Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Greatest Commandment

Friday: 28 March, 2014 –– 3rd Week in Lent
Mark 12:18-34

I think all of us must have heard someone say, "Well, it doesn't matter what your religion is as long as you love people." That kind of sentiment could be called "Dear Abby religion." "Love" is used to justify almost anything––from not going to church to non-boundaried sex. Some people even think Jesus was pitting a sentimentalized love against all organized religion.

What should be our response to God? How do we witness to God's life in us? Well, we need to start with what God has told us. We we cannot find God by ourselves. We cannot see the light unless God opens our eyes. The Scriptures are the record of God revealing himself, and Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of who God is.

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.... the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. As Jesus lived among the people who had been given God's commands there were questions. Perhaps the most important is in today’s Gospel: "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" The answer Jesus gave takes us to the heart of God: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29-31).

At first, one might think the standard of the Old Testament's commands has been lessened––that as long as we mean well, it’s good enough. That's not what Jesus is saying. An earlier reading this week was Jesus saying: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17).

Keeping God's commands is not merely outward behavior. Keeping God's commands is a matter of both pure inward desires and rightly ordered decisions. If we have pure desires above everything else, then we keep the first command––it is the pure in heart [who] see God. Then, if we truly love God, we will keep all the rest of the commands. The problem is that we are not able to love God just by “trying” (even if we try). We are broken people.

When Jesus gave this answer to the greatest command, he was not giving an easy way out. If we think "love" is easy, then we have not truly heard and seen what God has said about love. If we start with our own definition of love, we are putting ourselves first, and that by itself denies God.

Every one of us has something or someone we love most, and we ourselves are usually at the center of it. Jesus showed us what it means to love God most, and it’s a standard we cannot reach by ourselves. John writes in his first letter: ....this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10,11).

This brings us to the place where love can actually begin to work through us. When we see and truly believe that our sins can be forgiven only by Jesus having died in our place, how can we respond any other way than to love Jesus and completely give him our lives? After all, the only life we have is the one he has made possible by his death. It's not our life any more––it's his. That's what Paul meant when he said  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).

The death and resurrection of Jesus enables him to come live inside us. The Spirit of the same Jesus who died for us comes to live inside of us so that we enter into a relationship with the Father like Jesus had. Having a relationship with the indwelling God is what the Bible calls Eternal Life.

This is when the new commandment, the law of love, begins to be practical for us (i.e., when we can begin to think of "practicing" love). When we love Jesus because he died for us, he lives inside us, and we begin to find out what love is. Then and only then do we, first, love God. Jesus says this the first commandment. When we embrace the cross we begin to know what it cost for him to love us. We begin to understand that his commands are for our good, and not to deprive us. Of course, we do not love perfectly, but his Spirit is always calling us to forgiveness and transformation. Then our love will increase, because God living in us means God loving through us. “Love” is not merely up to us.

It is right to expect our love to begin to be like God's love. We know that God loves people (since he loves us), and so we want to love others the way God does (since it's his love that is in us). This takes care of the second commandment, loving our neighbor.

Jesus amplified this teaching of love in John’s Gospel: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34,35). When we understand that it's God's love we have been given, and it's God's love that we are to give, this teaching that is so misunderstood by the world does not seem so strange (although because of our human brokenness it's never easy). It is certainly not the kind of "love" that is so popular today as counseled in what I call "Dear Abby love." It’s not a not a mere sentimental love, but a love that exists and acts in all that it means to be holy. 

This call to love God and love our neighbor is actually a call to know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

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