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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 23, 2018
Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 12:29-30. The parallel passage is Matthew 22:37-38. I want to expand on the sermon from last week on The Greatest Commandments because what Jesus’ teaches here is far too important to rush through. If the goal of our study of the Life of Christ was simply to get through all four gospels, then what was said last week was sufficient. But that is not our goal. We study the Bible so that we might know what the Lord has revealed about His nature and attributes, what He has done, and how He want us to live. Our desire is to know our Creator so that we might walk with Him and serve Him with lives lived for His glory. For that reason we are going to be looking more in depth about what the Scriptures say about what it means to love God and how that is demonstrated in daily life.
I will begin with a quick review of the context of this passage and the most salient points from the sermon last week. (See: The Greatest Commandments) Recall that what Jesus teaches here arose from a question that came from a scribe that was a Pharisee who was an expert in the law. This man had a genuine interest in Jesus’ answer to this question that was often debated among Jewish people. At the same time, he was also being used as a pawn by the sect of the Pharisees who were desperately striving to find some way to discredit Jesus before the people so that they might be able to destroy Him. Jesus was still held in too high esteem by the people for them to do that yet. Their hope was that by involving Jesus in this hotly debated theological topic He would say something that would cause Him to lose the favor of at least a portion of the people.
The question was simple enough, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” What is the supreme charge, the foremost edict, the highest injunction? What is the most important law in the Mosaic code? This question was controversial because the Rabbis had divided the Law of Moses into 613 separate laws based on numerology, an erroneous method of interpretation. They figured that because there were 613 Hebrew letters in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, there must also be 613 total laws in the Mosaic code. They also figured there were 365 negative laws about what you should not do because there were that many days in a year, and there were 248 positive laws about what you should do because that is how many parts they thought were in the human body. These laws were further divided into heavy and light laws, that is, those that were binding and you must do and those that were somewhat optional. All of this was sheer foolishness, but it caused many debates about what was important and what was not. Sadly, such debates continue today.
Man desperately wants to be able to excuse his evil or diminish the wrongs he does into something that is “no big deal.” Sorry, but 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.” Sin in a moral context means to fail to live up to God’s perfect standards.
Sin is man’s great problem. These Jewish religious leaders wanted to reduce God’s laws down to their most simple, basic element, with the thought that if they could keep that, then it would be good enough. However, it is not for man to decide which of God’s laws are binding and which are not for God is both the lawgiver and the judge, not man. All of His laws are binding, and as James 2:10 points out, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” It is great that you avoid committing murder and adultery, but if you pilfer from work, lie or covet what others have, you are guilty before God, and as Ezekiel 18:4 states, “the soul who sins will die.”
Jesus’ answer to this question destroys the hope of the Pharisees for they again fail to discredit Him, and worse, they are condemned by it as is the rest of mankind. Jesus reduces the entire law into two simply stated commands upon which all the other laws are dependent, but it is impossible for man to keep even these.
Mark 12:28-31 states this scribe asked Jesus, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, o Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
These two commands are not optional. These are God’s clear and direct commands to all people everywhere for all time. Nothing in the Scriptures diminish either of these commands in the least, instead, they only magnify them by giving further explanation of what it means to love God and your neighbor. Today I am going to concentrate on just the command to love God, and next week I will preach on what it means to love your neighbor in this way.
What does it mean to love God in this way? While I think the concept is understandable, I also find that as clarity in understanding it increases, so does the awareness of the failure to keep it. Every person falls short in loving God properly, not only in the past, but in the present too, for our innate selfishness prevents it. This is an impossible command for a mere human to keep and fulfill.
This command does not break down of our love for God into three or four categories, but rather it seeks to express the totality, the comprehensiveness with which we should love God. The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. You are to love God with every part of your being, with every aspect of your nature, with everything that makes you what you are and nothing held back. This is not the fickle love of feelings of affection that come and go, but a love that is a purposeful, willful, commitment to do, behave, and even think in the ways that are pleasing to God.
Remember that to love God with all your heart refers to the core of your being and not your emotions. 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.
This aspect of the command is by itself enough to demonstrate the impossibility of keeping it by your own efforts. Man is too inherently selfish for that, so much so, that it perverts even basic gratitude for life and even our efforts to worship God. When you sit down for a meal, is you first thought to eat it because you are hungry, to thank the person who prepared it, or thank God who provided it? What occupies your mind when you gather for a church worship service? Are you thinking about yourself, what you like or dislike and what you want to do after the service, or are you doing the hard work of focusing on giving praise, honor and glory to your Creator while striving to understand Him better and what He desires in your life?
To love God with all your soul includes the idea of emotions for they are part of who we are. While emotions are not to control you, they should be part of the expression of your passion for God. That expression will vary a lot depending on individual personality and culture, but to love the Lord with all your soul includes the idea that there is nothing – no sports team, no politics, no hobby, no other person – that affects your emotions as strongly as the Lord.
To love the Lord with all your mind encompasses your ability to think and understanding. It is your mind that balances out your emotions as it sets the direction that your soul fills with passion as your whole being is in willful pursuit of loving 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. As Paul points out in Romans 12:2, you are transformed by the renewing of your mind as it becomes conformed to the word of God instead of the world.
To love God with all your strength is that your love for God is to exceed all else which will take up all of your strength in pursuit of it. This magnifies the overall point of the command that your love for God is to be all encompassing of all that you are and all that you do. It is rare to find the person that exhausts themselves in the quest to love God. It is the priority of life. Usually love for God is expressed in what is left over as everything else is given priority including personal hobbies, sports, entertainment and social media. As one person quipped, facebook will be proof that you did have time to study the Bible and pray.
Matthew 22:40 records that Jesus concluded this teaching saying, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Why? Because every other law is based on these two of loving God and loving your neighbor. If you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength then you will have no other God’s before Him, you will not make any idol or graven images to worship, you will not blaspheme the name of the Lord, and you will set aside a Sabbath day to rest and worship Him. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you will keep the rest of the Ten Commandments.
Do you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength? The honest person will have to confess, “no,” even if it is someone that wants to do so. God is holy and perfect and man cannot meet His standards by his own ability. As Isaiah 64:6 states it, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” How then are we to respond to commands that are impossible for us to keep? Do you reinterpret, modify or change your list of God’s laws so you can delude yourself about keeping them? That is the common solution of religions. Do you reject them as not applying to you because you reject belief in God? That is the secular solution. Do you live in despondency and depression overwhelmed by guilt as an abject failure? That solution leads to insanity. Or is there another solution which will remove the guilt so that you can stand clean before God and please Him with an ever increasing love for Him though you are still imperfect? That is the solution Jesus offers.
Origin of Love for God – 1 John 4
The solution Jesus offers begins with a proper understanding of the origin of love. Turn to 1 John 4:19 which states, “We love, because He first loved us.” It is a very simple but profound statement explaining that the origin of love for God and for other people is 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, for this love cannot be self-generated.
How is it that God first loved us? Drop back to 1 John 4:9, “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. 10 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” God’s love came to us first in Jesus Christ. We love Him and others as a response to that.
John continues on in verse 12 about salvation and this love. 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.” In other words, it is as we abide in God that our love becomes what it is supposed to be. The idea of abide is to dwell with or walk with. It describes a deep and intimate relationship. John continues in verses 13-19, 13“by this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His spirit. 14 And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God. 16 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. 17 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, 18 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. 19 We love, because He first loved us.” Notice that verse 17 emphasizes this point that it is through abiding in God that our love becomes perfected. Verses 13 and 15 point out that this love is empowered by having His Spirit and God abiding in us.
Now 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 you do not understand the depth of His love, you will be hindered in loving God properly. The better you understand His love, the greater will be our love for Him.
Non-Christians cannot love God because they do not know His love and do not have His Spirit. 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 either out of fear or in the hope that they will please Him and gain His favor to go to heaven. The nonchristian 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 understanding 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.
God’s Love Demonstrated
The first statement is that “God so loved the world.” Those affected by the self-esteem movement often take this to mean that God loves them because they are somehow valuable and deserve that love. That could not be farther from the truth. 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.” Think deeply on that. God demonstrated His love for us in that Christ died for us while we were sinners. There is nothing in us that prompts God to love us. He loves us because God is characterized by love.
Second, we find that “He gave His only begotten son.” That is Jesus Christ, an infinitely valuable gift given out of His love. Philippians 2:5-8 describes this stating that “Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” It is hard to comprehend the fact and meaning of Jesus becoming a man, a slave at that, and then dying on the cross for sinners.
Third, John 3:16 states that the reason for this was so that you, a sinner, “would not perish.” What does that mean? It refers to sinful man being under God’s just condemnation to perish and spend eternity in Hell. That is not pleasant, but it is true. While God is love, He is also holy and just and that requires that those that do not meet His standard of perfect righteousness must be excluded from His presence and must also pay the penalty of their transgressions. God prepared hell for the devil and his angels, but mankind gets included in the judgment because man does not obey his Creator. Man does not love God with all his heart, soul and mind or love his neighbor as himself. But because of God’s great love, He extends His rich mercy to the sinner with a means by which man may escape the penalty of Hell. God in Jesus Christ would be the substitute that would take man’s punishment upon Himself so that God’s justice would be satisfied and man could be forgiven of his sin. Man does not have to perish.
Let your mind contemplate the incomprehensible nature of that. Jesus 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 willing 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 upon Himself the sin of mankind, of having His Father turn His face from Him, and all out His own character of love extended to us so that we would not perish.
But what Jesus did went much beyond just providing escape from the eternal torment of hell. John 3:16 also adds that God in love gave His son so that those who believe in Him might “have everlasting life.” That is not talking about length of life for all human souls will have an eternal existence. It is referring to reconciliation to Him through Christ that we will have intimate relationship with Him. 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. Jesus claims about Himself and His promises are proven true by His resurrection from the dead.
All that is required of us to receive the blessings of this great love and mercy from God is to believe in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation from sin and Hell to righteousness and heaven comes by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. All works of righteousness in striving to earn it are excluded for two reasons. First, there are no works of righteousness that we can do that will meet God’s standards of perfection. Second, justification by God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus is to demonstrate the righteousness of God that He might be both the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26).
It is this love of God that enables us to love Him and others as He changes us by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. We are converted from sinners to saints in our standing before Him, and He transforms our lives so that we are slaves of righteousness instead of sin. We maintain a right relationship with Him through confession of sin (1 John 1:9) and His work in conforming us to the image of Christ. We love only because He first loved us. As your understanding of God’s love increases, so will your ability to love Him and become the extension of His love to others. What you cannot do on your own, He will do through you.
Demonstrations of Love for God – John 14:21-24
The command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is utterly impossible if you are left to yourself, and that failure will condemn you. But what is impossible to do on your own is very possible as a response to God’s love. It is by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you can be redeemed, forgiven of your sins, justified, adopted into His family and sanctified so that your life is marked by increasing righteousness. The Holy Spirit changes your life so that it becomes more and more like Christ in character.
What is the evidence of this love of God? Well, it is not public or private proclamations of it, emotional swooning, ecstatic singing, or ascetic depravation. There are plenty of people that do those things that do not even know Jesus Christ. The most practical evidence of love for God is the desire and commitment to keep His commandments. Jesus stated this plainly in John 14:21 & 23, 21“He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me . . .” 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.” Jesus then states the negative in verse 24, “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. If you refuse to obey Him, then you do not love God regardless of whatever claim you make and emotion you feel. That is the great tragedy about the women who have left their husbands and this church. Each of them will claim to love God, but the reality is that they are very self deceived by their own sin for their love is self-centered. They disobey God because they are deceived and blinded by Satan and their own sinful and selfish desires.
Please not that this type of obedience to God is not some grit your teeth and do it against your will. That would be obedience done out of fear. You obey because you must. But such fear is not to exist in those that love God because His love casts out such fear according to 1 John 4:18. Those that love God obey Him because they desire to do so. Their attitude changes to become like that expressed in Psalm 119. Love of God produces a love for His law that is joyful. What God commands become more desired than gold (vs. 127) and is sweeter than honey (vs. 103). You will know that you are developing a true love for God when Psalm 119 becomes something you want in your own life instead of wondering what kind of strange man wrote it.
You will know that you are developing a true love for God when you rejoice to know and keep His commands instead of feeling like you are missing out on something good. 1 John 5:3 states, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” Obedience to Christ is not something difficult if you love Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light and in Him you will find rest for your soul (Matthew 11:29-30).
Remember that Satan’s lie to Eve was that God’s command was too restrictive and she was missing out on something that was a delight to the eyes and flesh and desirable to make her wise. She discovered too late that even God’s prohibition was a blessing to her to protect her from what would harm her. Satan still uses that lie very effectively, and even Christians often fall for it. Claiming freedom in Christ or the ability to handle doing something questionable are common signs of someone about to fall for Satan’s deceptions. As your love for God increases, you are better able to resist his slander of God and enticements to you. An increasing love for God is a strong hedge against stumbling into sin because the desire for what is sinful diminishes and become repulsive. You are no longer interested in and even begin to detest entertainment that either glorifies or pokes humor at immorality including adultery, fornication, sexual innuendo, dishonesty, greed, revenge, murder, filthy language or blasphemy. What you listen to or watch begins to change. You don’t want to listen to the latest gossip or dirty jokes and friendships begin to change. You may even find that you change jobs or careers because what you did previously did not meet God’s standards of ethics. These changes are not forced. They happen because your desires change as you learn to love God.
Even things that are neutral such as hobbies, employment or where you live may change as your love for God changes your priorities in how you are living your life. Again, these are not forced changes, they come about because a love for God makes things related to knowing and serving Him more important than what you used to do.
Do you love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength? That is comprehensive and total encompassing your whole being. It demands that your love for God is greater than anything else – family, friends, career, fame, fortune, recreation and self. That is an impossible command, but it is a possible response to the love of God. And though you will never obey it perfectly in this life, it will become a greater characteristic of your life as you grow in your knowledge of God and set your will to serve Him as you walk with the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. All of that begins with salvation from sin by God’s grace through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You can assess how much you love God by how well you obey His commands and your desire to do so. Those are things that will continue to increase throughout life for those that truly love God.
If you find you do love God, then thank Him for His loving intervention in your life and enabling you to love Him. If you find you do not love Him as you desire, then set your will to grow in your knowledge of Him and His ways and your love for Him will be sure to grow. If you do not love Him, then be warned. You are under God’s just condemnation and you need to repent before it is too late. That begins by crying out to God for His mercy and seeking Him. He is faithful to hear and heed the pleading of the humble.
We study the ___________so that we might know God, what He has done, and how He wants us to live
A _________asks Jesus a genuine question, but he is also a pawn for the Pharisees seeking to destroy Jesus
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” A long running __________among the Jews
They divided the law according to the foolishness of numerology & what they thought was binding or not
Man wants to excuse or diminish the _____________of his sin – failure to live up to God’s perfect standards
1) _____God with all your heart, mind, soul & strength 2)Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-31)
All other laws are only applications of these ________ laws
____________person falls short of loving God properly because it is against our innate selfishness
The command expresses the _________, the comprehensiveness of loving God – it is all of your entire being
Love God with all your _______is the core of your being, the seat of your will, your life is to center on Him
Love God with all your ________includes passion and emotion
Love God with all your _____encompasses your ability to think and understand – it transforms us (Rom. 12)
Love God with all your ___________means it exceeds all else and will take up all your strength to pursue it
Love of God __________ false worship, idolatry, blasphemy and breaking the Sabbath
All honest people will confess that they do not keep this law even if they desire to do so. It is ____________
The ___________solution is to reinterpret, modify or change their list of God’s laws – deluding themselves
The __________ solution is to reject them while also denying God
The __________solution is living in despondency, depression and overwhelming guilt as an abject failure
Origin of Love for God – 1 John 4:9-19
“We love, because He first loved us.” If God had not loved us _________, we would not love
Non-Christians _________love God this way because they do not know His love and do not have His Spirit
A true love for God begins with understanding God’s love as demonstrated in the _________of Jesus Christ
John 3:16b – that He gave His only begotten Son – __________________
John 3:16d – should not perish – ____________ the just condemnation of their sin in eternal Hell
Jesus, God in human flesh, lived a sinless life then willingly became the _________sacrifice to redeem man
John 3:16e – but have everlasting life – _______________with God and eternal heaven with Him
John 3:16c – that whoever believes in Him – salvation is by God’s grace alone through ______alone in Christ
It is the love of God that __________us and enables us to love Him & others by the power of the Holy Spirit
Demonstrations of Love for God – John 14:21-24
What is impossible to do on your own is very possible as a ____________to God’s love
The most practical evidence of love for God is the desire and commitment to _________His commandments
If you really love God, you will obey Him. If you ____________to obey Him, then you do not love God
This is not obedience done out of __________because you must – for love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)
This is obedience born out of ________for God with the attitude toward God’s laws expressed in Psalm 119
Satan is a deceiver who slanders God and His laws as too ______________and entices to lust and sin
Love for God is a strong _________against sin for righteousness becomes more desirable than what is sinful
As your desires change, so does your ________in what you watch, listen to, friendships, hobbies, work, etc.
Love for God is to be comprehensive and total and ______________than love for anything else
Love for God is only possible as a ____________to His love, and that begins with faith in Jesus Christ
Your love for God can be assessed by your desire and commitment to ___________Him
If your love for God needs to improve, set your will to grow in your _____________of Him
If you do not love God, be warned, you need to _______, crying out for His mercy and humbly seeking Him
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “love” is used. 2) Discuss with your parents about how well you love God and how that can improve.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why did the Jews argue about what was the greatest commandment? How did they divide the Mosaic Law? How did they delude themselves into thinking they were keeping it? How do religious people today deal with God’s laws? How do secular people deal with God’s laws? Explain what it means to love God in each of these areas: all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength? Why don’t people love God in this manner? What is the origin of love? How has God demonstrated His love to the world? To you? Can a non-Christian love God? Why or why not? Examine John 3:16. Why does God love the world? What does it mean to perish and why does God want to prevent that? What is everlasting life? How does God giving His only begotten son prevent perishing and provide ever lasting life? What is necessary on your part to receive ever lasting life? Explain the gospel of Jesus Christ in your own words. How does the love of God enable people to love Him and others? Why aren’t things such as emotional swooning, ecstatic singing, ascetic depravation and self- proclamations evidence of true love for God? Why does Jesus say that those who love Him will keep His word? What must accompany obedience for it to be evidence of true love for God? How is Psalm 119 evidence of the writer’s love for God? How do you feel about God’s laws? How did Satan deceive Eve into sin? How does Satan use that same strategy against you? Do you love God? How does love for God protect you from sin? How does love for God change a person’s life? How has it changed your life? If it has not, why not?
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