THE COMMANDMENT WE NEED MOST
1. This is the last of a three-part series we’ve done as we’ve been reading of the ministry of Christ – “The Parable We Need Most,” “The Miracle We Need Most,” and now “The Commandment We Need Most.”
a. Of the miracle and the parable I’ve asked, “Which one would you have chosen?” This time there is no need for that question, for the Lord himself has already been asked and has identified the commandment we need most.
b. Though one rabbi had calculated that there were 613 commandments, Jesus said one was most important, greater than any other, the sum of all of them.
c. Here is the account of the conversation in which his claim was made....(the reading of the text)
2. The commandment we need most is the one that calls us to our first obligation in life.
a. It is the one which gives us the healthiest understanding of ourselves and which enables us to relate to our neighbors in the most rewarding way.
b. Our thinking toward this one responsibility will very likely determine our attitude toward the kingdom of God.
1. The Commandment That Fits Who God Is
a. Jesus cited one of Israel’s most famous texts: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God...” (v. 29, 30; Deut. 6:4,5).
i. What the whole Bible is trying to tell us is that God wants us to love him! The scribe agreed that this is the only appropriate response to who God is and how we stand in relation to him (v. 32, 33).
ii. Someone said, “To love God is to put him first, to want to be near him, to seek to please him, to trust him, to be eager to do things for him.”
iii. Getting us to the place where we’re willing to relate to him like that is the goal of all God’s dealings with the human family.
iv. He’s not merely wanting us to do, or say, or think this or that (or not). He wants us to seek his face!
v. God isn’t looking for machines which operate as programmed. His purpose isn’t the development of slaves who grimly set about assigned tasks. No. He wants children who, of their own choosing, value and honor him above all – because they are convinced that kind of love fits him!
b. “But,” somebody says, “I can’t love God! How can anybody love God – whom we can’t even see?”
i. It certainly is possible! Many have loved him, and do love him. Not a few have made great sacrifices, even of their lives, for him.
ii. He is a living person who has approached us in love first (1 Jn.4:19). Loving him back begins with an attraction for him – an appreciation for his good gifts, a hunger to know the giver, a longing for his presence.
iii. Love develops as you get acquainted with him. You look at what you can see of him in creation – his power and wisdom and goodness. You learn of his heart from what is revealed in his word – his faithfulness, longsuffering and purity. You know him in what is declared of him through the life of his Son – his grace, gentleness, and righteousness – and you begin to love him.
iv. Love grows as you spend time with him, listen to him, talk to him, do things for him, and experience living with him.
v. As you mature, that love will more and more override and consume all the other interests of your life. You can love God if you’re willing to!
c. “But,” someone else asks, “why can’t God be satisfied just with my doing what I’m supposed to do?”
i. The answer is easy for anyone who has ever loved another person.
ii. When you love, it’s not enough for the one you love to mechanically do what you demand of them, come around when they feel like they have to, and meticulously perform prescribed chores. When you love, what you want is that love returned from the heart of the other person.
iii. That’s the way it is with God, too: he wants our love. That’s the only response that fits!
2. The Commandment That Brings Out Our Best
a. People have tried everything to produce the best in us. I remember reading one brother’s autobiographical description of the things he had tried to get his hearers to live for God.
i. He said he first tried scaring people into doing the right thing by constantly emphasizing the warnings of scripture and what it’s like to be lost. For a while they really got with it, but before long they seemed like stern people coldly going through the motions of religious activity.
ii. So, he said, he quit saying anything about God’s justice and started stressing only his grace and mercy. People were moved for a while, but soon they seemed to be becoming a wishy-washy group of sentimentalists who felt as though it made no difference how they lived, or whether they served.
iii. He turned next to really bearing down on individual responsibility and the accountability of each person for the use of his time and talent. Temporarily, people became involved in the work, but shortly they appeared to be just an unattached company of laborers, each participating in his favorite project, but none particularly close to any other.
iv. So he began dwelling on fellowship. He told them they were members of each other and were to care about each other and encourage each other. Things went fine for a while, until he noticed they were turning inward, spending all their interest and energy on each other, ignoring the lost and helpless.
v. Then, our frustrated and weary brother said, it finally occurred to him that he needed to teach his hearers to love God, and that in so doing they would gain whatever else they needed!
b. That’s what works because of how God wants us to love him. He wants us to love him with a love so complete that it produces a well-balanced relationship that will stand the test of time and circumstance.
i. “With all your heart” is love that takes in the whole range of our emotions, from the deepest sorrow to the highest joy, from our strongest fear to our most gentle peace.
ii. “With all your soul” is love from the deepest convictions of our inmost being, love that means so much to us that we give ourselves for it. It is the passion which fashions who we are and what we are about.
iii. “With all your mind” is love which is an intelligent, reasoned, thoughtful response to God. It delights in his will, meditates on his ways, is humbled by his word, and imagines what is noble.
iv. “With all your strength” is love that acts with courage and steadfastness. It is the love that puts time, talent, material goods, and energy at the disposal of the one who is loved.
v. Notice the balance: there is the warmth of sincerity, the depth of passion, the purpose of thought, and the zeal of effort in this kind of love.
c. It is crucial to the lesson to observe the repeated “all” in each of these phrases.
i. God wants us to love him “to the full” of all the faculties he has given us. No other kind of love is a suitable response to the love he has already demonstrated toward us.
ii. Someone said, “God’s wholehearted love must not be answered in a half-hearted manner.”
iii. Another wrote, “The measure of our love to God is to love him without measure; for the immense goodness of God deserves all the love that we can give him.” Attending to this commandment will bring out the best in us!
3. The Commandment That Takes In All Others
a. This is the first and great commandment, “not because, apart from all others it is great, but because in observing it all others are observed.” (C.E.W. Dorris)
i. The scribe who heard Jesus’ answer could see that no sacrifice or service will go unattended in the life of a person who loves God like this (v. 33).
ii. 1 John 5:3 – “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
iii. Romans 13:8-10 – “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
b. This is the commandment we need most because it offers us the place to start with any of the other demands of life.
i. A person who pays attention to it always knows what he should do first: love God, get yourself in perspective, and love your neighbor.
ii. That’s not what we usually do. We start with the demands made upon us, or the problems we are facing, or the difficulties we’re in. Before long we’re wrapped up in hurt and confusion, then we think of God.
iii. But start with love for God and you’re ready to turn to those demands.
iv. You have something to imitate and to pass on to your neighbor.
v. Ephesians 5:1, 2 – “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
c. There is on other aspect of this thought that has to be considered: if this is the most important commandment, failure to observe it must be the most dreadful sin.
i. If, as Jesus said, no other commandment is greater (v. 31), it has to mean that to failure to love, honor and respect God is worse than any personal moral failure or any mistreatment of man.
ii. This sin is so ugly in nature because it arises, not from desire or weakness, but from pride and hatred of God.
iii. And, it’s so far-reaching in its consequences because it is the sin that produces all others – every other sin follows in the wake of failure to love God deeply and to treat others accordingly. This is the commandment that makes, or breaks, all the others.
1. When the scribe who raised the question expressed his agreement with Jesus’ answer, the Lord said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34).
a. Think of what welcome news that must have been to a man who loved God with all of his heart and understanding and strength, and who loved his neighbors as himself (v. 33).
b. He must have been in a condition to eagerly receive the good news of the kingdom which Christ was about to establish.
c. The fact is, though, that being near the kingdom is not the same as actually being in the kingdom.
2. The transferral of citizenship lovers of God long for comes in obedience to the news of what Christ has done for us. In him, we love a Father who “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13, 14).
3. Now we have a new commandment: not merely that we love our neighbors as ourselves, but that we love one another just as the Lord has loved us (Jn. 13:34). We have a high calling indeed!