The obvious answer would be God, then my neighbor and lastly myself, right?
I mean that’s what we’ve been brought up to believe at church. It’s always “love God with all your heart, soul and might” and second, “put others first and don’t be selfish”.
And although this way of thinking seems pretty legit in our Christian walk, upon careful examination of Scripture I find something else that, once grasped, will change the whole perspective and free us from the ongoing competition for our love that often ends up in feelings of guilt, simply because we can’t seem to love God enough.
In John 15:13 Jesus says that he loved us with the greatest love there is, which is someone to die for his friends. And in John 15:9 he says that he has loved us with the same love that the Father has loved him. This pretty much means that the Father also has loved Jesus with the greatest love there is. Finally, in John 15:12 Jesus commands us to love each other as he has loved us, which is nothing less than the greatest love.
So, if Jesus loved us with the same love that the Father has loved him and he’s asking us to love each other with that same (greatest) love, how can we even still think of loving him more than loving each other?
Think about it.
The Father and Jesus love you with the greatest love there is and Jesus is asking you to love your neighbor with that same love. So if you are to apply the first and great commandment which is to love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul and mind (Matthew 22:37), you can’t possibly love God more than you are to love your neighbor because any attempt to do that would mean that you’re trying to love God more than God already loves you.
You should know by now that you can’t outlove God.
When a lawyer once asked Jesus to test him, which of the commandments was the greatest, his reply was this:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV) (Bold added)
I believe the keyword here is “like it”, which in an other translation of the Bible translates as “equally important” (New Living Translation).
The reason why it is equally important to love your neighbor with the same love that you have for God is that you can’t claim to love God whom you don’t see if you don’t love your neighbor whom you do see (1 John 4:20).
But when Jesus asks you to love your neighbor the way you love yourself, a problem arises. It’s the balking sense of false humility that comes over us when we think of loving ourselves in Christian terms. We’ve been taught to be selfless and self-denying. After all, Jesus himself says that you have to deny yourself in order to follow him (Matthew 16:24).
But what if loving yourself had nothing to do with denying yourself?
What if loving yourself was the key here?
If Jesus asks you to love your neighbor as you love yourself, I think he knows what he’s talking about. You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself. You will only love your neighbor the same way you think you deserve to be loved and the limit of love you have for yourself will always be the limit you will have for loving your neighbor and God.
If for whatever reason, you have a low self-view and a poor love for yourself, you will see others through that same lens and will always want (consciously or unconsciously) people to suffer from what you had to go through in life. Justice will always be your motive and mercy will never prevail.
But once you allow yourself to forgive your debtors (Matthew 6:12) from the debt they might never be able to repay and also forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve done, you will be able to receive God’s love for you and thus be able to love yourself, others and God.
John says we love because he loved us first (1 John 4:19). So it is by receiving God’s love for us that we are able to love.
You are loved. This is a truth you are to live by and abide in (John 15:9). Jesus paid the highest price for you, don’t sell yourself short.
Love yourself with the same love that Jesus has loved you and love your neighbor and God with that same love.
It’s not about prioritizing or loving one at the expense of the other. It’s not even about our religious attempt to love God more than anything else. It’s about loving Him the right way, by receiving His love for us. It’s a love triangle in which God, your neighbor and yourself are equal recipients of love – the greatest love.