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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 30, 2018
We have spent the last two weeks looking at what Jesus called the “great and foremost commandment” which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and all your strength” (Mark 12:30). (See: The Greatest Commandments & Love for God) This morning we are coming to what Jesus calls in Matthew 22:39 the “second” commandment which is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said that this command is like the “great and foremost” commandment. Why? Not just because both mention love, but because both are brief and yet comprehensive summations of what is commanded throughout the rest of the Scriptures based on love for God and others.
The ability to keep this second of the two greatest commandments is based completely on keeping the first. The priority command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and if you will fulfill that command, then all the other commandments including this one of loving your neighbor as yourself will be fulfilled. Jesus stated in Matthew 22:40, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets.” All the other commands of Scriptures are only the specific expressions of these two.
The great and foremost commandment covers our vertical relationship with God, and the second covers our horizontal relationship with other people. The Decalogue, the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses in Exodus 20, can easily be divided into two sections corresponding to these. The first four commandments are related to loving God and the last six commandments are related to loving other people. But again, the priority is and must be on the great and foremost command to love the Lord God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength. If you love God in that way, then you will naturally fulfill all the commandments related to your relationship with God.
If you love God with all your heart, then you will have no desire or interest to have any other God. If you love God with all your soul, then you will find the making and worship of graven images to be repulsive. Idolatry becomes repugnant whether it is an openly displayed type of paganism or the idolatry of our modern society which is materialism and hedonism. What you pour your time, finances and energy into is what you worship. Modern man tends to pour his life into the acquisition and maintenance of what he possesses and pursuing pleasure. Or to put it another way, what do you think of first when you are asked to describe yourself? By what you own? By your work? By your hobbies? By what you do for fun? Or by your relationship with God? My first thought is that I am a Christian – a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you love God with all your mind, then you will certainly avoid seeking to either fill your mind with what is contrary to His character and nature in what your read, watch or listen to for entertainment. You will also direct your mind in the pursuit of truth and not allow it to be swayed by the lies and deceptions of what is false in news and educational pursuits. That means you will do a lot more work than others in order to pursue the truth because news reporting and academics (school / college / educational institutions including museums, magazines, journals, etc.) are filled with lies and distortion of truth. You will also refuse to confuse your mind or have it check out through use of alcohol and other drugs (with the exception of anaesthesia and analgesics for surgery and medical conditions). A mind focused on loving God desires to be aware so that love of God can be pursued which includes actively setting aside time to worship Him.
If you love God with all your strength, that is, to excess so that all your strength is used in pursuit of loving Him, then you will continually seek to magnify the name of the Lord, and so would never take His name in vain using it in any way with less respect than what He deserves.
One of the practical effects of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is seeking to obey all of His commands. We are specifically directed in several places in the Bible to give God praise and thanksgiving. When you love God this way that is a task undertaken with joy so that the sacrifice of praise seems as no sacrifice at all but a blessed privilege – which it is.
So again I point out that loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is the priority. If your vertical relationship with God is not right, then it will be impossible for your horizontal relationships with other people to be right. In fact, these are so closely tied together that the outward evidence of your love for God is your love for others. Turn to 1 John 4:7.
The Proof – 1 John 4:7-5:4
The Apostle John begins with the admonishment for us to love one another. 7 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” He then explains the love of God and that our love is only a response to His great love. 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 hat 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. 12 No one has beheld God at anytime; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 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 judgement; 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.
We examined this passage last week, and I stressed the point that your love is a response to this wonderful love that God has demonstrated for us in Jesus Christ though what He has done for us to bring us salvation from sin and reconciliation with the Father. There is a direct correlation between your level of understanding the character, nature and attributes of God along with the gospel of Jesus Christ and your ability to love. The greater your understanding of God and the gospel, the greater your love will be. If you lack in love, it is directly related to a lack in your understanding of who God is, what He has done, and who you are before Him.
But the major stress I want to make from of this passage this morning starts in the next verse. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. John continues this line of reasoning into chapter 5. 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe (do) His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
If you really love God, there is a very practical and visible proof of that love. You will also love other people that love God, and as John points out, to say that you love God and hate your brother only proves you are a liar. You don’t really love God regardless of how much you claim to do so. I used to have a man that would call me on a regular basis and claim that he only loved God and hated everyone else. I continually took him to this passage and told him he was a liar. If hatred for other people is a problem that you are facing in your life right now, you are not going to overcome it until you get your relationship with God right and begin to love Him properly. It will only be then that you will have a basis by which your hatred can be turned into love.
Loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is the priority, and as you love God in that manner, then you can also fulfill this second command to love your neighbor as yourself if for no other reason than God says to do so and you want to please Him.
As yourself. But what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Since the rise of the perverse self-esteem movement at the end of the 20th Century, we tragically find that psychology’s influence on the church has led some to turn this command from one that is other centered into one that is self-centered. Those who follow the philosophy of the self-esteem movement use this very verse to teach that you must love yourself first in order to love others. That idea is not what Jesus is talking about and its very basis is false and perverse.
Those who have the kind of self-esteem advocated by popular psychology do not love other people because they are too self-centered to notice them. The self-esteem movement promotes pride and selfishness, both of which are terrible sins. The apostle Paul states it point blank in Romans 12:3 that you are not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment. And if you apply sound judgment in what you think of yourself, then you will recognize your own true wretchedness before our holy God which brings humility and a seeking after God’s grace. The humble person will then extend that grace to those around him. The Apostle Paul referred to himself as a “wretched man” and the “chief of sinners,” yet few have loved their neighbors as much as he did. Why? Because the truth is that you do not have to even feel good about yourself, much less love yourself as a priority, in order to carry out this commandment of God which Jesus declares to be the second greatest one. You simply have to obey the first greatest command and love God. It was Paul’s great love for God that enabled him to love others even while recognizing his own wretchedness.
The command itself comes from Leviticus 19:17-18 and is set in the passage as a contrast to what people normally do. 17 “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” Why were they to love their neighbor instead of hate him? Because God, who gave them the command, is the Lord, and they were keep His statues.
The command to love your neighbor as yourself is based on the truth that no one hates himself. Granted, there are those that have become so perverted that they can be self destructive, but that comes from a twisted selfishness and not because they hate themselves. They think they can achieve something good by harming themselves. The cure for sin is not self punishment. The remedy for sin is confession and seeking God’s forgiveness through Christ.
Paul refers to a person’s natural love for himself in Ephesians 6 in his admonition for husbands to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” The directive here is that in the same way you care for yourself, you are to care for others. Jesus stated this principle in a different way in Matthew 7:12, “however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
It is not hard to see why this is a summation of all the laws concerning man’s relationships with other men. If you were as thoughtful, caring and giving to others as you are to yourself, if you treated other people the same way you want them to treat yourself, then you would naturally fulfill God’s commandments concerning how you should treat others.
How is it that you care for yourself? You pay close attention to your needs and desires. If you are hungry, you go get something to eat. If you are thirsty, you go get something to drink. If you are tired, you get some sleep. If you are dirty, you go get cleaned up. If you are cold, you put on more clothes or turn up the heat. If you are too hot, you take off your jacket, turn on a fan or the air conditioning. If want to laugh, you go do something you will find entertaining. If you want to study something, you create an environment in which you can give your full attention to your subject. I think you understand the point. The man that used to call me to say he loved God and hated others also said he hated himself too. I told him he was also lying about that, and the proof was simply asking what he had for breakfast or lunch. He never ate anything he did not either like or thought was good for him. He took care of himself because he loved himself.
Love Your Neighbor. Some of you may feel you are doing well in this area because you think yo are fulfilling the last six of the Ten commandments. You honor your parents and do not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against your neighbor or covet what your neighbor has. Now whether you are or not actually keeping those commandments is debatable since Jesus set a higher standard than just action. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus explains that calling someone names in anger would bring about the same punishment as murder, and 1 John 3:15 states that “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” Jesus also said in Matthew 5:28 that adultery is committed when you lust after someone who is not your spouse. Stealing is stealing whether it is robbing the bank or pilfering pens from work. False witness does not have to take place in the court room, for it happens every time you spread gossip. And covetousness is a matter of the heart directly related to a lack of contentment and greed. Covetousness is present whenever you are jealous that others have something that you do not.
But regardless of whether you are refraining from doing these evil things, loving your neighbor also involves doing good things. Love demands positive action. Things like giving respect and honor to others, honesty, graciousness, and being a blessing to the poor. All of these things are done with the care and thoughtfulness with which you care for yourself. You treat others the same way that you want them to treat you. You are to love your neighbor as yourself.
The implications of this are far reaching because the only way to fulfill the command is to become other centered, but that is against our self-centered natures. You do not have to purpose to do evil or be inconsiderate. Usually it is simply a matter of indifference, of not thinking about the other person. The human tendency is to see the world and the events around you in terms of how it affects you without much thought or consideration of how things affect other people. It is because we do not love others as ourselves that we often are impolite and even rude to those around us.
This is not the first time that Jesus has talked about this commandment. Jesus had a very revealing discussion in Luke 10 about it with a Scribe who did not like the implication it had for him, so in an effort to justify himself and reduce his responsibility, he asked Jesus the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then went on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan.
Most of you are familiar with the story, but in brief, a Jewish man is robbed and beaten as he traveled to Jericho. A priest walked by him and shortly after so did a Levite. Both were religious men that were supposed to love God and their neighbors, but they really did not, and their acts of righteousness were usually prompted by trying to impress others and convenience. There was no one around to impress, and it was not convenient to help this man who had been beaten so badly, so they walked around him as they passed by. Finally, a Samaritan came along. Samaritans were considered inferior by the Jews for they considered them half-breed Gentiles excluded from God. Yet this Samaritan not only stopped and helped the beaten man, but he also carried him to an inn and paid the innkeeper to continue to care for him. The Samaritan proved to be someone who loved his neighbor.
Who is your neighbor? It is not just those who live next to you. It is not just those with whom you share something in common such as ancestry, culture, interests, social interaction and such. Your neighbor is anyone with whom you come in contact. Jesus even added in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. So even our enemies are to be considered neighbors, and we are to love each of them in the same way we love ourselves. We are to treat them in the same manner we would want to be treated by them. We are to become less selfish and more other centered to give them consideration and thoughtfulness.
There is another aspect of this love for others that is often missed because we put so much stress on doing something for others.
Love Others More. It is tragic that so many Christians try to love their neighbors only out of a sense of duty and obligation. While there is certainly a duty and obligation to obey God’s command to love your neighbor as yourself, this love also should have the correct motivation. The particular word for love here, ajgaph / agape, is largely a word of choice and action, but also one of sacrifice for the best interest of the other person. Being other centered is not just duty and obligation. Refraining from evil against your neighbor and doing acts of righteousness for them is not enough. To fulfill what Jesus is saying here, your actions must be done for the best interest of the other person and done with a proper attitude. Paul explains this in Philippians 2:1-5
1 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” The passage then goes on to describe Jesus’ humility in becoming a man and dying on the cross on our behalf.
While the passage is specifically written to Christians as part of Paul’s plea for their unity, by tying it to the attitude of Jesus, it extends this far beyond just our dealing with other believers. Remember, God’s love for us is demonstrated in that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. Our attitude should reflect the same. There is a humility that should control our attitude so that we are regarding the other person as more important than ourselves and therefore looking out for their interests and not just our own.
The difference in attitude is illustrated in the story of an old Scotch lady who was a sincere Christian who had two daughters. She said of them, “I have two daughters who take turns coming in to clean my wee house. Jean comes, and leaves everything shining, but she makes me feel I’m an awful burden to her. But when Mary comes, no matter how dull the day, or how low in spirit I’m feeling, she makes everything so cheery, and makes me feel she loves to be with me. They are both Christian women, but aye there’s a great difference. Mary has what this poor-world sadly needs, the Christian with the loving heart.”
Do you see the difference? This is the model of love that Jesus left for us. He did not come from heaven and become a man and do all that He did out of required duty and obligation. He did it because He loved the Father and so loved us, and He loved us when we were still His enemies. Think through all the stories of Jesus’ acts of kindness. He was filled with compassion for people and gave consideration for their needs and feelings. His actions of love were always given with an attitude of love.
Jesus’ love was expressed in warm acts of compassion instead of cold acts of mercy. Perhaps this loving compassion was exhibited best when while hanging on the cross and dying for the sins of mankind, Jesus pleaded with God the Father to forgive the very ones that had put Him on that cross. That is a mindset that is not only other centered, but willingly and joyfully sacrifices himself for the benefit of others.
Jesus’ example sets a higher standard for Christians. The general command is for everyone to love their neighbors as themselves, but there is a different command for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and have entered into a personal relationship with God through that. Jesus gave a new commandment to true Christians in John 13:34 to “love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another.” The standard of love is no longer to be our own selfish interest in taking care of ourselves, but the completely selfless and sacrificial love of Christ.
One such story of that kind of sacrifice occurred in one of the journeys of Sir Ernest Shackleton who was exploring the Antarctic at the turn of the century. The book, The Incredible Journey of Sir Ernest Shackleton, details his shipwreck in the Antarctic and his extraordinary journey to a village on an island off of South America. Sir Shackleton describes one of his most terrible moments when lying one night in an emergency hut and wondering what would happen to them because he had handed out the last ration biscuit to each of his remaining crew members. He was lying slightly away from the crew when he sensed movement among the men and saw one of his men turning to see if everyone else was asleep. Confident that they were asleep, the man reached over the man next to him and took his biscuit bag. Shackleton said he would have trusted his life to that man – “was he now turning out to be a thief under the terribly tragic circumstances? Stealing a man’s last biscuit!” Then Shackleton noticed him continuing to move around and pick up his own bag and remove the biscuit out of his own bag and put it into his friends, then stealthily put the bag back at the man’s side. Shackleton went on and said, “I dare not tell you that man’s name. I felt that act was a secret between himself and God.”
What an example of love! A sacrificial act of love combined with compassion and done with complete humility. Such an example may seem beyond most of us, but it should not be. It all starts with loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It is from your relationship with God that you develop not only a deep, abiding gratitude for all that He has done and does do for you, but also a confident assurance of your own future in His hands. That in turn enables you to start seeing people as God sees them and be filled with His love and respond to them as He has to you. The challenge at first is to love others as yourself, but as the Holy Spirit continues to work in your heart, the desire develops to love your neighbors as Christ has loved you. That is a perfect love that is both slow – and quick
Slow to suspect – quick to trust,
Slow to condemn – quick to absolve
Slow to offend – quick to defend
Slow to expose – quick to shield
Slow to reprimand – quick to forbear
Slow to belittle – quick to appreciate
Slow to demand – quick to give
Slow to provoke – quick to calm
Slow to hinder – quick to help
Slow to resent – quick to forgive
Let us pray and strive that each of those should be the marks of our love for one another and for all that are around us.
The command to love your _____________as yourself is second only to the foremost command to love God
The ability to keep this second of the two greatest commandments is based completely on keeping the _____
To love God and your neighbor ____________the Ten Commandments – and all other laws too
Loving God with all your heart __________having any other god
Loving God with all your soul ___________any form of idolatry – including materialism and hedonism
Loving God with all your mind ___________you to pursue knowing Him & truth and expose lies & deceit
Loving God with all your strength ____________magnifying His name and not blaspheming it.
If your relationship with ______is not right, then you will not be able to have right relationships with others
The Proof – 1 John 4:7-5:4
Your love is a _____________to the love God first gave us – best seen in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ
1 John 4:20-5:4 – the practical result of loving God is loving your ____________
Hating other people is directly related to a _________of love for God
Loving Yourself as a Standard
The self-esteem movement has ___________this into a command to love yourself first – feeding selfishness
Thinking rightly about yourself (Romans 12:3) will promote _________as you recognize your wretchedness
Leviticus 19:17-18 – loving others is set in ____________to what people normally do
The command to love your neighbor as yourself is based on the truth that no one ____________ himself
Husbands are commanded to love their wives as their ________________(Eph. 6:28-29)
Matthew 7:12 – treat ____________the way you would like them to treat you
You care for yourself by paying __________________to recognize and meet your needs and desires
Love Your Neighbor
This requires you to fulfill the last six of the Ten Commandments in both action and ______________
This demands _____________action in doing good and not just avoiding evil
This command cannot be fulfilled unless you become __________________
The story of the Good Samaritan was given to _______________who is your neighbor
Your neighbor is _______with whom you come in contact – and we are to even love our enemies (Mt. 5:44)
Love Others More
This love demands correct actions and _______________since we are to have the same attitude as Jesus
Philippians 2:1-5 ________________________________________________________________________
Jesus model is loving action done with a loving ____________
His greatest loving compassion was asking the Father to ____________those who had put Him on the cross
Christians are command to love one another as ____________has loved us – John 13:34
Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength is what _______you to love your neighbor as yourself
True Love is Slow & Quick
Slow to suspect – quick to trust,
Slow to condemn – quick to __________
Slow to offend – quick to defend
Slow to expose – quick to shield
Slow to reprimand – quick to forbear
Slow to belittle – quick to appreciate
Slow to demand – quick to give
Slow to provoke – quick to calm
Slow to hinder – quick to help
Slow to resent – quick to _____________
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 others and how that can improve.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. How is the second great command like the first? How can all of the law and prophets depend on these two commands? How does loving God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength enable you to obey the first four of the Ten Commandments? What is the first thing you think of when asked to describe yourself? What does your answer reveal about what you think is important? How does loving your neighbor as yourself enable you to obey the last six of the Ten Commandments? Why is human love conditioned as a response to God’s love in 1 John 5:18? What is the relationship between knowing and understanding God and loving Him? Why is someone that claims to love God but hate other people a liar? What is wrong with the self-esteem’s advocation that you must love yourself before you can love others? How should people view themselves if they think rightly about themselves and God (Romans 12:3)? What is the relationship between “high self-esteem” and pride & selfishness? Why was the apostle Paul able to call himself a “wretched man” and “chief of sinners” and still able to love others? Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:17-18 – what is the context of that passage? Does anyone really hate himself? Explain? What about those who are self-destructive? In what ways do you care for your own body? How should that same care be extended to others? Explain the relationship between love and keeping the last six of the Ten Commandments? What teachings of Jesus show that obedience to those commands demands more than just refraining from sinful actions? Why is being other centered necessary to love your neighbor as yourself? How other centered are you? According to Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10, who is your neighbor? What should your attitude be toward others according to Philippians 2:1-4? What should be the motivation (vs. 5)? What is the standard Jesus set for loving others in John 13:34? How are you doing at meeting that standard? In what ways should your love for others be slow to act? In what ways should it be quick to act?
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