2009-06-28 (pm) Matt. 22.34-40 LD 34 Raising the Bar
Love. Love makes the world go round. All you need is love.
There’s an element of truth in these lyrics, isn’t there? And yet, if love doesn’t have the proper object, then love is really quite evil.
For example, a psychotic individual may have inappropriate love toward minors.
Love is not mere sentimentality, nor is it mere emotion. Love isn’t the butterflies in your stomach, the feelings you experience when you see an attractive person.
No, love has rules. Love has a proper object. Love is acted out. Love is given and it is received. And the Heidelberg Catechism’s gratitude section teaches us who is our object of love, and how we are to love.
We love because God first loved us; he most powerfully displayed his love by sending his Son to die in our place. And, so, we’re learning what an appropriate response to that love, to that forgiveness, to that new life we’ve received is.
And the astounding thing is something so simple and yet so profound. We have here a summary of the Old Testament, the core values, if you will, the Ten Commandments, or the ten words, as the Israelites referred to them.
Love is the motivation behind keeping the commandments. This prevents it from being an obligation. That is, from being a mindless methodology, a mindless practise of things we do in order to curry favour, get our way, or feel good about ourselves.
Now, there are things that have to happen in a relationship in the demonstration of love, and that’s what the law was given for, wasn’t it? It was given to protect us from ourselves, really. Ever since sin entered the world, humans have been determined to mess things up, especially our relationships. We messed up our relationship with God, and we constantly mess up our relationships with others.
Into this messed up world, God has poured out His Holy Spirit, preventing us from messing things up to our fullest potential. So, we can and do observe love among non-Christians. It is not as though only those who believe in God have the corner on love.
But being people who very quickly tend toward thinking wrongly of God, and wrongly of ourselves, even when we’re confronted with the truth, even when we know exactly what we’re supposed to do, we still try to exercise our own authority over it.
Consider the Israelite lawyers, the experts in the law. They were constantly debating the law. They came up with some 613 commandments. They were really, really splitting hairs.
They probably had good intentions. They probably really, really wanted to honour God. But what happened instead was a burden so great, no one could accomplish it. What happened was a system of controlling not only their lives, through micromanagement, but a controlling of the entire population, which lent itself not to the intended shepherding, but rather exploitation and oppression.
For example, the Pharisees, bent the law so that they could neglect looking after their parents, and instead, offer the money they’d have spent on them and donate it to the temple, probably with some significant kickbacks.
So out of this context, of these endless debates, as to which of the 613 was the greatest commandment, the Pharisees go to challenge Jesus. Perhaps they were emboldened because Jesus had given such a good trouncing to the Sadducees. And yet, maybe they were worried that they’d meet a similar fate. Then they decided to stack the deck. They pulled out their big gun. They sent up their closer, the guy with the perfect prosecution record. This guy got the job done!
So, he goes up to Jesus and he rather innocently asks, “What is the greatest commandment?” What do you think? Do you think he would have expected Jesus to answer as he did? Do you think he would have anticipated Jesus’ answer?
Or do you think he was thinking, “He’s going to say, tithing our spices. Yep, being so careful to observe the law, that we tithe everything. We’re wholly committed to God, so that must be it!
But Jesus answered with the most familiar law in their knowledge. He answered with something a child could have given. Jesus answer was part of a scripture that every Jew recited at least twice a day. It’s from Deuteronomy 6.4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
It is like going up to the greatest hymn writer of all time, going up to Charles Wesley or Stewart Townsend, or whoever would be the best hymn writer, asking them, what’s the best bible song ever? Then hearing them reply, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.”
It’s an answer a child could give. If I’d asked you that, what’s the best hymn ever, is that what you would have said? Maybe?
But that’s not all that Jesus says, he quotes Leviticus 19:18 and says, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.”
Doesn’t this really hit home? It does for me. Sometimes in my zeal, such that it is, in my striving to do the greatest commandment, I neglect to do the second. Is that your experience? That in an effort to be obedient to God, are you sometimes rather nasty toward those around you? Nasty toward non-Christians?
I mean, we can so easily fall into the pattern of thinking that we’re rather something, and yet criticise others for how they dress, how they parent, how they work, how they relate to others. And yet, who are we to be critical? We’re not perfect, and we’re not the ones who determine what is good and what is bad! God’s the one who determined that, and the reality is, all of us are bad!
But that’s why we have the commandments. Now, the summary, and the Ten Commandments are essentially a summary of the entire teaching of the Old Testament. And while we’ll be looking at the Ten individually, there’s a few quick lessons that we have to keep in mind as we study them.
First, the commandments are done out of love. Paul says in 1 Cor. 13 that unless we have love, unless love is our motivation, unless love is our attitude, we won’t be very effective people. We’ll just be like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. We’ll be so proud of how well we’re doing, that we’ll consider ourselves better than others are. But with love, we’ll produce beautiful music, and we’ll fit into our part of the symphony.
So, love is the basis of obedience. It will ensure humility, and it will prevent manipulation. There’s the truth in those lyrics—all you need is love, love makes the world go round.
But love needs an object, right: that object is God, and secondly neighbours.
If you like homework, or want to look something up, read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.
Jesus doesn’t allow for compartmentalisation. It takes our whole being to be loyal and loving to God and to one another. It takes our heart, which is the centre of our existence, from the heart comes our thoughts, words and deeds. The soul is the emotional centre. The mind is our attitude, our disposition. These three things aren’t exclusive, nor are they exhaustive. In fact, the original Hebrew says heart, soul and strength. Mark has heart, soul, mind and strength.
This is a poetic device. The Hebrew authors didn’t have a word to describe the whole earth, the cosmos, or the universe. So, they would use a word pair, they would say, heaven and earth, to refer to the universe. Likewise here, in order to make their readers understand that this love takes the whole person, not just part of it, they say, “heart, soul and mind” to indicate that the entire person is to love God. We are to love God with everything, every gift and ability that God has given to us.
Furthermore, we’re not to short shrift God. We can’t give a half hearted effort. No, we’re supposed to do it to our fullest ability, all our heart, all our soul, all our mind. In this, we’re to be like God, God loves wholeheartedly, he gives, he gives his Son, thus he gives himself. Thus, the response can hardly be anything less.
How do you feel about getting a gift that clearly had no thought put into it. You open your birthday or Christmas present and you get a bar of soap. Or you open your present, hoping for a new football, and you get a Barbie instead. The person who gave you you’re gift is so disinterested in you that they can’t even remember what gender you are!
God’s gift isn’t like that. The command is considered the greatest command because it describes the most exalting response to the Most Wonderful Being. This is core, from this reality comes true healing, true love.
Our love for our neighbours is a product of the love that God places in us. In fact, we cannot truly love our neighbour, apart from loving God. We cannot actually, really separate the two.
It is on these two commandments, that all the law and the prophets hold together. Remove that peg, and everything is gone. We’re so jaded by freedom, that we have a hard time seeing good in lawgiving.
But that’s the reality, God’s love is demonstrated to his people through God’s love. We tend not always to see it, but God proves his love through the commands. Countless times he demonstrates his patience.
Isn’t that what he is still doing? Doesn’t it show that by the long time we’ve waited for Christ’s return that what we’re actually seeing is God’s patience, his desire to see no one miss the opportunity given in Christ.
So the temptation we all face is to lower the bar, either by trivialising the law, or by trying to get out of it.
But Jesus prevents that, by commanding us to give, not just all our talents and abilities, but to give it our all, our every effort.
But though these commands provide good summaries, we can’t just blow it off by saying, it’s too general, I just don’t know where to begin. The answer is, clearly, the Ten Commandments as a starting point, but then the rest of scripture as they expound and explain just what God requires of us in loving him.
So, let us encourage one another, to see that Jesus has raised the bar, indeed he’s raised it to impossible levels, levels that we can only reach by following and obeying the Holy Spirit within us. Nevertheless, let us exercise confidence in God the Father, who sent His Son to demonstrate his love, and to live the perfect obedient life that we’re required to live, but cannot, and the person of the Holy Spirit who leads us to do far more than we can imagine. Amen.