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Key Verse 12:30
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
It was towards the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth that every major force in the nation tried their best to catch him in something— anything— in order to incriminate him and put an end to his life and ministry. To arrest him was, at this point, almost impossible since most people by now viewed him as a prophet sent by God. So they would have to trap him in something really huge and cannot be ignored— maybe even in something that he might do or say. So when the Pharisees and Herodians came to Jesus with a question about taxes, that trap didn’t work. “Your problem” Jesus insinuated, “is not who to pay taxes to. Your real problem is that you are generous with yourself, but selfish with others, and stingy with God. That’s your real problem.” So, they couldn’t get him. And when that trap didn’t work, then the worldly Sadducees, who didn’t believe in anything they couldn’t see nor touch, tried to trap him with an intellectual trap about the absurdity of the resurrection. Jesus simply gave these brilliant intellectuals a kindergarten-level Bible study. (12:27) “Your problem is not that some things in the Bible make no sense to intellectuals like you” Jesus implied, “but your problem is that you think too much. Stop thinking with your head, and try thinking with your heart instead. The heart is bigger than the head and can understand things the head can’t understand. For example, if God is able to create life, can’t he also raise that life from the dead? Stop doubting and believe!” After Jesus was done talking to those who wanted to trap him, an amazing thing happened!
Read verse 28. “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’” During those debates between the religious and political higher ups and Jesus, a man— someone of their own ranks— stood by listening to Jesus being questioned and to the answers Jesus had give. He stood there quietly watching the drama unfold. He didn’t say a word. He just listened and watched until they all slinked away one by one. There may have been a few stragglers from among the opposition who stayed behind, baffled, or stunned, or even close to believing in Jesus as could possibly be— because no one can walk away from Jesus’ words without some decision or other. Jesus’ disciples may have felt a sense of victory that their Master Jesus had crushed the opposition yet again. They really didn’t understand that Jesus really never wanted to defeat them but just to lead them to faith in him. But young disciples will always be young disciples until they learn what Jesus fully meant in what he was about to teach this one religious man who stayed behind to question him yet again.
Among those who remained behind then was this one teacher of the law who seemed to think that the debate wasn’t over yet. He too had a question on his mind. Whether his question was intended as a trap or not, isn’t really clear. Let me explain! [By Jesus’ time, the Jews had accumulated hundreds of laws— some 613 by one historian’s count. Some religious leaders tried to distinguish between what they termed as “major laws” and what they termed as “minor laws”. And naturally then, some were teaching that all laws— one and all— were equally binding and that it was dangerous to make any distinctions, while others were teaching that one law was not as equally binding as another. We can therefore understand how this teacher’s question might have provoked controversy among these groups about God’s laws.] Like I said then, we really don’t know if his question was intended as a trap or not. But one thing is clear! He was wiser and more spiritual than all of them. If his question was intended as a trap question, it was the most meaningful of all, as well as the most worthy of Jesus and of Jesus’ time. Why? Because he had listened to Jesus’ answers and had understood something very important! Those who were trying to trap Jesus, were asking questions on a social or political or intellectual level; and that Jesus had always answered them on a spiritual level. As such, this man had clearly understood that Jesus was a spiritual man who stood with God and stood on the truth. So, he thought to test Jesus on a spiritual level— to test him not on some pointless human issue— but to test him on the word of God itself. But, if his question to Jesus were not intended as a trap but was a sincere question aimed at finding truth, then clearly he seemed to have come to some level of understanding as to what Jesus was trying to teach those who were trying to trap him. Whatever the case may be, his question was remarkable in many ways.
Let’s read verse 28 again. “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’” Why is it such a remarkable question? It seems such an easy question for Jesus to answer. But in truth it isn’t! It’s most difficult— more difficult than any question presented to any servant of God such as Jesus. Okay then, what do you think would be the most important commandment of all? Who can answer this! Think of the storms of arguments that might come out from a simple question like this. For example, “Matthew” is a man of God. He tries his best to serve God. And he tries his best to love his wife and kids. He really doesn’t struggle financially at all, not because he has money— for he doesn’t really have much money— but because he is content with what God has given him. But he has a pain in his heart— a struggle a personal anguish let’s say. He doesn’t understand why his kids don’t listen to him. So, his main struggle has been to gain his children’s respect. Now, what do you think might be the most important commandment to “Matthew”? Probably, “Children, obey your parents in all things.” (????????) To Matthew that is the most important commandment. On the other hand, let’s say, “Joanna” is a woman of God. She tries her best to live by faith in a godless society. She teaches her kids about God, and she works hard along side her husband to put food on the table. She is thankful to God who has faithfully taken care of her and her family. But she has an anguish— a struggle— a pain of heart. She doesn’t understand why her husband has a severe lust problem. Her struggle has always been to forgive him or not to forgive him. Now, what do you think is the most important commandment to “Joanna”? Probably, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex.20:14) There are some people who don’t usually open the Bible— don’t usually live by the it’s teachings— don’t care what the Bible teaches about this or that! But the funny thing is— their teenager kid suddenly becomes rebellious and obnoxious and wants to do his own thing— and they tell him “You must honor your father and mother.” Go figure! What suddenly has become the most important commandment to these people? You get the point?
The man’s question wasn’t easy to answer at all. Who can correctly answer this question? As many as there are commandments in the Bible, so also are there opinions as to which of them is the most important of all. It is in the human nature to be selfish and self-centered. In that sense then, it is human nature to focus the entire Bible teaching on that which serves our own best interest first— to cater to our own benefit and welfare first. Most people look out for what is best for them, even using the Bible to serve their purpose. Most churches look out for what best suits their needs and desires and petty controversies. And the result is usually division and faction— and denomination diversity, and I’m sorry to say that we’re no different! But if men and churches look out for the best interest of God and of God’s honor, we would find that there would be no controversy and no division and no strife. In that sense, Jesus is our exemplar— our paradigm— who’s heart always looked after God’s honor and God’s glory. So it is important for us to see how Jesus answered this most difficult question, because in his answer we can discover the fundamentals of our Christian faith and understanding.
How did Jesus answer this difficult question? Let’s read verses 29-30. “’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’” Every one who knows God and his word well enough also knows that every word of God in the Bible is important. There are no unimportant commandments in the Bible. And every commandment is as important as the other. When Jesus agreed to point out a commandment as the most important of commandments, we need to understand that Jesus didn’t mean that other commandments are of lesser importance. Jesus simply pointed out that commandment which enfolds (enfolds— wraps up) all other commandments in its radiance (brilliance— vividness— brightness) and its glory. To love God, Jesus said, is the most important of all commandments. It is that commandment which is at the core of all other commandments and sets the stage (platform) in the human heart to embrace (accept— welcome— hold) all other commandments. In that sense then, it’s the most important of all commandments. In that way Jesus demonstrated what must be of most importance to the human heart. To “love God” (Loving God) is not only the most important of commandments, but to love God— is also most important to our very life and spiritual health. And there’s good reasons for that!
First, to love God with all our hearts is most important, because we must love him for who he is. He is God! He is not a man or a woman nor an object to which we can make a choice to love him or not to love him. He is God, the Creator, the Maker of our lives and souls, and of all that we are and have and see and know! To “love” is so much a part of our human nature (and only the human nature and no other living creature on earth shares that) and that is simply because we were made in the image of God. And the image of God— that one characteristic that stands out the most is love. Love is that intimate nature of God— which also makes it our own intimate nature as well. Naturally then, we love. But God wants us to love him completely because he is God. One time, Jesus himself defined how you and I should love God more than anything else just because he is God when he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters —yes, even his own life —he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Of course, it doesn’t mean that we must hate them. It simply means that loving God should be the most important and the strongest of our “loves”. A love so strong, that loving others almost appears as hate.
Second, to love God with all our hearts is most important, because he created us. God is the Creator and we are his creation. Simply, he created us out of his incredible amazing and everlasting love. So, to love God is the most natural thing in life to do. In other words, loving God shouldn’t be a duty— but simply the natural thing to do. Let me explain. There is nothing more natural than to love one’s parents. If one doesn’t love one’s parents, something is terribly wrong— because it’s natural— in the heart— in the blood— even if the relationship is bad— love is there, it exists because it’s natural. Even a criminal finds comfort and love with his mother or father. Likewise, there’s nothing more important than loving your God and Creator. Not to love your Creator, whatever reason you may have, is unnatural. It is a disease of the soul, that needs healing which only the Lord Jesus can provide when you come to him, laying down your sins at the cross and accepting his cleansing blood, and taking on a the new self— the self that loves God. Jesus came to remedy sick hearts and souls who find themselves loving things more than God, or putting other loves ahead of the love of God. If I find myself loving my job or my freedom or my belongings or other people more than loving God, then I must come to Jesus with my sickness of heart and soul and receive cleansing.
Third, to love God with all our hearts is most important, because loving God is the foundation of all other loves. In other words, in reality the shocking truth is that if we cannot love God, then we cannot really love anything else or anyone else truly. All love comes from God. All love originates from God. Even when a mother loves the baby in her arms, it is the gift of God passed down to her from God who made her and gave her baby. But if she doesn’t love God, she can’t properly love that baby. Her love is stunted— somehow lacking. She may claim to love the baby with all her heart, but if she chooses her lover or her career over the welfare of her baby, then her love for the baby is missing something— it is not complete— it needs healing. All love originates in God. If I don’t love God my love can’t mature nor grow to do what it’s supposed to do in this world, which is to represent God’s love and bless others through it. Learning to love God is certainly the most important thing in our lives, and only Jesus can help us achieve that! Then out love can grow to the next level which is the second most important commandment.
Jesus did not stop by teaching us that loving God is the most important commandment. He went on to link the importance of loving God with the importance of loving our fellow human beings. Read verse 31. “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Why did Jesus insist on loving others as we love ourselves, as we love God? There is no easy answer to this. At the same time, it’s easy. We, as in people, we have preferences. We have opinions. We have likes and dislikes. We have prejudices and judgments. We pick and choose whom we like and whom we do not like. We pick and choose whom we love and whom we hate. We do so because we have a limited understanding of the nature of humanity. To us, humanity is a jumble of non related people, each with a different character and background and habits and so on. But to God, humanity is not a hodgepodge of unrelated people. To our loving God, humanity is a brotherhood consisting of brothers and sisters who belong to one Father— God. Whether we like it or not, or whether we think so or not, to God all people are precious, because all people are his children. I may not care too much for “Joe” or his kids because I hardly know him. So whether he’s in trouble or whether his children are suffering isn’t much of a concern to me. But to Joe’s mom and brother and uncle, he and his kids are very important. Loving them and serving them and helping them is the most important thing on earth. So it is with God. Spiritually speaking, we may not know “Joe”. But God knows him and cares for him because he is his son whom he loves. For that reason Jesus commanded us to love others as we love ourselves, as we love God. Ultimately, the Bible says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) To love God, therefore, is very much related to loving others.
Jesus also commanded us to love God, with “all” your heart, mind, soul and strength. Why? Because loving God with half our heart, half our soul, half our mind and half our strength is not good enough. No one wants to be loved half way— ask anyone! No one would settle for half of someone else’s love. Suppose your wife tells you that she loves you but not half as much as she loves her kids, or her mother, how would it settle in your heart? Suppose your son tells you that he loves you but not half as much as he loves his girlfriend? Love must be complete, unconditional, given freely and without reservation. If love cannot be given like this, then love must be examined, and remedied with the best love ever. What is the best love? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) To learn love and to receive the healing that comes from it, we must learn of Jesus and imitate his love. We should first receive his love for us freely and then we must give it freely to God and to our fellow man. May God bless you to know that to love God is most important, and to love others is as important. May God then bless you to also learn this love by coming to the cross and being washed in its healing powers. Amen.