by Joseph Sunde
Christians love to bash the popular forms of idolatry. From the love of money to the love of power to the love of self, we have no problem saying that each are bad in earthly application.
We don’t, however, talk enough about the love of man, otherwise known as the love of this world.
Whereas the loves of money, power, and self are specific and categorized, the love of man is all-encompassing and far less predictable. Although it may certainly include a love for many worldly things, it is different in the sense that it may also include behaviors or actions we consider “good” or “acceptable.”
Our lust for money may be evident through misaligned financial priorities or immoral business tactics. Our lust for power may show itself in the ways we treat our competitors or apply our authority. Our lust for ourselves may be evident when we seek unfair advantage or blatantly ignore the needs of others.
Our excessive love of man, however, may show itself in something as perceivably admirable as loving our neighbor. Nearly every earthly endeavor is vulnerable to its forces.
Sound crazy? Here’s a quick story from the Book of Matthew to help give us some perspective:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Such a harsh response is difficult for us to understand. It seems highly unreasonable that the desire to keep a loved one away from harm would be labeled as satanic, particularly when that loved one is the Son of God.
For these reasons, I suspect that Peter was startled by Jesus’ response. After all, Peter’s reaction was born out of love and compassion, and wasn’t Jesus a guy who promoted that sort of thing?
The problem, of course, is that Peter’s love was based on “the things of man,” and like many of us, he should have known better.
Up to this point, Peter had personally witnessed Jesus perform countless miracles, from overcoming spiritual bondage to healing biological defects to defying earthly scarcity. He had listened as Jesus taught that to die is to live and the last shall be first. The same Jesus who had commanded Peter to walk on water was asking him to believe that the Son of God must be killed.
But alas, this was the same Peter who had already been told, “oh you of little faith.” Once again, Peter was in need of correction.
What this tells us is that Jesus’ works on this earth were not born out of mere human love. Contrary to today’s watered-down portrait of a Jesus who is primarily concerned with worldly needs, we see a Jesus who is ultimately devoted to the needs of His Father. He was on a serious and direct mission, one that went well beyond Peter’s earthly perspective of love and peace and harmony.
The fun part is that Jesus called us to this same standard. No longer are we bound to our limited perceptions about the things of this world, especially when it comes to love.
But like Peter, how often do we need to be scolded?
In our earthly striving to love our neighbors and do good works, to which source is our love truly aligned? It may be easy to think that the ends of love always involve our own destruction, but what if we shift that onto someone else? To what end of submission is our love of God truly capable of achieving? Are we willing to accept the death of a loved one? This is radical, indeed.
In short, I fear we are far too hasty to accept the earthly implications of the second commandment without first recognizing the heavenly implications of the first. We cannot truly love our neighbors or ourselves without first loving God, and doing so on his terms.
This is not an easy task because the earthly needs often overlap with our spiritual callings. Inside of that tension there will surely be features of love that we become conditioned to and comfortable with. These features, however, are bound to be transcended and we need to be constantly ready to adapt to the heavenly standard.
At that point, the question will be “Who do you really love?” The choice will be between the love of God and the love of man, but as Jesus himself said, the latter is just a fancy term for Satan.