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Loving God Is Not Enough
Give Love Away #5 • Sunridge • 10.5.08
© By Greg Sidders
One of the things I always appreciate is hearing from people how God used one of my messages to help them in some way. It’s one thing for someone to say, “That was a really nice sermon”—which is what people say when they have to walk past the pastor to get to the door—but when someone says, “God spoke to me through you,” and they tell me what I said that made a difference in their life, that’s very special.
But I have to tell you that one thing I have noticed through the years is that sometimes when people tell me what I said that touched them deeply, I didn’t say what they think I said. Sometimes they’re just a little off, and sometimes what they heard bears no resemblance to what I said. And I think, “Well, I’m glad God spoke to you, but He didn’t do it through me. I was just the background noise.”
Why is it that there is sometimes a gap between what one person says and what the other person hears? Well, it’s because we don’t just hear words objectively—we filter them through the grid of our own personality and prejudices and past experiences. We do that with the words of other people, and we even do it with the Word of God.
Think about how different we are from one another. We could probably create all kinds of arbitrary categories of people that go to church, but in almost any religious crowd you’ll find at least three types of people:
* There are those who tend to be just a little bit proud of themselves, because they know that they are better-than-average people—not perfect of course, but certainly a cut above those that are sleeping in on Sunday morning. For people like that, church attendance is just one of the ways they put into practice their commitment to righteousness.
* And for every person like that here, there are probably two people who are way at the other end of the spectrum. They are just racked with guilt, because they know that they fall so far short of measuring up to God’s expectations. They look at all the hundreds of commands in the Bible, and they know they can never do all those things, and it makes them feel terribly guilty.
* And then there are always people in a church who aren’t self-righteous or guilt-ridden. They’re not asking any big theological questions; they’re not wrestling with the meaning of life; they’re just normal, everyday people who want to please God, but they need to be told how to do it in a very down-to-earth and practical way. They have a very low tolerance for spiritual mumbo-jumbo.
Now, if those three types of people are in our church every Sunday, how differently do you think they might have heard the word of God last week?
Do you remember the statement of Jesus that we studied? It’s in Matthew 22, and it’s something that Jesus said in response to the question posed to Him in verse 36: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Now, that’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? But I’ll bet we all went home thinking different thoughts.
* Those among us who are proud probably thought, “I’m good. I do that.”
* And the guilt-ridden perfectionists among us thought, “I’m scum. There’s no way I do that.”
* And all the practical people thought, “I’m confused. How do I do that?”
You see, different types of people hear the same thing in different ways. And I think that is why, after Jesus answered this question, He kept talking. Notice, the question is answered in verses 37-38, but Jesus doesn’t stop talking until verse 40. Why? Because He knows that the crowd standing around him is processing His answer in completely different ways. Just like this crowd, that crowd included proud people, perfectionistic people, and practical people. And it is to keep all those different people from misinterpreting His words that, after he quotes the first and greatest commandment, He goes on to say in verses 39-40: And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Just in those two verses, Jesus is tweaking the way three very different groups of people are thinking about what He just said about the first and greatest commandment.
The first group He is addressing is represented by the man who asked Jesus the question. What kind of a guy was he? He was a Pharisee, an expert in God’s law. And what was his motive in asking Jesus the question? Verse 35 says that he was testing Jesus. Go back to verse 15 and you’ll see that the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus in his words. They were trying to get Him to say something unorthodox, something radical, something heretical, so that they could have him arrested and executed.
They didn’t think they had anything to learn from Jesus. They already knew how to live a righteous life. They obeyed God’s laws meticulously. They even added some laws of their own, and they were as committed to obeying them as they were to obeying Scripture—maybe more so. And they thought, “Of course I love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind. I mean, just look at how obedient I am!”
Their only problem was that they weren’t very nice—to other people. They loved God, but they didn’t like people.
* These were the guys who planted a man with a shriveled hand in the synagogue to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath day. And when He did, they didn’t rejoice in the miracle; they said to Jesus, “You just broke the 4th Commandment! You did work on the Sabbath!”
* These are the people that Jesus rebuked for writing a law that made it OK for them not to financially support their aging parents; all they had to do was labeling their money “a gift devoted to God.” He said to them, “God said: ‘Honor your father and mother.’ But you have created a system of loopholes that lets you conveniently dodge the word of God. You hypocrites!”
* These are the men who watched Jesus heal a woman who had been crippled for 18 years, and they rebuked her for letting herself be healed on the Sabbath Day.
* This is the same group of people who criticized Jesus for hanging out with sinners, rather keeping Himself uncontaminated by avoiding them.
And essentially what He says to these smug people who are so sure they have fulfilled the greatest commandment, is: “LOVING GOD IS NOT ENOUGH.
If you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, but you do not love your neighbor as yourself, you are not righteous.”
A follower of Jesus by the name of John expressed the same truth this way (1 John 4:20): If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
One of the most disturbing things I have observed as a pastor, not just in this church but in every church where I have served, is that there seems no correlation between how long a person has been a Christian and how much that person is characterized by love. In fact, in every church that I have been a part of, the most unloving people come from the ranks of the most religious.
Now, I am not saying that the longer you have been a Christian, the less loving you tend to be. The most loving people I know have been Christians for a very long time. And that’s the way it should be—the longer we follow Jesus, the more like Jesus we should become.
But there’s something about the church environment that makes it possible to become more religious without becoming more loving. And there is nothing more unattractive that an unloving religious person.
I don’t care how much Scripture we have memorized
or how faithfully we attend church
or how pure we are doctrinally and morally,
if we do not love other people, we are not righteous.
I heard of a young boy who prayed: “God, make the bad people good, and make the good people nice.” What Jesus is saying is that if you’re not nice, you’re not good.
But not everybody standing around Him needed to hear that. There were also undoubtedly a lot of people there who were under the pile—people who desperately wanted to obey God, but who were wired in such a way that they thought if they didn’t do everything God commanded perfectly, they could not please Him. Imagine how much guilt people with an ultra-sensitive conscience carried around, especially in that culture. Not only had the religious leaders broken down the Old Testament into 613 specific laws (including 248 thou-shalts, and 365 thou-shalt-nots), but they had also added hundreds of extra laws to obey.
It was to people bearing the weight of all those laws that Jesus had said earlier (Matthew 11:28, 30): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
And it is to unburden those same dear, perfectionistic people that Jesus—after identifying the greatest commandment—love the Lord your God—and the second greatest commandment—love your neighbor—adds these words in verse 40: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In other words—get this, guilt-ridden friends: “LOVING GOD AND LOVING PEOPLE IS ENOUGH.” If you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and you love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing everything God expects of you. All those other commands are just specific ways to either love God or love people.
His burden really is light. It’s not about rule-keeping; it’s about relationships. It’s not about laws; it’s about love.
Mike Yaconelli wrote a book called Messy Spirituality (doesn’t the title itself make you want to read it?). In that book, he tells the story of something that happened one Sunday in the tiny church he pastored. He says:
…During the time for prayer requests, a member began describing the critical illness of her father. Her request for prayer was frequently interrupted by tears. Those around her reached out a hand or nodded with sadness. Some found their eyes filling with tears as well.
Seated in the front row was Sadie—a young woman with Down’s syndrome.
Sadie stood and walked up the aisle until she saw the woman in the middle of
her row. Stepping over the feet of other people in the aisle, Sadie reached the
woman, bent down on her knees, laid her head on the woman’s lap, and cried
Sadie “inconvenienced” an entire row of people, stepped on their shoes, and
forced them to make room for her.… but none of us will ever forget that
Why? Because in that moment Sadie was doing everything expected of her. She didn’t know all of God’s laws; she just knew how to love.
Sometimes we can get bogged down with intricacies and miss the essence. The best way to evaluate how you’re doing spiritually is not by going through the laws one by one. Instead, ask yourself: Am I loving God wholeheartedly? Am I loving people sacrificially?
And, this may surprise you, but the second question may be more important than the first one—because there are places in Scripture where the whole Bible is compressed, not into two commandments, but into one commandment. And it is not the command to love God.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 138-10: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments … are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Which commandment is he focusing on? The greatest commandment? No, the second greatest commandment!
He does the same thing more succinctly in Galatians 514. He says: The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now, it’s one thing for Jesus to condense the Law into two commands. But where does Paul get off whittling it down to one? And why that one?
Here’s why: Because Jesus said it first. Back in Matthew 7:12, Jesus said: …In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Now, think about this. Why, if loving the Lord our God is the first and greatest commandment, do both Jesus and Paul say that the entire law can be summed up in the command to love other people?
You want a hint? Look again at verse 39 of Matthew 22. After Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and says, “This is the first and greatest commandment,” He says in verse 39: And the second is like it.
The second greatest commandment is like the greatest commandment. What does that mean? Could it mean that obeying the second is like obeying the first—that when we love people, it is like loving God?
In chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Jesus says that however we treat His brothers and His sisters—that is, however we treat other Christians—is how we treat Him. When we love them, we are loving Him.
In Mark chapter 9:37, Jesus takes a little child in His arms and says to His disciples, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Now, if you look at the context of that passage, you’ll see that Jesus is not just talking about children. That child represents people of low status. Jesus is telling His followers to be servants of all people—to treat every other person as more important than themselves.
Why should we do that? We should do it because the way we treat every other person is the way we treat Jesus—and the way we treat Jesus is the way we treat the Lord our God.
Do you see it? LOVING PEOPLE is the best way to LOVE GOD.
That’s what Jesus says to all of us who are more practical than we are mystical. We hear that command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind,” and it just doesn’t register—because it’s too abstract. We want to know how to love the Lord our God. Here’s how: Love people.
A few years ago, CBS aired a drama called Joan of Arcadia, in which God appeared to a teenage girl in various forms—all human. Sometimes He was a child, sometimes a teenage boy, sometimes an old woman, sometimes a transient. The song that played during the opening credits included these lyrics:
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home?
What if God was one of us? How would you treat people differently if you thought they were actually God? Nobody you meet actually is God, but the way you treat everybody you meet is the way you treat God. The primary way in which we love Him is by loving them.
I thought about that on Thursday afternoon when I went to a coffee shop to work on this sermon. I thought to myself, “What if, for the rest of this week, I treat everyone as if they are God?”
* And just as I was thinking that, I saw a guy walking back and forth on the sidewalk talking to himself. And, no, he didn’t have a Bluetooth in his ear.
* Then a young woman came into the shop, and her entire back was covered with a huge tattoo.
* And I looked over the top my computer at a guy about my age, with about the same hairline as mine. He was sitting in front of his laptop, working intently.
And I thought to myself, “God sure does come in different packages.”
But I decided, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to love people as if they were Jesus.” And I have to tell you, when I drove home and saw a fresh pile of dog poop on my driveway, I responded very differently than I normally would. In the past when that has happened, I have made a general announcement to my neighborhood in a loud voice: “Would the person who let their dog poop on my driveway please come out of their house and clean it up?” But this time I grabbed some paper towels, and I went out and picked up that poop, and I said, “I love you, Jesus.”
And the next morning, when I was driving behind a lady who going was going very slow because she was kissing the poodle sitting on her lap instead of focusing on the road, at first I verbalized how I felt about it, but then I caught myself. I thought, “I need to love her as an expression of love for God.” And I smiled and drove very slowly behind her and just watched her enjoy her poodle, right there on Ynez Road. I loved her.
Someone has said: “You only love Jesus as much as you love the most unattractive person you know.”
Shaun Groves wrote a song called Jesus, which includes these lyrics:
Jesus brings a meal for tips
Jesus trying hard to quit
Jesus raising two alone
Jesus drives a heavy load
Jesus with worn wrinkled hands
Jesus sows a patch of land
Jesus hides a tattooed arm
Jesus keeping dinner warm
When we love the least
When we love the weak
When we love these
We love Jesus
Let me ask you a question: Which of the people Jesus was teaching are you most like?
* Are you kind of proud, just a tad self-righteous?
* Or you perfectionistic and hard on yourself?
* Or are you practical, just wondering what to do and how to do it?
Whichever group you’re in, Jesus has something to say to you in Matthew 22. He says it so clearly that you can’t miss it.
Tags: Give Love Away, Sunridge
* If you’re prone to self-righteousness, His word to you is: “Loving God is not enough. If you do not love people, you do not love God.”
* If you’re prone to guilt, Jesus says to you: “Loving God and loving people is enough. You don’t have to be perfect. I just want you to be loving.”
* And if you’re one of those practical people who just wants to know what to do, do this: Love people—because that’s the very best way to love God.
Original at Vimeo