David Jeremiah - What Is the Greatest Commandment?
10 Questions Christians Are Asking
01. How can I be sure of my salvation?
02. How can I overcome temptation?
03. How can I get victory over worry?
04. How can I find forgiveness?
05. Is there only one way to God?
06. Why do Christians have so many problems?
07. Why don't my prayers get answered?
08. Is there a sin God cannot forgive?
09. What is faith?
10. What is the greatest commandment?
What is the greatest commandment? Hello, I'm David Jeremiah, joining you for the last message in our ten-part series called "Ten Questions Christians Are Asking". Out of all the questions we have answered in this series, today's question is the only one taken word for word from the Scripture. A Jewish scribe actually asked Jesus today's question, which is also the title of my message, "What Is the Greatest Commandment"? Because Jesus answered the scribe in detail, we will have no trouble answering today's question. But Jesus' answer was in two parts, an answer and a sequel. And along the way, we will clarify a saying that has become a popular part of modern culture. Most importantly, we will grapple with the profound implications of the commandment Jesus said is greatest of all. To learn more about this question, I hope you'll join me for today's edition of Turning Point.
I remember reading a story about a guy who was getting ready to go out of town for the weekend to a formal event. And as the week went along, he got toward the end of the week and realized that he hadn't gotten his formalwear dry-cleaned, and it was in a mess, and the cleaners where he normally went couldn't handle it. But he had remembered across town, there was a cleaning establishment that had "One Hour Cleaner" on the front of it. So he got in his car, took his clothes to this establishment, and he filled out the claim ticket. And he said, "I'll be back in a couple of hours to get my clothes". And the guy says, "No, no," he said, "we can't have these for you till Thursday". He says, "Well, it says on this establishment, 'One Hour Cleaner.'" "Oh," he said, "that's just the name of our business. We can't do that".
And I thought to myself, isn't that the way it is for a lot of Christians? We have the word "Christian" plastered over us, but it doesn't really mean anything. That's just the name we call ourselves, and we are not expressing that in what we do. Well, today in this question and answer thing with Jesus and a scribe, he's going to help us understand what it means to really be who we claim to be. What does it mean to truly be a Christian? How does that work out? What does it look like? How do I know if I've really got this disease or not? The passage begins in the 28th verse with what we might call the search for the first commandment. Listen to these words, "Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together," that is Jesus and the others who were questioning him, "and perceiving that Jesus had answered them well, asked Jesus this question, 'Which is the first commandment of all?'" Jewish tradition divided the commandments of God's law into positive commandments and negative commandments.
According to tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. You said, "Dr. Jeremiah, I'm depressed. I thought there were only ten, and I'm not doing all that hot with the first ten". Well, there's 613 of 'em, y'all, 613 commandments in the Old Testament. And if you break them down, they are like this: 248 of these commandments tell us something we should do, and 365 tell us something we shouldn't do. These are not just the ten main commandments, these are all the sub-sub-commandments that you can get if you read every word of the Old Testament. And this scribe came to Jesus that day, and he said, "Master, which of all of those is the most important"? It's like you're walking into a room and here are all 613 commandments laid out on a table, and the scribe says, "Jesus, we want you to go and pick one of them up and say, 'This one is the most important.'" Which is the first?
Now, most of us wouldn't have been surprised at all if Jesus had answered him by giving him what is the first of the Ten Commandments, and you know what that one is in Exodus 20, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me". That's the first commandment of the Ten Commandments. We might have thought Jesus would have answered him with that, but he did not. Jesus answers in verses 29 and 30, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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". So, the scribe said to Jesus, "What is the most important commandment of all the commandments"? And Jesus said, "Here it is, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.'"
What does he mean when he says this? He says the most important thing you can do to be who you claim to be is to love the Lord God, let's break it down, first of all with all of your heart. The heart, according to the New Testament concept, is the center of your emotion, the center of your feeling, the center of your desires. It's where you make your plans and where you talk with yourself. Your heart is the emotional part of your being. So when you say to somebody, "I love you with all my heart," well, you don't say to your wife, "Honey, you know that pumping station I got in my chest? I love you with that". No, no, no, you love your wife, you love your husband, you love them with all of your heart, all of your emotion, all of your desire, all of your feeling. God Almighty doesn't want our passive love. He wants our passionate love. So he says if you want to know the real commandment, here it is, love the Lord your God with all your passion, with all your heart.
And I don't know about you, when I read that, I think, whoa, man, I'm not sure I'm doing that. I know I should, and perhaps there are some times when I do, but I wonder, how do I measure up loving God like that? And then it says, and not only should you love him with all your heart, you should love him with all of your soul. And the soul in this context is kind of like the volitional part of you, the will, or the desire, the thing that you turn the switch on with. You love Almighty God with your soul, and that's how you move forward. You make decisions with your soul. It is the way you get something started. It's how you turn on the ignition. It's where you love God with all your energy. Love God with all your heart, your emotion. Love God with all your energy and will, your soul. And the third one is love God with all your mind.
Now, how many of you know that if you're going to be a Christian, you have to have your mind because that's the only way you can understand the gospel? If you're a Christian today, you're a Christian first of all because the gospel came through your mind gate into your system. God has given us minds, and those minds are his, and he wants us to equip them, and use them, and then give them back to him in some way that we can serve him. Love God with all of your mind. C.S. Lewis once wrote, "God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than he is of other slackers". In other words, don't be lazy intellectually any more than you should be lazy any other way. He said, "If you're thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you that you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all".
And I just want to give thanks to the Lord today for the men and women who have encouraged me because of their intellectual strength and their giftedness. And some of you are among those, many of you, because you want to learn the Word of God. You want to equip your mind with truth that can be used by the Word of God, by the Spirit of God to make a difference in the lives of people. Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, love God with all your mind, and then the last one is love God with all your strength. And strength is your physical capacity, your physical prowess. However you use your body to love God, however you use the strength that he's given you to work with others, and we'll give you some ideas about that as we go along today. So, let's just stop for a moment and think about the search for the number one commandment, and the statement about the commandment. And here's the statement, "Love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength".
Now, notice the sequel to the first commandment. Mark verse 31, chapter 12, "And the second," Jesus said, "is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these". Now, isn't it interesting that the scribe asked Jesus one question, and he gave him two answers? Jesus says, "Here's the first commandment, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself". Now, you know what that's become, don't you? That's now called the golden rule. The golden rule is do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Now, the golden rule has been maligned, and misunderstood, and misapplied, and misused for many years, and for many reasons. And so, I want to take just a few moments and tell you what the golden rule is not before I tell you what it is. I know that's not good grammar, but it is good theology.
Notice, first of all, this command, this golden rule command is not conclusive. If applied out of context, it can backfire and cause personality conflicts. You say, "How can that happen"? Well, apart from loving God first and loving others as you love yourself, if you use the golden rule as your dictum of life, you are really going to treat people the way you like to be treated, which means you will deal with others from your own perspective, and it implies that we're all alike, and what I want and need is exactly what you want and need. Do unto others not as you want them to do to you, but do unto others as they would like to have done to them. In other words, don't measure your relationships by what you want in the person who you love, but get to work and find out what's going on in the heart of the person you love, and then try to help meet their needs. That's what they call the platinum rule, but it's not really any different. It's just the golden rule in the context in which it was presented.
And so, the golden rule, first of all, is not conclusive. You can't just take it and say, "Oh, I live by the golden rule". If you do that out of the context of the New Testament, you're going to make a lot of mistakes and probably a few enemies. Not only is it not conclusive, it's not comprehensive. Let me just give you the bottom line on it not being comprehensive. Listen carefully, you can't get to heaven on the golden rule, can't get there. You stand before the Lord someday, and he says, "Why should I let you into my heaven"? You say, "Well, I kept the golden rule". Not. "Depart from me, I never knew you". So, well, you say, "If the golden rule's not conclusive and it's not comprehensive, then what's the use of it"? Well, the purpose of this, and the second part of Jesus' answer to the question, "What is the great commandment"? is to understand that it's important that we, who tend to keep all of this stuff in our own sphere and our eyes on ourself, if we're to really understand what it means to love God, we have to get our eyes off of ourselves, and get our eyes on to other people.
And this is very conclusively proven at the end of this message, but listen to me. If you go through the Bible, you will begin to discover over and over again that this principle jumps to the top in many passages. I could put ten of them on the screen, and just go through them one after the other, but let me just give you three places where this is presented. Philippians 2:4, "Let each of you look not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others". Romans 15:2, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification". And 1 Corinthians 10:24, "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being". Someone has said that if we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, when our neighbor loses his job, we feel his loss almost like we have lost our job. When our neighbor loses his spouse or her spouse, we feel like it's almost happened to us. If we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we get past the barriers that separate us, and into the heart of the one we love, and we discover what their need really is, and we identify with it as if it were our own need.
In the culture in which Jesus walked on this earth and in which the Bible was written, there were a number of words for love. One of the most well-known is the word "eros," from which we get our word "erotic". It is the word for sexual love or sensual love. And then there was another word called stauros, however you want to pronounce it, and that was a word that was for friendships, the kind of relationships you have sometimes with your Christian friends, your friendships. So, there was erotic love, and there was friendship love. But when Jesus came on the scene, a new word was born, and that word is the word "agape," almost unknown before the presence of Jesus. And that's because the word "agape" is a God word. It's the word that describes God's love for us. And the best definition of agape love is this, doing something for others without any expectation of anything in return. That's how God loved us.
You know why he has to love us that way? I'm going to tell you right now, because we got nothing to give him. If he didn't love us with agape love, he couldn't love us. If his love was like the love we see in our world today, we would never be loved. But God loved us totally because it was in his heart to love us, without any expectation that we could do anything to repay him. And the Bible says that's the kind of love we're to express when we love our neighbors. Love your neighbors, and don't be waiting around at the mailbox to see if they sent you a thank you note. Or don't get all anxiety ridden because you did this for them, and it's been 3 weeks, and you ain't heard one thing back from these sorry people that you love. When you love people with agape love, you love them because it's the nature of God in you to help you do it. And you don't wait for any response. Now, notice as we come through to the end of this text, there is a superiority of the first commandment in verse 13. Jesus explains in his answer that I've been explaining to you today, and he gives them the answer that we have studied.
And now, notice what happens. "So the scribe said to him, 'Well said, teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but he. And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.'" Now, that is a profound statement. Here is a man who lives in the professional, outward world of Judaism, acknowledging that all of the stuff that he does to make himself feel better as a Jew is in second place to loving God with all of his heart, and loving his neighbor as himself. Wow. It's the last thing you would expect of him to say. And the downgrading of the sacrificial system is all the more forceful because it is pronounced by a theologian of the religious establishment in the temple where the sacrifices were being offered.
So, how's Jesus going to respond to that? That brings us to the last verse in the text, or the last section of it. "Now when Jesus saw he answered wisely, he said to him," listen to this, "You are not far from the kingdom of God". He said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God. What you have understood today about the importance of loving God and loving your neighbor, you're moving closer to the kingdom of God. You're not far". And the Bible says, and then Jesus didn't answer any more questions, end of the period of interrogation. I mean, I thought about this. Suppose you're standing before God, and he says, "Why should I let you into my heaven"? and you say, "Well, Lord, I don't think I'm far. I think I'm close". How many of you know, you don't want to be close when you get to heaven, you want to be all the way there? Close. You want to be all the way. You need to embrace what you've heard, accept the one about whom we speak, accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Don't be close; be all the way.
Now, as we kind of look back over our shoulders at this interchange Jesus had with this man, I want to remind you of how this all fits together. Remember, Jesus was asked one question, and he gave two answers. What is the first commandment? Jesus gave him, "Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, love your neighbor as yourself". That's not one answer, that's two. One question, two answers. But now, in his answer, he's going to wed these two things together, so really it is one answer. How do you love God? You love God by loving your neighbor. Love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling around your heart. Love is an action word. When you love, you do something. When you love somebody, you do something.
Here is an ironclad illustration of that from an interchange Jesus previews in his Olivet discourse. Let me just read it to you. If you want to follow, it'll be on the screen. "Then the king will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.' And the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?' And the king will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'" Jesus said, "If you want to love me, you need to love others because, by loving others, you love me".
And I went back through this list, and it's pretty profound, isn't it? What is on this list? Giving somebody who's hungry something to eat. Giving somebody who's thirsty something to drink. Putting some clothes on somebody who doesn't have any. Helping somebody who is sick, visiting somebody in the hospital, or working with somebody who's in prison. Quite a list, isn't it?
That's what the Scripture says. You love God by loving others. You serve God by serving others. And that kind of takes this out of the, quote unquote, spiritual realm, and puts it down in the practical realm where it belongs. So much of our doctrine never gets outside of our house. So much of our belief never gets past the door. But the Bible says, you want to know what it's like to really live according to the sign that's on the front of you? You want to live up to what it means to be a Christian? Here it is, so simple and yet so profound: love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. What does that mean? That means when I'm loving my neighbor, I'm to love them with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then, as I love my neighbor, I'm loving God. And I'm fulfilling the number one priority that God has for us.