Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
NOVEMBER 8, 2015
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
— Matthew 22:34-40, ESV
One, two, three. Three players threw three pitches at the Lord Jesus Christ. The Herodians hurled a curveball concerning paying taxes to Caesar and Jesus busted it back up the middle for a base hit. The Sadducees threw a low slider concerning life after death, and Jesus doubled off the wall with wonderful words of life. Now, the Pharisees (who teamed up with the Herodians on the first pitch) fire a fastball over the outside corner to make Jesus reach for the Law. The Lord hits it right out of the park with one word, in two commandments, about three people. One, two, three, here we go.
The one key word in the Pharisees’ world was “law.” To them, life was a competition in keeping the rules, and the one who kept the most rules ruled. Pharisees presumed they were the true religious rulers of Israel, for they legislated and legalistically kept more laws than anyone else. They lived by a tradition that turned the Ten Commandments into exactly 613 (248 “thou shalt” plus 365 “thou shalt not,” one for every day of the year). They considered themselves to be superior to everyone else, including the Sadducees, Herodians, and especially the carpenter’s son from Galilee with His few dozen followers. Yet their emphasis on outward appearances at the expense of inward holiness had turned them into judgmental hypocrites.
Law is a good word, in spite of how the Pharisees and other religious legalists muddy the water with it. Laws are good, putting up boundaries, setting up protections, and providing formation for a civil and safe society. But there is a greater word that, if embraced and obeyed, would make laws almost obsolete.
“What’s the greatest law,” asked the Pharisee. Jesus answered with “love.” This was Jesus’ word, and love is always a better word than law. It is a very special and specific word Jesus used, too, a New Testament word that most of you are familiar with, “agape.”
Unlike erotic love, which is sensual and selfish, and unlike friendly love, which is mutually beneficial, agape love is absolute, costly, sacrificial, and unconditional. It is the taking of everything you are and everything you have and willingly giving it for the betterment of another cause or person.
A friend, or spouse, or parent demonstrates this kind of love when they put the good of a friend, a spouse, or a child above their own comfort and desires. A soldier demonstrates this kind of love when he goes to war and pays the ultimate price for his country. God demonstrated this kind of love when He sent His Son into the world to face these questioners, and after that the executioners.
I want to be loved like that, don’t you? I want to give love like that, don’t you? How can you receive, and give, this kind of love? By keeping two laws.
When our loving Lord was asked about the one greatest law, He quoted two. The two laws lead with love, and love leads you to keep both of the two laws. You can see the original versions in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18.
The first commandment was so familiar to the Jews that they had a name for it, the “Shama” or “Shéma,” from the Hebrew word for “hear and obey.” They were supposed to recite it at least twice a day. Unlike their pagan and polytheistic neighbors, Israel under the Old Covenant practiced the one, true religion on earth in devotion to the one, true, and living God. Those who rightly heard God, rightly obeyed God, and those who rightly obeyed God, did so with the right motive and manner: love.
This love is absolute and complete. Various renderings of the commandment include every inward and outward part of a man or woman (remember the Pharisees only worried about outward appearances). This love gives heart, soul, might, mind, strength, and understanding (ref. Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29-33; Luke 10:27). Love led Abraham to offer his own son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Love led Moses to go back to Egypt and face death to set God’s people free. Love led David to face the giant, Goliath. Love led Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel and New Testament Apostles like Peter, John, and Paul to preach the gospel of repentance and faith in spite of the enormity of the personal cost. Love is the willingness to lay down everything you are and everything you have for the glory of the true and living God.
Love glorifies God, and love does good to other people. This is where the second of the two greatest commandments comes in. Love for God should be supreme, and it should spill over into the way we treat our fellow men and women. Our goal should always to give others what God wants us to give and to treat them the way we would want to be treated ourselves. Would you want someone to lie to you, steal from you, commit adultery with your spouse, or murder you or your family members? Then love others enough not to do any of these things to them. The more positive side of this principle is the “golden rule,” stated by Jesus in Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Agape loves God and others more than money, sex, power, fortune, or fame. Perfect love would result in a perfect world. If we could just love like God wants us to, we wouldn’t even need laws. But we don’t, so we do.
Therefore, let me give you some (non-pharisaical) laws to live by in order to apply the greatest word, love, through the two greatest commandments, to the three most important people in your life.
The three most important people in your life are God, others, and yourself. Yet each one is three, in a manner of speaking. God is triune, or a trinity. Other people can be divided into three people groups. And you are a unique combination of three components: mind, heart, and will.
Your first and greatest love should be for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three persons of the one true and living God. He created people to love and honor Him. He saves people to love and follow Him. He lives in people to enable them to bear the fruit of the Spirit, which is first and foremost, love.
You cannot know and love God unless He first knows and loves you. But God is love, He loves the world. By His grace, you can reach out to Him and love Him back.
Do so, first, with you mind. Contemporary Christianity seems to be aiming for the emotion and bypassing the brain, which is why we have so much silliness, false doctrine, and outright heresy in the church today. This is why a good church majors on Scripture and doctrine, not loud music, silly skits, and an overstimulating video experience. To love God, one must first think about God, and think rightly. “Shéma,” is what we need to do, hear the word of God and the gospel, and learn how to obey.
When we hear the word of God and learn the difference between obedience and disobedience, righteousness and sin, we should be immediately convicted about our own disobedience and sin. This is how we begin to love the Lord with our hearts. For our sinful hearts, God gives forgiveness. For our spiritually dead hearts, God gives life through repentance and faith. For our hearts that tent to love the lesser things of the world, God gives love, agape, that loves Him the most, making our other loves purer, better, deeper, richer. Love God with all your heart, a new heart that He gives by grace through faith.
A mind made right by the word and a heart made to beat by regeneration results in a will set free to obey and serve the living God. Don’t pretend to think for feel you love God if you are not willingly setting your clock by His commandments, worshiping Him on the first day of the week and every day, and seeking His kingdom first before adding other priorities to your life. To truly know God through the gospel is to love Him, and to love Him is to willingly obey Him.
First of all, love God. Secondly, love people, in three groups. Love the people you never meet. Love the people you come into contact with on a regular basis. And, love the people you live with.
Love the people you’ll probably never meet by praying for missionary success and giving offerings to spread the gospel and alleviate poverty and suffering. Love the people you meet regularly by showing them what Christ looks like in human flesh, showing compassion and integrity, offering encouragement rather than judgment. Love the people who have to live with you in the home, workplace, and church. They know you the best, and love you anyway, so give to them the unconditional love that defines agape. Put them above yourself, far above, and you’ll be amazed at how it will elevate your own life.
Save the last love for yourself. A healthy self-love, or self-respect, or self-esteem, is something good God desires for you. You cannot attain it by putting yourself first, but by allowing the first to be last. The paradox of climbing higher while bowing lower is the key to spiritual success and self-worth in the kingdom of God.
Do you know why so many criminals, who break God’s law and man’s laws, who hurt other people, abuse drugs and alcohol? It is because they cannot stand themselves and they want to forget who they are, at least for fleeting moments. Do you know why murderers hide and adulterers sneak around and thieves usually break in at night? Because they are ashamed of what they are doing and deep down inside ashamed of themselves. If you do not love God supremely, and if you do not love other people enough to give them basic courtesies and proprieties, then you have no chance of living a life of healthy love and respect for yourself. One of the greatest things about Christ and Christianity is that it is the only path to true happiness, because it begins with true holiness.
How do your fell about yourself, about others, and, more importantly, about God? One, two, three. Love plus salvation equals true happiness. One, two, three. Loving God, loving others, and loving yourself in that order equals true holiness. One, two, three. If you are not there yet, repent, believe, and enjoy true life in Christ. One, two, three.