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Faith Bible Church, NY
November 13, 1994
Our Love for God
This morning I want to expand on what I preached on two weeks ago, Our Love for God. I had intended to cover that whole passage Matthew 22:34-40 in one message, but the more I thought about the passage the more I became sensitive to the Holy Spirit and I realized that this subject is much too important to rush through. The goal of our study of Matthew is not to get through the book and then pat ourselves on the back for doing so, it is to know God better and learn how to live for Him. My preaching must not be to just get through the message, but to present to you the nature and attributes of God and challenge you to walk in His righteousness. And so this morning we are going to look again at this subject of Our Love for God.
Recall again that this passage is set in the midst of the great conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. They have come to challenge Jesus and find someway to discredit Him. They have been unsuccessful and in fact have been discredited themselves. At this point in time a Scribe has come, a man who has an unusual ability with the Law of Moses for Matthew calls him a “expert in the Law” because he is a lawyer. To what degree this man is being used by the Pharisees we are unsure, but we do know that he exhibits a sincere interest in the question that He asks Jesus for Jesus never rebukes him as He had rebuked all the others that had come in pretense to ask their questions.
The man’s question was designed to get Jesus involved in what had been an ongoing theological debate among the Pharisees and other religious leaders, yet the man who asked the question does want to know what Jesus really things. The question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” What is the supreme charge, the foremost edict, the highest injunction? What was the most important law in the Mosaic code?
I told you two weeks ago how the Rabbis had divided the Law of Moses into 613 separate laws based on numerology because there were 613 Hebrew letters in Ten Commandments. I also told you how they divided these into 356 negative ones (because that is how many days there are in a year) and 248 positive ones (because that is how many parts they thought there were to the human body). Such divisions are based on sheer foolishness, but then they also divided them into heavy and light laws being those that were binding and those you could break and get away with it. This was even more foolish, yet often we are no different than they.
Man cannot by any decree usurp the importance or efficacy of any of God’s laws. Neither they nor we can decide which of God’s laws are binding and which are not. It is the height of arrogance to decide for God what He thinks is important and what is not, what He is concerned about and He is not concerned about. All of God’s laws are binding and to fail in keeping any of them is sin. “Sin” means to “miss the mark” and was originally used in the context of shooting an arrow at a target. If you missed the target, you “sinned,” as it were. To sin in the moral context means to fail to live up to God’s perfect standard. Man cannot excuse sin, only God can because He is the one offended.
Sin is man’s great problem. What is he to do about it since he invariably knows that he has not lived up to God’s perfect standards. These Jewish religious leaders wanted to reduce God’s laws down to their most simple, basic element. Their thought was that if they could keep that, then it would be good enough. But as we will see, it is impossible to keep even the most basic of God’s commandments, which Jesus tells us about in verse 37.
AN IMPOSSIBLE COMMAND
What is the great commandment? Jesus says, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Man cannot on his own even begin to love God in the most basic sense much less love Him the way that God commands here.
The first thing to note is that this is not an option. This is God’s clear and direct command to all people everywhere for all time. You will not find anything in the Scriptures that diminishes this command in the least, instead, only statements that magnify it by giving further explanation of what it means to love God in this way.
What does it mean to love God in this way? Two weeks ago I tried to present to you a sense of what is being commanded here, but how can one adequately explain something that is beyond human capability? I received many comments about that sermon, all of them indicated to me that you understand that each of us falls short in loving God properly. Our innate selfishness prevents it.
Notice again that this command is not so much a breaking down of our love for God into three or four categories, but seeks to express the totality, the comprehensiveness with which we should love God. Notice again that it is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind. Nothing is held back. We are to love God with every part of our being, with every aspect of our nature, with everything that makes us what we are as humans.
To love God with all our heart is not a reference to our emotions, but to the core of your being. The Hebrews used “heart” to refer, as one writer put it, “the hub of the wheel of man’s existence, the mainspring of all his thoughts, words, and deeds.” To love the Lord with all your heart means that your life centers and revolves around Him. He is at the forefront of all that you think and do.
This aspect of the command is by itself enough to demonstrate the impossibility of our keeping it by our own efforts. Man is by nature sinfully centered on himself, not God. Man is inherently selfish. You and I see everything first and foremost in how it affects us, not how it affects others and certainly not how it affects God. When we sit down for a meal our first thoughts are on how it looks, smells and tastes and whether it pleases us or not. If we were other centered, our first thought would be about how nice the person is who prepared the meal. If we were truly God centered and loved Him with all our heart, then our first thought would be one of gratitude for His providing for our needs.
Even in our attempts at the worship of God we find ourselves battling our self-centered natures. We gather together and critique all that occurs within the service. Were the announcements relevant to me? Did I like the hymns that were sung? Was the special music according to my taste? Did the preacher speak clearly, present the message well and finish on time? How did I feel about the service when it was over? If we really loved God with all our hearts, our concerns would be different. The announcements would be seen as “What opportunities are being presenting to us to serve God.” The hymns would be sung to God as expressions of your own thoughts and beliefs. They would be a means of your own praise and commitment to Him. Special music would be a cause of reflection on God and your own relationship with Him. You would not be passive during the sermon, but would actively enter into it by using it as a means to understand God and His commands better as well as being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, guiding and conviction. Worship would no longer be judged on how you felt about what everyone else did, but on whether you praised the Lord yourself.
To love God with all your soul is closer to the idea of loving God with our emotions. As I pointed out before, the two great errors made here are either allowing your emotions to take over and control you, or repressing them. We are to have a passion for God that freely, but properly expresses itself in keeping with your own personality. Some people are very free with their emotions and some are reserved, but all of us have them. The command here is that you are to love God with all of them.
I have always found it curious that some people can be very enthusiastic and emotional when it comes to their favorite sports team, or their politics or their favorite hobby, yet they display very little of that emotion when it comes to the Lord. I believe that is evidence of a problem. We get emotional about those things that are very important to us, things that are dear to us. To love the Lord with all your soul means that there is nothing, no sports team, no politics, no hobby, and no other person that effects your emotions as strongly as the Lord.
To love the Lord with all your mind includes not only intellectual life but a sense of willful vigor and determination too. It is mental endeavor and strength. It is loving God with all our mind that balances out our emotions and keeps them in proper check, because it’s our mind that sets the direction that our souls fill with passion as our whole being pursues after God.
To love God with all your mind requires Him to be the focal point of not only your quest to understand the world around you, which He has made, but also the central point in all your thought life. Let me expand on both of those points.
In our day the quest for knowledge is best seen in our “scientists.” Whatever field of science they are in, theirs is a quest to know and understand the world around them. Many modern scientists are openly atheistic while many more are practically atheistic. They do not even acknowledge God in the course of their endeavors to know and understand.
However, the great scientists of the past who laid down the foundations upon which modern science is built were not like that. They, as one of them put it, pursued their field of study in order to “think God’s thoughts after Him.” In other words, true and good science, is not so much about trying to gain an understanding of the world we live in, but seeking to understand the world God has made. There is a difference between the two. The first leads the scientist into great arrogance and pride, the latter into the worship of the Creator. To love God with all our minds is to pursue the path of the great scientists of the past. The desire is, regardless of what is being studied, to gain a greater understanding of God, what He has done, and what He can and will do. This of course begins with becoming a diligent student of God’s special revelation to us: the Bible, but it continues into every other field of study.
Loving God with all our minds also means that He is at the center of all our thoughts. By this I mean that our quest is to always understand everything from His perspective rather than our own. This is what Paul means when he talks about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” in Romans 12. It is the radical transformation that takes place in our lives as we move from viewing everything around us from our own little perspective to gaining God’s eternal perspective. It’s loving God with all their mind that moves a true Christian to be able to rejoice in the midst of hardships and trials because those things are no longer seen from the perspective of personal turmoil but from God’s eternal perspective of grace, longsuffering, maturation and glorification. In other words, I no longer complain about my personal discomfort, but praise God for all that He is doing through me and to me in the midst of that personal discomfort.
Again, we find this is an impossible command to keep if we were left to ourselves. It is utterly impossible for us to generate within ourselves a love for God that would encompass all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. Still need evidence? Obedience to God is the evidence of loving Him and we do not obey God. Jesus put this very plainly in John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” If you really love God, you will obey Him. This is why this commandment is the great and foremost command and the foundation to every other law given by God.
So where does this leave us? God has given us a command to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, and it is impossible for us to do it. Are we condemned then to judgement? Are we stuck with despair? Should we give up before we even start? No. We cannot generate this love ourselves, but it can be generated in us as we respond to God’s love for us. It is an impossible command, but a very possible response.
A POSSIBLE RESPONSE
Turn to 1 John 4. We are going to look at this chapter again next week, but for this week I want to make a couple of points from this passage. First, look at verse 19. It simply says, We love, because He first loved us. It is a very simple statement, but very profound because it clearly demonstrates that our love for God and for other
people does not and cannot start within ourselves but must be generated as a response to what God has done first, We love, because He first loved us. If He had not first loved us, we would not love.
How is it that God first loved us? Look at verse 9, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” God’s love came to us first in Jesus Christ. Our love for Him and for others can only come as a response to that.
John goes on about salvation and our love being a response to that. Verse 12, No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. It is as we abide in God that our love becomes perfected. Verse 13, by this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of god, God abides in him and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as he is, so also are we in this world, There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts our fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. Again in verse 17 we see that it is through abiding in God that our love becomes perfected.
If our love for God comes as a response to His love for us, then it follows that in practical terms our love for God is going to be directly related to our understanding of God and His love for us. In other words, God may love us, and He does, but to the degree that we do not understand the depth of His love we will be hindered in loving God properly.
Non-Christians cannot love God because they do not know His love. They may be obedient to certain of God’s commands out of fear. They may even pursue what they hope is a good life before God out of fear or in the hope that they will please Him. The nonbelieiver may even say that they think God loves them based on God’s goodness to all mankind, but until they come to grips with Jesus Christ they cannot begin to approach loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind.
A true love for God begins with coming to grips with God’s love as demonstrated in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is put very succinctly in John 3:16, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Our love for God grows and deepens as we understand all that this verse means.
The first statement is that God so loved the world. Many have perverted the meaning of that and believe that God loves them because they are somehow valuable and deserve that love. I like what C.S. Lewis said about this: “The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself [apart from] relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love.” Drink deeply of that. God loves us not because of anything in us, but because He is love.
Second, we find that God gave an infinitely valuable gift out of His love. That gift was Jesus Christ who God Himself humbling Himself and becoming a man. As Phil. 2 puts, not just a man, but a lowly man, a slave. Let your mind walk through the grandeur of the thought that God would become a man, and a lowly one at that.
Third, we find that the reason for all this is so that those who would believe in Him would not perish. You see, because man is sinful and does not live up to God’s standards of righteousness, he is under God’s just condemnation to perish and spend eternity in hell. That is not pleasant, but it is true. God prepared hell for the devil and his angels, but mankind gets included in the judgment because man will not love God with all his heart, soul, and mind or love his neighbor as himself. But God’s love does not want man to go to hell, so God prepared a way for man to escape it. God in Jesus Christ would take man’s punishment Himself so that God’s justice would be satisfied and man could be forgiven of his sin.
Let your mind try to grasp the incomprehensible nature of that: God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). He left the glory of heaven to become a man. He lived as a poor and humble man. He lived a perfect life, a life without sin and full of righteousness. He then suffered on our behalf. He endured the mock trials of the religious leaders. He endured the slander and false accusations made against Him. He withstood the personal insults and physical suffering of the crown of thorns and scourging with the whips. He labored to carry His own cross and when His physical body failed another completed the job. He tolerated the driving of the spikes through His hands and feet, the tearing of His flesh as the cross fell into its place. He willingly went through the torment of being suffocated by the weight of His own body as He hung on the cross. And then He bore the unspeakable pain of taking our sin upon Himself, of having His Father turn His face from Him, all out of love for us so that we would not perish.
And then, God’s love went on to reestablish an intimate relationship with us. He did not just provide us with an escape from hell, but with everlasting life. We know from John 14:1-3 that even now Jesus is preparing a place for us that love Him that we may be with Him throughout eternity.
Do you love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind? Have you begun to understand the depth of God’s love for you? You cannot conjure up love for God, but it can come as a response to His love.
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