Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (St. Matthew 22:35-40)
In the church where I used to minister, the Sunday following Sept. 11, 2003, was unparalleled. At least in terms of attendance.
The church was no different from any other around our country that Sunday morning; people flocked to the Lord’s House from far and wide. You’d have thought the sermon was about sin because of the pained looks on the faces of the uncomfortable congregants smashed together on the pews.
But, of course, it didn’t last.
They didn’t return the next Sunday.
Why? Because they first came out of confusion and fear … and many of them knew nothing of love for God.
Surely they have their excuses, just as you and I offer God our excuses for why we can’t serve Him and for why we love to disobey His Word. “Oh, Lord, I can’t have prayer time today because I’m too busy.” “Oh, Lord, I know I’m supposed to forgive Bob for slandering me, but I don’t want him to think I’m weak, so I’m going to hold it against him.”
“Oh, Lord …” this and “Oh, Lord …” that. You and I are a people of excuses.
Ultimately, though, you and I are a people with our priorities out of line. Just like those who never returned after Sept. 11, you and I abandon the Lord every day … but we have good excuses, don’t we?
This morning we conclude our series exploring the excuses that you and I love to offer the Lord as to why we can’t serve Him and for why we love to disobey Him. But this morning Christ will challenge you squarely. He will demand your all: your heart, your mind, your soul. Your tongue that once made excuses now must be used in his service.
You must love him with all you have.
First you’ll learn that love for God results from who He is. Second, you’ll see that love for God results in love for your fellow man. And third, you’ll learn that love for God must penetrate every moment of your life.
God has purchased you by the blood of Christ to be His own; so offer Him your all – all the time.
First, you must love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and soul because of who He is.
One day the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus. A lawyer asked him a hypothetical question designed to trap our Lord: “Jesus, what’s the most-important law of God?”
So what’s Jesus supposed to say? If he chooses none, then he’ll look noncommittal. If he chooses one, then the Pharisees would chastise him for neglecting other parts of God’s Word.
That’s why Jesus gets to the heart of the matter (if you’ll pardon the expression).
Jesus quotes Moses’ words in Deuteronomy – and there, Moses actually could have stopped after “God.” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” would have sufficed for the children of Israel. Moses went further into describing all the Lord had done and would accomplish for His people, but they should have loved God because He was God.
Ours is an era when you and I think we created ourselves. There is a popular song out now – one that your teenagers likely are listening to – entitled “I Am Mine.” And that says it all: I have made myself. You and I ignore the words of the Psalmist: “It is He who hath made us, and not we ourselves.” We deny that in God we “live and move and have our being.”
It’s curious how you and I respect our employers and our governmental leaders – oh, think of the frenzy that would ensue if the president came to Greene County! – yet we really don’t care about God. We’re self-made people.
No, the Lord is God. He created you and your boss and your job and your president. He, therefore, deserves all your mental, emotional and spiritual service; He created you.
Moses, though, gives you another reason why you should put God first in your life: He has done great things for you. You and I know that the land and the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament merely served as pointers to what the Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished for you and for me in his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension.
Christ has given you hope for the future and for life eternal. He alone has given you peace in your soul because you, through faith in his saving work, can have peace with God your Father. As the great hymn says, love such as Christ’s demands your all.
If you are to love God with all your emotions, desires, will, thoughts and capacity, then secondly Christ teaches that this type of love for God also results in all-out love for your fellow man.
The first table of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) deals with your relationship to the God who has created and redeemed you. The second table – commandments five through 10 – focus on your relationship to others. And Jesus says it must be a relationship of love.
All of Scripture examines to some degree or other God’s call on you to love your fellow human. After all, they – regardless of skin color or tastes or even sin habits – are created in His image and therefore worthy of your love and respect. Those laws about adultery and stealing? They were given by the Lord to direct you in dealing with your family and with others and their families.
At the heart of the relationship, Jesus says, must be love. Some days I cringe to hear ministers and professing Christians talk about the “love command”: so many folks totally misinterpret Jesus. He’s not saying that loving your neighbor means turning your back on her lack of faith in Christ. He’s not saying to turn your back on your best friend’s life of rebellion against the Lord. He’s not saying to replace personal evangelism and witness for Christ with a busload of social programs to help the poor.
Loving your neighbor means this: you’ll want the very best for that person in Christ, regardless. As CS Lewis has so felicitously put it (and I’m paraphrasing here), loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t mean you always like your neighbor. Sometimes you and I get down on ourselves when we make big mistakes. And you and I should.
Yet you always, always want the best for yourself. You forgive yourself and pick up your life and move forward, because you want to progress. And that’s how you must deal with your neighbor.
Putting God first in your heart and in your life sometimes means you love your neighbor enough to invite her to church. Sometimes it means you tell her about Jesus and about his love and grace. Sometimes it means helping a needy person find food, then a job, then Christ. Sometimes it means showing Jesus to a non-Christian friend by forgiving that friend when he slanders you or hurts you in some way.
Putting God first in your life also means putting your neighbor on par with yourself … and desiring the best for that person in Christ, regardless.
And third, all-encompassing love for God should flow into all aspects of your life.
It must be said that the Lord doesn’t desire a society of well-behaved pagans. God’s goal for this world is not – nor has it ever been – for you to obey the civil laws and be a “nice person” apart from love for Him. God’s first concern is with your heart; He wants you to do the right thing out of response to His love, which gives you the capacity to love.
In other words, your right (biblical) behavior flows from a right heart before God, one that has been cleansed by the blood of Christ through God-implanted faith in Christ.
But don’t leave your faith on the shelf of life!
Why did so many people fail to return to church after 9/11? Because they were motivated by fear and by confusion, not by a heart in love with God. Why do you and I offer God our excuses? Because we don’t love Him as we ought.
Loving God means that you attend worship and give Him His one day in seven. Loving God, as Jesus says in the 14th of St. John’s gospel, means that you keep His commandments. You’ll think on those things that He wants you to meditate on: such virtues as peace, joy and purity. You’ll despise the lawlessness and sin that the Lord despises, but you will love His grace in Christ, and you’ll show other people Christ-honoring love.
If you have a heart for God, it must be totally God’s – and you must bring the Lord into every aspect of life. When you’re at school, obey your teacher – and do so mindful of your love for God, who first loved you. When you’re at home, parents, instruct your children. Teach them from the Scriptures. Demonstrate daily prayer time before them. Demonstrate a calm, bridled tongue instead of harshness. That’s love for God bleeding into all your life.
True love for God is inspired by God and blossoms into obedience, no matter the setting. It is a matter of having your priorities in line.
This morning the Lord Jesus Christ has made his rightful claim on your heart and life. He is God. He made you. He has done great things for you in his grace. And he demands your total, heartfelt obedience.
Yet you look at your heart and realize you haven’t loved him totally. You see that you can’t love him totally, with all your desires and will and emotions and strength.
Ah! There is part of Jesus’ point: you need him.
If you have loved this world and its fleeting, shallow pleasures – and still you’ve not found a settled peace – then you must repent and look to Christ for his mercy. Jesus deserves and demands perfect love from you, yet you’ll never be able to offer it to him because of your sin.
Admit it. Believe on him as your Redeemer, and be freed to love him all your days in obedience.
If you are a believer this morning, Christ’s words still stand. You must serve him totally with a thoroughly devoted heart, and you must desire the best in Christ for everyone you meet.
You see, though, you and I love to live fragmented lives. Oh, we love God – but not as much as He wants, because then when would you and I have time for work? For family? For football?
Now here’s the key: love for God means ceasing to offer Him excuses and instead bringing Him into work through doing the best job you can and trusting Him with the rest. It means bringing Christ into your home and being patient with your mother or with your child. It means spending some time visiting those in nursing homes and those in sin. It means praying before your meals.
I have a Christian friend who, I believe, has discovered the secret to an abundant life – and it has nothing to do with exercise or with herbal supplements. She said she and her husband think on the Lord at all times – even at parties.
Does she talk theology at parties? Rarely. Does she get on her knees and pray at parties? Not usually.
Does she stop on a gorgeous fall day, surrounded by friends and family, and in her heart of hearts thank God for His grace and, in the next moment, listen to a friend’s concerns or help an older person with his tray of food?
Yes. And that’s approaching total love for the God who loves you totally.