The Jesus Creed – Loving God and Loving Others
The theme for Caswell this week is about Love and Relationships. So, I thought this message should also be about love and relationships. We will be looking at a passage that I think says a lot about our relationship with God and with each other.
The Great Commandments (Mark 12:28-34)
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other 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 oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
It seems that many people in Jesus’ time who met Jesus wanted to put him to the test. You had Pharisees, lawyers (you know they are going to be a problem), and scribes.
A scribe was a “teacher of the law”. That means that he may have been a theological scholar, perhaps associated with the Pharisees.
In the book of Mark, scribes typically opposed Jesus, and were one of the groups of people that sought to kill Jesus. However, in our passage today, this scribe came up to Jesus to earnestly ask him a question. He doesn’t appear to be testing Jesus, like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the lawyers, or other scribes had done. What had happened was the scribe had listened to Jesus talking to some Sadducees, who were a group of Jews who did not believe in a resurrection. While they did not believe in a resurrection, this group had come to Jesus to ask him about it, perhaps to test him and find some fault in him. They asked him a hypothetical scenario saying…”Jesus, there was a woman who had seven husbands throughout her life, until she finally died. Tell us, which husband she will be married to after the resurrection.” Remember, they didn’t believe in a resurrection, but wanted to know how Jesus would respond to this question. So, Jesus basically told them that they didn’t know what they were talking about. He said they didn’t understand the Scriptures or the power of God, and then told them that in heaven, people will be like angels and will not marry.
Well, the scribe liked what he heard and was impressed. The passage says that the scribe believed Jesus “answered them well.” The scribe then asks Jesus this question, “Which of God’s commandments is most important of all?” Some translations of the Bible may say “which is the first” or “which is the foremost commandment of all”, but what the scribe is asking is this, “Of all of God’s commandments, which one is the most important?”
Think about this – the Bible is a big book. It is full of God’s desires, commandments and things we ought to know about. If you could know what the most important ones are, wouldn’t you want to know that? I would! I mean, do they make a Cliff’s Notes version of this book? Probably what motivated this question about the most important commandment was that the scribes in Jesus’ day had determined that there were 613 commandments in the Law and they believed the Jews were obligated to obey each and every one. One of their favorite exercises was discussing which of these divine commandments was the greatest.
So, Jesus replies to the scribe by summarizing all of God’s commandments into two phrases: “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.”
Did you notice that the scribe didn’t ask what are the most important commandments? He wanted to know which one was the most important commandment – the first, the foremost. He was looking for only one! However, Jesus apparently thought he should know both the most important one and the second most important one. The scribe got two for the price of one!
Jesus’ summary of God’s commandments is what Scot McKnight calls the Jesus Creed. But before we talk about the Jesus Creed, we probably ought to define this thing called love?
What is love?
I am sure we all have heard of love. We have probably all experienced love. Many of us have even been in love. But what is it? If I were to ask you to tell me what is this thing called love, what would you say?
- Is it an emotion, a feeling?
- Is it a word or phrase you say to someone?
- Is it an action, something you do?
- Perhaps, it is all of the above…or none of the above!
Love is not just some feeling you have for another person. You may know someone who just causes all sorts of feelings within you about that person. While love is emotional, it is not an emotion. Feelings change, but love endures. Just because I wake up one morning and I am angry at my wife because of something she said or did…or maybe it’s the other way around…that doesn’t change the fact that we love one another. I guarantee you, you have already done something this morning that God doesn’t like, perhaps you hurt his feelings…but he didn’t stop loving you!
Love is also not words…like those words of compassion you long to hear from that someone special. It is also not the three words you may want to hear from that person you like, who you hope will love you back. Nor is it like those letters children used to write in school asking one another “Do you love me, check yes or no.” I thought that there ought to be another option…it depends! Sadly, our love for one another often does depend on something, whereas true love is unconditional.
Love is also not just some act. It is not doing something for another. Me opening the door for someone does not mean I love that person, it just means I am courteous. People do all sorts of nice things for one another, but that doesn’t mean they love the other. While doing something can be an act of love, something that is a result of loving a person, it is not itself love.
1 Co 13:3 - If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
So, love is emotional, because emotions accompany it. Love also typically results in words of compassion. And to borrow a phrase from the contemporary Christian band DC Talk, love is also a verb. Love results in acts of love…but those acts don’t define what love is. Scot McKnight says, “Love, when working properly, is emotion and will, affection and action.”
Love is based on a decision, a choice. It is a commitment! Love defines the two most important commands of God…to love Him completely, and to love others as you love yourself. So, now that we have an idea of what love is, or maybe at least what it is not, let’s looks at Jesus’ response to the scribe.
Love God Completely
Jesus responds that the most important commandment is…
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
This statement would have been very familiar to the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, as I am sure it is familiar to many of you. Jesus is quoting Deut. 6:4-5.
This familiar phrase that the Jewish people of Jesus’ day would have known is called the Shema, from the Hebrew word that means “Hear.” The command began with the word “hear” and became the name of the confession. Pious Jews of Jesus’ day would have recited it twice every day, so it was very familiar to them. The phrase, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, is crucial because the obligation to love God is based on his oneness. The point to this statement is that there is only one God, and no one else. This stands in sharp contrast to the many gods worshipped by other cultures. Because he is one, our love for him must be undivided.
Because God is God and He is the only God, He deserves our love. No other thing should capture the love we should have for our Creator. But, what does it mean to love God with…
- All your heart
- All your soul
- All your mind
- All your strength (might)
These terms – “heart,” “soul,” “mind” and strength are just a way of saying “with your whole being”. It represents the idea of total devotion to God. These words were important to the Jews, and God wanted the Israelites to remember them.
Deut. 6:6-7 - 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
And we should remember it. God loved us when we were unlovable. Loving God is not obeying a list of commandments in hope of receiving eternal life. Don’t misunderstand me, we should obey God and I expect we all want to go to heaven. But our goal should be to have an honest, intimate relationship with the One who gave us life, who wants to know us, and who wants to spend eternity with us.
Do you see the difference? One is trying to gain favor, a gift or a blessing, something for our benefit. The other is concerned with loving God for who He is, not for what He can or will do for us.
John Piper once wrote a book titled “God is the Gospel.” God is the Good News; He is the reason for having any relationship with Him. It is not that He will bless you, not that you will receive eternal life or any other thing from Him. Loving God is born out of our recognizing that He is indeed worthy of our committed love, our total devotion to Him, because He is the one and only God. That should be our desire.
Someone once said,
“To love God wholeheartedly, we must be convinced that our only happiness is in him alone.”
Think back to our discussion of what love is. When we say we love, there is an object to that love. You may say, I know that. When I say I love someone, that person is the object of my love. Be sure of that…because you may confuse the person with how that person makes you feel. Meaning that what you may truly love is the affection or attention that you receive from someone. True love always has the person as the object of the love, not their feelings, not what they may receive from that person.
So do you love God? Maybe that seems like a silly question. Most of us would offer a resounding yes. But, what do you love about Him? How do you love him? Do you consistently choose Him over things, possessions, people, or activities? Do you long to be with Him? Do you allow His priorities to take precedence over yours? Do you think about Him regularly? Do you arrange your life around Him, or arrange Him around your life? Is He your most sacred treasure?
I think that’s the point of the most important commandment. Do you love God completely? Are you wholly devoted to him? What about the second commandment…love your neighbor as yourself?
Love your neighbor as yourself
When Jesus added this phrase to the Shema, he probably brought the crowd to silence. Remember, every Jew would have known the confession and recited it. But Jesus didn’t just make it up at that time. He was again quoting Scripture. The second most important commandment which Jesus told the scribe came from Lev 19:18.
Lev. 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
What did this mean?
In this verse the neighbor is defined as “one of your people,” meaning a fellow Israelite. Leviticus extends the love command to people who were not Israelites but who had come to live with them. It is possible that many first-century Jews did not extend their love of a neighbor any further than that.
But do you remember the lawyer in the Gospel according to Luke, who tried to test Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29) The question who is my neighbor was probably not the most appropriate one. A better question might have been, “How can I be a loving neighbor?”
Jesus answered the lawyer by citing the parable of the Good Samaritan who helped a wounded Jew, something that was likely strange to the lawyer. (Luke 10:29-37). According to Jesus, a neighbor is anyone who is in need. Jesus also told his disciples that a "neighbor" might even be someone who hates them, curses them, or mistreats them. Jesus told them they must love even their enemies (Luke 6:27-36). Therefore one of the most significant elements in the teaching of Jesus was to redefine the neighbor as everybody, including the hated Samaritans and Gentiles.
To love everybody is the second most important commandment.
Early church father, John Chrysostom had another name for the Jesus Creed. He called it the Summit of Virtue. He said,
“This is the summit of all virtue, the foundation of all God’s commandments: to the love of God is joined also love of neighbor. One who loves God does not neglect his brother, nor esteem money more than a limb of his own, but shows him great generosity...”
John’s point – to be a truly virtuous person requires you to love God and love your neighbor. This is a perfect summary of living the Christian life. You might consider it the super Cliff Notes of the Bible and teachings of Jesus.”
If we love God, we will experience His love within us and will express that love to others. That’s just the way it is. Jesus showed that it was impossible to really love God without loving other people. Our love for God is expressed by loving others…and when we love each other, it signifies our desire to seek the greatest good of the other person.
Did you notice how we are to love your neighbor? As yourself! The statement “as yourself” does not mean the self-love that some say is necessary for a healthy self-image. But it acknowledges that people do love themselves. Don’t you really care about yourself and try to seek the greatest good for yourself? I think most people do.
But, what if your neighbor is someone who is unlovable. Perhaps that mean girl or boy at school. Perhaps a bully who doesn’t like you. What about that person who just doesn’t fit in with the crowd. Are they your neighbors? Are you required to love them? I believe Jesus would definitely say, yes!
The command to love others is based on how God has loved us. Since believers have been the recipients of love, they must also love. Were we so different in God’s eye? Were we any more lovable to him than your worst enemy? The Bible says,
Romans 5:6, 8…while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God didn’t wait for us to get our act together. He knew we could not fix ourselves. Jesus was needed.
Recite John 3:16. Since God loved us in this way, shouldn’t we love others, too?
So, the greatest commandments are, love God completely and love others as you love yourself. When the lawyer in Matthew asked the same question, Jesus told him that upon these two commands hangs all the law and the prophets. That is a huge statement. Loving God and loving others fulfills God’s law. If we did that, perhaps we would not need to know all 613 commandments in the Law.
Earlier, I mentioned about relationships. We are created for relationships. The greatest commandments testify to that. Our purpose in life is…
- To love God completely,
- To love ourselves correctly,
- To love others as we love ourselves.
To our youth, I challenge you to dig into God’s Word. Get to know Him. Learn what it means to love Him completely, with all that you are. And learn to compassionately love each other, even those that may seem unlovable, for God loves you in that way. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Mk 11:27). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. (2000). Vol. 4: Analytical lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library (30). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
Brooks, J. A. (2001, c1991). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic e.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (197). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Brooks, J. A. (2001, c1991). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic e.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (197). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, “Love”, http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/.
Brooks, J. A. (2001, c1991). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic e.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (198). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.