The Great Principle of God
The great principle of God
Quite rightly we esteem this book! It is the Word of God Himself! It is the manual for all faith and practice. It tells us about God! It reveals Him and it tells us how to live. But there is quite a bit in it! Now I am going to make a bold and, you may regard as arrogant, assertion: that I am going to talk this morning about the most important thing this great Book tells us to do. It is a big book, there is a fair amount of material in it. How can I say that it is the most important? …. Because Jesus Himself did! Look! Here is something we really need to grasp, lay hold of, put into action! It is of supreme importance! This is the great principle of God! [P] Jesus spoke about this matter in the temple, just before He died. If you know that you are going to die soon, you speak about the things that really matter, the things that you consider most important, the legacy that you want to pass on. I want to read what Jesus said, …. twice. Firstly in Matthew chapter 22 [P] – Jesus had been teaching in the temple; various religious groups had been asking Him questions, testing Him, trying to catch Him out, trying to get Him to say something that they could hold against Him, to trap Him, to prove their point of view – He answered them all, avoiding the traps along the way, finally leaving them silenced, confounded! Picking it up in verse 34: [Matthew 22:34–40 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (that is the תּוֹרָה, the Law, given by יהוה to Moses) 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 foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”] That is the תּוֹרָה and the נביאים, the prophets; by which Jesus was indicating the rest of the Jewish Scriptures which was made up of the Law ( תּוֹרָה), the Prophets ( נביאים) and the Writings ( כתובים) – together making up the תנ״ך – what we would call the Old Testament. Jesus was saying that the whole of the Scriptures they had depended, was based on, just these two commandments. Here was this mass of Scriptures but it was but commentary; it was all based on just two commands. All of their Holy writings could be distilled down into two principles. Now some of us are better at remembering things than others. Once I tried to memorize 1 John; I got about half-way through chapter 2 and that was it. There is no way that I could remember all of the Scriptures. But those two commands; …. that we can manage. This is vitally important! This we must lay hold of and put into practise. This is the most important thing. It is easy to remember; ….. but not so easy to do! We get a slightly different perspective on the same incident in: [P] [Mark 12:28–34 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, (this man was not antagonistic to Jesus, trying to trap Him. No, he saw that Jesus handled Scripture well. He was a scribe, the Scriptures were what He was an expert on; yet, He recognized that Jesus knew them well and applied them well, that He answered well. This man studied the Scriptures, he’d given his life to their study; yet, there were things that he had wondered about. He respected Jesus, he genuinely wanted His opinion on these questions that bothered him; so, he ….) asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (you notice that the answer is fuller in Mark, Jesus also gave the context for that commandment) “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.] This scribe was an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures, that was his profession, it was his whole life. Yet he yearned for something more, something was missing. It is said that there are 613 commandments in the תּוֹרָה – we have trouble reciting 10 of them! But the Jews had built a “hedge” around the Law, other rules to ensure that those in the תּוֹרָה were in no danger of being violated. For instance: the תּוֹרָה said:” Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” – but to ensure that this never happened there developed a whole raft of laws to keep all meat and dairy separate: separate plates and sinks, certificates of Kashrut. The Law had become very complicated. This oral tradition was added; and you had to be an expert to navigate it. This scribe was such an expert. But perhaps he felt, that for all his expertise, that he had missed something. It was all so complicated, unwieldy! Who could live by it?! Who could remember all the requirements? How could you distil it down into something simple, practical, that ordinary people could remember and live by? What was the essence of this great Law? What was the key to it? What unified it? What was its main theme? What was it all about when you boiled it down? What was the greatest commandment? So, He came and asked Jesus. When people asked Jesus a question, so often He gave an indirect answer, side-stepping traps, giving an enigmatic reply. But here, Jesus gave a simple and direct answer. He told this man straight what the greatest commandment was. But Jesus quoted the verse before the greatest commandment (Deut 6:4) [P] – it is the iconic verse in the Hebrew faith (known as the shema, from the first word in the verse): [P] אֶחָֽד׃ יהוה אֲנַ֫חְנוּ יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יהוה שְׁמַ֖ע. Just six words. Everyone acknowledges that this is the fundamental statement of the Jewish religion. The great declaration of monotheism. And the scribe picked up on the message of this verse. He didn’t just parrot it back – he gave his interpretation of it: it stated that יהוה is ONE, the only God, that there is none besides Him. Furthermore, they knew Him by name, personally: not just “God” but יהוה, His own personal name that HE revealed only to them. This is key! Only six words in the shema: but 2 of them are יהוה – the Name is repeated. It is all about יהוה! And yet still furthermore, He is “our God” – not remote, inaccessible, belonging to others; but our own personal God! Utterly unique! There is a great amount in those six Hebrew words. But there is a consequence. Because He is our God, because we know Him by Name, because He is utterly unique …THEREFORE the consequence is that we are to love Him! It is a tremendous privilege to know God, for Him to be counted as ours! The Almighty! The Creator! The Eternal! The Sovereign! Given this awesome accessibility to God Himself; what other response is right but to love Him with all that we have and are?! [P] Jesus Himself said that this was the GREATEST and FOREMOST commandment. There is nothing greater that you can do than love God. This is way beyond and more important that religious ritual: sacrifices, burnt offerings, services and the like. Greater than all great spiritual things that we do: [1 Corinthians 13:1–3 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.] An absolute waste of energy and talent – I mean, He did stuff: spoke, prophesied, gave, moved mountains, sacrificed himself! He knew it all: all knowledge, all wisdom, all faith. Yet is was useless! It was nothing! Love is the most important – there is nothing greater that God requires of us than this! It ranks first and it is the first thing that God requires of us. Jesus said that the whole of Scripture depends upon this principle. Jesus answered the lawyer’s question: “Which is the great commandment in the Law?”, not only with the greatest and first: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”, Mark says “understanding” and adds “strength”. It is with all that you have: mentally, physically, emotionally, with all your will, with every area of your life and being, with the very essence of who you are. This is your very existence: LOVING GOD! But Jesus gave him another as well: two for the price of one: He also gave him the second greatest: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” [P]. Both are commandments to LOVE. LOVE is the basis of the תּוֹרָה. So, Jesus was saying that the whole of Scripture, the Word of God, hangs upon the principle of LOVE - is based on LOVE, depends on LOVE. ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE! [P] But not as the Beatles meant it! When I was up in Tauranga with Dad a few months ago, we were invited to tea by some good friends of his. I was sharing that this was the message that I had on my heart; and the husband said, “What is meant by love?” It was out of the blue and I answered without any forethought. I said that I thought that the essence of LOVE was [P] selflessness – desiring the best for the one loved. This is utterly different to the Beatles’ love or the love of the world, which is, in essence, selfish – you love someone because you like them, are attracted to them, get on well with them, want their attention, their company, their body, their wealth. Love in the Bible is not based on characteristics of the object loved; but rather on the character of the one doing the loving. God loves because that is who He is [P] and what He decided to do. [1 John 4:7–8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.] LOVE is at the heart of the Word of God. LOVE is what יהוה requires from us. This is THE thing commanded from us, this is what the Bible is all about: LOVE for God and LOVE for others. LOVE is the basis of all. LOVE for God (being selfless) wants to please Him, so it does His will; thus, all His ceremonial requirements are fulfilled because we want to do what pleases Him. LOVE for our neighbour (being selfless) means that we want the best for them; so, we don’t harm them; thus, all the social requirements of the Law are fulfilled. Jesus said: [Matthew 7:12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.] And Paul said: [Galatians 5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”] And in: [Romans 13:8–10 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilment of the law.] This LOVE for God and love for our neighbour is seen in the 10 commandments themselves: the first 4 deal with our obligation toward יהוה (Ex 20:3-11); and the second 6 deal with our relationship with our neighbour (Ex 20:12-17). The whole of what the Bible is about is LOVE. The Bible is about God; and God is love. This is like the hook on which the whole of Scripture hangs - if there is no hook of LOVE, the whole of Scripture comes crashing to the ground. LOVE is what יהוה requires of us. LOVE is what He is looking for in us. There was a pastor a few years back by the name of Juan Carlos Ortiz. He was a great communicator. I didn’t agree with all he said; but he grasped the essential need of this truth. He was pastoring a struggling church in Argentina. Like most churches, it had problems. Here were these believers who professed to love God, but they were divided, squabbling. Another Juan, (John) said: [1 John 4:20–21 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.] The two commandments are inextricably linked – it is really one commandment because the two go together. Anyway, so one day Juan Carlos Ortiz got up in front of his congregation and preached his greatest, and shortest sermon: “Brothers we must love one another.” That was it! He pronounced the benediction and sat down. People looked around a bit bemused and eventually shuffled out. The next Sunday Carlos Ortiz got up and said: “Brothers we must love one another!” That was it! He said no more and sat down. He kept on doing it. He was not going to preach another sermon until they put into practise the one that he had preached. Eventually, they got the message and started practically to love one another; to do it! And it transformed the church; it grew beyond all recognition. I am taking a lot longer to say it than Juan Carlos Ortiz did! Perhaps it would be more effective if I said less! But the message is the one we need above all else to put into action. Did you hear what John said?: that we are liars if we claim to love God but do not love each other. And we also read that he said the one who does not love does not know God! Look, people go to Bible college to be trained, to learn about God – that is why they go! They are taught many things, do much study, fill their heads with facts, do research, study themes, and context, original languages, sit exams, graduate. They learn Hebrew, Greek, hermeneutics, exegesis, theology, doctrine, evangelism, pneumatology, soteriology, ethics, apologetics, dogmatics, cultural and historical background, context, counselling, missiology; the list goes on and on; they will make an “-ology” out of anything! - BUT DO THEY LEARN LOVE?!!! If not, they have not been taught the Bible at all! A head full of knowledge but they do not know God! You can get your head full of knowledge and not know God at all because: [P] “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love”! If we are not being trained in LOVE, then we have totally missed the point and utterly failed. Paul said: [P] [1 Timothy 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love! from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.] That was the case in Jesus’ day with this scribe, this highly trained lawyer, and his Pharisee colleagues – they had devoted their whole lives to the study of the יהוה. And it is still the case today in our Bible colleges. People are highly trained; but they are trained in the wrong thing! They are not seeing what the Bible is really about! It is about Jesus! [John 5:39–40 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;] Then to those walking with Him on the road to Emmaus: [Luke 24:25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.] The Bible is about Jesus and it is about LOVE. If we are not seeing these, then we are missing the whole point! The goal of our instruction is love – how do you train someone to love? I don’t think you do it in a Bible college! I have yet to see one do it yet! They graduate people; so, they are concerned with their grades, passing – and that is a selfish motive. How did Jesus train people? Jesus went to no Bible school, and although He taught people, He did not run a Bible college. And that is not because they didn’t exist, they did! Yes, the equivalent existed, there were rabbinical schools, Paul attended one – and he didn’t learn love there either – he came out of there persecuting and killing believers! What did Jesus do? He lived with 12 disciples and lived out practical love: healing, exorcising, preaching, comforting, giving of Himself to common people – He modelled love, for them to do the same: heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, preach the good news, announce the coming Kingdom. They lived with Him, knew Him, and copied Him. They learned LOVE in action! Jesus did not tell us to set up Bible schools – he told us to “make disciples” – live with people let them learn from your example. We all know well His, so called, final commission: [Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, ….] “Go” is not a command, the command is “make disciples”. Train people by example: [Ephesians 5:1–2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself ….] He gave us an example of love for us to follow in His steps. Jesus said: [John 13:34–35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, (there is the example) that you also love one another. (that is what we are to do by following the example. And what is the result) By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”] What is the characteristic that marks a disciple? Their doctrine, theology, degree, knowledge of Greek? No, by their LOVE! John said it was a new commandment – but it came straight out of the תּוֹרָה, centuries old! What does he mean “new”? John wrote about it in a letter: [1 John 2:7–11 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.] He said it was “old”, but then he said it was “new”! What is he on about?! It is new because it is “true in Him”! The command was given ages ago to Moses, but no one had been able to live it. The only one who can, is God; because God is love! God came down and lived among us – that is Jesus! Jesus lived love. [Ephesians 3:17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, ] When Jesus lives in us, love is the basis of all we are and do. Now the commandment is “new” because we can do it; because Jesus, God, is in us in the Person of His Holy Spirit: [P] [Romans 5:5 the love of God (not our love) has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. ] Divine love in our hearts! We can love! Before I came back to the LORD, I was utterly incapable of love – clinical, analytical, cynical, unfeeling, uncaring. But I was at an advantage to everyone else! Because I knew I was totally bereft. I knew there was no love in me. For me to love, I had to have love from another Source. The trouble is with those with natural love, is that they can rely on that. It cut the mustard! You need the love of God poured out in your heart through the gift of the Holy Spirit. One day a clever man came up to Jesus – he had all the answers! He really did, he knew the correct answer, had his doctrine correct: [Luke 10:25–37 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, [P] saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? (the תּוֹרָה) How does it read to you?” (Jesus sent him to the Scriptures for the answer) And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” (Interesting, this lawyer identified exactly the same two key principles that Jesus did. He knew the Scripture, had good insight into what it said – he had analysed it and extracted the key message, he knew the correct answer) And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (not know this and live; but do it. The lawyer knew the answer. And so often we know the answer, have the correct doctrine, but you don’t inherit life by passing an exam and getting tick on your paper!) But wishing to justify himself, (silly man – it is God that justifieth) he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied and said, [P] “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, [P] and they stripped him and beat him, [P] [P] and went away leaving him half dead. [P] “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, [P] and when he saw him, [P] he passed by on the other side. [P] “Likewise a Levite also, [P] when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. [P] “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, [P] came upon him; and when he saw him, (they all saw him) he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, [P] pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, [P] and brought him to an inn and took care of him. [P] (love in action – and it has got to be in action for it to be love)“On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper (it cost him) and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ [P] “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, [P] “Go and do the same.”] Love in action. God loves the world, but the love in us in not that vast – although it is good to care for the starving and persecuted overseas; it is our neighbour that we are to love, the ones we encounter who are really going through it. Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression – I don’t think that we are like Juan Carlos Ortiz’s fellowship. We are a loving fellowship – Rhoda and I have been blown away by the outpouring of love toward us with the arrival of Nathaniel. And I know others in the fellowship who have testified to the practical love in the fellowship. I think that it is one of the beautiful characteristics of this little fellowship. But there is a strange thing about positive commands – you can always do more! If there is a prohibition, you know if you have complied or not. There is a church lunch, they always serve pizza. Now, if I told you: “Do not eat any pizza”; you would know if you had obeyed me or not. All the time you stuck to the sausage rolls and cream cake you are fine. But if I gave the command: “Eat pizza”; how do you know if you have obeyed? I mean, just an olive off the top? One piece, two, ten? – you can always eat more pizza – at least you can if you are Lucy! Yes, we love; but we can love still more [P] [Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law.] Love is a debt that you can never completely pay, when you consider how much God has loved us. Paul commended the Thessalonians for their love but then he said [1 Thessalonians 3:12 and may the Lord cause you (see where the love comes from?) to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;] The Philippians demonstrated practical love to Paul but he said: [Philippians 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,] You can always love more, always eat more pizza. May we become a fellowship that is known for its love; that is how the world knows that we are Christians, by our love! [1 Peter 1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,] Love is what lasts, what makes the lasting difference: [P] [1 Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.] [1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.] May our love for our Lord ever increase! We can get hung up on all our involved study and interpretations, the multitude of laws; rather may we be caught up in Love for the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Augustine, famously said, “Love God and do as you please.” If we truly love God, we will be fulfilling all His will.