In Matthew 22 we read these familiar words when Jesus tells us, You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole being, and with your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself  (CEB). From this amazing guide for life has come the acronym for JOY—Jesus-Others-Yourself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this acronym presents a brief guide for life in this particular order.

Jesus told us to love “the Lord your God” (Jesus) and your neighbor (Others) as you love Yourself. Let me suggest that if we love in this order with the focus on Christ first, others second, and ourselves third (not last, but third), we will be following the intent of this great commandment.

Unfortunately, it seems that folks have trouble loving their neighbor because of one of two circumstances:

  1. They love themselves so much that there is no room in their lives for the “others” of the world, or
  2. They love themselves so little that they have no idea what it means to love another person.

A recent “Jumble” puzzle posed the question: What do you get when you carpool with someone who won’t stop talking? The answer was: No “You” Turns. In the last issue of the Advocate, the focus of this column was “A Sense of … Others.” I mentioned that there were people in our lives who don’t exhibit this sense of others. They are so self-focused, you never get a “turn” to be part of the conversation. One way to overcome this challenge is to have a healthy sense of self. Love yourself enough to care about others; love yourself just enough to make room for others; love yourself as a child of God, knowing that by doing so, you can love others—even those who are hard to love.

On my flight home from the Big Tent meeting in Indianapolis, the flight attendant made an announcement that we can all quote from memory because we hear it each time we fly, and yet I heard it in a different light (perhaps because I was in the middle of writing this article). She reminded us that if the pressure in the cabin drops, an oxygen mask would fall in front of us, and we were to put on our own mask before trying to help another person. Wow—we need to give breath to our selves first and then help the other, because if we aren’t breathing (alive, filled with the essentials of life), we are of no use to the other. The analogy was just too amazing to fathom—but I thought I’d pass this insight along to you. (Feel free to use it—it’ll preach!) How can we teach others the love of Christ if we haven’t been filled up with that love first?

And so, my friends, I encourage you to consider the following homework assignments:

  • Think about the “loves” of your life. Who are they? Is God first? Are you included in the list?
  • How are you filled—with love, with the Holy Spirit, with a healthy sense of self, and how do you then give life to those around you?

Finally, thank you for the privilege of being your APCE president. I pray that something I have written has given you something you needed.

Sue Moore is a ruling elder and certified Christian educator in the PC(USA) and is a past president of APCE. Her greatest joy is found in studying and teaching the Bible.