Live Well, Love Well
With Christmas behind us and the endless wishing of Happy New Year! now wearing a little thin, most of us are returning to our own versions of what passes these days for “normal” lives. For many, this may mean jumping back into endless Zoom calls as we try maintaining some sense of connectedness with the outside world. Others are busy focusing on resolutions they made to drop a couple of pounds or stop a bad habit.
One area I’m looking at in the New Year is how I can better appreciate undeserved gifts, and how to share that appreciation with others.
Undeserved gifts. What are those? An unexpected inheritance from a rich uncle we barely knew? A promotion at work we wanted but were certain we would lose to someone with more experience? Winning the Powerball lottery?
Certainly, each of these could be considered “unexpected.” But not necessarily “undeserved.” We each have blessings of every kind in our lives. Many of these are due to hard work. More are due to the generosity of those around us. In one way or another, we typically play a role in these.
The Only Undeserved Gift
Yet, there is one gift, one blessing, we absolutely cannot earn and most assuredly do not deserve: the gift of God’s grace and salvation.
It goes against human nature, doesn’t it? We want to believe if we focus on something hard enough, if we work at it long enough, we’ll be rewarded. Our parents tell us this as children, teachers remind us in school, and it’s reinforced in our jobs. Is it surprising that some people might think eternal life is something we can earn, a reward for how well we have lived our lives?
During Jesus’ ministry, this was the how most people viewed salvation. For example, consider the question asked by the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus replied that while the young man’s good works were admirable, to truly enter the kingdom he must sell all his possessions and become a disciple, the ruler walked away sad, unable to understand.
The message Jesus taught the young man is simple yet profound: God’s grace has nothing to do with how we many rules we follow, or how many good works we accomplish. As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Loving God First
Our instinct as Believers is to view our Christian walks through how well we treat and love others, often leading us to focusing on our relationships with each other and neglecting our relationship with God. This is how many of us define a life filled with Christian love.
Yet, as author, teacher, and co-founder of Desiring God Jon Bloom writes, “the most loving thing we can do for others is to love God more than we love them.”
There’s a reason Jesus answered the Sadducees and Pharisees that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). When our minds and hearts are filled with love for God and all He gives us, the depth of love and breadth of grace that flows out of us toward others is endless.
In its truest and purest form, love comes from only one source: God. Not our parents, not our friends, not our spouses. Everything flows “from Him and through Him” (Romans 11:36), including love.
When we focus our love first on ourselves or those around us before placing it on God, our love can end up meaning whatever we want it to mean, rather than the beautiful and supreme gift God intends.
This is the world we often see around us: people love in the way they feel is right and hate in the way they feel is right. They become “lovers of themselves … boastful, proud … ungrateful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:2). They accumulate the trappings of a good life and begin believing they deserve blessings because they live good lives. This then defines how and what they love.
The Real Meaning of Living Well to Love Well
There is nothing wrong with achieving a materially successful life, or having a large number of friends, or acquiring worldly possessions. God desires to bless us when we honor Him (Proverbs 3:9-10). It is when we use these to define what it means to live well that we become like that young rich ruler – trapped by the very accumulations we prize (1 Timothy 6:10).
Instead, God wants us to recognize that the people or things surrounding us, but in how we surround ourselves with Him do not define a truly well-lived life. By living well through living in Him, we open our hearts to love those around us with the same unconditional, spirit-filled love He freely gives us.
Perhaps the most loving thing we can do today is take an honest look at how we love God, and lean into how we translate that love into how we live and how we love. Only then can we truly live out the meaning of Jesus’ second greatest commandment: to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
May God always guide your path.