobile you know that you must not only keep to the right side of the road (or the left, depending upon the country in which you live), but you must also observe the speed limits and heed the traffic lights. You would not think of excusing your speeding simply because you kept on your side of the road, nor would you think of justifying your being on the wrong side of the road simply because you were not speeding and observed the traffic lights. Right?
But this underlying principle is not always appreciated when it comes to spiritual things, to religion, to the worship of God. A case in point involves the two great commandments of life that Jesus Christ laid down for his followers: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength,” and, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” The human tendency is to stress one of these and, because of this, to excuse the neglect of the other commandment, perhaps unconsciously.—Mark 12:29-31.
Thus it is a common failing in Christendom to be concerned only about showing neighbor love, letting the more important commandment, to love God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul and strength, be entirely lost sight of. So we find many well-meaning professed Christians busying themselves with the “social gospel,” with humanitarian projects, such as fighting diseases, political corruption, economic and social evils, but they give little if any thought to the first and greater commandment, to whether this truly is God’s will for them or not. Consciously or unconsciously they justify their lack of love of God because of their demonstrating what they consider to be neighbor love.
Typical of this kind of thinking is the popular poem so often quoted with approval about one Abou ben Adhem. One night he awoke to see an angel writing in a book of gold the names of those who loved the Lord. When he asked the angel if his name was among these and was told it was not, he said: “I pray thee, then, write me as one who loves his fellow men.” The poem goes on to say: “The angel wrote and vanished. The next night it came again with a great wakening light, and showed the names whom love of God had blest, and lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.” In other words, love of neighbor is superior to love of God. But not so. Love of God comes first. Not that love of neighbor may be neglected either, for, as the apostle John well makes the point, “He who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.”—1 John 4:20.
True, those manifesting neighbor love may insist that they love God and this is the way they show it. But that is merely their own construction of matters. God’s Word tells us that “this is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments.” So unless we obey God’s requirements for us we may not claim to be loving him. Adam might have partaken of the forbidden fruit because of his fondness for Eve, but that did not justify or excuse his disobedient act. Then there was King Saul; he, in effect, used this very argument. When confronted with his failure to obey God’s command he excused it on the basis of his regard for what the people of Israel wanted. But that did not serve as any justification in the eyes of God. For his disobedience King Saul was rejected by Jehovah God.—1 John 5:3; 1 Sam. 15:22, 23.
There was also King Solomon. He had so much “neighbor love” for his wives that he made provision to support their idolatrous forms of worship, in the end no longer loving Jehovah, the God of his father David, with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. Did his “neighbor love” excuse his lack of love for Jehovah God? Not at all! As a result King Solomon, in spite of all his wisdom, in spite of his being used to build the temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem and to write nearly all the Bible book of Proverbs as well as the book of Ecclesiastes and The Song of Solomon, died out of favor with God.—1 Ki. 11:1-9.
Jesus Christ, however, did not make this mistake. He recognized that his prime obligation was toward his heavenly Father, to do his will, to bear witness to His name and kingdom. Thus when on one occasion, no doubt because he had fed the multitude with loaves and fishes, “they were about to come and seize him to make him king,” Jesus “withdrew again into the mountain all alone.” Love of neighbor could have acceded to the popular demand, but not his love of God, for he knew that such was not God’s will, ‘his kingdom being no part of that world.’ Nevertheless, by putting God first, Jesus followed the course that eventually will result in the greatest good to humankind, to his neighbors while he was on earth, in that it will mean their being restored to Paradise in God’s new world.—John 6:15; 18:36; Luke 23:43.
Viewed thus, it is clear that neighbor love of itself, without taking God’s purpose into consideration, is most shortsighted indeed. What does love of God require? Merely going to some church occasionally? Having one’s name on some church roll and paying one’s dues? Hardly. And especially not if what one hears are sermons that have no bearing whatever on what the Bible says about God and his requirements. To love God we must become acquainted with him, for how can we truly love one about whom we know little or nothing? Knowledge about himself he has caused to be recorded in his two great books, the Book of nature and the Book of books, the Bible, particularly the latter. And since the Bible shows that we need help to understand it and God has provided such help, to love God we must take advantage of that help. Reading the Bible without understanding it will not help us to love God.—Acts 8:30, 31.
That Book also tells us what God’s requirements for us are, regarding conduct, associations and our mission in life. Heeding its counsel, we will be able to balance our love of God with our neighbor love in an intelligent way.