by Mike Ratliff
28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments 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, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
But after that no one dared question Him. Mark 12:28-34 (NKJV)
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?
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” even believing we are “entitled.” This is loving self.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (NKJV)
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?
1 “Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you—a land flowing with milk and honey.’
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (NKJV)
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?
9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.
11 You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
13 You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:9-18 (NKJV)
Do you see that the one who loves 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.
1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. Ephesians 5:1-21 (NKJV)
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 all for the glory of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!