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Love Drives Everything

Exposition of Matthew  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  37:08
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The Great Commandments show that love drives all our decisions.

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C.S. Lewis: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.
Matthew 22:34–36 ESV
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

I. A Controversial Question (vv.34–36)

You can be tested with good motivations or bad ones. It seems there was a mix in this group.
Matthew 22:34 ESV
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
John 3:16 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Good Question; Bad Motivation

Not all Pharisees were hypocritical and wicked. Many followed Jesus after his resurrection. And at least one of the Pharisees questioning Jesus was satisfied with His answer—and that speaks well of him. We learn this in the Gospel of Mark, who tells the same story but includes some details Matthew didn’t. Jesus tells this particular Pharisee he isn't far from God's kingdom.
However, the majority of those who questioned Jesus about the most important command in the law were hostile. They asked Jesus this question "to trap him."
Matthew 22:34 ESV
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
Matthew 22:34–40 ESV
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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.”
What is the great commandment?

II. A Surprising Answer (vv. 37–38)

Jesus’ answer is masterfully simple, direct, and clear: love the Lord your God with all of you.
Matthew 22:37–38 ESV
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.
Here he is, of course, quoting Deuteronomy 6, one of the key passages in the Old Testament describing to Israel what God expected of them. I say this is clear, but what indeed does this mean? What does "love" mean? What do you think?
We’ve got to clear out one false idea before we can understand what Jesus is saying: the role of the Greek word ἀγάπη (agape).
Many Christians who have been around the Christian block a few times know—or think they know—that the hidden key to understanding this command is the Greek word translated “love” here. Ἀγάπη is supposed to carry a great deal of theological weight. It is one of the few New Testament Greek words that many Christians know, and it is very commonly believed to mean a rational and self-sacrificial choice to do what is best for someone else regardless of how you feel. People commonly believe that this word ἀγάπη means a specific kind of Christian love. Christians who have been around the block perhaps one additional time commonly think that ἀγάπη must be distinguished from φιλέω and ἔρως, other Greek words for love which focus much more on feelings. So what does ἀγάπη mean?
Well, how do we know what a word in the Bible means anyway?
Look it up in the dictionary
Look it up in the dictionary, right? But how does the dictionary know? The writers of dictionaries, who are just people like you and me, observe how a given word is used in the Bible.
How, for example, did you figure out as a child what “bicycle” means? You listened to how people used the word and you figured out quickly that “bicycle” means a pedal-powered vehicle with two wheels. Your parents never referred to “tricycles” as “bicycles.” They might have called a “motorcycle” a “bike,” but they never called it a “bicycle.” Without ever thinking about it, you picked up with perfect clarity what a “bicycle” is, and in your entire life you have never used the word “incorrectly.” You just know one when you see one.
Greek speakers would have learned the word ἀγάπη the same way. And if we ask how we know what the word means, we have to note that NT writers do not hesitate to use it to speak of overtly sinful loves:
Luke 11:42–43 ESV
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
John 3:19 ESV
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Follow me here: if agape means “self-sacrificial, non e-motional Christian love,” then these verses would be like someone saying, “That’s a bicycle, but it has two wheels.”
John 12:43 ESV
for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
2 Timothy 4:10 ESV
For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
2 Peter 2:15 ESV
Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing,
Ἀγάπη can’t mean self-sacrificial, non-emotional, unconditional Christian love. So what does it mean?
Carson (Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God): The best English example is simply the verb love. One may use it for romantic love, platonic love, emotional love, the love of God, and more. The context defines and delimits the word, precisely as it does the verbs for love in the pages of holy Scripture.”
The word “love” in the Bible is like the word “love” in English. It just means liking something a lot, finding that your heart goes out to something, that your soul is bent in that direction. Emotions are most definitely included. So is thinking. “Love” is just a name we give to the way your “inner man” is pointing.
Look at the terminology Jesus uses: What does it mean to love God with your whole heart and soul? Is there a big difference between these two things, heart and soul?
There seems to be little difference between "heart" and "soul" in Acts 4:32, where the early believers were said to be “of one heart and one soul.” In addition, all major translations render ψυχή with heart in Ephesians 6:6, where Paul instructs believers to obey the will of God ἐκ ψυχῆς, “from the heart” (cf. Col 3:23). And several translations render ψυχή with mind (one with heart) in Acts 15:24.
Jesus is not trying to dissect man into separate bits but to add up overlapping descriptions of what’s inside us to make sure we know that no corner of our being is exempt from the command to love God. It’s kind of like saying that a contract is "null and void.” If it’s “null” then why bother saying it’s “void”? You’re just leaving no stone unturned. You’re making sure all your bases are covered. Your heart and your soul, in Scripture, are not distinguishable parts of you. They’re basically synonymous. I couldn’t say to my wife, “I love you with all my heart and a significant majority of my soul.” To love God with one is to love him with the other. And that is what we are called to do.
Jesus adds this word “mind” to Deut. 6.
Here again, however, Jesus is not moving over to a separate part of us but to an overlapping description of what’s inside us. We think of the “mind” as solely cognitive, intellectual. But the Bible doesn’t. The Bible doesn’t split up the inner man into separate parts that are all angling for the top job, jostling with the other parts for supremacy.
Luke 1:51 ESV
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
Ephesians 2:3 ESV
among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Everything inside you: your heart, soul, mind, desires, feelings, motivations, purposes, strength, aspirations, yearnings, impulses—everything needs to be pointed toward one ultimate point: the Lord your God. When you drink orange juice or get a big bill you weren’t expecting or wake up in the middle of the night for no reason, at all times, your heart needs to be pointed in a Godward direction. So, on the count of three, I’d like everyone to snap their fingers with me and just do this. Okay? One, two, … That’s not possible, is it?
In fact, you may be objecting in your own mind and heart and soul: “How can God command me to do something like this which is not under my direct control? Is God allowed to command me to do things I can’t do?”
John Piper: It is not biblical to say that the only virtues God can require of me are the ones that I am good enough to perform. If I am so bad that I can’t delight in what is good, that is no reason God can’t command me to love the good. If I am so corrupt that I can’t enjoy what is infinitely beautiful, that does not make me less guilty for disobeying the command to delight in God (Ps. 37:4). It makes me more guilty.
Jesus says in v. 38 that this is the “first and great commandment."
What’s the most important commandment in American law? Probably the command against premeditated murder? A society’s laws, and the penalties it attaches to those laws, express what it values most. Violent crimes attack the one thing most precious to most Americans: their own lives. So I’m presuming that such crimes are punished more severely than others. Jail times for jaywalking are probably, I’m guessing, much lower than jail times for murder—except in very uptight cities.
So what happens to someone who breaks the first and great commandment?
1 Corinthians 16:22 ESV
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!

III. A Practical Implication (vv. 39–40)

Love for God inevitably leads to love for his image-bearers.
“Love” here means just what “love” in Jesus’ previous words meant.
Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers that question in Luke with the parable of the good Samaritan. As one theologian said, your neighbor is "the next person you meet."
Piper (Desiring God):
[Christ] assumes...that we all pursue our own happiness; then He makes the measure of our innate self-love the measure of our duty to love others. 'As you love yourself, so love others.'" (209)
Cornelius Plantinga Engaging God's World:
"When I daydream before falling asleep, whose happiness do I dream of?" (144)
Thomas Manton:
There are in men two great influencing affections, love and hatred; one serves for choice and pursuit, the other for flight and avers…ion. The great work of grace is to fix these upon their proper objects; if we could but set our love and hatred right, we should do well enough in the spiritual life.
How does God’s grace do it?
Ezekiel 36:24–26 ESV
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
God's promise in the New Covenant is that he will give his people new hearts.
Illustration: When my wife walks into the room my heart responds.

The choice is mutual

I have a wonderful wife, and I love being married. But I wasn’t always in this happy state of matrimony—or I guess in Canada do you say the “province” of matrimony? Anyway, I used to live in the province of alert singlehood. I was searching for a good wife, and I happened to be at a Christian college where there hundreds of suitable candidates. The question was whether I could find one who thought I was a suitable candidate for her.
My sophomore year I listened to a sermon online from a well-meaning preacher in which he insisted, over and over again throughout the message, that “Love is a choice, not a feeling.” He said that emotional love was irrelevant to the matter of whether you should marry someone or not. And whether he meant it or not, the message I got was that it didn’t matter how I felt, I just needed to go out and choose the best possible wife. So I did. I chose her, and she was a good and godly and intelligent girl, but I didn’t love her. That didn’t matter, however, I told myself, because emotional love is irrelevant to marriage.
I thought I could handle choosing to love. I could do the right thing for a particular girlfriend, no matter how I felt. I could buy the flowers. I could write the notes. I could pay for the dates. But without love, it lasted about a month. My sister said to me, “No girl wants to marry you unless you love her with your whole heart.”
When I met my wife, it was important to me that emotional love be a part of the equation.
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