Good morning. It’s a delight to be with you this morning. If you would, open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 22; Matthew chapter 22. If you want to use one of our pew Bibles, if you don’t have one of your own, please feel free to do that. You can find this particular reading on page 828. David Strain, our Senior Minister, is on vacation this week so this is a good time to remember to be praying for him. He works awfully hard serving all of us, so pray that he gets some good rest and some good time with his family. At this time, before we read our passage, let’s take a moment and go to the Lord in prayer. Would you pray with me?
Father God, we come to You this morning knowing that preaching without the attention of Your Holy Spirit is fruitless, so we pray this morning that Your Spirit would come, that Jesus would be made much of, that we would learn some glorious truths from this portion of Your holy Gospel. We pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.
Matthew chapter 22, beginning in verse 34. Remember, this is the Word of God:
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
Amen. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.
My wife, Wendy, recently pointed me to an interview done several years ago with now the late American author, Pat Conroy. In this interview, he was telling the story of one of the times when one of his books had become a best-selling book. It had sold over 5 million copies and Hollywood came to him and said, “We’d like to make a movie out of your book.” Well, he was thrilled with that idea and was even more thrilled when they invited him to come be a part of the screenwriting on the project. So he went and he was working on the screenwriting for a while and he got called into the main office one day and he was told that he was being fired from the job. And when he inquired as to, “Well why is it that I’m being fired from this project of making my book into a movie?” shockingly he was told that it was because they had decided he didn’t understand the story well enough! How ironic, right? Here’s the author of the book being told he doesn’t understand the story well enough to be involved in the film project anymore.
I heard that and was reading that, and it made me think, I laughed and I scratched my head and I made some sort of flippant comment about Hollywood types and then it dawned on me that well, Pat Conroy’s story is actually my story. And I think that if you’re honest with yourself you might admit that it’s your story also. How often do we either implicitly or explicitly say to God that He doesn’t understand what’s happening in our life or that we really don’t want Him to be a part of our story going further on? I think that this passage before us this morning can help serve as a chance to help recalibrate our thinking on things both big and small. This is a passage that strikes at the fundamentals of our faith and life and it urges us to ask questions like, “What does proper love look like? Why should we love properly? How can we love properly?”
So to see what proper love looks like, let’s go to the text. Let me set the scene for us here. We’re in the third of a set of passages where the Jewish leaders are trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would either lead to His arrest or at least ruin His credibility with the large crowds that are following Him. He was questioned earlier about the subject of who owed taxes and He let everyone know that they should give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and give to God what was God’s. And therefore, He let everybody know that God is sovereign even over an unfair government, and that was still under God’s hand. He then was questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection and He declared that God is indeed the God of the living. In fact, we’re told that He answered that question so well that the Sadducees had vowed to quit trying to trap Him going forward.
So now the next question we see here is found in our text. It’s in verse 36 and it’s posed to Him from an expert in the Law. Do you see here, verse 36? “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Now on the surface, that doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, right? It’s somebody asking, “What’s most important?” we might think. But Jesus sees right through the question and right into the man’s heart and He sees what’s really being done here. This is most likely a common question that the religious leaders would ask each other from time to time. They’d ask someone, “Which part of the Law is better?” and every time someone tries to put one part of the Law in subjection to another, then the one answering falls for the trap of making less out of some part of God’s Law. It’s the age-old game to try to find God’s weakness, like asking about God if He can make a rock so big that He can’t move it. If you ask that question and you say, “Well yes,” then you show that God is weak, that He’s not good enough to move even a big rock. And if you say, “No,” then you say, “Well, God’s not a good enough Creator.” But in reality, God cannot and would not do anything to go against His nature, so He would never consider making something like a big rock that He can’t move for He’s always going to be true to Himself.
So to be sure, Jesus smells a rat here in this question. So He gives a two-part answer that not only shuts down the questioning from the attorney, but it’s quite helpful for us as we consider how we can love properly. Look at the answer found in verse 37 through 39. “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” So this morning, we want to look first at what it means to properly love God and then what it means to love our neighbor.
What it Means to Properly Love God
First, how do we properly love God? Well, Jesus gives us some insight here. To properly love God, it has to be done with full devotion. Do you see the three-fold use of the word, “all,” there? Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind. Now I can’t tell you how happy it makes a preacher when you find three points to help illustrate your first main point! So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to look at this morning, is how these three things – how to love God with all of our hearts, all of our soul, and all of our minds - teach us how we can love God.
Love God With All of Our Hearts
First, how do we love God with all of our hearts? Well to love God with all of our hearts we need to have a devotion to Him that is unlike anything else in our life. In the fourteenth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus says to us, “If we love Him, we will keep His commandments.” If we are people that want to love Jesus with all of our hearts, then we are people that need to love Jesus fully and always pursue holiness in all levels of our lives. There cannot be any area in our life that we do not want to surrender to the reign of King Jesus. If we want to mostly love God with our hearts, well then we fall short of what Jesus is teaching us here this morning. For the call is to love God with all of our hearts. We live in a world that tells us we need to live for us. We need to do what is best for us. Even the church gets infected with teaching that says, “Christians, it’s okay. You can do whatever you want to do because Jesus will forgive you. You can’t out-sin the grace of God.” Well, if you’re truly a believer, it’s true that you cannot out-sin the grace of God, but this type of teaching with a wink-wink approach to sin, is actually confusing our justification with our sanctification, for in sanctification we’re called to be holy people. If your attitude is one that you’re not concerned and broken by your sin, and furthermore, if you don’t have an attitude that wants to pursue holiness instead of sin, then I urge you to take a close inventory of your heart this morning.
Let Go of the Nut of Sin
Anything we love more than God is an idol. Anything we love more than God is an idol. When John Piper writes about this subject he calls it, “The struggle is as easy as dropping a nut.” He’s referring to the proverbial monkey who will reach into the bottom of a jar to grab hold of a nut that he sees inside a jar. And once he grabs the nut and he tries to pull his hand out, he can’t pull his hand out of the jar because now it’s made into a fist. And as long as he holds the nut, he cannot be free. The monkey has a choice. He can choose to hold the nut, or he can choose freedom. As long as he holds the nut, there’s just no way he can be free. And almost invariably, he will hold onto the nut. So why would he do that? Why does he keep himself captive? Why does he value the nut over freedom? Why does he value something short-term over something permanent? It makes us think that the question for us is, “Is there sin in your life today that you just don’t want to let go? Do you see how you can’t love God with all of your heart and hold on to your sin?” Believer in Jesus, I encourage you, let go of the nut of sin and run to the freedom that is only found in loving God with all your heart.
Love the Lord With All Your Soul
So love the Lord with all your heart and second we have love the Lord with all your soul. Well, how do we love the Lord with all of our soul? Well, certainly one way to do that is through our worship. You being here this morning certainly shows, on some level, that you desire to worship God. We should be people that want to worship God with all of our souls. The best way we can do this is by seeing God for who He truly is. Have you noticed in the Bible when someone has an encounter with God they just about all have the same reaction? When they realize that they’re in the presence of the holy God, they’re full of fear and awe and they have a desire to fall down and to worship.
Is that the way you think about God, or has worship become boring or stale for you? Do you look to blame your coldness to worship on things like hymn choices or the preacher’s style or the instrumentation that’s being used during the worship? You see, when we do that, then we’re putting the focus on our desires and taking the focus off of God Himself. Do you really prepare for worship with the expectation of coming in here and meeting face to face with the holy God, the Creator of the universe, the great I AM, the Savior of your sins? Or do you hurry out the door knowing that once again you’re probably going to be late to the service and you hope that by the end of the hour that you’ve gotten something out of it? When we come to worship, we are the ones coming to do the worship. We are the ones that are to be active. We are the ones offering up our souls in the worship of our great God. To be sure, the Lord responds and He often meets His people when they are worshiping, renewing them with His Holy Spirit. Jesus here encourages us to worship God with all of our souls. Do you give your all? Is worship truly a priority for you? Please don’t presume upon God that He should do a great work in your life as you passively engage in His worship. The Lord is great and He is worthy to be praised. Worship Him well!
Love God With all of Our Minds
So we are to love God with all of our hearts, love God with all of our souls, thirdly we are to love God with all of our minds. Let me give you a brief way that you can worship God with all of your mind. And this seems particularly fitting for this week. We, as God’s people, should be the most thankful people on earth. When we take time to think about the many blessings God bestows upon us, we can’t help but to be thankful. We love God well when we thank Him for His care and provision in our lives. We as Christians can always be thankful, no matter what we’re going through in this life. For we know that we have a Savior who is acquainted with our grief. But beyond knowing that we’re going through, He intercedes for us on our behalf to the heavenly Father. We know the Father listens for His Son has secured our salvation through His obedience to the Father on our behalf. Come this Thursday, I hope everyone of you will gather with friends and family and take time to thank the Lord for the blessings that He has shown you. But once a year, that’s not enough. A Christian who loves the Lord with all of their mind is one who will often dwell on the goodness of the Lord in their life. “Thanks be to the Lord for He is good.”
You Should Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
So the first thing Jesus said when He was answering the lawyer was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” And then He gave a two-part answer. And the second part is, “You should love your neighbor as yourself.” What a remarkable answer when you think about it. We know, in a similar passage to this in the book of Luke, that Jesus was pressed and was asked, “Well who is my neighbor?” and at that point, Jesus went on to give the parable of the good Samaritan. And the bottom line to that parable is that everyone is our neighbor. All people are our neighbors. Jesus wants us all to love everyone. You know, the world sometimes grabs this theme of love and twists it around some and they try to make this theme be expressed in such a way that if we really love everyone we’ll let them do whatever it is that they want to do, that that’s love. But that’s not the love that Jesus is talking about here, and that’s not even true love. He goes further than to just say, “Love everyone.” He says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the big catch in this command – to love your neighbor as yourself.
That famous theologian, former NFL wide receiver, Terrell Owens, which famously said one time, “I love me some me! I love me some me!” And you know, that makes us giggle no doubt, and maybe even roll our eyes, but the truth of it is, all of us “love me some me.” We protect, we care for, we feed, we clothe, we encourage, we delight in, we care for, we give attention to, and we hope the best for ourselves. Jesus knows our hearts are drawn to our best interests and He tells us we need to love others the way that we love ourselves. Not just those that we choose to want to love, not just those that look like us, not just those who think like us, not just those who worship like us, not just those who vote like us, not just those who hold the same values as us. No, He wants us to love everyone we come in contact with like we love ourselves. If we learned anything from the election a few weeks ago, we are reminded that we live in a country that is deeply divided, and sometimes in some very significant places. There are a lot of hurting people in this world, and I honestly believe that we the people at First Presbyterian Church Jackson can and should look for ways to be a healing balm to our neighbors. A healthy church is not looking inward, but looking outward in ways to love all of our neighbors.
We Can Love Our Neighbors by Teaching the Gospel
This is a radical teaching and it can be difficult. But Jesus wouldn’t give us a command if we have no way of doing it. So let’s think about a few ways that we can love our neighbors. First, we need to see what the greatest need of our neighbor is and we need to try to help them with that need. The first and greatest need is teaching the Gospel to others. Everyone in this room and everyone that we come in contact with has the same problem. We are all sinners. In the Gospel message, we learn that our sin separates us from a holy God. And if we’re not made right with God upon our death, we will be made eternally in hell, paying for our sins, a debt that can never be repaid. It’s only through faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ that we can be made new creations and reconciled to God. Faith that He paid the debt for our sins. Faith in Him alone and not of anything we have done to earn God’s favor. Also, repentance. A willingness to bow our knee to King Jesus and confess we are sinners in His sight and that apart from Him we are rebels willing to serve this world and chase its pleasures.
This passage brings together one of the great truths in all of Scripture, and that is that the great commandment and the great commission are forever linked. You can’t love God with all your heart and not tell your neighbors about Jesus. Nor can you really love your neighbors and serve them well without telling them about Jesus Christ. It’s been famously said, “You can give without loving but you cannot love without giving.” Do you love others as yourself? Do you love them enough to give them what they need most? And that’s the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Caring for the Needs of Others
Secondly, we can love others by caring for their needs. Each of us need to look around this community and the world and see how we can be involved in serving others. We need to look for where genuine needs are and see how we can help these needs, always keeping in mind that serving others is not complete without being most merciful. And that is, again, sharing the Gospel with the lost. We need to be people that are willing to serve others with our hands and our feet. It’s very easy for us sometimes just to stroke a check and give some money to a good cause and feel like we’ve done our part in serving. But when we take time to be involved in the lives of others, we, more often than not, will learn more about the other people and about ourselves and about God Himself. Jesus tells us He came “not to be served, but to serve.” If the King of the universe has this mindset that He wants to serve others, shouldn’t we too be willing to serve our neighbors?
The Way We Speak To and About One Another
Thirdly, we can demonstrate our love for our neighbor in the way we speak to and about one another. The way Jesus frames the second part of this answer means that we should never speak about others in the way that we would not want others speaking about us. We should never speak about others in a way that we would not want others speaking about us. Jesus’ teachings sometimes are hard, right? I mean they’re really hard sometimes. For we know that what comes out of our mouths is an outflow of what’s in our heart. If you’re struggling to say something positive about someone, that’s because in your heart you have sin, maybe even bitterness, towards that person. And the truth of the matter is, there’s no way for our hearts to hold the sin of bitterness towards somebody and also say that we are reconciled to God. Those things just can’t coexist in a heart.
The Love of Jesus
Jesus actually takes this idea about loving our neighbor as ourselves and He goes even a little bit further. Do you remember on the night that Jesus was betrayed He was meeting with the disciples in the Upper Room and He says to them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Now we’re called to not just love our neighbors are we love ourselves, we’re called to love everyone as Christ loves us. And He loves you so much that He gave His life to be a ransom for your sins. Friends, now He wants you to love in a way that is more sacrificial than we think we can handle at times. It’s a deep love for others that He calls us to, remembering that “love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast. Love is not arrogant or rude; love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful. Loves does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, love believes all things, love hopes all things, and love endures all things.” The question for us this morning is, “How are you with loving others?”
Finally, and ever so briefly, I want us to look at verse 40. You see it there? It says, “On these two commandments depend the Law and the Prophets.” Now at first blush, we might look at that and think that’s just some sort of tagline Jesus throws into kind of randomly shut down the conversation. But actually, I would say to you that this is the frame that holds the entire picture of Jesus’ argument here. Remember who Jesus is speaking to. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, the religious leaders, the ones who supposedly get it. He’s speaking to us, right? And His point is, as much as we might know about the Scriptures, as many years as we might say that we’ve been following God, no matter what type of leadership we might find ourselves to be in His church, if we don’t love the Lord our God with all of our heart and if we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves, we really don’t understand anything that the Bible is teaching. All the Law and the Prophets, all of God’s teachings, don’t make sense and nothing else in His Word can be followed if we don’t obey these verses. May we be people who love God and who love others. Will you pray with me?
Father God, we thank You for this look into Your Scriptures. The challenge is hard at times – loving You with everything we have when our hearts cry out to love ourselves; loving our neighbors are ourselves, Lord again, our hearts say, “No, we want what’s best only for us.” Lord, would You make us into men and women and boys and girls who want to love You and our neighbors above all else? We pray this in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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