Matt. 22.34 thru 40 Love God and Do as You Please
Love God and Do as You Please?
Peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus claims the entire Bible hangs on two commands. So...if you do those two, you’re all set. Well…that’s not quite all there is to it. You see the trap was being sprung after this fourth attack on Jesus in which the Pharisees try to trap Jesus and, in doing so, get trapped themselves. The religious teachers of Jesus’ day had boiled the truths of the Old Testament into no less than 613 commands and rules. According to rabbinical teaching there were 613 different commandments, not just the 10 of the 10 commandments. How one can keep up with that many, I have no idea! It was common for them to debate which of the commands were more or less significant. Not that any could be ignored, but some were obviously more important than others. Different rabbis had different thoughts on which might be the greatest commandment. It made sense that Jesus would be asked His opinion on this topic. However, it is clear that the one questioning Jesus at this point was not someone looking for truth, but someone looking for trouble.
Verse 34 says, “The Pharisees had heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees.”
It literally means “Jesus had ‘muzzled’ the Sadducees.” The Pharisees and the Sadducees, who normally didn’t get along very well, were united for one goal: get Jesus. They were committed to finding some way to get Jesus to say or do something that would get him in trouble. They didn’t care much about the answers; they just wanted to trap Him with a question. In the passage just before this one, the Sadducees had done their best and Jesus’ answer muzzled them. He left them speechless. So the Pharisees decided they needed to take over the job of trapping Jesus. Matthew tells us that they “gathered together,” for that very purpose. It doesn’t mean they just happened to be hanging out at the coffee shop and started talking about this Jesus guy. They called a meeting to strategize on what they could do to bring Jesus down. They sent one of their sharpest guys, a lawyer or biblical scholar, to go to Jesus pretending to be an honest seeker. Notice how politely he calls him “Teacher,” but this Pharisee does not respect him as a teacher. His goal is to get Jesus to say something that would somehow tarnish his reputation. When you have 613 laws, you’ve got lots of room for disagreement among teachers. Maybe they could twist his answer into something that sounded like He was degrading some other part of Scripture.
His answer was not something they had never heard! When they heard it, they probably all thought, “Of course! We should have known he’d say that!” This “greatest commandment” that Jesus quotes here was something all pious Jews prayed every morning. Even today, Jews repeat “The Shema,” which is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5. Those Pharisees must have been so ticked off at Jesus! He’d done it again! They couldn’t possibly argue over it. And without catching a breath, He gave them more than they asked for: the second “greatest commandment”: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answers with two commandments that are undeniably central to all of the Torah and are inextricably linked to each other. In 1 John 4:20-21 the command to love God cannot be separated from the commandment to love brothers and sisters. Martin Luther argued that while our neighbor is needy, God needs nothing, so true service to God must always be for the sake of the neighbor. He said, “Even the preaching of His glory and our praising and thanking Him take place on earth in order that our neighbors may be converted and brought to God thereby.”
Over and over throughout the Old Testament, God commanded His people to love Him and obey His commandments. Deuteronomy 11:1 is representative of more than a dozen verses that command God’s people to: “Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.” If you loved your parents, you would do what they told you to do. If you love your God, you do what He tells you to do. Love and obedience were inseparable…But there was a problem…The Pharisees had gotten really good at obeying the Law. They had those 613 commandments scrutinized, memorized, codified and analyzed. They obeyed them scrupulously. But…they didn’t obey God because they loved Him; they obeyed God INSTEAD of loving Him. They had substituted legalistic adherence of their outward behavior for loving God with their heart, soul, mind and strength.
Every morning these guys got out of bed, stood up, then (arms up) stretched out their hands and said, "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 strength." But they missed it! They said it but they didn’t hear it! They didn’t just miss the forest for the trees; they missed the forest for the pine needles! They became legalists instead of lovers. You know what a legalist is? A legalist is someone who picks up the Bible and they study it and try to figure out, “What do I have to do to make it?” The Pharisees were masters at this: They knew how many ounces you could carry before it was officially considered “carrying a burden on the Sabbath.” Or how many steps you could take before your walking could be considered work. It is imperative for legalists to have these rules, so they make up more rules on top of rules to delineate exactly what they have to do to get to heaven.
Don’t we do this sometimes? I know I do! We extrapolate scripture and translate it to apply some new rule, often times for someone else, and attempt to live by this accepted “commandment.” Even our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod does this sometimes. I am in no way knocking tradition, because I have a deep love for our Lutheran tradition, but when we translate something that is not necessarily spelled out in the bible as a commandment we have overstepped His will for us as a church. And when we personally let what we believe to be “rules” get in the way of loving our neighbor, we have overstepped into legalism in our own lives.
What’s the difference between a legalist and a lover? True love makes no attempt to calculate exactly what has to be done for the beloved; love thinks of how it might give more freely, how it might demonstrate their love more fully to the beloved. More than anything else, God wants to be in a love relationship with you. Augustine, one of the Fathers of the early church, told Christians to, “Love God and do as you please”…That sounds kind of shocking, doesn’t it? I mean you can’t just go telling people that they can do whatever they please! Imagine what our world would be like! But Augustine wasn’t saying, as the 60’s slogan did, “If it feels good, do it.” He didn’t say, “Just do as you please.” He said, “Love God and do as you please.” There’s a huge difference! If you love God – not if you just say you do, but if you truly love Him – then you want to do His will. You will seek His will; you will want Him to show you His ways, because you will trust that they are best for you. But it will be His will and not your rules. Love takes all we’ve got! To love God and do as we please may seem, at first glance, to be way too easy. Doesn’t it seem like the legalist, with his list of rules and his clipboard is working a lot harder at things? But let’s think about that…
Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler? The man who asked Jesus what he should do to be saved, who confidently asserted he had kept all the commandments since his youth. And Jesus says, “OK. Then just sell everything you have, give it to the poor and follow me”… We’re not told if the man said anything. I think Jesus left him speechless. All we’re told is that he was very sad, because he had great wealth… And he walked away… That man, no doubt, had tithed every bit of his income. And Jesus said, “OK, you’ve given me 10%, now give me everything.” That young man was willing to give his 10%, but not his all. That story has prompted much discussion among Christians for centuries. Does it mean all of us should sell everything we have and follow Jesus? I don’t think so, because Jesus didn’t tell “everyone” to do that…just this one young man. I think Jesus cut through his self-righteous legalism and revealed the man’s lack of understanding of God’s will for him. He had wanted to know: “What further good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” “I want to do something to secure my place in the hereafter.” But Jesus wouldn’t let him get away with that. Nor will He let us.
There is an indissoluble link between love and obedience. If we love God we will want to make him happy. Love god and do as you please…On the surface, to “Love God and do as we please” sounds easy: it’s easy to remember; but it’s not easy to do! Legalism is harder to remember and keep track of, but its way easier to do. Legalism gives 10%; love gives 100%! Love sacrifices everything else for the sake of the beloved. Suddenly what sounded so easy becomes the hardest thing in the world! The great commandment is that we love God in such a way that it impacts every thought, every action, every attitude, and every fiber of our being. That’s hard! How in the world can we love God like that? There is a story about a struggling artist who brought one of his paintings to a world-renowned painter who served as the younger man’s mentor. The painting was of the face of Christ. The older man studied it for a few minutes, and then said, “If you loved Jesus more, you would paint him better.” The goal of the Christian life is to paint a picture of Jesus with our lives. When people look at us, they ought to see Him. We cannot do that by following a list of rules; We can only do it by loving Him with everything we have, loving Him with everything we are, loving Him with everything we say, loving Him with everything we think, loving Him with everything we do.
In 1 John 4:19 we get the answer: We Love because God first loved us! We don’t have to “work up” love for God. When we take the time to study His Word, to pray, to learn about who He is…to truly worship Him, we experience the intoxicating love of God, we begin to love Him in return. We love Him because He first loved us! When we truly love God: with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength…it will be pleasing to God.
LOVE GOD AND DO AS YOU PLEASE! Amen.