On December 6, 2014 Joshua Adonijah Gibson was born. My wife and I never got to see him take a breath. It was a devastating experience that put me in a haze. In an instant, I went from the living the dream to a nightmare that continued whether my eyes were open or closed. It was a very difficult time and while the duties of daily life continued, I struggled to keep up. During this period, one of my best friends demonstrated what it means to fulfill the greatest commandment.
Matthew 22:36-40 is a familiar passage for most Christians who have been in the faith for any significant length of time. If you’re like me and easily remember concepts and details but struggle to recall the specific location in the scriptures or you’re simply unfamiliar with this section, here is the scenario. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem after ministering throughout Israel, just a few days shy of His crucifixion. He’s teaching in parables in the temple when the Pharisees and Sadducees question Him in hopes that He would give them a reason to condemn Him.
Eventually, they ask which commandment is the greatest. Jesus responds that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything. But this isn’t the end of His answer. He immediately gives the second greatest commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself. Why did he mention a second commandment that no one asked about? To put it simply, He gives the second commandment because it is required to fulfill the first.
When He commands us to love, is a conscious action (or set of actions) and not an emotion. This is made clear in Matthew 5:43-48 when we are commanded to love our enemies. You almost certainly don’t have positive feelings for someone who is classified as an enemy, but you are expected to love them nonetheless. To love is to hold the best interests of someone else in a regard that is equal to your own. This is what God does for us all the time. It’s why Jesus paid for our sins. It’s why He brings conviction to our hearts when we are out of line. It is why He will sometimes say “no” when we want him to say “yes”. It’s why He gives us beautiful experiences in relationships, or in nature and unexpected surprises that make us happy. He gives us what is best for us, even when we don’t realize that is the case. This isn’t something that we can do for God because He lacks nothing, He needs nothing from us and there is nothing that we could offer that He doesn’t provide. So, He lets us know that the way to love Him is to love each other.
In late July or early August of 2014, things were going quite well for my household. Work was good, I was spending time in the Bible and in prayer, our finances were in order and our eating and exercise habits had drastically improved which put us in great health. Then, we found out that Joshua was on the way! He wasn’t our first pregnancy, he was the third. The other two were lost to miscarriage in the first trimester, but we felt confident that this time would be different.
My excitement caused me to work more, eat even better, exercise more intensely, read more and refine our budget. I wanted to set a great example for the baby on the way. We thought we were in the clear once the first trimester was over and looked forward to his arrival.
Then, at 19 weeks there was a problem: cervical insufficiency. Essentially, her body was beginning labor too early which put Joshua’s life at risk. So, my wife spent about a week in the hospital. After a few days, she got very ill, very quickly. It became clear that her body could no longer hold Joshua and if we waited longer, she was in significant danger. He was delivered the next day, did not survive and we were crushed.
I needed to be there to help my wife through the ordeal, but I was broken as well. I gave everything I had to try to keep her afloat, but I was sinking. To make matters worse, I felt abandoned. Not by God, but by those closest to me, who said they loved me.
Thankfully, a friend, recognized my distress. Not because he went through something similar, but because he asked how I was doing and listened when I spoke. He hopped on a plane, flew down from Maryland and spent time with me. He was only here for around a day and a half and we didn’t talk about Joshua much. But I needed someone to be concerned enough to make sure that I was OK. I needed someone to sit with me as I did nothing, look me in the eye, give me a hug and ask, “are you OK, J?” It was the most loving thing that anyone could have done for me at the time. It stopped a bad slide for me and let me start moving in the right direction again.
This action by my friend is an example of the great commandment being fulfilled. He made a trip that wasn’t originally in his plans to see me because I needed help. It wasn’t so that he could gain or prove anything and it wasn’t because he just happened to stumble upon me while going to do something else. It was action taken with my well-being in mind. And by loving me, he loved the Lord in the way that He provided. A situation that is this big isn’t the only time that we can follow this example. We can invite someone who may be lonely to hang out. We can tell our friend who is about to make a bad relationship decision to reconsider. We can celebrate with each other when good things happen and mourn when losses occur. Keep your eyes open for an opportunity to genuinely love someone and know that when you do, you’ve loved your Lord as well.
By Jimmie Gibson