"Love God. Love People." | Gabriella Portalatin

"Teacher, what is the most important commandment?" Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, "Love others as much as you love yourself." Matthew 22:36-40 (CEV)

The thing that Jesus talked about most while he was here on earth was love. It is the cornerstone of Christianity. In the New Testament alone, it is mentioned over 180 times. Jesus himself said it over 50 times. Because of this, you’d think that Christians would have a great reputation in the world. You’d think that we’d be known for being the most loving people on the planet. Yet, why is it that Christians have bad reputations? Unfortunately, instead of being known for what we stand for (love), we are known for what we stand against (gay marriage, abortion, etc.). The message of our wonderful and loving Savior is being drowned out by judgmental, political and proud Christians. People now reject Christ because they don’t like his Christians. Gandhi said,

“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

          Back in 2010, something hit me really hard. Something I had learned growing up but had never officially applied to my life. I realized that Christianity is summed up by these two things: love God with EVERYTHING in you and love others as much as you love yourself. That’s it. That is the epitome of what it means to be a Christ-follower. You see, if you love God with everything in you, everything else in your life falls into place. If you love him with your whole mind, heart and soul, every aspect of your life will come together naturally.
          I find that as Christians, we tend to “try” too much to be better (myself included). This has been a struggle of mine in the past. I would basically try to work hard to be a better Christian and please God. But, the harder you try to be a better Christian, the more you fail and the more frustrated you get. Things are SO much easier when you simply surrender yourself to God and let him help you become more like him.
          When I realized all of these things, I decided to live my life by these two principles alone, and guess what? It was life changing! I decided that the first and most important thing I had to do was love God with everything in me. Any sin we’re struggling with, any issues that we can’t get over, any problems that we have can only be fixed by loving God more. How do you love God more? Sounds a bit complicated. It’s actually really simply. You fall deeper in love with Jesus by spending more time with him! Reading the word, spending time in prayer and worshipping God in his presence will draw us closer to God. When you increase your love for God, things start changing radically. This all seems so simplistic, but it’s something that most Christians forget.
          As a natural consequence of loving God more, we begin to love people more. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not something that is natural to our human nature. Human nature is selfish and greedy, impatient and merciless. This is how we respond to people when our relationship with God has grown cold. Check this out: when ANYONE is cold towards people, you know that something is off in their spiritual walk. That applies to pastors, evangelists, famous Christian authors, ministry leaders or your friends/family. When we love God with everything in us, we will naturally love people. And to truly love people means to love them as we love ourselves.
          The bible says to love our neighbor (others) as ourselves. Who is our neighbor? One of the definitions of the word neighbor is “one’s fellow human being.” This means that everyone on this earth is our neighbor! The annoying coworker, the crazy cousin, and the little girl starving in India…they are all our neighbors, and we are required to love each of them as we love ourselves. That is NOT an easy task. When you realize exactly who your “neighbor” is, things in your heart change. When you imagine yourself in your neighbor’s shoes…things change within you. This is the part that radically changed me the most.
          In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Pay attention to the last part. Jesus is instructing them to start with Jerusalem (their hometown), Judea and Samaria (their region) and finish with the ends of the earth. So, you start with your family, then you go to your community, then you go to the entire world. When you get to the point where you see the world as your neighborhood, you realize that out of the 6 billion people on this earth, over 3 billion of them have never heard about Jesus before. When you look at the 6 billion people in the world and see that 3 billion live on less than 2 USD/day, something in you changes. You realize that it’s not all about you. The Bible gives us the responsibility of loving them as we love ourselves, and we cannot simply ignore this. If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, we will not look away when we hear about the famine in Somalia, or religious persecution in Saudi Arabia, or the 27 million sex slaves around the world. When we truly LOVE others like we love ourselves, we realize that if it were us out there suffering, we would desperately want someone to help us. And that is what Christianity is all about. When we are truly living like Christ-followers who love God with everything in us, it causes us to love our neighbors as ourselves, which causes us to want to radically change the world.
          Do you love God with everything in you? Is this causing us to love others as much as we love ourselves? Do you know that you have a divine destiny? Do you know that God has put you on this earth so that you can change it? This might seem cliché, but it’s true. God put you here for a purpose. The only way that you will truly be able to live out your divine destiny is if you love God with everything in you and love others as you love yourself. You can get by without doing this like many others do, but just imagine how powerful you could be if you surrendered everything to God. There is way too much craziness going on in this world for us to simply want to “get by” in our own power and strength. There are way too many people suffering without Jesus and without hope for us to sit by in complacency. Don’t you want to do more for God? Don’t you want to be a world changer? If you do, you know what needs to be done: Love God. Love people. That’s what it’s all about.

Gabby Portalatin was born and raised in Brooklyn.   After 19 years of living a relatively self-centered Christian life, she traveled to Sao Paolo, Brazil to work with street children. It was that experience that put the call to be a missionary in her heart. That experience turned her world upside down, and since then she's been traveling to the darkest parts of the world to bring the hope of Christ to those who need it most.  As she waits for the day for God to call her to the missions field full-time, she works with the kids, youth and young adults at her church, while also teaching English as a means of sharing the gospel. You can follow her on twitter @gabby_tweets!