The Great Commandment

by Rev. Randy Brown

It had been a hard day at the office for Jesus. The Sadducees and the Pharisees where there, and they were taking their shots at him; trying to engage him in a discussion and trying to trip him up in something that he would say so they could pick a little bit more. It wasn’t anything too urgent. They were questioning him about paying taxes and about marriage and resurrection and all those things.

Three of the writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, record how Jesus silenced the scribes and the Pharisees and the Sadducees. There was an interesting phrase that’s used in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and the phrase is this, once they got through and Jesus had answered, and the hecklers and the neigh-sayers finally came to the point where they realized they needed to just sit down.

The scripture says, “And no one dared ask him anything.” Have you ever been in a situation like that? Where, finally, the people that just kept on needling just a little bit finally realized that they were not going to succeed and they just sat down. “And no one dared ask him anything.”

It was years ago. The place was Atlanta, Georgia, Candler School of Theology, Emory University. In the highlight of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King came to speak at Emory University. Once the worship service was over, there was a reception for Dr. King. There was a question and answer time.

The first question came from one of the preacher boys at Candler. The question was this: “Dr. King, with all due respect, I think what you’re really after, you just want to marry my sister, don’t you?” Now, had I been Dr. King, I would have probably suggested a warm climate to him, warmer than Key Largo, but that was not what Dr. King was about. Dr. King said, “My young friend, I don’t want to be your brother-in-law. I want to be your brother,” and no one dared ask him any more questions. It’s a beautiful phrase. It’s a phrase that sometimes we think of when we get in those situations.

Now, Mark records this story a little bit differently than Matthew. Mark’s Gospel said that they’ve been at it all day, and somehow, there was a teacher of the law who stood outside, listening to all that Jesus had to say. You wonder if they’re just trying to set him up and wear him down so that the hero of the day, so to speak, could come in and really trip him up, because it tells us in Mark’s story that this teacher was impressed with Jesus.

He thought he gave some good answers. He wanted to see how far along he could go in agreeing with what Jesus had to say. After all is said and done and they’re almost ready to pronounce the benediction and go home, this teacher who had been making good notes comes into the room and says, “Jesus, I got one more question.” “Okay.” “Jesus, what is the greatest and the most important commandment of all?” Jesus goes immediately to Deuteronomy 6, verses 4 and 5, it says, “Here, O Israel. The Lord your God is one, and thou shall love the Lord thy God with all of thy heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Every pious Jew for over thousands of years has recited that at least twice a day. It’s a part of their culture. It’s a part of who they are as a people. He goes back and he says the prayer and the statement that the rabbis use everyday.

In doing this, Jesus did two things. First of all, he claimed his Jewish heritage that there is one God. He also says that the way to live out life and faith is by love. The commandment is love. It’s lived out two fold. It’s lived out for God and for our neighbor. Or as the scripture would some time later record the words, “How can you love God whom you cannot see if you don’t love your neighbor who you can see?” Or, as another writer has put it, “The cross reaches up and the cross reaches out.” Love.

Love for God and love for neighbor. Love is the essence of Christian life. If Paul is writing to the Corinthian church that the greatest of these is love, then should it be any surprise to us at all that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? We are to love God with all that we have, with the totality of our being, with our whole self. We are to love him. That is the Greatest Commandment.

You will remember that we’re in a series this month. Last week, we talked about the great invitation. Today, we talk about the Great Commandment. Next week, we’re going to be talking about the Great Commission. In two weeks, we’re going to be talking about the Great Companion, but we’re talking about, this morning, The Great Commandment: To love the Lord thy God with all of thy heart, soul, mind, and strength.

If we love somebody, we want to spend time with him. We want to get to know them. We want to know their likes and their dislikes. We want to know their little quirks. We want to know what makes them tick and what tips them off. We want to know all of those things. We want to know what blesses them and what angers them.

People come to me periodically and they say, “Preacher...” When they start it that way, you know something’s coming. “Preacher, I want to know God’s will for my life.” “All right. Tell me how much you’re praying. Tell me about your prayer life. Tell me about your devotional life. Tell me about how much time you’re spending in God’s word. Tell me about your quiet time with God.”Because, you only discover God’s will as you spend time with him. You can’t learn about him and not spend time with him. We get to know him.

There was a famed painter years gone by named Gustave Doré. Gustave Doré was one of the most famous painters, sketchers, drawers that has ever lived. He was teaching a class one day and he brought in a picture of Jesus.

The assignment for all of the students was, “I want you to draw this picture. Look at it. It’s in a prominent place in the classroom. Draw it.” They had taken all of the theories that Gustave Doré had given them. One by one, they began to sketch this painting, this drawing of Jesus.

One by one, they turned in their work. One by one, Gustave Doré was disappointed in their effort. He looked at the class and he simply said, “Oh, if you had loved him more, you would have painted him better.” Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all of thy heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The test of love is spending time. You get to know somebody and what pleases them and what honors them as you spend time with them. Sometimes we don’t love him correctly because we don’t understand him fully.

You want to know what makes God happy? Go to James Chapter 1, verse 27, it says, “This is true religion, to take care of the orphans and the widows and to keep yourself clean from the stain of the world.” That’s what makes God happy.

You want to know what makes God happy? Look at Matthew’s Gospel when he talks about, “If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.”

You want to know what makes God happy? Read that scripture that talks about, “It is better for a man or a woman to have a millstone tied around their neck and cast into the ocean than to offend one of the little ones.” You see, you don’t learn those things if you don’t spend time with him. So, my encouragement to you is spend time with him. Then you’ll get to know him and you’ll know his will for you.

Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all of thy heart. Heart comes from the same word that personality comes from: heart and personality. Does our personality reflect our love for God? Do we have a cheerful personality or a gloomy personality? Do we have a personality of gratitude or are we always complaining?

Do we love Him with our personality? Do we have a positive personality, an encouraging personality, or a negative one? Do we have a sunny personality or a grumpy personality? Loving with our whole heart. Then, then we are to love Him with our soul, that hidden place, those places where nobody sees in your life and my life. That’s our soul: our inward being. Are we in love with him there? Because what’s there it will eventually come out. The scripture talks about that it’s not what goes into a person that makes them unclean. It’s what comes out. That’s what makes us unclean, but whatever resides there will eventually come out.

Do we love him with our minds? Do we fill our minds with the trash of the world or the treasures of God? There’s not room for both. Are you filling your life with trash or treasures? The writer of Philippians tells us, “Whatsoever things are good, holy, pure, righteous, think on these things.” To love Him with our minds mean that we fill our minds with the things of God. Do we love him with our minds, and our neighbors, as our self? Our neighbor is not just the person that lives next door to us. Our neighbor is the person who is in need that we can help, that we can respond in a helpful way.

I don’t know about you, but I was excited this morning when I walked in here. I heard Ms. Cindy give the invitation to the Awana kids yesterday. I didn’t know they’d take us up on it, but they did. There were nine of the children from the Hispanic community worshiping with us this morning. They’re upstairs with Ms. Cindy in their Children’s worship. That’s our neighbor. That’s our neighbor. I applaud this church for doing that ministry. Our neighbor is not just the person next door or across the street, but the one around the corner and around the world.

What about the story of the Good Samaritan? That’s also a question: a story that’s told to answer a question about who is my neighbor. My neighbor is the one to whom I can show kindness to. That’s who our neighbors are. Anybody that we can show kindness to, that’s a neighbor. We’re to love our neighbors as we love our self, as we care for our self, as we strive to do things to make our life better. Let’s don’t forget those who are in need.

If we have the Great Commandment, we also have the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Mark tells us in his rendition of this story that you know sometimes folks just don’t know when to sit down. I hope that’s not what you’re thinking about me right now. But, in an attempt to exalt himself: Jesus humbles this man.

This man had said, “Jesus, you’ve given a lot of good answers and I agree with everything you say. Atta boy, Jesus.” And Jesus uttered some of the most –I don’t know if they were harsh words – but it’s a sad phrase. He thanks him for his confidence. He thanks him for his vote of encouragement, because they both agree on what the law says. Then, Jesus says these words. “You are not very far from the Kingdom.” Ouch. Man, that hurts. I strongly suspect that what Jesus is saying to this man today is the same thing that the scripture writer talks about: there’s a difference between being the hearers of the word and doers of the word. Walkers and talkers are different. “You’re not very far from the Kingdom.”

I remember back in last February when we were in Caesarea and we went out to some of the ruins. There was the place where Paul was on trial in front of Agrippa. Agrippa said the words to Paul, “Almost, you persuade me to be a Christian.” Paul said, “Oh, that you were almost and altogether Christian.” Jesus told this man, “You’re not very far from the Kingdom.” But, you know, sometimes, close doesn’t count.

This may be painful for some of you. 15 years ago and three days ago, something happened in Nashville at Adelphia Coliseum. It’s known as the Music City Miracle. Some of you remember where you were. I had a friend there taking pictures; he’s a photographer. You know where he was? Outside in the parking lot! He missed it! They [Titans] were playing Buffalo Bills. They were tied. Buffalo had gone ahead. Buffalo kicked off. There are 16 seconds left. They had worked on this play all year for some time to use it, and now was the time. You remember, it was a trick play? The guy who got the ball handed it off. The other guy threw a lateral pass, which was a controversy, but anyway, it worked for us. Kevin Dyson got the ball and went 75 yards for pay dirt, and the place in Nashville in Tennessee just erupted.

Well, the painful part of this story is that a couple of weeks later. Because of that victory, a couple of weeks later, they were playing the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. One play left. Kevin Dyson’s number was called again. He comes across the middle. He runs the route perfectly. Everything is going exactly the way it should. He catches the ball. And for some reason, the defensive guy for St. Louis didn’t do what he was supposed to do, but he was in the right place, and he made the tackle. If you remember seeing the picture, Dyson is just stretching with everything he has to get the ball across the plain, and he comes up one yard short.

Close. Close, but he didn’t get in. Close, 99% of where he needed to be, but it wasn’t good enough. The commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s not just to know what the commandment is, but it’s to know what the commandment is. That’s the commandment. Not to have a head-knowledge, but to do it.

You know, Yogi’s not here right now, so I can say this: You may know what the speed limit is going down Hillsboro Road, but if you don’t do the speed limit, it’s not going to work, is it? You know it, but do you know it? I think it’s 40, by the way. Somebody has told me that after early church.

The Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all that you have. When we get to that day, and maybe we need to ask ourselves today, if God were going to say anything to us, I think there’s two choices. I think God or Jesus could say to us like he said to this teacher of the law, “You’re not very far from the Kingdom.” That’s not what I want him to say to us. You know what I want him to say? “Well done. Well done, good and faithful people of Manchester First United Methodist Church.”

The Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second is likened to it. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Let us pray.

Thank you, Father. We don’t have to wonder anymore what it is you want us to do. You’ve told us. Lord, even if it’s in our mind, put it in our hearts. Amen.