The Great Commandment
A group of 4- to 8-year-olds was asked, “What does love mean?” Here are some of the answers given.
When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toe nails anymore, so my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too. That’s love.
When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.
Love is when you kiss all the time, then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.
Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.
I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones for herself.
Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.
Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.
Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.
Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.
Love. That is what we are going to be talking about today as we officially wrap up this year’s Vacation Bible School.
Actually, VBS ended this past Wednesday evening, which was the last night of the event. An event that began last Sunday morning with the theme that God is I AM. A name He gave Himself to indicate He is, among other things, all-powerful, that His power never has and never will change, and that He is present everywhere at the same time.
Then, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, the themes were Elijah, the baptism of Jesus, and the Gospel message.
VBS ended Wednesday evening, but today a related theme, so the VBS feel will continue for the rest of this morning. Today a very relevant question. Because God is I AM and because Old Testament heroes like Elijah showed the ability to follow God and because Jesus came and because He died as the sacrifice we need for salvation and after any and all people accept Him as the Savior He is, what then? What are we to do in response to all that? How are we to act - how are we to behave - as Christians?
The answer? We are to love. We are to love in two ways, which are told in Mark 12:28-34. Let’s consider that passage, plus another that describes how to put love into action, that by way of a parable told by Jesus. Ways other than painting toenails, sharing clothes, or having a puppy lick your face.
Love. Listen to what Jesus said about that. Again, Mark 12, beginning with verse 28.
Jesus was, beginning toward the end of Mark 11, being confronted by some Jewish religious leaders. Leaders who were against Him.
That first came from the chief priests and elders of the Jews.
It then came from some Pharisees, a very powerful Jewish sect. Interestingly, the Pharisees were joined by some Jews who were supportive of the Roman government. Those people and any Jewish leadership rarely worked together, but both were so against Jesus they were willing to make an exception.
Then another sect - the Sadducees - confronted Jesus. They tried to trick Him in an argument.
Neither the chief priests nor the elders, nor the Pharisees nor the pro-Rome Jews, nor the Sadducees were able to defeat Jesus in their arguments. None were able to trick Him into saying something that might have got Him in trouble. Jesus won every one of the confrontations.
It was then that a scribe - one of the group that kept track of all Jewish teachings - approached Jesus.
I will admit I have always thought the scribe’s purpose was to continue to confront Jesus. That the scribe might have thought Jesus might have been worn down enough that he might be able to succeed against Jesus. But now I think, after studying for this message, that maybe the scribe’s purpose was much more positive.
First of all, consider to the wording of verse 28. “And one of the scribes came up and heard Jesus and the others disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well,” the scribe asked Jesus a question he had. The scribe was impressed by Jesus.
Plus, there is this. Scribes were responsible for writing down - for scribing - all the Jewish laws, along with rules and regulations that were developed to explain all the laws. There is much evidence that scribes had a lot of writing to do. That is because many of the Jewish leaders kept developing more and more and more explanations.
But, I read, sometimes scribes took the narrower path, as in trying to summarize a whole set of laws and rules and regulations in just a statement or two.
That may have been the purpose of the scribe who approached Jesus in verse 28 of Mark 12. The scribe who asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Not the first in order, he might have explained, “but of all the commandments we know about and all their explanations, which is the main one? The most important one? The one we are to give most attention to? Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus answered, “The first is [which, I should mention, is a quote of Old Testament verses Deuteronomy 6:4-5], Hear, o Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall…” By the way, each night of Vacation Bible School there was a memory verse. In the spirit of VBS, this is the memory verse for today’s message, so please say it with me. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
That is the first - the main - the most important - commandment. So, what does it mean?
Well, for the Hebrew people, the heart was considered the seat of the will and the emotions of a person. So loving God with all your heart means you make the decision to love Him, which will cause you to love Him more than you love anything else. With emotions mixed in, you will enjoy making Him the #1 priority in your life.
For the Hebrews, the soul was the source of vitality. So loving God with all your soul means you love Him enthusiastically. With energy. With more than a passive approach. You look for ways to worship Him and serve Him.
Mind. That means your love for God is t0 be more than a passing thought. You are to think about Him all the time, including to the point that when you make decisions, you think to pray to make sure what you decide is OK with Him.
Speaking of Deuteronomy, from which this comes, and speaking of the mind, consider what comes a bit later in chapter 6. It has to do with what parents are to do with their children. Listen. “You shall teach God’s word diligently to your children, and shall talk of God’s word when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes [which will make sure you reminded of and think about God’s word]. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Think about God and His word. For us, that includes thinking about Jesus and the salvation He died to offer us. It includes thinking about the Holy Spirit who offers to be with us and in us to keep us living righteously. Think about all that. That is what it means to love God with all your mind.
Strength. You know, loving God with everything you are is not always easy, maybe especially this day and age when we have so many distractions all around us. It takes strength - strength of will, strength of concentration, strength of commitment - to stay with Him.
Say it with me again, please. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” That, Jesus said, is the first - the main - the most important - commandment of all.
He added, “The second is this [which is a quote from the last part of verse 18 of Leviticus 19], You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He concluded, “There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Remember the comment that the scribe’s purpose might have been good? His response proves that it was. He said to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher.” The scribe agreed that God is the only true God. The scribe also agreed that loving one's neighbor is the right thing to do . That it is better than “all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Listen to Jesus’ response to the scribe. “Seeing the scribe answered wisely, Jesus said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”
One more time, please say it with me. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Jesus added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Those are the two most important commandments. In fact, if those two are followed, all the rest of what God said - everything Jesus taught - will also be obeyed.
For an example of following those two commandments, let’s move over to Luke 10, beginning with verse 30. According to the context, this passage came immediately after Jesus’ discussion with the scribe. It came after a follow up question from the scribe. The question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied with a parable. He said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, then departed, leaving him half dead.
“Now by chance, a priest was going down that road. When he saw the injured man, he passed by on the other side.”
By the way, passing by seems to have been the logical thing to do, that being the case for at least two reasons.
First of all, maybe the man only appeared to be injured. Maybe he was a decoy who maybe had accomplices who maybe would have attacked the priest.
On the other hand, maybe the man who appeared to be injured was actually dead. Anyone who touched a dead body was considered ceremonially unclean for a time, which means if the priest touched the man and he was dead, he would not be able to do his priestly duties for a time. Those duties were important. The priest did not want to take a chance of having to step aside for a while.
The priest did not stop to help the man who was attacked. “So likewise a Levite [another kind of Jewish religious leader], when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” His reasons would have been the same as they had been for the priest.
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where the injured man was. When the Samaritan saw the man, he had compassion and went to the injured man and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. The Samaritan then set the man on his - on beast. The Samaritan took the man to an inn and took care of him.
“The next day, the Samaritan took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, instructing him to take care of the man. He added, ‘Whatever more you spend, keep track of it. I will repay you that amount when I come back.’”
Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The scribe said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” Jesus said to him - since this is in the Bible, He says to us, too - Go and do likewise.”
Say it with me, please. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
And love your neighbor as yourself. Those are the two key commandments given by God. Commandments we are to follow. Which is evident in this verse in John 14 which quotes Jesus saying, “If you love Me [if you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength], you will keep My commandments.” Including the commandment to treat others with compassion.
The point, putting the two commandments together, is that our love for God is to be put into effect by loving others.
That makes sense, does it not? Please listen to this that I came across in my study for today’s message.
First, we who are Christians have been shown a great deal of love. Love displayed in offering us salvation. Love displayed in forgiveness of our sins, which happened when we repented of them. Love displayed in being given the strength to live above sin.
The love we have been shown - the great amount of love we have been shown by God - is to be shown by us to others. That is the love we are to have for others.
Second, since we who are Christians have been forgiven so much, we are to avoid holding grudges against others.
And hey, some people have treated me mighty poorly over the years. Actually, not very often, for which I am very thankful But sometimes. However, none of that has ever come even close to the extent of anyone torturing me or killing me, which happened to Jesus.
If God can forgive, cannot I forgive? I better. That is one very important way to show love for others, which is a way to show love to God.
Third, Jesus accepts us and looks beyond our faults. I am not speaking of you so much as of myself, but the Lord is willing to look beyond my weaknesses and still use me.
So why would I judge people and cast them out? In fact, I should not do that. I hope I do not do that, but I should not. I should, instead, love others as I want to be loved. As I am loved by God.
Fourth, everyone who has ever come to Jesus has been poor and powerless, at least spiritually, that happening before they arrived to Him. Yet Jesus accepted us who are Christians.
To show our love for others - for our neighbors - and for God - may we be willing to help those who are right now struggling spiritually.
I know that can be difficult. I know it can be so easy to lose patience with people who do not see things spiritually like we do. In fact, think about this. The implication is that the man attacked on the road to Jericho was by himself at the time, even though everyone at that time of history knew how dangerous that road was. Everyone knew you better travel in a crowd so you did not become an easy target, the point being that the man had no one to blame but himself when he got into trouble.
It is so easy to say - what did mama say? - “You made your bed, lie in it.” In other words, I was not to go crying to her if I my suffering was my own fault.
It is so easy to get frustrated with those who are struggling spiritually. Or those who have no spirituality to begin with.
But let’s not ignore such people. Let’s instead help them. For us, that may come through confrontation or correction, which are in some cases necessary. Let’s help them. May we do that as proof we love God.
* * * * *
God is I AM.
As I AM, He had the power to embolden Old Testament heroes like Elijah.
As I AM in the form of Jesus, He had the dedication to take on a ministry during which He taught people the best ways of living. A ministry that began with Jesus’ baptism.
A ministry that ended with two wonderful things. His crucifixion, which was wonderful because it was the blood sacrifice needed to take care of our sins. And His resurrection, which proved not even death could stop Him.
How good it is to know that all who accept Jesus’ sacrifice - that all who accept Him as the Savior He is - are saved.
Which can be displayed - which needs to be displayed - by obeying the two main commandments.
Say the first one with me one more time, please. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Obey that one by - say this one with me as well, please - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
For today, let’s obey I AM by obeying His two most important commandments.
Today’s closing song is the hymn Help Us, O God, to Learn.
Help us, o God, to learn
The truths Thy word imparts;
To study that Thy laws may be
Inscribed upon our hearts.
Help us, o God, to live
The faith which we proclaim,
That all our thoughts and words and deeds
May glorify Thy name.
Help us, o God, to teach
The beauty of Thy ways,
That yearning souls may fine the Christ
And sing aloud His praise.
At the beginning of this message we considered some responses to the question asked of a group of 4- to 8-year-olds. The question, “What does love mean?”
Here is one more of the answers given. “You really shouldn't say I love you unless you mean it. But if you do mean it, you should say it a lot. Otherwise, people forget.”
In the context of today’s message, may we not only say the words, “I love you.” May we show love to others. Even if the best way to show it comes quietly.
There was, a while back, a contest to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. One day, upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard. He went onto the porch where the man was. He climbed into the man’s lap. And sat there.
When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy answered, “Nothing. I just helped him cry.”
May we, in whatever ways are appropriate - in whatever ways are needed - love our neighbors as ourselves. May we do that, not only to help others, but also as a way to follow the first commandment.
Yes, one more time, please say it with me. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Amen.