As United Methodists, we have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness. To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.
Theology is not just about God. It is also about us. We live out of our understanding of who we are in relationship to God, to one another, and to the world. The Christian faith is grounded in the love and grace of God, experienced through Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is our response to God’s love and grace.
The church calls our response to God Christian discipleship. Discipleship focuses on actively following in the footsteps of Jesus. As Christian disciples, we are not passive spectators but energetic participants in God’s activity in the world. Because of what God has done for us, we offer our lives back to God. We order our lives in ways that embody Christ’s ministry in our families, workplaces, communities, and the world.
When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, his response was: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38. See Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; and Luke 10:25-28.)
Discipleship is about loving God….It is more than an acknowledgement of God’s existence or a statement of belief regarding God. It is total devotion, head-over-heals-in-love-with adoration. It is the deep desire to know God, to be one with God, and to worship God.
There are a variety of ways that we can develop our knowledge of and love of God. These include
|Conversation with other Christians|
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, called these practices means of grace. They are means for developing our relationship with God and for experiencing God’s presence in our lives. These practices help us spend time with God, a significant factor in loving God.
Jesus responded to questions about the most important commandment by quoting the Hebrew Scripture’s admonition to love God with our whole being. (See Deut. 6:4-9 as well as gospel passages listed in the above section.) Then immediately he broadened the meaning of this admonition: “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 2:31).
These verses about loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves are known as the Great Commandment. Again and again, the Bible teaches us that loving God and loving neighbor are two sides of the same coin. We cannot do one without the other. Check out some of these passages for a glimpse at how prevalent this understanding of Christian discipleship is:
|1 Corinthians 13|
|1 John 4:19-21|
From these passages and others we can draw several conclusions about what it means to love our neighbors. First of all, loving our neighbors means responding to specific needs—hunger, illness, imprisonment, loneliness, and so forth. Love is more than a feeling; it is behavior. It is practical and concrete.
Secondly, our neighbors include many people. Within the context of the Christian community, our neighbors are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Neighbors may also refer to the contemporary understanding of those who live near us. However, from a biblical perspective, neighbors often include people whom we might not normally consider:
|people who mistreat us (who are our enemies);|
|people from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds;|
|people from different religious traditions;|
|people who irritate us and push the boundaries of our patience.|
Therefore, loving our neighbors requires attention and sacrifice. We have to pay attention to what is happening around us in order to see our neighbors and to recognize their needs. We must also consider their needs to be as important as our own in order to live faithfully. Loving neighbor is more than random acts of kindness. It takes time, energy, and commitment. It is a lifestyle carefully cultivated in response to God.
Finally, these passages emphasize that loving our neighbors is not optional; it is mandatory. It is what Christians do as Jesus commanded us.