by Mike Ratliff
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?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.‘ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 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. 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.” 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. (Mark 12:28-34 ESV)
The rabbis of Jesus’ day engaged in an ongoing debate to determine which commandments of the Law were “light” and which were “weighty” (Matthew 23:23). It reminds me of the debate in certain circles of the visible Church today in which some are concerned with how far they can push their “Christian Liberty.” This concept is no more biblical than that of the rabbis attempting to compartmentalize their religion. Does our Lord’s answer to the Pharisee in Mark 12, Matthew 22, and Luke 10 have any significance to the Christian?
As we saw in Confession Apart from Obedience is Worthless and Christian Liberty, the daily walk of the Christian is one of sanctification in which God demolishes our love for our idols and draws us into a holy, spirit-filled life. The call is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1,2) by living and walking before God as living sacrifices. This may sound complicated, but it really is not. In fact, the key to making this work is found in our Lord’s answer to the Pharisees who were debating which commandment was the greatest.
The natural man, woman, or child walks through each day loving themselves. When one is hungry or cold or hot or tired, et cetera he or she will take steps to take care of the “need.” When one is injured or sick then he or she will become consumed with the pain and need to take care of what is wrong. The world is constantly reminding us of what we need to be concerned about and offers of solutions. We are constantly being bombarded with this stuff to the point that we can become so wrapped up in “meeting this need” that we will actually take steps to get what we “deserve.” This is loving self.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40 ESV)
Do you see that we already love ourselves? This is natural. God is not telling us here that we first must learn to love ourselves. No, the command for us here is that we must love others as we love ourselves and for this to be an imperative for us it must start with us loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds. If our hearts’ focus is here then we will also naturally love others as we love ourselves. What does it mean to love God this way?
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9 ESV)
This passage is the source for part of our Lord’s quote in Matthew 22. From the immediate context, we learn what makes up this love of God, which encompasses the Christian in every part. It starts with fearing the Lord our God and keeping all his statutes and commandments. We are commanded to be careful to do them in all our days. Moses also tells us here that we are to teach this to our children, their children, and their children. In other words, loving the Lord is manifest in us as we obey Him in fear, awe, reverence, and diligence. This is not talking about keeping rules in a legalistic manner, like the Pharisees were trying to do, but from a grateful heart full of Love for our deliverer we obey our Lord in all parts of our lives. If we are living this way, what will our relationships be like with our spouses, relatives, and neighbors?
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:9-18 ESV)
Do you see that the one who love the Lord with their entire being will also be generous, considerate, honest, full of love instead of hate, nor will they be vengeful. No, the spirit-filled believer shall love their neighbor as themselves.
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. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:1-21 ESV)
The one who loves the Lord their God with their entire being will be an imitator of Him. He or she will walk in the love of Christ sacrificially. If you skipped this passage I exhort you to go back and carefully read it. This is how the Christian will interact with everyone. The one who belongs to God hears the truth of His Word and learns to obey it as God matures him or her. The more spirit-filled they become, the more Christlike they will be. This joyous, spirit-filled life is not defeated by circumstances. This life contains no guarantee of no trouble, but the Christian is promised that nothing can separate them from the love of God or take them from the Saviour’s hand. However, as we have seen, the genuine Christian is called to put to death their pride and self-focus by becoming humble and spirit-filled. They walk through each day with their focus on their blessed hope rather than an easy retirement.
My brethren, this is radical Christianity and it is what all who in Christ are called to. Those in this walk will have no concept of pushing the envelope of “Christian Liberty” or a form of Christianity that is carnal and fleshly. For those who have been lied to by their leaders that God doesn’t care how carnal you become, I pray that you will draw near unto God with a repentant heart seeking to commit your life to Christ’s Lordship. I pray that you will seek to enter the spirit-filled walk. I pray that you will learn to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!