Our Orders are Simple

Please read Matthew 22:34-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

label

(Retrieved from http://www.awesomeinventions.com/funny-product-instructions/ on 8/14/17.)

Here are some actual label instructions on consumer goods.  I find myself wondering how anyone thought these were necessary or wise.

On a bag of chips:
You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

On packaging for an iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On children’s cough medicine:
Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication.

On most brands of Christmas lights:
For indoor or outdoor use only.

On a child’s Superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.

On shin pads for cyclists:
Shin guards cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.

A parking lot sign:
Entrance only. Do not enter.

Rules on a elevated train track:
Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.

On a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle:
Some assembly required.

On a can of pepper spray used for self defense:
May irritate eyes.

On a TV remote:
Not Dishwasher safe.

On a mattress:
Do not attempt to swallow.

<Retrieved from http://funnytab.net/doomed on 8/10/17.>

Is it possible modern life is just too complicated?  Is it possible that common sense has become so uncommon we really do need these kinds of warnings?

For all our sakes, I want to take a few moments to take a look at Jesus’ version of a “life hack;” the way He simplified the commands of God.  Ten Commandments?  Still too many.  He got the whole matter down to TWO.  Just two commands to keep, and those who do reveal themselves to be His disciples.  This morning we’ll take a brief look at what these commands are and how they serve as our operating instructions for LIFE.

First, let’s note these commands are part of Jesus’ response to a misleading question (vs. 34-36).

Jesus is days from being killed.  He is in the city of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish faith, having entered it with a very public parade and a equally public confrontation in the temple. The religious authorities hate Him and He has racheted up the pressure with these tactics, forcing their hand, so they are trying to find something they can use to discredit Him in the eyes of the people.

Matthew 22 records a series of four encounters where these religious leaders tried to trap Jesus in His words.  Our passage is the third of the four.  In this case, they want to draw Jesus into a long-standing argument about which of God’s commands was the most important.  As this was something godly people had debated for years, they were hoping that Jesus would take a stand that would alienate at least half His listeners, as His answer would not agree with theirs.  They probably didn’t care what Jesus’ answer was, they just wanted him to say something they could use to irritate a percentage of His followers.

Their question was posed by a LAWYER and theologian in one (AN EXPERT IN THE LAW) – need I say any more?  While a theological question like this may sound innocent to our ears, these people lived in an entirely different culture.  In our culture, questions of Bible interpretation have not been a deciding factor in mainstream policy decisions since the Civil War.  But in this culture, these questions had a great influence on all parts of life.  The way a person answered this question guided economic, political, and moral decisions.

Second, let’s see what Jesus’ answer reveals about following God (vs. 37-40).

It reveals something about our priorities.

Jesus said THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT is to love God.  God comes first because of who He is; as our Creator and Savior, He is the most deserving object of our love. God comes first because He is the highest good.  We help others and ourselves more when His love is the foundation of our attitudes and actions.  God comes first because He shows us by Jesus’ example what love is.

He also said the second most important command is to love our NEIGHBOR as we love ourselves.  Love for NEIGHBOR takes priority over love for self but does not eliminate it.  We are to be unselfish but we are not called to be anyone’s doormat.  Love for self is included.  Hatred of self leads to all kinds of disabilities and problems.  Yes, the Bible calls us to self-denial and self-control, but that’s to eliminate selfishness, not self-preservation or self-love.

The point is, we can’t really love God or anybody else without loving ourselves too.  It’s a matter of keeping our priorities in proper order.  There is a place for self-love and it is third place.

Life gets messed up and we fall into sin when we get these priorities out of order. Too often, we have it exactly backwards; we put self first, then others, then God – if we think about Him at all.

Jesus’ teaching reveals something about the nature of love.  Our LOVE is to be all-encompassing; WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. Our most common mistake is we love with only part of who we are.  We think it’s OK to give our SOUL to Jesus, but we want to reserve our MIND for science, and our HEART for worldly things we enjoy.  The Bible repeatedly tells us that a partial commitment is really no commitment at all.  Love is not real until it involves all of who we are; no reservations.

LOVE is also “all-encompassing” in the sense that is the motive for all good actions.  This is what Jesus meant when He said in v. 40, “ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”  Or, to put it another way, “Love is the heart of what God wants from us.  The rest of the Bible is commentary on how to love.”

Our LOVE for each other is shown by taking care of others like we care for self.  Few of us are completely selfish; most of us care to some degree about the welfare and opinions of others.  (Completely selfish people might be called “sociopaths.”  Experts tell us only 1% of the population are currently in that fix.)  Though some of us take better care of ourselves than others, most of us do what we can to be healthy and happy.  Jesus is telling us that’s a rough guide on how to love others.

This is Jesus restating the Golden Rule; “Do to others what you want others to do for you.”  He is telling us the standard of care for our neighbor is the kind of care we normally require for ourselves.  We are to stop being selfish and treat others with the same care and respect we’d treat ourselves.

From Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) we understand Jesus defined “neighbor” as everyone nearby and in need.  In short, our “neighbor” is everyone else.

There’s an enormous amount of biblical material on this subject, but for our purposes, we can characterize the nature of love by the objects of our love.

Love for God is obedience.

Love for each other is unselfish service.

Let’s Stick with God’s Simplified Instructions

“A preacher was speaking about all the things money can’t buy. ‘Money can’t buy happiness, it can’t buy laughter and money can’t buy love’ he told the congregation.

Driving his point home he said, ‘What would you do if I offered you $1,000 not to love your mother and father?’

“A hush fell over the congregation. Finally a small voice near the front, raised an important question, ‘How much would you give me not to love my big sister?’”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-great-commandment-steve-greene-sermon-on-christian-love-87624 on 8/11/17.>

There you go.  Even with good intentions, the preacher complicated this matter of who to love and how to love.

God is so good to us.  In this passage, Jesus made love as simple and as accessible as possible.  Why complicate anything in this life, but especially something as essential as love?

The answer to that question is, of course, that when complicate something we most often have some ulterior motive: we have something to sell or something to hide.  We’re trying to fool ourselves or somebody else.

This kind of love is not just words or sentiment, it is words and sentiment manifest in action.  It is making a sacrifice in order to meet a need, be a friend, redeem our time.  The kinds of sacrifices love may require include:

Time,

Money,

Getting outside our comfort zone,

Forgiving,

Associating with unlovable people,

Changing,

Being inconvenienced.

What we get in return is greater than our sacrifice.  God loves a lover.  Be that lover.

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Real Lovers

(Please read 1 John 4:19-5:5 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV.)

Real love can be identified by three unmistakable qualities.

  1. The life a real lover is marked by love.

Our love originates in God’s love for us. Verse nineteen continues the thought began in verse eight: WHOEVER DOES NOT LOVE DOES NOT KNOW GOD, BECAUSE GOD IS LOVE.  Real love originated in God.  This means that we are to love in the way God has loved us; unconditionally and universally.

Love for one another is the “flip side” of loving God.  Love for God & for others is not divisible.  IF ANYONE SAYS (v. 20) is the Elder’s reference to the false teachers that have plagued the church. The falsehood of their teaching is exposed by their lack of love.

A genuine experience of God is always verified by a loving character.  In this way, love is a test for truth.  While they are separate commands, you can’t have one without the other.  If someone claims to love God, but hates (has no love) for their brother, then their claim is proven false: HE IS A LIAR, John wrote.

No one can really love God – who is spiritual and invisible – and have no love for their brother, who is physical and visible.  The opposite is also true: you can’t truly love others until you have God’s love in your heart.

Love is more than a feeling; it is a command.  As V. 21, whatever God commands is the ultimate necessity.  So when the false teachers claimed a personal experience of God as the authority of their teaching, their lack of love betrayed them as false.  WHOEVER LOVES GOD MUST ALSO LOVE HIS BROTHER is linked with Jesus’ love commands (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28; Luke 10:25-28).

Belief in Jesus is where real love starts.

Verse one set forth the doctrinal distinctive that separates real lovers from false ones: EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST.

– JESUS refers to the human side of our Savior’s nature. As per Christmas, He was born into our human family and lived a human life.

– CHRIST refers to the divine side of our Savior’s nature. He is God & man at t same time.

– Failing to believe one or the other or both disqualifies you as a real lover.

Those who affirm this faith are BORN OF GOD.  Jesus said that in order to be saved, a person must be born again.  Belief in Jesus as both God and man is the first step toward being born again.

  1. The life of a real lover is marked by obedience.

Loving others is demonstrated by obeying God.  We show our love for God by loving each other.

– This is true in a relational sense. When we worship together, part of

worship is fellowship; strengthening relationships.  When we serve together, part of service is fellowship; it unites us in a common cause.

– This is true in a spiritual sense. Being united in Christ, believers share the Holy Spirit who joins us to God and each other.  Paul wrote that we share the mind of Christ.  While this doesn’t seem to guarantee agreement on specifics, it guarantees a common purpose.

– This is true in a moral sense. As individuals & as a group, we aim to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.  God’s love deals with sin by forgiving it, not by making excuses for it.

Obedience is the way we express love for God.  To encourage us, the Elder adds, AND HIS COMMANDS ARE NOT BURDENSOME.  This is a point he made four times in the Gospel of John (14:15, 21, 23; 15:10) and two other times in his letters (1 John 2:3-5; 2 John 6).

This is true for at least three reasons:

– God has issued His commands to love out of love. Forgiveness and forbearance are implied.

– God has empowered our love by the Holy Spirit who illumines His word and motivates us.

– God has put us together with one another to educate, encourage, and share the work.

  1. The life of a real lover is marked by victory.

We were told in verse one how to be BORN OF GOD.  In verse four we’re told what happens to people who are BORN OF GOD: we overcome the world! In this letter, overcomers are identified by:

– Doing what is right (2:29).

– Avoiding what is wrong (3:9; 5:18).

– Loving one another (4:7).

In John 16:33 = “I HAVE TOLD YOU THESE THINGS, SO THAT IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE.  IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. BUT TAKE HEART! I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.”  To John, the WORLD is the system of negativity and evil that has aligned itself against God.  The WORLD can be intimidating and/or tempting, but it has no power over people who are BORN OF GOD.  We’re no longer part of that system.

There’s nothing in us that make us overcomers; it is another act of grace on God’s part.  The way we access the VICTORY Jesus won is by FAITH.  In that sense, FAITH is the victory (v. 5).  The VICTORY is available only to HE WHO BELIEVES.  Only the people who have a right relationship with God share in Jesus’ VICTORY.   The VICTORY is based on a specific belief; ONLY HE WHO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD.

A central truth about Jesus Christ is that He is both God and man.  Those who affirm this truth have VICTORY over the WORLD.  This is essential because God said so, and because our salvation requires it.

 

Radicalized By Love

Please read Matthew 5:43-48.

NEWPORT, Tenn. (WVLT) — Justin and Cynthia Wagner were just about to head to bed on Sunday night when they smelled something burning. Justin said he looked out his front porch and noticed the garage he converted into a makeshift apartment was engulfed in flames.

He ran outside and tried to start the car that was between the garage and the house to move it out of the way, but realized the flames were already coming up underneath it.

“I told my wife, I said the car is gone just get out of here, don’t worry about nothing else, just let the fire department take care of it,” Wagner said.  The fire destroyed the Wagner’s garage, left their Mazda unrecognizable, and did extensive damage to their two-story home.

But then a friend found an unexpected surprise while he was helping the couple clean up on Wednesday morning. In the middle of the ashes was a Bible, opened up to John 3:16. The verse reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Wagner took that as a clear sign.  “That tells you right there that God is still here with us, he’s still here for us,” he said.  The majority of the Bible was burned with the edges of the pages blackened and charred, but the words of the passage are nearly untouched and clearly visible. Wagner said he has no doubt in his mind that God saved he and his wife that night because there is still more work for them to do on this earth.

“Maybe God let this happen to us so we could get a new start in life,” he said. “After I had seen the word of God and I seen it on that, I felt like God was reassuring me, I saved your life through all this. I brought you guys through this for a reason.”

Personally, I think the reason must be love.

<Retrieved from http://www.local8now.com/news/headlines/Newport-loses-everything-in-house-fire-364468041.html on 1/8/16.>

Message – Godly love meets the highest possible standard.

  1. You’ve got to know what love is.

“YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” introduces the false command.

This is the sixth of six consecutive sections of teaching introduced by this phrase; it is not used again in the Sermon On The Mount.  In every case, it involves something that originated in the Scripture but had become corrupted, misused by the people of God.

The proverb Jesus quoted in verse 43 was only half right.

The right half can be found in Leviticus 19:18, where God commanded, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” as part of a prohibition of revenge-seeking and grudge-holding. There is no evidence in the Bible or in history that the Jews paid any particular attention to Leviticus 19:18.  Jesus, however, paired it with the Shema (see Dueteronomy 6:4-9) as the two most important commands, central to His teaching.

The incorrect half is the “HATE YOUR ENEMY” part.  That was added by someone else.  This is a fine example of the kind of excuse-making people do when they want to rationalize their limited love.  Scot McKnight wrote, “Loving those we like and hating those we don’t is as common as skin.” (The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, p. 142.)

Jesus had nothing good to say about this kind of self-centered, excuse-ridden, limited love.  It’s such a low standard even TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS can rise to achieve it. (TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS were the Jews declared enemies!  For Jesus to throw that in their faces was like waving the red cape at the bull!)  No one who rises only to this superficial level of love should expect God to REWARD them for it. (Just the opposite!)

“BUT I SAY TO YOU” introduces the true command.  Real love is unconditional and universal; it makes no excuses for being anything less.

Loving only the lovable is NOT the kind of love God has in mind for His people.  He has shown us a more ambitious love.  As we have been love by God, so should we love one another.  We need to stop making excuses in a failing effort to conceal our lack of love.

– God has loved us unconditionally. He did not demand that we change first or in any way attempt to “earn” His love.  He loved us anyway.

– God has loved everyone; His love is universal. He could have said, “If you worship me, I will love you,” but He did not.  He loved all of us first and best.

As usual, Jesus radicalizes the standard, calling us to a deeper love; “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU.”  Who’s your “enemy?” It doesn’t matter whether you’ve chosen to count someone as an enemy, opponent, or rival or they have chosen to treat you as one.  What matters is that you choose to love them.  The highest and best kind of love is spiritual in nature and that’s why Jesus specified prayer as a way to enact and demonstrate true love.

– I think this plays to human nature. It’s harder to be unloving to someone when you are earnestly praying for God to bless them.

– I also think this plays to our spiritual nature. If we are truly following God’s example, prayer is part of loving even the unlovable as God does.

True love is manifest in a thousand other ways in addition to prayer.  For example, being gracious to one another demonstrates godly love.  The Bible allows us to disagree, but it does not allow us to behave disagreeably.  One of the most common ways we fail to love is by speaking rudely to or about one another.

Remember: “Being right does not give you the right.” Jesus’ strategy is to turn enemies into neighbors by loving them.

Jesus promised that real love results in reward (v. 46).  What is real love?

McKnight wrote: “Love must be defined by how God loves. From God’s behaviors we learn that love is a ‘rugged commitment to be with someone as someone who is for that person’s good and to love them unto God’s formative purpose.'” (McKnight, p. 143, emphasis his.)  With that understanding, genuine, godly love is not mere toleration or kibbutzing with people just like us.  It is cooperating fully with those who differ from us for mutual spiritual benefit.  Surely this is what Jesus meant by His remarks about the SUN and the RAIN happening at the same time to people we consider deserving/undeserving.

What is the REWARD?  That’s spelled out in v. 45; “THAT YOU MAY BE SONS OF YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Being God’s children means receiving eternal life in the world to come and abundant life in this world.  It isn’t all duty and obligation; being God’s children is the greatest possible reward and therefore the greatest possible joy.

  1. God’s standard for life (and love) is PERFECTION.

When it’s up to us, perfection is impossible.  If this were the entire story, God would be perpetrating a great injustice on us.  If He set an impossibly high standard, one He knew we could not keep, and then condemned us for not keeping it, that would be unfair and unloving.

Thankfully, it’s not up to us alone.  God gives us forgiveness when we fail and the Holy Spirit to help us succeed.  (It’s all by grace, folks!)  He sets the standard so high we will always need His help to achieve it.  That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.  Here’s how the Holy Spirit helps us.

– The Holy Spirit perfects our character so that temptations will be less compelling.

– When we are tempted, the Spirit gives us the wisdom and the moral strength to resist.

– God has promised a DOOR OF ESCAPE in times of temptation to avoid them as they happen

– The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible so that we needn’t have any question about what the will of God is in any situation. We won’t fail because we didn’t know better – we do.

We don’t have to fail, but having a human nature means we are prone to create problems for ourselves, so God has us covered with forgiveness.  Like His love, God’s forgiveness is unconditional: all sinners who repent are forgiven.  As with His love, God’s forgiveness is universal: all sins are forgiven.  God also completely forgives.  He forgets our sins and heals all our ills.  He graciously gives a clean slate and innumerable second chances.

What does it mean to be “radicalized?”

It’s a word used everywhere in the news to describe people who have become so committed to a version of Islam that they are willing to commit acts of terrorism.  In that way, the word has come to have negative connotations, a way for the secular media to further marginalize people of faith.

However, the word simply means to cause someone to adopt positions or beliefs more radical than they had previously held.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  To go further, the word “radical” describes a fundamental change.

Our passage is a great example of the radical nature of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  He commands that we fundamentally change the way we think about and practice love.  Let’s be “radicalized” to love.

We are to cease thinking about love in lazy, worldly, and selfish ways and are instead to love in the way God has loved us.  God sets the highest standard for love and then equips us to meet His standard in our daily lives.

Let me conclude with an example.  We find it easier to tolerate people when they agree with us.  When they disagree or make us angry, we tend to demonize and dehumanize them.  We magnify their faults and ignore their strengths.  We push them aside or tolerate them coldly.  We’re too “nice” to call them an “enemy,” but that’s practically what they have become.

Jesus commands us instead to cooperate with that person.  To never diminish their personhood or standing before God, to never assume we know how they’re going to turn out.  Partnering with that person to seek the best, most godly outcome is one way we achieve & exercise God’s love.

Let me ask you – if we are incapable of loving in this way in our home and church, what hope to do we have of loving God’s way in any other context?  What hope does the world have if we do not love as God loved us?