Loving God, Loving People, Part 2 – Matthew 22:34-40

Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
3/28/04

Richard Wurmbrand, who spent fourteen years suffering in a Communist prison, recalled the following true story:

“A Christian was sentenced to death. Before being executed, he was allowed to see his wife. His last words to his wife were, ‘You must know that I die loving those who kill me. They don’t know what they do and my last request of you is to love them, too. Don’t have bitterness in your heart because they kill your beloved one. We will meet in heaven.’ These words impressed the officer of the secret police who attended the discussion between the two. After he told me the story in prison, where he had been put for becoming a Christian.” (Michael G. Moriarty, The Perfect 10: The Blessings of Following God’s Commandments in a Post Modern World, pp. 141-142)

What would compel a man to face death with such love for those at whose very hands he would die? I believe a man who could demonstrate that depth of love for others—the very ones who were about to take his life—is one who understood what it meant to love God with all his heart, soul and mind. It reminds me of someone else who understood what it meant to love God with all his heart, soul and mind. Acts 7:59-60 tells of the stoning of Stephen and as he was being stoned he cried out to the Lord that He not hold this sin against them.

Here’s Stephen being killed with stones. He was a man who had done nothing to deserve such a terrible death and yet he was concerned about his killers. His dying words were, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.”

This is an unnatural love. When someone wrongs us our first impulse in the flesh is to strike back and get even. When we have snow, on occasion one of my boys will sneak up and hit me in the middle of the back with a snowball. My first impulse when hit with a snowball by one of my boys is to strike back hard and heavy. Of course in our case it’s a loving snowball fight.

But when one of my children picks on another one the natural tendency is not for the child wronged to come running to me and beg me not to punish the offender. The normal reaction is to retaliate. Zach shoves Nick so Nick shoves Zach. That’s the typical reaction.

The demonstration of love for his captors by the Christian prisoner sentenced to die and the love that Stephen demonstrated toward those who were killing him is not of this world. This kind of love is a supernatural love made possible only by loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. It’s the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated in His death on the cross when He said "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. (Luke 23:34)"

Last week as began our new series of studies, “Loving God, Loving People.” We looked at Matthew 22:34-40 and that is where we’ll return this morning.

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.' 40  "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

If you were facing death in a communist prison, would you be able to die loving those who were going to kill you? Imagine before drawing your last breath after having stones hurled at you crying out the words Stephen uttered, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” Imagine hanging on a cross, suffering excruciating pain and calling out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

How was it possible for mere men like Stephen and the man in the communist prison, to follow the love exemplified by Jesus and show love for those who were taking their very lives?

The answer is that it was their love for God that compelled them to love others—even those who were their enemies.

What we need to understand is that the only way we can have an impact on others by displaying such sacrificial love, is by first loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. It is not possible to love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t first of all love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your all mind.

The question we are going to be challenged with this morning is how can I love the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind? If we are going to love God like this, there are a few basics we need to understand. The first is that love for God begins with Him.

It’s in 1 John 1:9 we’re told that “We love Him because He first loved us.” Our love for God is only possible because of His love for us. Apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ we’re sinners showing hatred for God. And our own hatred for God condemns us. Proverbs 8:36 emphasizes this thought when it says, “But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death.”

Remember what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:18? He warned them that the world would hate them and He reminded them that the world hated Him first.

In contrast with the world that hates God are believers who have trusted Christ and love God. “We love Him because He first loved us.” God’s love for us is what’s described in John 3:16 when it says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son”.

God loved us so much that He sent His son, Jesus to die on rugged cross for our sins. In our sinful state we are deserving of death but God made it possible for us to be cleansed of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and by believing in Him we are given eternal life.

Have you ever confessed your sin and placed your faith in Jesus Christ? If you have then it’s possible for you to love God with all your heart and soul and mind. You are able to love Him because He loved you first.

Maybe some of you have experienced in your relationships with other people something similar to God’s love for us. Maybe you are married to someone who loved you first and that love won you over and you loved in return. As parents we love our children even before they are born and they return the love we give to them.

It’s much easier to love someone who loves us. In our flesh we’re not likely to love those who don’t love us.

But that’s what God has done for us. He’s made it possible for us to love Him by loving us first. We see it clearly in Romans 5:6-10. I want you to hear this passage from the NASB.

6  For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

While we were still sinners Christ died for us! We were enemies of God and He chose give us an opportunity for peace with God through the death of His Son.

Do you want to love God with all your heart and soul and mind? First you must understand that “we love Him because He first loved us.” He gave us His very own Son to die a cruel and underserved death on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for our sinfulness so that we could be reconciled to God. What powerful, wonderful love God demonstrated to us by loving us while we were still unworthy sinners! Don’t ever lose the wonder of knowing that God reached out to you while you were a worthless, vile sinner and in His mercy and grace loved you so much that He gave His very Son to die in your place so that you could be made right with God.

Have you ever experienced a rift with someone you loved? Perhaps you went to great lengths to seek reconciliation with that person. Jesus went far beyond any efforts we make at reconciliation. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving His very life so that we could be reconciled to God! What amazing love our Heavenly Father has for us! He loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son to bear our punishment and offers us eternal life when we place our trust in Jesus. We love Him because He first loved us. Never forget that!

If we are going to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind the first basic we must understand is that love begins with God. The second basic we must understand about our love for God is that love for God demands our obedience.

If we love God we’re going to obey Him. 1 John 5:2-3 makes it clear when it says,

1 John 5:2  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

As a father, it pleases me when my children are obedient. Not only does their obedience please me, it’s something I require of them. God requires our obedience as His children. And a truly loving father requires obedience of his children.

If we love God we are going to keep His commands. I try to be very clear with my children what I expect of them. I have certain boundaries I have set for them and guidelines I have given to them so that they know what’s expected of them in most situations. Most of the time, my children do want to please me. They return the love I show them by loving me back and being obedient.

God has given us commandments in His Word that He expects us to follow as His children. When we obey Him we demonstrate our love for Him. 1 John 5:3 says that “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” And in John 14:15 Jesus reminds us, "If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

But in order to keep His commandments, we need to understand what they are. God has made it clear in His word, the Bible what He expects of us. It’s our privilege to understand His Word and apply it to our lives. We need to place ourselves under the teaching of the Word. That’s why we’re gathered here this morning. We’re here to worship God and learn together from His Word so we’ll better understand what is required of us as His children. Make it your regular practice to sit under the teaching of God’s Word.

We also have a personal responsibility as believers to spend time reading, studying and meditating on God’s Word. Psalm 119:4 says,

You have commanded us To keep Your precepts diligently.

How can we keep His precepts diligently if we aren’t reading and studying His Word? Make the Word a priority in your life. Spend time in the Scriptures searching out its truths.

But even placing yourself under the teaching of the Word and reading and studying it for yourself isn’t enough. As we’re taught the word and read it and understand God’s Word we must put it into practice in our everyday lives. The way James 1:22 puts it is like this,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

If you say, “I believe in the Bible. I believe it’s God’s Word and I believe it has authority, “but you fail to live it out in the practical situations of life, you are just a hearer and not a doer and as James says you deceive yourself.

God’s Word is very practical and once we hear it we need to do it! If you love God not only will you hear His Word you will do it! Love for God demands our obedience. If we love God we will keep His commands.

We need to understand the basics that love for God begins with Him and love for God demands our obedience. We also need to understand that love for God requires our whole being.

Look at Matthew 22:37 again.

Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'

Mark 12:30 adds the word strength to the heart, soul and mind. Listen,

'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.

Instead of breaking down each of these words individually–heart, soul, mind and strength–what many Bible scholars suggest is that these words overlap. Instead of each of them being a distinct way of loving God, they mesh together and we get the sense that we are to love God with all that we have and all that we are.

God designed us as intricate, complex creatures. We have intellect, emotions, a physical body and an eternal soul. And our love for God is to be expressed from the totality of our selves. Love for God requires our whole being. We are to love Him with everything we have and everything we are.

If we love God we are going to direct our thoughts toward Him. If we love God with every ounce of our being we are going to abandon ourselves to Him. Instead of living to please ourselves we are going to live to please Him. Truly loving God is going to affect our thoughts and words and deeds. It’s going to flow from every area of our lives and spill into every situation we encounter.

It’s like the transformation a woman experiences when she becomes a mother. Her life is transformed when she becomes a mother. It’s amazing how much attention a newborn baby demands. There’s no time for a mom to be focused on herself. She’s the picture of one who gives up herself in complete service and loving devotion to care for her little one.

That’s how it should be with our love for God. Our passion should be for only Him. Our deepest desire should be in glorifying Him in all that we do whether it’s eating or drinking or whatever we are doing. Our love for Him should consume our lives.

I remember when Carolyn and I were dating after I had been discharged from the Marines. I was working the midnight shift as a security guard in a hospital and I can remember often going home to sleep for a couple of hours and then driving an hour and a half north to Grand Rapids to meet Carolyn after her classes so I could spend time with her. My love for her motivated me to give up much of my spare time and lots of sleep. But I did it all willingly. My main focus in life at that time was to please her and spend as much time with her as possible.

That’s how it should be with our love for God. We should have a passionate love for Him that flows from every ounce of ourselves—a love that drives us to sacrifice all our personal desires to seek Him. The beauty of a love like this for God is that He satisfies us like no personal desire fulfilled ever could. So it may seem like we give up ourselves—our own desires and wishes—but in the end His love and sweet fellowship bring satisfaction like nothing else.

We’ve established three key areas today that we need to understand as we strive to love God. Love for God begins with Him—we love Him because He first loved us. Love for God demands our obedience—if we love Him we will keep His commandments. And love for God requires our whole being—we are to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind.

Maybe you don’t love God this morning because you have never been reconciled to Him. You have never trusted Christ as Savior. If that is the case, I invite you to seek out a friend here today to share with you how you can confess your sin and accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Or I would personally love to share with you how you can be right with God today.

Perhaps you do love God and have been reconciled to Him. Is your life marked by obedience? Are you loving Him with all your heart, soul and mind? My prayer for each of us this morning is from 2 Thessalonians 3:5,

Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.

Let’s make this our prayer for Higgins Lake Baptist Church, that the Lord will direct our hearts into the love of God, so that we are a church that loves God and loves people.