Author N.D. Wilson wrote,
Rule 1 for Mortals: Love the Lord your God (with every bit of you).
Rule 2 for Mortals: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Tip 1 for Mortals: Ask God to call your bluffs.
One bluff that we certainly need called is the pretense that we can love God “with every bit of us,” yet fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Lord Jesus taught that these two commands are the Law’s first and second great commandments, but that doesn’t mean that one is optional as long as we work on the other. No, they are always found together, like two lovely flowers growing from the same soil. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
This is why at Regents Academy we so emphasize students loving their neighbors. New families are often amazed at the culture of kindness and respect at our school, but that culture is no accident. God has blessed us as we have trained students to love their neighbors all day long. One of the most important ways we love our neighbor is by preferring our neighbor. “In honor give preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).
What does preferring others mean?
- First, to prefer others certainly means to get your eyes off yourself. Of course, this is easier said than done; we are born narcissists who need to be taught to look away from ourselves and our own wants and needs. The story is told that Robert E. Lee once advised a young mother about the instruction of her infant son by saying, simply, “Teach him he must deny himself.” We all need to hear that advice, each day.
- Second, to prefer others we need to understand that people around us have needs that we can help meet. That is the nature of community. Truly, no man is an island; we need one another’s help, strength, counsel, and rebuke – and God designed us this way. The challenge for children is teaching them to gain this mindset, to become aware of the needs of others intentionally, and to cultivate the wisdom to understand what others really need that they can help with.
- Finally, to prefer others you have to look for ways to serve others before yourself. It’s really the deceptively simple question, “How can I help someone else before my turn?” And this is a discipline that children can be trained to practice.
Preferring others can mean a thousand things in a thousand situations:
Letting a friend go first
Talking to or sitting with someone who is alone
Opening a circle to include someone who approaches
Refusing to save seats
Holding a door for a lady
Trying not to hurt someone’s feelings with words and jokes
Being courteous and observing proper etiquette
Choosing not to talk about something that is a sensitive subject
Rejecting cliques by being friends with everyone
Finding a weak or awkward person and being his friend
Serving someone when the opportunity arises
Saving the last bite for someone else
We could multiply examples – and they abound, if only we will look for them!
The real breeding ground for learning to prefer others is the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we come to know the grace of God in Christ and see how Christ Himself preferred us in love by living, dying, and rising again for us, then our hearts are transformed and enabled to prefer others in love. We prefer them not because they are worthy, but because Christ is worthy, and He has shown us the way. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). What wondrous love the Father has shown us, to call us His children. Now He calls us to imitate Him and share His love – by preferring one another.