God is worthy of our greatest possible love
I want to take you back to about 117AD. A man named Ignatius was writing a letter to the Ephesian church. He was under arrest, and being escorted by Roman soldiers to Rome to be executed. They had stopped off at Smyrna, where Ignatius wrote a letter to the Ephesians. Ignatius’ letter makes me ashamed of myself as a Christian. He is famous in church history for his devotion to God. He told the Ephesians not to feel sorry for Him, but, he spoke of his chains as his “pearls”, for he was proud to suffer for Christ. He warned them intensely not to interfere or try a rescue operation and so deprive him the glory of suffering for Christ. He considered the chance to die for the Savior he loved the utmost privilege, and he was not about to have it robbed from him. As a matter of fact, he thought so highly of dying for Christ, that he didn’t consider himself a real disciple of Jesus until he could suffer. He said these words, “I hope indeed, by your prayers, to have the good fortune to fight with wild beasts in Rome so that by doing this I can be a real disciple.”
Our Sermon today is titled What god wants most. He wants us to love Him supremely. What God wants most, we will learn, will become what I as a disciple will want most.
What the Question Itself Tells Us About the Questioner (28)
The Teacher of the Law was wise, and, sincere. He asked a question honestly, not to trap Him. He wasn’t coming at Jesus with pettiness, or cynicism. He may have been testing Jesus, but it was honest testing – to see if Jesus would answer wisely, and so he could gauge whether Jesus was legit. I think this is the case because after Jesus gives an answer the guy confirms Jesus answer in verses 32-33, almost like it was the answer he was looking to get from Jesus. But that is different than the kind of “testing” the Pharisees put Jesus through. They wanted to trap Him, they wanted to discredit Him, they wanted to catch Him. Not this guy. If Jesus answered well, this guy was ready to compliment Jesus and endorse Him. He is definitely a part of the minority of the religious leaders – the minority who believe Jesus is from God (Jn 3:1-2). Whereas Jesus declared the kingdom of heaven would be shut to other Pharisees, Jesus told this guy that He was real close.
But the question strikes me in another couple ways. In one sense this teacher seems to still see himself as a student, willing to learn from another. It is my personal contention that when a teacher stops being a student he’s no longer qualified to teach.
In another way, though, his question suggests that he personally though much of and placed great value on how to live for God in his own life. If you love something you always want to get better at it right? Think of your golf swing, or your fly casting, or your 3 point shot, or whatever. For him, he loved God, and God’s laws, which means this guy was a lover of righteousness. So he would approach each day with the desire to know how he could better live out righteousness in his life – and in God’s eyes. He was perhaps like King David in this regard: a man after God’s own heart. I think these were the kinds of engagements that blessed Jesus.
What God Wants Most: Love
What God wants most from us is our love. As a matter of fact, it matters more to Him than all the ritual sacrifices and all the mechanical forms of religion, as the teacher says in verse 33, “….”.
What we’re going to see from Jesus’ response is God wants us to love Him and He wants us to love others. Love the LORD your God. Jesus quotes two OT verses, the first one from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and the other one from Leviticus 19:18. There are over 600 commands God gave the Israelites in the OT, yet, these are the top 2. Don’t fall for the misconception that the God of the OT is somehow an unloving God and does not want to be loved. Loving Him, is the pulse of the whole Bible. His love for us and His desire for us to love Him runs from Genesis to Revelation.
- Psalm 119
- “A man after my own heart” He said about David….
- At the very bottom of the legal and moral structure God gave the Jews was love for Him. Everything was built on top of that foundational ethic in Jewish life: love the LORD your God with everything you’ve got.
Love continues right on through into the NT as well:
- “Now these 3 remain: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13).
- “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).
- “They will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (Jn 13:35).
- “The fruit of the spirit is LOVE….” (Gal. 5:22)
- “Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:14).”
- “Keep on loving each other as brothers (Hb 13:1)
God Is One – The Basis for Loving Him Supremely (29, 32)
Now notice that both Jesus and the teacher make sure to include the statement that God “is one”. Jesus, repeating Deuteronomy 6:4 says “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God is one”. The teacher affirms Jesus’ answer in verse 32, “Well said, You are right in saying God one and there is no other…”
Now what I’ve never thought about in this verse until the last few days was this: “What does seeing God “as one” have to do with loving Him”? And I think I have the answer to that: loving God in a way worthy of Him means loving Him exclusively. Loving the LORD your God and no other – because there is no other. That means God alone is worthy of your greatest possible love. God is confronting the tendency towards idolatry in the human heart. It brings us back to the 1st of the 10 Commandments: You shall have no other gods besides me” (Ex 20:3). The 1st Commandment is the foundation of the Greatest Commandment. It esrablishes Gods uniqueness as God: there is no one like Him. Thus He is worthy of our greatest love because He is the greatest being.
The LORD your God is one is a statement that there is no other God besides the LORD YOUR GOD. That’s why the teacher’s specific words back to Jesus are important: “You are right in saying God is one AND that there is no other but him.” Jesus didn’t say that last part, but, the teacher understood – correctly – that that’s what the Shema means: there is no other God but God.
What does the Bible teach us about loving God? What does that mean? Love leads to obedience. Loving God is obedience to Him “If you love me,” Jesus said in John 14:15, “You will obey me.” “Whoever has my commands and obeys them he is the one who loves me.” Even in the OT, “Your statutes are my delight…How I long for your precepts!…Oh how I love your law!” (Ps. 119:24, 40, 97) Now think about that in light of how the prophet Samuel rebuked King Saul. Saul was a horrible king and repeatedly sinned against God. Then God took the kingdom away from his family and said this in 1 Samuel 15:22-23 [turn and read]…..
The point there is that God wants love, because love produces obedience and love is the correct motivation for obedience. Love of God means you start loving what God loves: righteousness. You’ll hate sin, like God does, and love righteousness, like God does. “I hate those who cling to worthless idols” Psalm 31:6 says.
WARNING: obedience without love results in many traps: insecurity because you don’t know if you’re obedient enough for God to love you…then pride, because pride is nearly always the solution for insecurity – a person wants to cover over their insecurity and so they puff themselves up with an exaggerated opinion of their own merit/worth/value.
The Greatest Command makes the Greatest Demand.
With ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your mind and ALL your strength. This is no halfway love. This is “all-in love”. It demands you love Him with every part of who you are, and, it demands you love Him with 100% of your heart, 100% of your soul, 100% of your mind and 100% of your strength. It demands all your affection, all your conviction, all your energy, all your intelligence. The Bible expresses
The thing about love is that it brings out the greatest virtues of Christian character. If you stay centered on love you’ll be centered in God’s will. During the 1950’s the CIA pulled off one of the greatest thefts in history. A Soviet nuclear submarine had sunk way out in the Pacific Ocean 3 miles down beneath the surface of the water. The Soviets didn’t know where the sub was, but, the Americans secretly did. For several years a secret plan was concocted, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and spanning across dozens of different companies in the US and thousands of workers. The problem out in the ocean was keeping the vessel over top of the sub 3miles down and not letting waves push it away. So transponders were dropped down around the sub that would send a signals back up to the boat, that way the boat could know its positioning.
In the Christian life we need to stay centered on Christ, and the storms and waves are going to blow us off, but, if we keep the signal of love going we will stay centered in His will.
Rather than trying to “master” a list of virtues, the Bible makes it real easy and boils it down to one: love. This is why I don’t care much for personality tests and spiritual gifting tests and never use them. When you focus on love, and excelling at love, then you will “naturally” begin to act out all the other virtues of the Christian life. That’s because love is supreme and it is the one that leads out all the other virtues. Love is like the conductor and all the virtues are the orchestra. Love summons compassion at the right moment, then love brings forth gentleness in another instance, then love calls on joy and on and on…The key to a maturing character as a Christian is to focus on love.
Application: Love is seen in sacrifice. Measure your love by your sacrifice. The degree to which you sacrifice is the degree to which you love. Love God and love others.