The Greatest Commands

 

[They were] always there for me,
Through every tummy ache and skinned knee,
Through every time I heard a sound in the night,
[And] needed reassurance everything was all right.
Then through the years... [They] influenced me so,
Taught me right from wrong, [and] how to live and grow.
The years of change stood before us, [and] I moved away, [and such],
But never would I lose touch of the [parents] who gave [to] me so much.
The [two people] who never let me down; the two who [gave] love [so sound].
[When] I stumble[d] or when my dreams [could] not be found.
[They are] more to me than I ever deserved [in all that they did teach].
If only [they] knew my appreciation beyond [my simple speech]:
[Folks], I love you so.
You are the greatest [people] I will ever know. 
                         
(adapted from Amanda Dillingham on her father)

The person who wrote this poem undoubtedly had good parents.  They had given much—much affection, much time, much kindness—to their child.  These were parents who had their child's true maturity at heart.  Love begets love. 

Before we examine our text this morning, let's look at this same principle in the biblical realm.  We love God because He first loved us—love begets love.  Let's look at two passages that teach this as well; one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament.  The first is Deuteronomy 10:20ff: “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name.  He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen.  Your fathers went down to Egypt with 70 persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven in multitude.  Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always.”  Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God.  Why?  Because of all the wonderful things that He had done for the Israelites and because of His noble character, as you find described in the surrounding verses.  No Jew could have heard this discourse of Moses without being humbled—it was all God's doing—God chose the Jews, God rendered justice, God delivered, God saved, God defeated, God helped!  Therefore, based on God's steadfast and generous love, the Jew was to love His God.  In like manner, the apostle Paul tells Christians much the same thing in Ephesians 3:21ff: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.  I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called with all lowliness, and gentleness, and longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Bear with one another in love. Why?  Because of all the spiritual blessings that God has given us and because of the unbounded love we found in Christ.  It again was all God’s doing—God strengthens believers, God can fill us, God can work beyond our imaginations, God gives us power!  Therefore, because of God's steadfast and generous love, the Christian must love other members.  Someone has rightly observed: “This is [a] ‘because-therefore’ religion and not [an] ‘if-then’ religion.  Because God loves us and lives within us; therefore, love flows out of us.  This is not [an] ‘if-then’ religion. ‘If we are good and loving, then God’s love lives in us.  If we are loving, then we are saved’” (Markquart).  Love begets love in both covenants of the Bible.  Because of God's loving acts, mercies, and blessings; therefore, we show loving acts, mercies, and blessings.  It is good to keep this perspective in mind as we approach our text this morning.

Now let's look again at the text that was read a few minutes ago.  “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law?  What is your reading of it?’  So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’  And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this, and you will live.’”  In this passage, we can see six ways to love God.  A “lawyer was an expert in his knowledge of the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Bible” (Ibid).  This man was expected to be interested in and knowledgeable about the issues concerning Jewish religion (Morris).  Now he asked an interesting question as to what he needed to do to be able to live forever.  It almost sounds like this man has a checklist mentality towards earning his salvation.  “Yes, I've done A, I've done B, I've done C; therefore, God owes me my salvation for all I’ve done.”  Jesus answers a question with a question, asking the man what was taught in the law and what he thought concerning what he read.  So the lawyer, with great insight, gives the same answer that Jesus gave over in Mk. 12:28 when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandement, so notice it carefully: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind’, and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” 

“You shall love the Lord.”  As we mentioned earlier, this is the God over all the gods, this is the God who acted to save both the Jews under the old covenant and disciples who follow Christ under the new covenant, this is the God who took the initiative and established both Israel and the church and blessed them with His mercy and love.  So, we should love this God devotedly.  He is worthy of our complete devotion because we have seen His love manifested so steadfastly towards the Israelites and towards the early Christians time and time again, exactly as a kind father who loves his children!  One of the newer hymns has it right: “Awesome power, boundless grace, none can fathom all Your ways.  Truth and love are found in Your heart alone; righteousness surrounds Your throne. Holy, holy, holy, Lord Most High.”  To this awesome Heavenly Father, let us bow down each morning, let us live each day in agreement with His will, and let us thank Him for His continual blessings and mercies each evening.  Let's love God devotedly!   

“You shall love the Lord, your God.  “Your God” signified the God of the Jews.  The Jews had not chosen Jehovah to be their god.  No, Jehovah had chosen the Jews and asked for their allegiance.  Solomon got it right in 1 Kings 8:61: “Let your heart therefore be loyal to the Lord our God, to walk in His statues and keep His commandments, as at this day.”  So, we should love this God loyally.  The prophets called the Israelites who did not give God their loyalty “spiritual adulterers”, and Peter called disloyal Christian teachers “dogs that eat their own vomit” (Hosea 2; 2 Peter 2:22).  The true story is told of a celebrity who visited our troops in Vietnam.  The American POWs were cleaned-up, fed, and clothed by their oppressors to make a good impression on the peace delegation that was checking on the humane treatment of the prisoners.  These POWs devised a plan to let their families know that they were alive.  They wrote their social security numbers on a small slivers of paper, and each put it in the palm of his hand.  When the celebrity came by and shook the POWs’ hands, they passed along their papers.  As soon as the TV cameras were shut off, however, the celebrity turned to the Vietnamese officer in charge and handed him all the little pieces of paper as the POWs looked on in horrible disbelief.  Four men were beaten severely after that celebrity returned to the States.  Three died, and the one who survived was the one who told this story.  Just hearing this account sickens us, doesn’t it?  Nobody likes a traitor.  Neither does our Lord.  He too understands full well the sting and horror of being betrayed.  Let's pledge our whole-hearted allegiance to Him!  Let's love God loyally!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.”  We are to love God with all that is within us.  We do not offer God a little bit of ourselves, but we offer Him all of ourselves.  So, we are to love God totally.  One writer said this about God’s love: “What is so glorious about God is his unbelievable love (John 1:14).  It is a love beyond our comprehension.  … His first thought, first concern, will always be for us:  ...  God will feel our joy and our pain because he is totally committed to every aspect of our being. … Every person is of inestimable value to God.  We are literally, 'the apple of God's eye' (Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8).  … God's love for man is a love to the end, the uttermost love, a total self-expenditure” (R. Grieb).  Since God’s love for us is total commitment, total trust in us, and total self-expenditure, can our love for God only be half-hearted, divided something else, only partial?  No,…. another hymn has it right, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”  Let’s love God totally!

Now let’s notice another word: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind.”  This shows that we must love God personally.  Here’s an amazing passage.  Turn to Acts 9 and read verses 10 and following with me: “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, ‘Ananias,’ and he said, ‘Here am I, Lord.’  So the Lord said to him: ‘Arise, and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.  And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive sight.’”  Notice how God’s loves: Jesus knew exactly where Saul was, He knew who Saul was, He knew what Saul was doing, and He knew exactly what Paul needed—he was longing to recover his sight!  God’s love for Paul was personal, and God wanted Paul saved.  God’s love for you is personal, and he also wants you saved!  But will you love Him in return?  Nobody else in all the world can answer that question for you.  You must decide if you will love the Lord your God with all your devotion, and all your loyalty, and all your being!  David did not begin Psalm 23 by saying: “The Lord is a shepherd” or “The Lord is some shepherd” or “The Lord is Israel’s shepherd”.  No, he confessed, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  David loved God intimately.  Is God your shepherd and Jesus your Lord this morning?  Will you confess shortly that you desire to follow Him?  Let’s love God personally.

Now let’s read it one more time: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind.”  We must love God with our emotional side, with our spiritual side, with our physical side, and with our intellectual side.  All of our human nature is included; all of our being is involved.  We must love God fully.  In 1994 a senior in high school was dribbling the soccer ball towards the opponent’s goal with the last few seconds ticking on the scoreboard.  The ball was kicked when the scoreboard showed 0:00, the goal was made, the referee said it counted, and the game would end in a tie.  The fans cheered on one side of the stadium, but the fans on the other side protested that time had run out.  This senior, who was part of a private religious school, had a choice to make.  He went to the referee and asked if the official time was kept on the scoreboard or on the referee’s stopwatch.  The referee said the scoreboard, so the senior went to his coaches and explained that just before his kick, he had seen the three zeros on the scoreboard.  Since he had not heard a whistle, he kept on playing.  But his goal was late, and he thought it should not count.  The coaches agreed, and they went over to the opposing coaches and explained what happened, and then conceded the victory to their opponents.  The senior later told a reporter, “Every time in your life you have an opportunity to do right, you should be thankful.  For a person to know what is right, and then not do it—that would be a sin.  To have won the game—I mean, really, who cares?  Doing the right thing is more important.  It lets you have peace.”  Later, that senior was sent a letter by the President commending him for his noble stance (Larson)!  Here was a young man who was loving God with his moral side.  Let’s love God fully!

Then we see that Jesus answers the lawyer:
“You have answered rightly; do this, and you will live.”  The lawyer was commended by Jesus for  the correct answer, but then notice how Jesus admonishes the lawyer to put his words into practice: “Do this [practice these two great commandments], and you will live.”  This shows that we must love God and others practically.  Someone has said, “Unused truth becomes as worthless as an unused muscle.”  Another has noted, “An ounce of application is worth a pound of abstraction.”  People are much more affected by a sermon that they see than by one that they hear.  John exhorts us: “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).  It’s more than just a checklist; it’s being a loving and serving people.  Because of God's loving acts, mercies, and blessings, therefore, we show loving acts, mercies, and blessings.  Love begets love.  So, let’s love God practically!

It seems that Jesus’ simple and direct reply may have caused some embarrassment to the lawyer.  The text then says that the lawyer wished to justify himself or make himself look somewhat better.  So he asked Jesus a calculated question which may have been designed to exclude some people from this man’s love: “Who is my neighbor?”  Perhaps the lawyer thought by defining the limits of who was his neighbor, then he could boast about how successful he was in doing his duty.  In the next few verses, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, and here again we discover six ways we can love our neighbor.

The man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho; this is a road 17 miles long that descends from 2,300 ft. above sea level to about 700 ft. below sea level.  The road winds around many hills, and there are many caves, ideal hiding places for bandits.  The naked victim is described as being badly wounded and close to death.  A priest was one who officiated in the temple, and a Levite was one who also helped in the temple.  The motive that these two men “passed on the other side” is not explained at all.  Then Jesus shocked his audience by introducing the most unlikely person anyone could have imagined as far as giving help.  A despised Samaritan shows up, but he does not pass by on the other side.  This man loves the victim unbiasedly.  The racial prejudice and hatred between the Jews and Samaritans had been manifested for centuries before Jesus came on the scene.  This Samaritan had every right to keep on walking, but now the whole audience must have been shocked when this man put aside his prejudices and went over to look at the victim.  The Samaritan did not see a Jew; he saw a dying man whose life might soon be gone.  Paul writes in Gal. 3:28: “There is neither Jews nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Jesus Christ unites all races, all statuses, all genders; everyone can be part of His family!  Let’s love with impartiality.

“And when he saw him, he had compassion.”  Like the Samaritan, we must love compassionately.  The Samaritan felt sorrow at the misfortune of his fellow man.  “The Samaritan was good because he made concern for others the first law of his life” (King).  For whatever reason, the religious men kept to themselves and didn’t bother to get involved, but the despised Samaritan saw a needy victim who could badly use some help in order to survive, and he could not turn away.  Are we a compassionate people?  Can we feel the pain of the misfortunate?  Can we sympathize with those who are victimized?  Let’s love with compassion.

Then we see the Samaritan binding his wounds with his own cloth, nursing his wounds with his own wine and oil, putting this man who could not walk on his own animal.  Like the Samaritan, we must love in a kindly way.  The Samaritan used what he had, with kindness, to aid and to comfort the victim.  “True neighborliness requires a personal concern” (King).  Strips of cloth, wine, oil, and an animal are all small and normal commodities, but, in this circumstance, along with kindness, they may have meant the difference between life and death!  Certainly these kindnesses must have gone a long way in healing a broken spirit as well.  May our small acts of kindness done in Jesus’ name make a difference as well.  “Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it unto Me” (Matthew 25:40).  Let’s love with kindness.

Notice how this Samaritan did his best to supply all that was needed.  He nursed the man’s wounds, he carried him away, he sacrificed whatever other activities he had planned for that day, he took him to an inn, and he took care of him there as long as he could.  He loved in a helpful way.  Likewise, we must do the same.  This Samaritan went far beyond the call of duty; he went the second mile!  His love was complete because he did all that he could do to be as helpful as possible.  When we have an opportunity to serve others, do we try to scrimp, go through the motions, and just get by or do we really give it our all?  An Italian sister once rode 12 hours by train to give us hand around the house when our third child was born.  We will never forget her help.  Our Italian brethren were not always rich financially, but they were rich in helpful deeds.  Let’s love with helpfulness.

This despised Samaritan then went the third mile!  He paid for the man's food and lodging. And he told the innkeeper that if there were other expenses, he should put them on his “Bank of Samaria card”!  How unselfish this Samaritan was.  He loved generously.  God has been so generous to us: He gave us the earth, the rain, the seasons, the foods, the law, the church, His Son, His Spirit, His daily grace, His daily blessings, His daily forgiveness, His sure promises!  Because God has been that generous to us, therefore, we must be generous to others.  God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

“'So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?'  And he said, 'He who showed mercy on him.'  Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'”  It is interesting that the lawyer could not bring himself to answer, “The Samaritan.”  Yet, he did answer correctly.  The Samaritan who showed mercy was the neighbor.  And there's our sixth way.  We must love mercifully.  A good brother has written that grace turns thinking upside-down.  In the judgment scene of Matthew 25, there are many acts of benevolence, mercy, and compassion.  So often, people like simple, tidy, logical explanations, but mercy defies logic.”  Do we want a real adventure?  Let's love with mercy.  “Go and do likewise.”  What was Jesus' point to this lawyer?  His point was very plain: don't ask about neighborliness until you are ready to act neighborly (Ash)!

“We love because God first loved us.”  Because of His great love, then we love Him and others.  Love begets love.  Let's love God devotedly, loyally, totally, personally, fully, and practically.  And let's love others with impartiality, with compassion, with kindness, with helpfulness, with generosity, and with mercy.

[God, Christ, and the Spirit are] more to us than we ever deserved [in all that they did teach].
If only [they] knew our appreciation beyond [our simple speech]:
[Father, Son, and Comforter], we love you so.
You are the greatest [Beings Who have provided the greatest blessings] that we will ever know!