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The Greatest Commandment

Back to all sermons MATTHEW: Jesus King of Heaven and Earth

Date: November 4, 2018

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: MATTHEW: Jesus King of Heaven and Earth

Category: Biblical Exposition

Scripture: Matthew 22:34–22:40

Mark Twain once said, “Some people are troubled by the things in the Bible they can’t understand. What troubles me are the things I can understand.”

The entire Bible teaches that God requires everyone to perfectly love him and their neighbor.

This is actually quite simple to understand, but it’s very difficult to do.

(1) A Simple but Important Question

Jesus continues to get peppered with questions from people who wish him ill. He has just muzzled a group of influential religious leaders who thought they had him in trapped with the perfect question. But it turns out they, like several before them, got out over their skis a bit. Jesus answers the question with biblical fidelity and logical precision. Like a week old birthday balloon they fade into the background a bit deflated. 

But this vanquishing of the Sadducees provides an opening for another group. The Pharisees. These guys are rivals to the Sadducees but in the cause of silencing Jesus, they are close allies.

Once again these religious scholars huddle up for another shot. Like some kids in the park, they are drawing up their next play in the dirt. Breaking the huddle with presumptuous confidence they approach Jesus again.

And, we see their approach in verse 35, “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.”

In verse 35 we read that they sent Jesus a lawyer. He is an expert in the law. It’s another expression for the scribes of the Pharisees. As a Pharisee, he would have known the Scriptures very well. They were famously known by their attention to all of the details of the Law. They even went so far as to add all kinds of regulations and instructions so that people would not break the law. They loved doing things that showed how serious and religious they were. What’s interesting is so much of their religion was a sham. They had the appearance of vitality and religious devotion but in the end, like the fig tree, they were a lot of leaves and no fruit. Their moral laxity earned them the title of a “generation of vipers” by Jesus (Matthew 3:7). 

And so it is a lawyer, an expert in the Law, coming to “test” or tempt him. Matthew reveals their malicious motives. And, it’s important that Matthew helps us to see what the motives are because the question, as we’ll see, is not bad. This is not something absurd like we heard from the Sadducees. This is actually an important question—regardless of the motives behind it. 

Let’s look at what they ask him in verse 36, ““Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?””

He simply asks what is the most important commandment. This was an ongoing debate amongst religious teachers at this time. They put the law into a couple of different categories, that which is “light” and “weighty”. We will see this in chapter 23:23 when Jesus chides them for their empty religion.

But, again, this is a good question. 

In fact, it’s a question that each of us should consider. What is the most important commandment in the Bible? Or put another way, what does God require of people? 

How would you answer this?

In order for God to be pleased with you, what must you do?

As Jesus answers him, and we work through this, hopefully, this will become more clear in your thinking.

(2) A Clear but Unsettling Answer

True to form, Jesus answers a simple question with a simple answer. 

But, also true to form, Jesus’s simple answer is pregnant with implications. 

Look with me at verse 37-40, “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.””

Did you notice that Jesus actually gave him two answers? It was a bonus. He asked for one, but he got two. 

Well, let’s think about these a bit. If we summarized them it would simply be, love God and love your neighbor. 

Let’s start with loving God.

Jesus here quotes from Deuteronomy chapter 6, which follows a very common passage of Scripture, referred to as the Shema. In this section, Moses writes foundational teaching for the Israelite to confess allegiance to the one true God. There is only one God and we worship him.

What does this allegiance look like? It looks like total commitment. You’ll notice how thorough Jesus is here, love God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind. Mark and Luke add in a fourth element, all of your strength. This is nothing short of giving God your everything. 

In the Bible, we understand the heart as the seat of the intellect, will, and intentions. It is the true you. It’s the control panel, the motherboard of you. It drives you.

The soul is the entire inner self with all of the unique personal characteristics including your emotions, desires, and feelings that make you, you.

The mind is the thought, evaluation, and intellectual commitments. 

The division here is not so much intended to delineate different aspects of our humanness but to show the completeness of what is commanded.

It is a full love. A complete love. 

You are to love the Lord your God with all of your heart. 

You are to love the Lord your God with all of your soul.

You are to love the Lord your God with all of your mind.

This comes down to a full and complete love.

What’s so interesting about this is the concept of love. For many today the thought of love is purely emotional. It’s a feeling. If someone was asked about their love for someone else today they often reflex to how they feel. People split up because they fall out of love. Relationships begin because of an intense feeling of love. We quantify how much others love us by how they make us feel. This is a very common way for us to think and talk about love today.

But you’ll notice with Jesus it’s different.

What we see here is love is not so much about emotions as it is obedience.

Love brings feelings but it is not only feelings. 

See, love obeys, love serves, love sacrifices, love is active even when the feelings aren’t present. 

This is because love is not primarily a feeling, it is a dominating disposition of the person that results in devotion.

This love for God then is not about how many times we can sing a chorus, how passionate we might seem, but it is about holiness. It’s about obedience. It’s about a love for God that stretches to the margins of our being. 

What does God require? What’s the greatest commandment? 

It is to love God fully—that is with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Implications

How are you doing with this?

What would those around you say you are most passionate about?

Do you enjoy reading the Bible? 

Do you look forward to the Sunday gathering?

How important is personal holiness?  Are there sins that you give a pass to or aren't burdened by?

What do you talk about? Who is the most common hero in the stories you tell?

How do you use your time? What consumes most of your time? Do you get up early to work out, or stay up late to watch shows but have no time to read the Bible and talk to God in prayer?

Imagine your dream Saturday, your perfect day. You can spend it however you wish with whomever you wish. No deadlines or obligations; your family will understand, accept and even rejoice in whatever you choose to do. You don’t have to do anything in particular. Everything about the day is up to you. How do you spend the time? What does it say about what and who you love?

What consumes most of your money? Do you give sacrificially to God and others? Do you view your finances as yours or God’s money to be stewarded?

What are you committed to? Is your life about your career, personal success, and honor? Is it about making a name for yourself or is about making a name for God?

Can you think of a time when you loved the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength? How long did that last? Three seconds? Five? To clarify, this means you devoted NONE of your heart, mind, soul or strength to ANYTHING else, but ONLY to God. Are you sure that’s your answer? Would that be the way God sees it?

What would it look like in your life to repent of not loving the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind? What would be some signs visible to fellow believers? To non-believers?

Looking at how you spend your time, money and attention (mental/emotional bandwidth), what are some things you love more than the Lord your God that you need to confess you love more?

Is God your number one passion? Do you love anything else more than him? Does anything ever compete with him?

Do you look forward to spending eternity with him? Do you love his Word? Do you love his people, the church? Do you love telling other people about him?

Imagine I was able to give you this opportunity to live here on earth forever. No death. No fear of the prospect of death. You can just live here and enjoy everything this world has to offer throughout all eternity. You get to enjoy all of your hobbies, fun, favorite foods, and whatever else you like and enjoy, forever. But there’s a catch. No God. That’s right you can’t pray, read your Bible, go to church or anything. You have to cut this out of your life completely. You can ride the merry-go-round of this world forever but have not God. Is this a deal? Why or why not?

Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is clear and unsettling.

If we are honest, we fail here miserably. None of us have met this standard.

It’s not the unclear things in the Bible that trouble me, but the clear. It’s things like this.

Move out from the realm of personal achievement, hollow externals, to the matter of true religion of the heart.

Then Jesus adds a second commandment, which is not really a separate commandment, but an overflow of the first. He says we must love our neighbor as ourselves. This is a quote from Leviticus 19:18. 

Remember, they are trying to trap him, trying to get him to say something that undermines the Bible and more particularly, Moses’ teaching. But he dips his finger back into the commandments of Moses and brings out the other, famous heading of the Law.

Again, this would have been nothing new for the expert in the law. They knew these verses.

What does it mean to love your neighbor?

We learn from Jesus that this includes those whom we like, those who are our enemies, and really anyone who is in need.

One of the keys to seeing how difficult it is to obey this is to see what Jesus pushes off of. He says that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Did you catch that? What does Jesus assume? He assumes self-love. This is not to say that it is right to love ourselves but that it is common. We love ourselves. The real gauge to begin measuring whether or not we love others is to see if that love is beginning to reflect how we love ourselves. 

Just think of this young day already. Most of us have spent considerable time caring for ourselves. It’s common and right to do this.

But think about your life overall. Isn’t it your normal reflex to think of yourself first? Think of your schedule, your finances, and what you might sacrifice? The first thought is what am I doing? 

But there are underlying assumptions and decisions already made that support this. And, if we are honest, many of our foundational, basic, decisions flow from our own self-interest. And, if we were brutally honest, probably a bit more than self-interest, likely self-love.

But, Jesus is saying the law of God, the entire Bible teaches that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. 

Jesus is not saying that we should love others in a way that is subordinate to or secondary to our love for ourselves. But rather, that our love—which naturally goes toward ourselves—is to be extended out to our neighbors with no less zeal and eagerness than it does naturally to ourselves.

Who are our neighbors? 

We can’t love everyone equally—that’s an impossibility.

So, who? Start with our family, move out to our church family, then to those whom God has put around us geographically, and those whom we encounter. 

Do you see certain people as undeserving of your love?

“If we rightly direct our love, we must first turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love, but to God, who bids us extend to all men the love we bear to him, that this may be an unchanging principle: whatever the character of the man, we must yet love him because we love God.” (Calvin, Institutes)

How do you think the religious leader did with this?

How do you do with this?

Let’s be honest, this is as difficult as it is straightforward. This is hard. It is really, hard.

If God judged you by this standard how would you do?

Friends, listen, this is the core of the Bible’s teaching. The entire Bible teaches that God requires everyone to perfectly love him and their neighbor.

If we are honest, we all flunk kindergarten. 

(3) A Humbling but Hopeful Solution

The man asked Jesus two questions about the Law of God. The Law has three main functions, and I want to highlight two of them as we consider this passage today.

The first is it convicts us of sin and leads us to Christ.

We learn in Galatians 3 that the Law is a schoolmaster or a tutor to lead people to Christ. Through the law comes the knowledge of sin, Paul writes. It reveals God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. We are all under sin and have sinned, falling short of the glory of God (Romans 6:23). 

The Law humbles us. It shows us that there is no way in which any of us could stand on our own accomplishments before God. We are all equally unrighteous in his sight.

It brings conviction.

But it also points us.

“Run, John, run the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands,

Far better news the gospel brings; it bids us fly and gives us wings” (Bunyan)

The Law points us to Christ’s perfection. 

The one who said this, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20, ESV)

Also said this, ““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.” (Matthew 5:17, ESV)

Jesus said,“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34, ESV)

He declared, “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”” (John 8:29, ESV)

The Father, looking upon Jesus, on multiple occasions, said, “…“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” (Matthew 17:5, ESV)

By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous! (Rom. 5:20)

Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound! (Rom. 5:15)

The Law leads us to Christ!

The Law then should humble everyone before God.

  • self-awareness
  • God-awareness
  • repentance
  • faith in the one who could keep this law
    • Jesus is the only one who loved God perfectly and loved neighbor has himself
    • This he did so that he could remake people in his image, those who love God and neighbor

The second is, it instructs us how to live as those who follow God.

  • This is what our life as a Christian should look like
  • Through the Holy Spirit, God makes us new, and increasingly makes us more like him
  • This then is what we strive after and pursue
  • Our lives are to be characterized by a love for God and a love for neighbor
    • Push into each and show the need for the local church here
    • What to believe, feel, and do
    • The study of theology, care for others, devotions