So that the presence of God, which, enjoyed in private, is but a stream, in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God. – David Clarkson
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 5:20-21)
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)
We were not made to worship God in isolation. At the completion of the perfect creation, the only thing that God regarded to be ‘not good’ was the fact that man was alone. Companionship and community are part of our design, and no one will come close to the Great Commandment who dismisses the importance of worshipping God among, and through other people.
A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)
The second commandment, loving your neighbor, flows out of the first and greatest commandment, loving God. This chapter is a discussion of the second commandment, and how it relates to the first.
What we are calling public worship in this post is broader than the local church. We are widening the definition of public worship to be the life of communing with God in community. It involves the local church, the family, the school, and the broader culture. Of course, libraries have been written on Christian families, rightly ordered churches, and Christianity and culture, with this author making his own modest contribution.((Save Them From Secularism and Building Conservative Churches.)) This post seeks not to tackle such vast subjects in detail, but to consider how communing with God can be done in the social life of believers. Public worship is both seeing the beauty of God with others, but it is also seeing God’s beauty in others. Further, it is reflecting God’s glory to others. We experience revelation with and from others, and we become part of it ourselves.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates his presence to men. It is not of course the only way. But for many people at many times the ‘fair beauty of the Lord’ is revealed chiefly or only while they worship Him together.”1
God does not save us in groups; he saves us individually. Nevertheless, when he does so, he saves us to be part of groups, to be joined to communities that, when rightly participated in, will take us much further in knowing and loving God than we could ever have achieved on our own. God orders this differently for us all, but the man who grows up in a believing family, a healthy local church, a throughly Christian school, and exposed to the best of Christian culture can count himself to be the man who received five talents. Communing with God in community is the essence of the second commandment.
The Second Commandment and Ultimate Love
Once we have embraced the idea of ultimate love for God, we appear to be in a dilemma. We may not at first grasp how radical ultimate love for God is. God’s uniqueness demands a kind of love which leaves no room for other loves. Only God can be loved for himself. Our need-love and gift-love must terminate on God and God alone.
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37)
No one besides Christ, not even our closest family, is allowed to claim ultimate love. Such love is reserved for God alone. On the face of it, it looks like we must make the kind of choice between loving God ultimately and excluding everyone else, or loving many other people and committing idolatry.
How do we love God ultimately and find space for other loves? Isn’t the Bible full of commands to love all kinds of people: husbands to love wives, believers to love one another, people to love their neighbors, believers to love their enemies? The answer comes in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 10.
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28 )
Here we can breathe a sigh of relief. Jesus, this time in reply to another man’s quoting of the first and second commandment, agrees that the sum of biblical religion is to love God, and to love your neighbor. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. At the very least, loving God and loving your neighbor is not a logical contradiction.
Once we understand how to relate the second commandment to the first, we’ll be able to do two things. First, it will enable us to relate all relationships back to one priority relationship in our lives: loving God. All of the other relationships we have will become part of one overriding focus of our lives – to love God. Second, it will help us keep lawful human love relationships from becoming idols. We will learn to love people not as ends in themselves, but as means to loving God.
Communing with God with and through others, either directly or indirectly, requires that we learn and practice three disciplines, which we will consider in turn.
- Reflections on the Psalms (New York, NY: Harcourt, 1958, Mariner Books edition 2012, Kindle e-book), 93. [↩]