(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
(If you would like to download the PowerPoint presentation for this sermon, Click Here – 176 The Greatest Commandments)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 16, 2018
This morning we come to one of the principal passages in all of Scripture. It is important because the answer Jesus gives to a question asked of Him by a lawyer plainly declares the central duty, responsibility, and privilege we have in life. To the degree that you or I fail to live up to what Jesus states in this passage is the degree to which we fail at life.
What is amazing in this passage is not that Jesus said what He did, for His teaching here comes from what is seen throughout the Scriptures, but that it comes out in yet another testing from the hypocritical religious leaders who have been challenging Jesus. It is Wednesday of Passover week and the antagonism between Jesus and these self-righteous men is reaching its pinnacle. They have been trying to discredit Jesus all morning, and now they try one more tactic with an insincere plot. Turn to Matthew 22:34. I will also be referencing the parallel passage in Mark 12:28-34.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. The encounter the Sadducees have had with Jesus has left them speechless. They came to Him smug in their ability to ridicule and put to shame the Pharisees. But when Jesus demonstrated so clearly that they neither knew the power of God nor understood the Scriptures, they were put to silence. There is a supernatural, spiritual dimension to life. Angels do exist. The human spirit also exists, and there will be a future resurrection after physical death to join it to a new body. God is powerful and He will radically change us when that happens. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Moses stated. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living as Jesus pointed out to them. (See: The Dead Still Live). The word in this verse translated “to silence” (fimovw / phimo ) is the same used to speak of “muzzling” an animal in which something is placed over the mouth to keep it from opening. Jesus’ answer had left them unable to speak further. Luke 20:40 specifically states that “they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything.” Jesus had silenced the Sadducees and they would not argue with Him publically again.
The Pharisees would have had mixed emotions when Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. There would have been a sense of joy in finally seeing them get a taste of their own medicine and be put to shame. It would have pleased them to see the Sadducees, who were so often their antagonists, rendered speechless, and especially in the fact that they had been corrected about the teachings of Moses which was an area the Sadducees proudly claimed to be authorities about.
Yet, at the same time, there must have also been a feeling of apprehension and frustration because their mutual enemy, Jesus, was made even stronger in the encounter instead of being discredited. The people were marveling at His teaching. So even though they would have been glad to see the Sadducees reproached, their joy would have been overcome by their disappointment that their even greater desire of seeing Jesus discredited was not fulfilled.
Now we find them in this verse meeting together once again to plot how they might bring Jesus to ruin. They had tried many direct assaults even accusing Jesus of doing His work by the power of the devil (Matt. 12). They had tried different angles through different groups including those they were antagonistic too such as the Herodians and the Sadducees. They had also tried to catch Him unaware through the use of flattery. What was left? Perhaps they could get Jesus by getting Him to address a hot topic with a more sincere question. The question would be a test, but there would be a sincere aspect to the question because of whom they got to ask it.
Matthew 22:35-36, And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?
This was a question that was constantly being debated among the Pharisees and to some degree even among the people. Over the years the rabbis had come up with the idea that there were 613 separate laws in the books of Moses. This did not come from counting each law, but from an unsupported method of exegesis that interpreted the Scriptures through the use of numerology and letterism. It was popular and considered extremely valuable to those who used it, but it was really foolishness. That same kind of foolishness continues to this day. It was numerology that got the late Harold Camping of Family Radio in trouble and led him into heretical teaching. He had a penchant for setting dates for Christ’s return resulting is a crisis or even a rejection of faith for many when it did not occur. He became proud and proclaimed that people should abandon their churches and just listen to his radio ministry. Tragically, he was not the first nor will he be the last to teach nonsense, aberration and even heresy based the same sort of errors in interpretation made by the ancient rabbis.
They calculated the number of commandments given by Moses to be 613 because there were 613 Hebrew letters in the Decalouge (the Ten Commandments). In addition, they separated these laws into 365 negative ones, i.e., “thou shalt not,” and 248 positive laws, i.e., “thou shall.” That is one prohibition, something you were not to do, for each day of the year, and one prescription, something you should do, for the number of parts they supposed were in the human body.
Beyond these laws being categorized into positive and negative categories, they were also divided them into being either heavy or light. The heavy ones were absolutely binding and must be done. The light ones were less binding and more discretionary.
There had never been any consensus as to which laws fit into which category resulting in much time spent debating various schemes of dividing and ranking the laws. The Pharisees undoubtedly thought Jesus would have His own scheme for arranging the laws, so perhaps they could get Him to enter into a debate about it. Even more, they hoped that since Jesus’ teachings were so contrary to their own and He claimed to be the Son of God, perhaps Jesus might not only expose what they considered to be His unorthodox views, but also might get Him to even directly contradict Moses. If that happened, they could accuse Him of heresy and turn the people against Him.
However, they still had the problem of who would go and talk with Jesus. If Jesus was on the defensive, He might not fall into their trap, and most of them were by then already known to Jesus. But there was a Pharisee in the Temple that might be perfect for the job for he was a lawyer. Matthew usually refers to lawyers as “scribes,” which is how Mark 12:28 describes this man. However, this particular man apparently also had a special ability and so was marked out from the rest. He was more than just a scribe. He was an expert in the law. Mark’s account gives evidence that this man has some sincere interest in what Jesus might say. He had heard the Sadducees arguing and recognized that Jesus has answered them well, so he wanted to ask Jesus this question and get His thoughts on the subject. The Pharisees would have considered him perfect to pose this question for there was a sincere nature to him and he was well qualified to debate Jesus.
We do not know how the Pharisees got this lawyer to participate or how much he really knew of their plan. We do know that Jesus does not rebuke him as He had done to His previous questioners. Mark’s account even records that this man understood Jesus’ answer and gave Him genuine praise for it, and that Jesus in response encouraged him telling him that he was “not far from the kingdom of God.” That is why I say that regardless of the insincerity of the plot made by the Pharisees, this man’s question is genuine. He does sincerely want to know Jesus’ answer to this often debated question.
He comes to Jesus and asks Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Or as it is phrased in Mark 12:28, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”
Jesus does not hesitate to answer and immediately goes to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6. Shema is Hebrew for “hear,” and comes from the first verse of the passage which Jesus quotes here according to Mark 12:29, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord .” Jesus then continues on with the next section but adds a phrase to it in Mark 12:30, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The Shema would be recited by faithful Jews as least twice a day. In addition, it, along with some other related verses such as Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Number 15:37-41, would be written down and put into little boxes. Such a box worn on either the head or arm is called a “Phylactery,” and orthodox Jews still wear them to this day. If the box is attached to the doorpost, it is called a Mezuzah, and most Jewish homes still put these up. Those practicing Judaism will kiss their fingers and then touch it when they enter their home.
Jesus in effect is telling them that the most important commandment that God gave Moses to pass on to His people was the one that they recited every day, attached to their doorpost, and wore on their arms or foreheads. The supreme command is to love God.
The Hebrew word for love in Deuteronomy 6:5 is bh4a2 / aheb and it is the equivalent of the Greek word ajgapavw / agapa . This is a love that is primarily an act of the will and mind in a determined care for the welfare of someone else. Emotion can be a part of it, but emotion does not guide it. Instead, it involves commitment to what is righteous, noble and true regardless of what feelings may or may not be present. It is in contrast with the physical, sensual ejroV / eros which dominated Greek society and in many way our own. That sort of “love” rises and falls with each passing mood. It is also in contrast with filevw / phile , the tender affection and emotion of friendship. Our love for God is to go far beyond the fickleness that infects our friendships. Our love for God is to be a purposeful, willful, commitment to do, behave, and even think in the ways that are pleasing to God.
To love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength is not to say that your love is to be broken into three or four categories, but rather to express the totality, the comprehensiveness, of that love for God. Notice that it 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. At the same time, a quick look at each of these aspects of love will help you to understand the depth your love is to have in each area of your nature.
The first aspect is to love God with all your heart (kardiva / kardia). We use the term heart to refer to the seat of the emotion, but the Hebrews used it to refer to the core of one’s being and seat of the will. It is as one writer put it, “the hub of the wheel of man’s existence, the mainspring of all his thoughts, words, and deeds.” Proverbs 4:23 puts it this way, “Watch over your heart with diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” To love the Lord with all your heart means that your life centers and revolves around Him. Your will is set on loving Him first and foremost.
The second aspect is to love God with all your soul. This is the closest to what we would call the seat of emotion. Again, emotion certainly is to be a part of your love for God, and there should be a passion on your part for God, however, your love for God is not to be controlled by your feelings. There are two errors that people commonly fall into concerning this aspect of our love for God.
The first error is allowing emotions to lead you. That is a greater danger for individuals who by temperament are more emotional and for certain cultures which by nature tend to greater emotional expression. It is also a greater danger for our Charismatic brothers and sisters since their theology gives more room for emotions to be what determines what they do or do not do and what they think or do not think. Emotions are the barn door that is left open wide that allows experience to determine truth rather than the Word of God. Yielding to emotions increases the opportunity for false doctrine to lead you astray from truth. It is often the reason professing Christians allow aberrant theology to creep into their belief system, and for worship practices to become strange, silly and even kooky.
The other error is the opposite and one of greater danger for churches with our heritage. There is a danger of stressing the intellect to the point that the emotional nature our love for God should have is shunned. There is an emotional side to our love for God and we should not be fearful to show it. There is a proper passion that we should have for our God, and especially when we gather together to worship Him. The worship of God should not be cold and sterile, for we are to love Him with all our soul, and that includes emotion. So sing the songs and hymns with feeling and don’t be afraid to express the depths of your soul. While your mind should control you, it is okay to allow your emotions to prod you to properly laugh or cry, say “Praise the Lord,” or shout “amen.” And “lifting up of holy hands to the Lord” is an ancient practice of God’s people in prayer and worship and not reserved for Charismatics.
Speaking of the mind, that is the third aspect of our love for God. You are to love Him with all your mind. This is a phrase that Jesus adds in expressing the totality of how we are to love God. In both Matthew 22:37 and Mark 12:30 the term for mind here (dianoiva / dianoia) is broad in its meaning and often used as a synonym for other words, but its main sense is “faculty of thought” or “ability to think,” “understanding” and hence, mind. It is loving God with all your mind that balances out your emotions and keeps them in proper check, for it is your mind that sets the direction that your soul fills with passion as your whole being in willful pursuit of loving God.
Sadly, this is an area in which too many professing Christians of today already fail and an area which is getting even weaker. People in general have developed more of an interest in being entertained than being intellectually stimulated. They prefer to be amused than to have to think. For example, most people would rather watch a movie or documentary drama than read a non-fiction book about something. Easy access to these things through computers and smart phones connected to the internet is making this much worse, and it has come into the church as well. Many churches are now more centered on being entertaining than on challenging the mind with the Word of God. Marketing research has become a greater influence on the programs of the church than Biblical theology. Churches are replacing the centrality of the study of the Word of God in their services with all sorts of other things under the guise of “improving their worship,” yet the reality is that all they are doing is improving the entertainment value of their supposed worship.
Now don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe there is much more to our worship than just the sermon, and some of the things done in these churches could be effective in improving our own worship. However, to the degree that what we do in worship is focused on how it makes us feel rather than how it moves us toward a better understanding of God and properly responding to Him and His commands, that is the degree to which that worship is defective and false. It becomes entertainment to please man rather than worship of God. Love for God is supplanted by love of self.
Loving God with all my mind is critical to all other aspects of my relationship with God for they are dependent upon it. It is what I understand about God that determines whether I am actually worshiping Him or a false characterization of Him or a figment of my own imagination. It is what I think about God Himself that is to set my will and direct my emotions.
Please understand that your emotions are always based on your perception of things, but your perceptions are usually skewed by self-interest, misguided by incomplete knowledge, and may even be based on things that are not even true at all. The results vary widely depending on the degree your perceptions diverge from truth, but the greater the departure from truth, the less there will be proper love for God. A wrong understanding of God can degenerate into soulless worship of cold liturgy and ritual or even into hating God instead of loving Him. Let me illustrate.
Life is turning out to be harder than you want it to be resulting in a range of feelings from confusion and turmoil to depression or even to anger. If your love for God is based on just emotion, then your love and worship of Him would quickly diminish because the feelings can generate a false belief that God is not fair with you and therefore not good. However, if your love for God is based on proper thinking about what God has revealed about Himself, then in loving God with all your mind you make diligent study of His character and His intervention into the lives of men. Your intellectual conclusion based on God’s Word is that He is not only good, but just and holy too. Your life is hard, but that is not because He is any way unfair. Instead, you properly understand hardship and tragedy in life is due to your own sin, the sin of others, and the general decline in all of creation because of sin. You also come to understand that God intervenes into your life in such powerful ways that He even makes what is not good, suffering for example, into something good in your life in developing perseverance, character and spiritual maturity in you. That is the point of passages such as Romans 5:1-11; 8:28-30 and James 1:2-4.
The final aspect is loving God with all your strength. The Greek word here, ijscuvoV / ischuos, has a root meaning that gives emphasis to the power implied in having ability. The idea here then would be doing all within your power to love God. This corresponds to “might” or “power” (daom5 / meod) in Deuteronomy 6:5 which is broad in meaning used to express both force and that which is exceeding. The concept here is having a love for God that exceeds all else which will take up all of your strength in pursuit of it.
The application question of this passage is how are you doing at keeping the greatest commandment of loving God in this manner? Do you love God exceedingly above all else? How much energy do you put into pursuing Him? Over the years I have met a lot of people that wanted to be in some church leadership capacity, but they proved themselves unqualified because they would not put relatively little time and energy into knowing God and serving Him. They did not love God with all their strength, only what was left over after pursuing their other interests – sports, hobbies, entertainment, socialization.
Do you love God with all your mind? Do you put in the necessary time and effort to read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible? That can be hard work and it takes diligence and strength of character to do it, but it is only way in which you will come to know and understand God, and without that, you are vulnerable to be led astray by your wrong perceptions and emotions.
Do you love God with all your soul? What is your level of passion for God in your life? What sense of emotional desire do you have to know and serve Him? When you love God, praise for Him just naturally wells up within you and bursts forth with joy. Is that a part of your normal life? When you love someone, there is deep sorrow and longing to get things write if you offend them. Is that true of your relationship with God when you sin? Do you love God with all your soul?
Do you love God with all your heart? I like doing pre-marital counseling because the future bride and groom are enamored with each other. They have set their wills on each another so that they think about each other constantly, long to be together and share their lives with each other. That is the way it should be with each of us with God. Our love for Him should set our wills upon Him so that He is the center focus of our lives. The most practical indication of that kind of love is your obedience to Him. Jesus stated this plainly in John 14:21, “He who has my commands and keeps them is the one that loves me.” Do you love God this way?
Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered that it was to love God with all of your being – heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus could have stopped there for He had answered the question, but He did not. He continued on to teach about the second greatest commandment as well.
“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
The second commandment is a corollary of the first. Both are other centered, and if you love God the way you are supposed to, then you will also love what He has created. The commandment comes from Leviticus 19:18 and the nature of this love for your neighbor is the same as true love for God. It is intentional, by choice, and active, and not just sentimental or emotional. It is measured by your love for yourself.
Heretics have twisted this into a proof-text for the necessity to have high self-esteem. It is another tragedy in the tale of popular psychology infiltrating the church and exchanging the wisdom of God for the foolishness of men. The Biblical word for high self-esteem is pride, and God is against it. Romans 12:3 states that we are “not to think more highly of [ourselves] than [we] ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement . . .” It is an axiomatic truth that everyone loves him or herself. Jesus uses this the same way that Paul does in Ephesians 5:28-29 where husbands are told to “love their own wives as their own bodies, He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.”
When a person is hungry, he feeds himself; when thirsty, he gets a drink; when tired, he lays down to rest; when sick, he seeks a way to get better. To love your neighbor as yourself is to care for them with the same intensity, with the same concern, with the same commitment, with the same effort, with the same actions as you do for yourself. The simple fact of the matter is that humans are naturally self-centered and they love themselves more than anything or anyone else. But as we learn to love God with all our being, we also learn to be other centered and start fulfilling this command to love others the same way we love ourselves. A true love for God will be expressed in loving people. 1 John 4:7-8 puts it this way, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
All the rest of the commandments in both the Law and the Prophets, all of the Old Testament, were dependent on these two commandments. Why? Because all the other commandments are only extensions of these two giving detail of how to fulfill them. Even the 10 commandments are only expansions of these two. If you love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, then you will not have any other God before Him, make any idol, worship anything else or take His name in vain. All those things are contrary to loving Him. Instead you will seek to exalt Him, praise Him and do what He wants you to do. If you love your neighbor as yourself you will not kill them, steal from them, commit adultery with them, bear false witness against them, covet what they have, and you will even honor your parents.
A Commendable Lawyer – Mark 12:32-34
Mark records the response of the lawyer. 32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is one, and there is no one else besides Him; 33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.
Those watching understood that they could not entrap Jesus and so no one would dare to publically question Him again in such an effort. But this man understood what Jesus said and not only commented that Jesus was correct, but that he also understood that to fulfill these two commandments was more that all burnt offerings and sacrifices. True worship and a right relationship with God was bound up in keeping these two laws. That is why Jesus told him that he was not far from the kingdom of God.
To truly live for Christ can only come as a response of being changed by God to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as yourself. Do you love God in this way? Do you love others in this manner? The starting point is coming to God in humility seeking His forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. We love because He first loved us proven in Jesus’ sacrificial death at Calvary as our substitute. It extends from there as that humility becomes part of your character and the Lord becomes the priority of your life so that you begin to count other people as more important than yourself. I pray that this text has been a challenge to each person who reads or hears it to love God and others in a deeper way than he or she has ever done before.
Jesus’ answer plainly declares the central duty, responsibility, and _____________ we have in life
The encounter the Sadducees have had with Jesus has ____________ them (fimovw / phimo – muzzled)
The Pharisees ____________emotions: Glad to see the Sadducees silenced, but sad Jesus is not discredited
The Pharisees are plotting once again how to bring Jesus to ________- this time by addressing a hot topic
This was an ___________ debated question among the Pharisees – and the people
Numerology asserted there were ________ commandments because there are 613 letters in the Decalouge
Interpretations according to numerology and letterism leads to aberrations and ____________
____prohibitions (the number of days in a year), & 248 prescriptions (the number of parts in a human body)
These laws were further divided into being _________(must be done) or light (less binding)
Lack of consensus resulted in endless ____________- one they thought could cause problems for Jesus
The man who goes is a Pharisee who is a scribe & a _______with a sincere interest in the question & answer
Jesus’ answer is to quote from the _________ (hear) from Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Faithful Jews would recite it twice a day, and it is what is ___________ Phylacteries and Mezuzahs
Jesus points them back to what Moses already told them – the supreme command is to ________ God
This love bh4a2 : aheb / ajgapavw : agapa is an act of the mind & ____for the best & holy interest of others
It is higher and beyond the _____________and emotion of the love in friendship (filevw / phile )
The description of this love here is one of ___________- it is with all of your being
Love God with all your heart (kardiva / kardia) – the seat of your being and ___________- Proverbs 4:23
Love God with all your soul includes your ___________
It is a dangerous error to let your emotions _______you for then feelings / experience control instead of truth
It is an error to let intellect _________emotion which crushes passion and leaves worship cold and sterile
Love God with all your mind (dianoiva / dianoia) – faculty of ___________, ability to think, understanding
_____________keeps emotion under control while setting the direction for the soul’s willful pursuit of God
People tend to have more interest in being ___________ that intellectually stimulated
Churches that focus on entertainment ____________ into worship that is defective and false
Emotions are based on _________, but those are skewed by self-interest & misguided by ignorance and lies
Love for God based on emotion can easily degenerate into __________ belief and even blasphemy
Love for God based on proper thinking searches for __________understanding of God and praise for Him
Love God with all your strength (ijscuvoV / ischuos & daom5 / meod) = power & ability, force & __________
A proper love of God ____________all else and will take up your strength to pursue it
Do you love God with all your strength, or only what is ________ over after everything else?
Do you love God with all your mind by pursuing knowledge and ________________of Him and His will?
Do you love God with all your soul with ___________driving you to know, serve and worship Him?
Do you love God with all your heart setting your will to __________Him?
If you love God, then you will love ___________ whom He has created
It is _______________to twist this command to advocate high self-esteem (which the Bible calls pride)
Love of self is an axiomatic _____demonstrated by nourishing and cherishing ourselves – Ephesians 4:28-29
Love of God bends self love toward ________- true love of God will be demonstrated in loving other people
A Commendable Lawyer – Mark 12:32-34
Those watching understood Jesus could not be entrapped, so no one dared publically __________Him again
This man understood Jesus’ answer and ___________- he was not far from the kingdom of God
True worship and a right relationship with God was bound up in _____________ these two laws
Human love for God begins by ________________ to God’s love for us proven in Jesus Christ
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 what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What does it mean in Matthew 22:35 that Jesus “put the Sadducees to silence,” and how did He do it? How do you think the Pharisees felt about this? Explain. Why does Matthew 22:35 specifically state that this scribe (Mark 12:28) is a lawyer? Why was he a good choice to ask Jesus the question? Was this man sincere in asking the question? Why or why not? Where did the Pharisees get the idea that there were 613 laws broken into 365 negative ones and 248 positive ones? How has the same wrong method of interpretation promoted aberrant and heretical belief in modern times? Why wasn’t there a consensus on the laws and which were high and which were low? Why did they think this would be a trap for Jesus to answer? What is the Shema? How is it used in Jewish religious life? What kind of love are we to have for God? What does it mean to love God with all your heart? What does it mean to love God with all your soul? How does that command direct our emotions? What does it mean to love God with all your mind? Why does Jesus add this phrase to His quote from Deuteronomy 6:5? To what does this refer? How is loving God with all your mind critical to all other aspects of your relationship with God? What does it mean to love God with all your strength? Explain both the Hebrew and Greek words translated as strength / might? Do you love God in these ways? How can you improve? What passage does Jesus quote as the second command? Why is it heretical to use this passage to promote the importance of self-esteem? What word does the Bible use to describe high self-esteem? How should a person view themselves? How can you demonstrate this kind of love for your neighbor in practical ways? Why did this lawyer understand that Jesus would commend him as being “not far from the kingdom of God”? Are you in the kingdom of God? If not, how close are you? How will you get in?
If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office