I had a fascinating and uplifting conversation with Gardner Sylvester this month about how we can better understand and appreciate the teachings of Jesus Christ. I was surprised to learn that the true secret teachings of Christ have been right in front of us all along, yet they have seldom been recognized. Gardner Sylvester is the author of The First Great Commandment, where he shares research into the ‘secret code of the Bible’ involving the true words of Jesus Christ.
I love how Gardner Sylvester’s fresh look at Christ’s wise words and timeless teachings serves to unite and uplift our spirits. Gardner’s message and book provide an extraordinarly timely and refreshingly invigorating catalyst for positive change at this time when so many of us hunger for an antidote to divisive, polarizing forces.
CYNTHIA: I love your book, ”The First Great Commandment.” The whole time I was reading it and for quite some time afterward, I felt myself uplifted with such strong feelings of Divine Love that I felt transformed by it. What inspired you to create a book that delivers such a profound sense of unconditional divine love?
GARDNER: For a long time, I’ve thought that Christianity had a greater and more beautiful message. I thought there was more there. The idea of saving one’s own guts with a spiritual fire escape didn’t seem very loving or Christian to me. It seemed to say: “I got mine. That’s what counts. Too bad about you.” It seemed like a selfish message.
When I was in grade school, I used to admire the members of our church who seemed very Christian and perfect to me. When I got older, they seemed to me more judgmental, self-righteous and holier-than-thou in the way they acted. They did not seem very kind or very Christian to me. I wanted a Christianity that was more loving.
When I was in college a professor once said, “As I see it, the message of Christianity is love.” When I looked about the room, some students were pulling back in their chairs and opening their mouths with a he-doesn’t-get-it-reaction. I could understand the reaction of these students, who did not know a loving God. I never forgot this professor’s words.
I kept thinking somebody needs to search the Bible for a more loving and more beautiful Christianity. I was sure it was there. I thought someone would do it. No one did. So, it became my project—a project from which I gained. I am now more joyful, feel more connected to the universe and my friends tell me I look younger.
CYNTHIA: That’s wonderful that you can see such direct evidence of the power of a more loving Christianity! While I didn’t attend church when I was growing up, I felt fortunate to attend some Lutheran church services and functions with my grandmother at her church, where I took for granted that her local congregation and pastor were focused primarily on the Bible passages talking about loving God and loving one another. I’ve since heard from a number of
people that they have had very different church experiences than this, where congregations of Christians were not doing or saying what Jesus Christ would likely have done or said to those who were feeling most down-on-their-luck, most different, and most outcast. It seems a rather sizable gap exists between those who feel righteous and presume they are saved, and those who feel excluded, ostracized, insulted, or left out. How do you feel your book
can help bridge this gap?
GARDNER: The conception of heaven, for most people, is a highly gated community in the sky. Yes, a gated community in the sky, with most people not allowed to enter because of their sins. These people then see the world as divided between “the good people” who will go to heaven and “the bad people.” who will not go to heaven.
Unfortunately, people from other countries—because of their culture, the poor—because they don’t have a job, and the homeless—because they have no resources, are most apt to be judged as “bad people.” They are often seen to be guilty of “sins” such as listening to non-Christian music, drinking to much, or not going to church.
Christ shows us a different way of thinking. In the gospel of John. Christ says, A new commandment I give unto you that ye love one another. Some people think that love is a weak and wimpy emotion. It is not. Love is most powerful, especially God’s love. It can change behavior. It can cause all of us to re-think our thoughts and become more loving.
This book tells us to follow Christ’s First Great Commandment which is to love the Lord thy God, follow Christ’s Second Great Commandment, which is to love thy neighbor as thyself, and also accept that God totally loves us. Then our behavior and way of thinking will powerfully and completely change as we come from love and love one another.
CYNTHIA: I felt that the words of Jesus Christ that you share capture the essence of the best of what the Bible offers. How did you decide which Biblical passages to include?
GARDNER: They are right there in front of us. They are in red print. These are the actual words of Christ. It couldn’t be simpler. Merriam-Webster defines Christian as, “one who believes in the teaching of Jesus Christ.” This definition is excellent. People have long been searching for the Bible’s “secret code.” The Bible’s “secret code” is the red print.
In my book The First Great Commandment, to more clearly show the difference in the words of the Old Testament—particularly the obsolete rules in Exodus and Leviticus—Old Testament words are shown in blue, while the beautiful words of Christ are shown in red. Other New Testament words—which agree with Christ, with one notable exception—are shown in green.
The big difference is, the rules of the Old Testament no longer apply.. Even the Old Testament itself agrees. Jeremiah, says… I will make a new covenant…Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers… I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts… I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Christ is very emphatic that we only follow his words. In the gospel of John: In chapter 1 he says… Follow me. In chapter 8 he says… If ye [follow] my word, then are ye my disciples… In chapter 14 he says… If ye love me keep my commandments. The key words here are me and my. He does not say to follow the words of The Old Testament.
CYNTHIA: This is a truly beautiful message. Yet, I can see how some people who had felt comfort in the ‘gated community’ idea of Heaven might have concerns that love–even God’s love–might not be enough to ensure people will be good and kind. I can see how some people might fear that without the Old Testament kind of rules, all kinds of chaos might break out. What assurance, if any, can be found in the words of Jesus Christ that society will function
just fine when staying focused on loving God and loving one another?
GARDNER: We need to realize how odious and out-of-date some of these rules are. Leviticus says… the children of the strangers…shall ye buy and they shall be your possession… Exodus even says a master is allow to kill his slave… for he is his money. Other obsolete rules in Leviticus say no to gay sex, no to eating pork or shellfish, and no to wearing mixed fabrics.
Try this experiment to show that God’s love really does work. Imagine God totally loves you Let yourself really feel it. Next try to imagine yourself doing something injurious or harmful to another person. You can’t do it. Of course, the two are incompatible. Accepting that God loves you, will totally change your behavior, You will feel you belong in a very marvelous way.
Some years ago, a neighbor boy of mine got in trouble with the law. His father said, “I guess he is on his own now.” His mother said, “Oh no! We will love him more and more!” His mother won on this. It’s hard to argue against love. This former neighbor boy is now a successful, upstanding and highly respected man. Love does work.
Love has the quality of magnifying the best in a person. It can greatly change ones attitude toward their life. What we are doing now doesn’t work. The United States has less than five percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. Prisons are expensive. Love is free!
CYNTHIA: I truly do feel the blessing of God’s love. And from reading your book and Jesus Christ’s words, I gain a sense that loving God and loving one another can transform the world to feel like Heaven on Earth. Would you say that is one of the ideas you wish to convey from your book?
GARDNER: Yes, and as part of loving one another we need to treat all people, including people from other countries and women, as equals. The New Testament in Galatians says, There is neither Jew nor Greek… there is neither male nor female: for ye all are one in Christ… This verse says we are all equal. The words ye are all one in Christ are very strong.
Unfortunately, many people of minority status, who are not treated equally think they don’t belong. They are treated like they are not equal. They are taught that they aren’t equal. Therefore, they feel they don’t belong. This problem is particularly acute for young people. Many people are then surprised when they act like they don’t belong.
We all belong. You are supposed to be here. God specifically created you. You are to be you. In Matthew, Christ says, Let your light so shine before men. Your light means your individual and special light. You might be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or in some other category. You are to be yourself. You are to, Let your light so shine…
The New Testament in 1 Corinthians says… as the lord hath called every one, so let him walk… We are all called. Living in accord with your calling can be a source of tremendous excitement, satisfaction and strength. This might involve climbing a mountain rafting in strong waters or otherwise making your dream come true. We are to live life to the fullest.
CYNTHIA: This idea that all people have been called, and that we are–each and every one of us–one in Christ feels intensely healing. Combined with the idea that God loves us, a wonderful sense of discovering deep satisfaction with being exactly who we are, as we are seems possible. Naturally, even when living within such Divine Grace we will encounter those who are not. Does Jesus Christ provide us with guidance when facing those who do not yet love everyone, nor yet acknowledge each and every one of us has been called, and is loved by God?
GARDNER: Yes he does. Christ pointed out three great sins . The first two of these sins tell us what not to do when facing those who do not yet live in God’s love. Because a sin is that which separates us from God, a sin for one person may not be a sin for another. However, there are three great sins, each one named by Christ, that apply to us all.
The first is: we are not to be self-righteous. This means we are not to act like our actions and opinions are right while the other person’s are wrong; and we are not to be moralistic and holier-than-thou. It will not work. We are to treat others as equals. In the gospel of John, Christ says …when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin and righteousness.
The second is: we are not to be judgmental. Some people like to judge others as being unworthy. The more they can make others wrong, the more virtuous and perfect they think they are. Again, it will not work. We are to treat others as equals. In Luke Christ says, Judge not and ye shall not be judged, condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.
A few years ago when I met a prison guard, I asked him how he got along with the prisoners. When he said, “Very well,” I asked him what was his secret. He said, “I always treat everyone with respect.” Wow! Beautiful words! We need to come from knowing that God truly loves us all, then treat others as equals and with respect. Even with prisoners, it does work.
CYNTHIA: These first two sins that Jesus Christ reveals of being self-righteous and judgmental remind me of the sin of pride, that is considered on almost every list to be the original and most serious sin, and one of the most difficult to recognize in oneself and root out. Thanks to Jesus Christ describing these facets of pride, hopefully we can be sufficiently vigilant to become less self-righteous and less judgmental. What is the third of the three great sins Christ mentions?
GARDNER: Yes, we are not here to be self-righteously proud. Some think this means we are to be somber and cheerless, and it is not Christian to enjoy this life. They then deny themselves what they might enjoy—in the belief that the more they deny themselves, the grander will be their place in heaven. They don’t go to dances, most music concerts, or movies.
Christ has a different view. In Matthew he says, Rejoice and be exceedingly glad… and …Be of good cheer… He wants us to enjoy this life, and our next life in heaven. We are to love one another and be joyful. This is part of why we are here. In the gospel of John, Christ says, … I have spoken to you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
The third great sin pointed out by Christ is non-forgiveness. Many people think they are being a better “Christian” when they withhold forgiveness. They think it means they have a higher standard They think if they easily forgive, it would show their morals are low. They think it would mean the accept “sins” as okay. They think they are causing better behavior.
They think they must hold this hate in their hearts for it to be effective. It makes no sense to think holding hate in your heart is Christian. We are to forgive. The Mayo Clinic says, “Forgiveness gives you a kind of peace that helps you go on with life. In Mark, Christ says …if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father… in heaven forgive your trespasses.
CYNTHIA: This is the point where I sense a true vastness in the words of Jesus Christ that if we’re not careful, we might mistakenly presume we ‘get it’ when we’re actually really far from the mark. And the kind of forgiveness Christ recommends sounds to me like it would result in our having more open minds and hearts. Clearly, this is what each of us hope others will do for us, yet something we might not remember to strive for in ourselves. And I can’t help smiling as I feel we are being prompted to return to more of a state of innocence, where our focus of attention is more on what and who we most truly love, and what is positive in our lives. Does Christ suggest a practice, tip, or technique that can help us stay on the right track, and avoid these great sins of being self-righteous, judgmental, and unforgiving?
GARDNER: Christ in the gospel of John says… I loved you and For the Father himself loveth you. We are to accept that he loves us. We are to be in love. Love is powerful. When you are in love with a special girl or guy, your eyes sparkle. You can’t keep from smiling. You feel new energy. The air smells sweeter. The grass is greener. The flowers smile at you.
The difference is romantic love can be temporary. That special girl or guy can leave you. All these marvelous feelings can then go away making you feel a great loss. In the gospel of John, Christ says … continue ye in my love. His love is continuous. His love is never ending. His love is forever. His love is unconditional. We are to accept that God truly loves us.
Living in God’s love, you will be totally in love with yourself and everything around you. You will be everything you always wanted to be. Your love will be overwhelming.. You will totally enjoy being you. Feeling his love, you will exude a radiance that will bring the love of others to you. You will be free of stress. You will feel energetic. You will look years younger.
You will not even think about how to avoid the sins of being self-righteous, judgmental or unforgiving. You will feel a love for all of creation. In John 3:16 Christ says, For God so loved the world… You will know life is about love. And you will… love the Lord thy God with all thy heart… thy soul, and… thy mind. This is the First Great Commandment.
CYNTHIA: Thank you! This is what I love so much about your book, is this message of love. For those who might still feel undeserving of God’s love, would you please remind us of some further reassurance that Christ and God really and truly do love you, no matter who you are, and no matter what events have occurred?
GARDNER: The Lord’s Prayer starts with, Our Father. This tells us we are his sons and daughters. The word Our, means everyone—no matter who you are, nor what events have occurred. In John 3:16, he says… whosoever believeth in him should… have eternal life. Whosoever includes everyone. We only need to accept his words that God loves us.
We also need to have faith. The New Testament in Hebrews defines faith as… the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. If we only consider physical evidence, what would be the use of faith? Christ says in Mark… Be not afraid, only believe. Faith you feel in your heart. In Matthew, Christ says… Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?
Here Christ relates lack of faith to being fearful. “God fearing” is an expression that many people favor. In Luke, Christ says… Fear not… Fear is not a good thing. Sustained fear can lead to eventual illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In the gospel of John, Christ says…. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
If you accept that God totally loves you, just as you are—you will no longer live in fear. Fear imprisons. Love liberates. Fear paralyzes. Love empowers. Fear disables. Love gives you strength. With love in your heart, you will live a life of fulfillment and great beauty. You will live your life with joy and love. doing what you were sent here to do.
CYNTHIA: This is such a profoundly important message. What else would you most like people to know and take to heart?
GARDNER: Along with learning and growing, we are here to give. In Matthew, Christ told a rich young man to… give to the poor. Some people are against giving to the poor. They think God does not approve of the poor. They think the poor are lazy, drink too much and don’t go to church. They think the poor are not their brothers. Christ does not agree.
In Luke, Christ says, Give and it shall be given unto you… We gain from giving. When we give, we feel better. Research back this up. A British Columbia experiment found that people who gave money to others were measurably happier than those who spent the money on themselves. We give for our own emotional well being. We are to give.
There is a larger issue here. It is, what is our main purpose in giving? The big answer is—we are here to make the world a better place. In the Lord’s prayer, Christ tells us to pray… Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray that God’s will, will cause the earth to be as it is in heaven. We are to help this happen. It is a great privilege.
We are here to make the world a better place—more like it is in heaven. This is our big mission. It is part of living an extraordinary life. We are not supposed to pollute the air, pollute the water and junk the earth. In the gospel of John, Christ says, That they may all be one… Yes, we are all to be one. We give because we are giving to ourselves.
Gardner Sylvester’s wonderful book, The First Great Commandment is available as a paperback and also as a Kindle ebook from Amazon. This book makes an excellent gift for almost anyone, and is especially wonderful for anyone who feels unloved, unworthy, left out, depressed, or stressed. At just slightly more than 70 pages, this slender volume fits easily into most any purse, briefcase, backpack or bag–and it’s written with the easy-to-read confident narrative voice of a wise, knowledgeable friend.