As we make our way through this life, we are confronted with the need to make many decisions and many choices. Everyone has to make choices but that person who would live a life pleasing to God must exercise special care to make the proper choices so that he will receive the coveted reward at the end of this life. How do we pick and choose? How do we know that we are making the proper decisions? How can we be sure that our choices are the best? These are not always easy questions to answer, but I believe that we often complicate matters entirely too much. It is easy, if we are not careful, to end up like the Scribes and Pharisees, spending all of our time and efforts deciding what constitutes an allowable Sabbath day journey while we ignore more important issues.
What, then, is the basis for our decisions? A lawyer once asked our Savior: "Which is the greatest commandment in the law. The Master answered,
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40).
Please notice that a priority is given. To love God is the GREATEST commandment and to love our neighbor is similar but second. Also notice that ALL law and the prophets "hang" or are based upon these two ideas. If we really have these two principles firmly fixed in our thinking processes, and base our decisions (choices) on them, I believe we will please God.
We would not want to over-simplify matters and certainly we do not intend to imply that all decisions are easy, but like it or not the basis for all our decisions and actions should reflect a love for God and/or a love for man. This has always been God's aim for man. All of His communication to mankind over the years has been given to help man see his need for these two principles. We are weak and we may not always make the correct choices, but the important thing is to be motivated by first a love for God and second a love for man. How does it work?
We are familiar with the story of Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a very dedicated Jew and he personally persecuted God's people at one time in his life. He later called himself the "Chief of sinners" but even then he was motivated by a love for God. God saw something in Saul's character that He knew He could use, so He confronted Saul on the road to Damascus. Such a dedicated person as Saul could not bring himself to recognize the error of his life unless he was motivated by a deep and abiding love for God. Because he possessed such a love, he corrected his life when he was confronted with truth. A person with a lesser love would have rejected the whole thing and gone on with his previous activities. Love for God will not always cause us to make the right choice, but it will cause us to accept truth when we find it. Saul's first choice (to persecute Christians) was wrong even though his motives were right. His deep love for God caused him to ultimately make the correct choice.
David let his concern for fulfilling his own lust overcome his love for God and also his love for his fellow man. As a result, he sinned against God, against Bathsheba, and against Uriah. When Nathan confronted David with the matter, a deep love for God caused David to see the error of his ways. He corrected his way of thinking and a penitent David was later called "a man after God's own heart." He transgressed because love for self momentarily ruled his life but a deeper love for God caused him to see his own error and make adjustments.
Peter was overcome with concern for his own safety and therefore he denied the Savior. A deeper love for that same Savior caused him to correct the error of his way and go on to become that great apostle who first taught both Jew and Gentile to be followers of his beloved Messiah.
The parable of the good Samaritan illustrates these principles very well. The priest and the Levite both loved self more than his neighbor, but the Samaritan proved his love for his neighbor by rendering aid where it was needed. He did not count the cost, but simply did what was needed to live by the two principles we are considering.
The Bible contains many accounts which would illustrate both violation of or compliance with these two principles, but what about present day application? Is it really any different for us than it was for Saul or David? I don't think so. We must base our decisions on these same two principles. We will not be perfect in doing so, but if we have a deep love for God and for man, we will make corrections in our life just as Saul and David did.
There are times when the two principles might seem to compete, but a fair and objective evaluation of the situation will help us to make the proper decision. I know of a situation where a lady tried to drive her car through a mud hole. The car became stuck and the lady was stranded. It was Wednesday evening and a man and his family came by on their way to "Wednesday evening services" at the local Church of Christ. They told the lady that they did not have time to help her because "we are on our way to Church." They advised her that the farmer who lived nearby would be glad to help her.
The lady waded through the mud to the farmer s house. It so happened that the farmer was rushing to get ready to attend the same "services" at the same Church of Christ but he readily agreed to help the lady. A visiting preacher was staying with this farmer and he was to be the featured speaker at those services. The preacher objected to the delay because it might cause him to be late for his speaking engagement. The farmer, however, helped the lady rescue her car from the mud hole and then went on to the Church building. They were a little late but no real harm was done.
Can you see who made the proper decision? The first man and the preacher both maintained that love for God overruled love for neighbor and therefore they should not be distracted from attendance at the "worship services." I am afraid both were actually motivated to look good to other people by piously insisting on "attending services." However, if we give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were motivated by a deep love for God, does that really compete with a love for our fellow man? I think not. To render aid in no way detracts from a love for God, but really proves a love for God and His ways. Remember that Christ was criticized for healing on the Sabbath but He did not do wrong. It was not then and never had been wrong to render aid to a needy person on the Sabbath. It was wrong to work for the betterment of SELF on the Sabbath.
But decisions sometimes get more difficult. For instance, we must sometimes decide which action will best express love. It does not mean to always give in to the other person. A loving parent will sometimes inflict punishment on a child BECAUSE OF THAT LOVE. That same idea should be applied when considering the criminal behavior of adults. A loving God first instituted capital punishment. True love for our fellow man will lead a society to use punishment, including capital punishment, to regulate behavior within that society. Otherwise criminals will inflict great harm on innocent people.
But what about the "war question?" Some ask, "how can it be right to shoot at your fellow man if you love him?" That is not an easy question to answer because the average individual cannot, in many instances, know the real reason a war is being waged. It seems right to oppose an enemy force that plans to inflict murder, rape, and pillage upon another society. It would be right to oppose that just as it would be right to forcefully oppose an individual who enters a man's home for the purpose of raping the man's wife. Love dictates that such actions be opposed, with deadly force if necessary, whether committed by an individual or an organized group such as an invading army.
How much effort may I expend to earn money when I know that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil"? Again, we should apply our two principles. Love of God is the first concern, therefore money cannot be allowed to be more important to us than God. By the same token it cannot be allowed to be more important than the welfare of our fellow man. At the same time, love dictates that we provide for our own families and others who need our help. It is not important how much money we have, but regardless of the amount our attitude must be right. Money itself should have no importance to us. It is a means for expressing love for God and man whether one cent or millions of dollars.
How active may I be in political matters? It seems that we could work very hard to assure that we retain the freedoms necessary to serve our God and express our love for Him. By the same token it would seem right to oppose certain things (such as pornography), but when a person involves himself in politics for the sake of politics he has gone too far. Such a person has put aside love of God for love of prestige and the sheer enjoyment of participating. Participation in governmental matters should be motivated by a love for God and man.
We are told to do good works but not for the purpose of being seen of men. That is an example of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. A wealthy person may give large sums to the poor but if he does so in order to draw attention to himself or to get a special "tax break" the reason is wrong. Such action shows a love for self that overrides love for God and man even though good is accomplished by the act.
The list could go on but this is enough to illustrate the application of principles. God did not give us a list of do's and don't's. He gave us principles to guide our life and He expects us to use our own God-given mind to apply those principles. Any time we are in doubt, we should go back and carefully consider which choice reflects love for God and man. If we are later confronted with information proving we made the wrong choice even though we did so with the right motives, we should be honest enough to recognize our error. We should, like Saul, make a change. If we live our lives in that manner God will be pleased indeed.