Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
We’re beginning a new series of studies today called “Loving God, Loving People.”
We’re going to discover that real Christianity drives a believer to love God with everything—with his whole life.
An understanding of Matthew 22:34-40 will help us see that at the root of our effectiveness as Christ’s Church is our level of faithfulness in Loving God and Loving People.
Let’s look at the text in Matthew 22:34-40.
Matthew 22:34 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.’ v40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
I’d like you to think about an important question with me this morning.
Why does the church seem to be so ineffective in today’s society? If you could get a view from above of all the Bible believing churches in our country this morning I believe you would find that there are far more empty than occupied seats.
Why is that?
Could it be it’s because the world looks at the church and sees a divorce rate that is higher than the general public? Is it because they see the children of church attendees grow up and leave the church and reject God? Is it because they don’t see the church making a real difference in the lives of those who go to church?
There seems to be a climate of spiritual interest. There’s much talk about the Passion of Jesus Christ these days. So why are most churches struggling to see much or any growth?
I believe the fundamental problem is that the world looks at the church and doesn’t see the difference. They see churchgoers who are worried and depressed and terribly unhappy with life. They see churchgoers who cheat on their taxes, cheat on their spouses and cheat on the job and don’t see where the church is making much of a difference.
I believe that if the church is to be effective in the world today we’re going to have to return to the fundamentals of the faith. And at the very root of our Christianity lies the answer that Jesus gave the Pharisees when they tried to trap him with a question like “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” His answer sums up for us the fundamentals of the faith. I’m certain that when we master the fundamentals as believers and as a church we’ll be prepared to deal with all of the other challenges we face in a way that’s Christ honoring.
We’re beginning a new series of studies today called “Loving God, Loving People.” You can see the new lettering up front this morning and I would like it to remind us in our studies over the next few weeks and in the days ahead that we must be a church that “loves God and loves people.” I want to challenge you to make this more than a catchy slogan in describing our church. Let it be a reminder to you as we minister and worship and serve and fellowship together that this is why we are here—we must be a church that loves God and loves people.
We’re going to be taking a close look at Matthew 22:34-40 over the next several weeks and in the process we’ll seek to answer the following questions.
- What is the Greatest Commandment?
- How do I love God with all my heart?
- How do I love God with all my soul?
- How do I love God with all my mind?
- Who is my Neighbor?
- How do I love my neighbor?
We’re going to discover that real Christianity drives a believer to love God with everything—with his whole life. Loving God with part of your life and not your whole being is unacceptable to God.
In answer to the Pharisees question, “Which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5,
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
There’s something so incredibly important here that we need to understand before we can move through this passage in the weeks ahead.
Everything we believe and teach and uphold as a church—everything we practice as believers—everything we teach and strive to practice from the Word of God depends on these two commands. And an understanding of Matthew 22:34-40 will help us see that at the root of our effectiveness as Christ’s Church is our level of faithfulness in Loving God and Loving People.
If we get these two commandments straight the rest of the Ten Commandments will fall into place as well. And the rest of God’s Word and our obedience to it fall into place also. But let’s look for a moment at the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
The first four commandments all deal with our relationship with God. In the first commandment we are told not to worship any other Gods. The second commandment tells us not to make any idols. The third commandment tells us not to take God’s name in vain. The fourth commandment tells us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Each of these four commandments can be summed up by loving God with all your heart, soul and mind.
The remaining commandments are all directly related to our relationships with others. We are to honor our father and mother. We are not to murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness. We are not to covet our neighbor’s belongings. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we’re not going to violate these commands.
Jesus said that the commandments to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” are so important that on them “hang all the Law and the Prophets.” That’s quite a statement.
John Piper illustrates it so well. He says,
Let me see if I can put this in a picture, so that you can see it more plainly. It is so important, if we are going to grasp the magnitude of the significance of love in our midst, as we move forward into the practical expressions of it in our preaching and in our life together [as a church].
Let’s picture the inspired history of redemption from creation to consummation as a scroll like the one John saw in Revelation 5. This is the Law and the Prophets (and the New Testament). The story of God’s acts and purposes in history are told in this scroll, along with God’s commandments and promises. Matthew 7:12 and Romans 13:8-10 tell us that, when the people of God love their neighbor as they love themselves, the purpose of this scroll is being fulfilled. It’s aim is being expressed visibly, manifested practically so “that people can see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). So the scroll is leading to love. Love is flowing from the scroll.
But then Jesus gives us an incredible perspective. He lifts us out of history and out of the world for a moment and shows us the scroll from a distance. Now we can see it whole — the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament, the story of redemption, the purposes and acts of God in history. And what we see is that the scroll is hanging by two golden chains, one fastened to each end of the scroll handles. And Jesus lifts our eyes to heaven, and we see the chains run up and disappear into heaven.
Then he takes us up to heaven. And he shows us the ends of the chains. They are fastened to the throne of God. One chain is fastened to the right arm of the throne where the words are inscribed: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.” And the other chain is fastened to the left arm of the throne where the words are inscribed, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And Jesus turns to us and says, “The whole scroll, the whole Law and the Prophets, the whole history of redemption and all my Father’s plans and acts hang on these two great sovereign purposes of God — that he be loved by his people, and that his people love each other.
I believe it would not be too much to say that all of creation, all of redemption, all of history hang on these two great purposes — that humans love God with all our heart, and that from the overflow of that love we love each other. 1
If all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments and if, as Piper says, “all of redemption, all of history hang on these two great purposes,” then I think it’s fitting for us to take a more careful look at just what it means to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
I want us to examine this passage so carefully that it really takes hold in our minds and becomes deeply rooted in our hearts and in turn impacts the way we live. I want us as a church to have a thorough understanding of what is involved in loving the Lord and others in this way. I want us to be more than a church with a catchy slogan, Loving God, Loving People. My prayer is that we will truly be a church that understands how to love God and how to love people. If this kind of love for God and others becomes a reality in our lives and in our church, I know it will make a difference, an eternal difference.
One thing we’ll need to look at as we study this passage in Matthew 22 is just what true Biblical love is and what it is not. We live in a world that doesn’t always define love the way God does. If you dare to proclaim the truth that there is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ you could be branded as intolerant and unloving. If you dare to speak the truth and call sin exactly what it is you are considered narrow minded, unloving and judgmental. And a warped view of love even seeps into the church at times.
If loving God and loving people is so important—and it is because Jesus made it clear this was extremely important by saying “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,”—then we owe it to God and ourselves to do some self-examination.
We can do that by making an assessment of our condition—we could call it a diagnosis of our spiritual condition. Consider with me for a moment that your relationship with God could be diagnosed as one of three conditions.
The first condition is one of loving and enjoying God. If this is your spiritual condition it can be said of you that you’ve trusted Christ as your Savior and you’ve submitted to His Lordship in your life. You prayerfully examine you’re life and you strive to do everything to the honor and glory of God. You truly strive to conform your life to being one of obedience to God and His Word. You may sin but you always take it to the Lord to quickly seek forgiveness and ask the Lord to help you remove that sin from your life. Your burden is to see others come to Christ and your desire is to make Him known. You could call your condition one of life—that you are alive and living—you are loving and enjoying God. You can say of your love for God with Psalm 73:25-26 “25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. 26 My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” If this describes you God has your attention and His desire is to use you greatly to advance His program here on earth and He probably already is.
But this may not be your spiritual condition. Your relationship with God could be diagnosed a second way. And maybe this describes you. You’ve trusted Christ as Savior and in the beginning you were fully devoted to living for Him. But at some point you began wandering from your first love—you’ve been drawn away from God’s Word and the power it offers for your life. You’ve been drawn away from the sweet fellowship of praying to your heavenly Father. After examining your life and the condition of your heart you can no longer say that you delight yourself in the Lord. You could say your spiritual condition—your relationship to God is comatose. You’re alive but you really aren’t living life—you’re on life support. You’re just barely living. You come to church and you agree with the truth you hear but you fail to put it into practice in your life because you fail to truly believe that God’s Word gives you answers for the problems you face. You fail to call on God’s divine power to resolve the difficulties you face that you know are beyond your abilities to solve. A comatose Christian is not really living for God and His honor and glory but is more self-centered to be concerned with loving others. If this describes you the prognosis is that you’ll remain powerless and ineffective in your spiritual life. You’ll not witness the power of God to deal with the difficulties you face and you’ll continually quench the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Of the comatose believer God says in Revelation 2:5 that the prescribed treatment is to, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (NIV) If this describes you then God calls you to return to your first love. Repent—turn from your present ways and return to the basics of the faith. Return to the joy of reading God’s Word. Return to the joy of sweet fellowship with God in prayer. Return to the joy of fellowship with other believers. And return to your joy and excitement of telling others about Jesus.
The third way your relationship with God could be described is that you are completely without Christ. You’ve never truly trusted Christ as Savior. You’ve been coming to church and you think the Bible is a good book and you like the singing and the fellowship and the people are nice to you but when it comes right down to it God’s Word says your spiritual condition is one of being separated from God. And the prognosis isn’t good. If you remain unrepentant the prognosis is death and eternal separation from God because you’ve never repented of your sin and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.
You may have an interest in spiritual things but you’ve never repented of your sin and accepted the forgiveness and life Christ offers you. And unless you accept Christ as Lord and Savior, on the day of judgment while you’re trying to tell God about all the times you went to church and how much you gave and about the nice things you did for others, God will look at you and will have to say “depart from me, I never knew you. (Mat. 7:22-23)”
Along with the examination, diagnosis and prognosis of our spiritual condition there’s also a prescribed treatment for the comatose believer and the unrepentant sinner.
For the comatose believer you must return to your first love. You must repent of any unconfessed sin in your life. Confess the sin of neglecting His Word and failing to pray and failing to live according to His Word. You must return to your first love and the first joy you experienced as a new believer in Christ. Love God and truly live life. Strive to say with Habakkuk,
“17 Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls; 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Hab. 3:17-18
There’s a prescription for the unrepentant sinner, the person who’s never confessed there sin and accepted Christ as Savior. And you need this prescription because loving God and loving people in the way Jesus commanded is only possible if you are a child of God. It’s beyond our human abilities to love God and others the way we should apart from Christ. It’s only by placing your faith and trust in Jesus Christ that you are given the supernatural ability empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God and love people. If you have never trusted Christ as Savior, then the place you need to start is by confessing you sin and believing in Him.
In Romans 10:9 there’s a precious promise for the person who’s never trusted Christ
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
If you have never trusted Christ as Savior I urge you to seek out another believer from this church and ask them to share with you how you can know Christ or come to me after the service and ask how you can know Christ.
Maybe you have trusted Christ but your heart has grown cold. You know you haven’t loved God or your neighbor, as you should. I want to challenge each of you to prayerfully consider today and in the weeks ahead how you can love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and how you can love your neighbor as yourself.
Let’s pray that Higgins Lake Baptist Church will be a church that truly is marked by our love for God and our love for people.
1 John Piper, The Greatest of These Is Love (http://www.desiringgod.org/l ibrary/sermons/95/043095.html)