Sermon notes 10-31-21 For the Love of God! Pastor David King
Mark 12:28-34 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (ESV)
This passage Bonnie just read for us is a foundational teaching of Jesus that expresses the spirit and soul of Christianity. I think we are all familiar with those two commandments that Jesus identifies as being the most important of all. We might agree that to love God and love our neighbor is what being a Christian is all about … but what it means to put those commandments into actual practice is another thing. What does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? What does it mean and what does it not mean to love our neighbors as ourselves? Those are a couple of questions that I want us to consider together for the next few minutes.
We should begin with asking what led Jesus to name these as the two most important commandments. This passage comes at the end of a section of Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus has been repeatedly questioned by a series of scribes, chief priests, Pharisees and Sadducees, whose motives are less than pure and whose intentions are less than friendly. They are hoping to trip Jesus up and trap him with his words so they can arrest him. Each time, Jesus answers their questions in such a way as to elude their trap and expose their ignorance of the Scriptures and of the power of God.
Finally, a scribe comes up and asks Jesus a question that seems to be sincere. Which commandment is the most important of all? Jesus responds to the scribe’s question by first speaking the words of Deuteronomy 6:4, a verse that Jews refer to by the first word of that verse in Hebrew: Shema. Shema means “Hear.” The Shema, as Jews call it, is the most important verse in all of Scripture to them. Even today, every service of worship in the synagogue begins with these words that Jesus speaks in answering the scribe’s question: Shema. Hear. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And then Jesus continues, And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Let’s pause there for a minute to think about what this commandment from Deuteronomy means. Jesus concurs with the writer of Deuteronomy that we are to love God with everything we have: all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We might be able to name many reasons why we should love God with all we have. We love God because of who he is, and what he has done for us.
But perhaps the most clear and concise reason that we love God is stated in 1 John 4:19: We love because he first loved us. In other words, our love for God is a reciprocal response to God’s love for us. For the love of God toward us, we love God in return. As we begin to realize how much God loved us first and continues to love us with an everlasting love, we are inclined to love God back. The more we realize God’s love for us, the more we want to love him with everything we have: all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Now, we should know that if we love God with less than all we have, it does not mean God will love us less, but it does mean God will be less to us. It has been said that if we love God with only a fraction of what we have, God will be to us only a fraction of what he could be to us. That’s definitely worth pondering….
Jesus might have ended his response to the scribe’s question there, and if he had, the scribe would probably have been satisfied with his answer. But Jesus continued with another commandment that he tied to the first one. The second is this, Jesus said. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ And he concluded: There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus added this rather obscure commandment from Leviticus 19:18 – to love your neighbor as yourself – and put it right up there with the commandment to love God. Jesus made it clear in his response to the scribe that you cannot love God without loving those whom God loves. We might say that for the love of God, we are commanded to love our neighbor.
But notice Jesus did not say we are to love our neighbor in the same way we are commanded to love God. Only God is worthy of being loved with everything we have, with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Another difference in our love for God versus our love for our neighbor is that we love God because he first loved us, but that’s not the way it is with our neighbors. We are to love our neighbors even when they don’t reciprocate and love us back.
But what does it look like, what does it mean in actual practice to love our neighbor? Well first of all, let me say what it does not mean. Loving our neighbors does not mean that we must have feelings of love for them. We oftentimes think of love as a feeling, and we interpret the command to love our neighbors to mean that we must have loving feelings for them. Yet we all have people in our lives who we don’t like, people who don’t stir up loving feelings in us, people who seem to us to have nothing lovable about them. We can’t help it that we don’t have loving feelings towards them. But loving our neighbors is not dependent on our feelings for them. Jesus says, quoting Leviticus, we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
That’s not exactly helpful to many of us. Loving ourselves is maybe the most troublesome part of these commandments for us to grasp. First of all, we often don’t feel like we love ourselves. Secondly, we are wary of self-love because it can mean always putting ourselves first and seeking our own interests above those of others, and we know that is not good. Yet we can’t ignore the fact that Jesus says we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. How in the world can we possibly love our neighbor as ourselves, when we don’t really like our neighbor, and when we don’t feel that we love ourselves?
I want to offer a definition of love that I hope will be helpful as we think about the command to love our neighbor as ourself: to love our neighbors is to seek what is best for them, and as much as it is within our power to do so, to help bring about the best for them.
Notice that definition does not have anything to do with feelings. You can seek what is best for another person even if you don’t particularly like him or her. To put it another way, loving others does not mean having affection for them, but rather having good will toward them. And although we might say we don’t feel that we love ourselves, I think we would all say we have good will for ourselves; we want good things to happen for us and to us; we seek what is best for ourselves; we strive for others to see the best in us. To love our neighbor as ourselves means we would want no less for our neighbor than those good things we want for ourselves, whether or not we have feelings of love for ourselves or feelings of affection for our neighbor.
There is another thing that loving our neighbor does not mean, and that is that we must approve of or condone everything about them and their behavior. By way of explaining that, I want to ask you to think about your parents or your grandparents or some person in your life who took responsibility for raising you, and who you knew for certain loved you. I hope that every one of us can say that as we were growing up, we had at least one parent or grandparent or surrogate parent of some sort who undoubtedly loved us. I want you to take a moment to remember and to picture that one such person in your mind.
Now, as you are thinking about that person who undoubtedly loved you as you were growing up, can you recall any times when that same person disapproved of some aspect of your behavior or perhaps disagreed with some of your opinions or choices while they were raising you? I am pretty sure you most certainly can recall such times. Now, did that person’s disapproval or disagreement mean that they didn’t love you? Of course not.
In much the same way, it is simply not true to claim that if we disagree with or disapprove of some aspect of another’s behavior, we don’t love them. Some go as far to call people haters simply for not agreeing with them or daring to disapprove of some aspect of their behavior.
But friends, it is unfair and wrong to make hate the default motivation of anyone who doesn’t approve of everything we think or do or say or believe. In fact, the people in our lives who truly love us just might be those who are willing to take the risk of arousing our anger by calling into question our behaviors or our opinions, perhaps like that person I asked you to think about who helped to raise you and who you knew without a doubt loved you.
As I bring this to a close, let me summarize this teaching of Jesus about the two most important commandments. First, Jesus says, in agreement with Deuteronomy, that we are to love God with everything we have, all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We love God for the love of God, because God first loved us. Then Jesus, in agreement with Leviticus, says we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We love our neighbors as we love ourselves for the love of God who loves them as he loves us. To love others does not require that we have feelings of affection toward them or approve of every aspect of their behavior, or agree with every position or opinion they hold. But it does mean we have good will toward them, that we seek what is best for them and we want good things to happen for them, just like we want good things to happen for us.
I’ll end with these words: A false love of God, or the love of a god who is less than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, will result in a failure to love our neighbor. On the other hand, a true love of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will result in a deeper love of our neighbor whom God loves. So, for the love of God, may we love our brothers and sisters whom God the Father loves … whether we feel like it or not.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.