52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 35

The Greatest Commandment

What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 35
Watching Now
The Greatest Commandment

I. Introduction

II. The Greatest Commandment

A. Emotional Love

B. Informed Love

III. A Singular Commandment

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
The Greatest Commandment
Lesson Transcript


I. Introduction

After three and half years of public ministry we now come to the last week in Jesus’ life and the tension has been increasing between Jesus and the religious leaders. Jesus has been pronouncing judgment on them by cleansing the Temple and cursing the fig tree and telling the parable of the talents, but they have also been challenging Jesus’ authority and they have tried to embroil him in political and theological turmoil. And this is the context for our passage, the story about the greatest commandment, beginning in Mark, Chapter 12:28 we read:

II. The Greatest Commandment

“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another and seeing that Jesus answered them well asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” And Jesus answered, “The most important is ‘Hear O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one 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 and the second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment [singular] greater than these.” [plural]. And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher, you have truly said that he [meaning God] is one and there is no other besides him and to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength and to love ones neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he had answered wisely he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.”

Jesus answers the question by quoting the Shema, a passage out of Deuteronomy Chapter 6, a well-known passage in Judaism. It starts by affirming monotheism…that there is only one God…and then it says that our primary response to that one God is to “love him”, and to love him passionately, with ALL of your heart and ALL of your soul and ALL of your mind and ALL of your strength. To love him with everything you have and are without reserve. Since this is the greatest commandment, since if we only do one thing this is what we should do, then it is really important to understand what it means.

What does it mean to “love God”? There obviously are many, many points that I could make, but I want to make two this morning.

A. Emotional Love

One is that love is emotional. It involves what the Puritans called “our affections”. But if we are to love God it is also personal; that we are called not to love things about God but we are called to love God himself. If we are to love God it will be emotional and it will be personal. Let me talk about those two points.

First of all, is your love…is my love for God emotional? Does it move you even like a good song moves you? Does your love for God draw you closer to God? Does your relationship with Jesus affect you at the very deepest places of your soul? Is your love emotional?

Now, I know we are different people and we show our emotions differently. Some wear theirs out on their sleeve; some bury it deep inside. We all show emotions differently, but for love to be love it MUST move our affections.

If your children were perfectly obedient and yet there was no emotional attachment to you as their mother or father, is that love?

If your spouse were perfectly [I don’t want to use the word “obedient”], if he or she did absolutely everything that you expected of them and yet there was no deep, affected, emotional relationship connection with you, can you possibly call that love?

And the answer is “No, you can’t.” You can’t take the personal emotional element of love out and still have love. It just doesn’t work. Love, among other things, is emotional.

So what does “loving God” look like in terms of its emotional content? That is a very difficult question to answer.

In many ways it looks like the love…loving God looks like the love that I have for my wife…hopefully your love for your spouse as well. It is deeply emotional. You want to spend time… You want to understand the other person. You want to understand what makes her “tick”.

B. Informed Love

In other words, the love, while it is emotional, is informed. It is based on fact and you want to understand this. That is part of the emotion of love, but then the emotion of love drives me to act, doesn’t it? If I just said “I loved my wife.” And it was deeply emotional and it didn’t affect my actions, that too is not love, because true love always moves to action and so I encourage her, I try to speak only kind words to her, I work to provide for her, and when she is away, my heart aches for her.

This is emotional love that moves to action and my love is highly emotional and it drives me to act in a certain way; not because I HAVE to, but because I WANT to because I love my wife. It is emotional and it drives me to act.

Loving God looks something like that. But in many ways it also looks like God’s love for me. God delights in me. God delights in you. Did you know that? Just read the Psalms and it is all over the place; places like Psalm 18:19 “He rescued me [Why?] because he delighted in me.” God delights in me.

Psalm 32:10 “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one [that’s me] who trusts in the LORD.”

God loves me. He delights in me and that love drives him to action. If John 3:16 were translated properly in your Bibles it would say “God loved the world this way; he gave his only son.” You see, God loves the world and it drives him to act on your behalf and on my behalf and so he GAVE his only son.

You can look at passages like Psalm 59:16 “I will sing of your strength, I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. [Why?] For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.”

You see God loves me! He delights in me and it drives him to act on my behalf.

What does loving God look like? What does it look like for me to love him? It is somewhat like how I love my wife, it is somewhat like how God loves me. It is emotional. It means that I want to…not have to…know him. I want to enjoy being in his presence and when I sin and there is a wall that comes down between us, I ache when we are apart.

There are passages all the way through the Psalms that try to make this kind of point. Psalm 42:1 & 2… “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 43: first part of verse 4: “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy [that’s David’s title for God…my exceeding joy.].” Psalm 63:1: “Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

What does loving God look like? It looks somewhat like the love that I have for my wife. What does loving God look like? It looks somewhat like the love that God has for me. What does loving God look like? It is emotional. I want to know him. I want to desire him. I want to be in his presence.

And then, that love drives me to act and I DO spend time and I WILL read his letter to me and I WILL talk to him as much as I possibly can and I will tell others about him.

Love is emotional; deeply emotional, and it drives us to act. Yes, our love for God does drive us to obey. Passages like John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But please hear this: loving God and obeying God is not the same thing. It is very easy to make the mistake of equating those two concepts; of thinking that if you obey God, therefore you are loving God.

Now, I can imagine going to some people and saying “Do you love God?” and I wouldn’t be surprise to hear the answer “Well, yes. I do what I’m supposed to. I go to church.”

Love is the basis for obedience but it is not the same thing. Please hear that. It is easy to make that mistake, but loving God and being obedient are not the same thing. If I only shoveled the walk and mowed the grass, would I love my wife? Or would I be the gardener? They are not the same thing.

If we love God then yes, we will obey him, but there is so much more to love that mere obedience. Loving God means that he is our greatest joy. Loving God means that he is our deepest desire.

And out of this highly informed, emotional commitment to God, out of his love for me and my love for him, then I act in obedience. But they are NOT the same thing.

By the way, the greatest commandment is not to ‘like’ God. It is to LOVE God, with ALL of our heart and ALL of our soul and ALL of our mind and ALL of our strength. God demands preeminence in the life of his disciples. “If you love father or mother more than me you are not worthy of the Kingdom of God” Jesus says. God requires love! He demands preeminence in the life of his disciples.

The greatest commandment is to love God, not like him. Highly emotional; informed, but emotional, touching the deepest recesses of our being.

Love God. If you do nothing else, love God.

But the second thing is that we are to love God. And the question is, “Is our love of God personal?” Because the greatest commandment is to love God, it is not to love good things about God.

I believe that our tendency is not to love the person of God, but rather to love the more tangible things, good things, that relate to him. And the danger is that we can equate loving these good things with loving God and when you love good things more than you love God, then those good things have become idols. And I think that is just part of human nature; to want to attach ourselves to what we can see and feel and touch and taste and experience and I think we do that with God and so I need to stress that when we love God, it is GOD that we love and NOT good things ABOUT God.

Many examples; let me just give you two.

Loving the Bible is NOT loving God! They are not the same thing. Now obviously knowing the Bible is good. How can we be like Jesus if we don’t know what he is like and without Biblical knowledge our love is ignorant emotionalism, and we don’t want that. But loving the Bible does not mean that you love God. Reading its pages doesn’t mean that you are listening to the author.

The Pharisees “loved” the Old Testament. They spent their whole life studying it and yet what does Jesus say about the Pharisees and their “love” of scripture? John, Chapter 5 starting at verse 37:

“God’s voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you.”

Loving the Bible is NOT the same thing as loving God.

I have a test. I use it on myself and I will share it with you. When you read the Bible, do you and I stop with the words, or do the words, which are the words of God, do those words carry you into an encounter with the author. An encounter in which your life is changed?

You see, if you and I stop with the words and say “Well, that is interesting” and if we put it into the intellectual part of our brain and we amass knowledge but we never meet God and we never allow His word to change us, then I think it is a fair question to say “Do I love Scripture or do I love its author?” They are not the same thing. Certainly it wasn’t with the Pharisees. Loving the Bible is not loving God.

A second example is: loving worship is not loving God. You know, some people love to worship worship, but they neither love God nor worship him. They love to come to church whenever the door is open. They love the fellowship,, and these are all good things, and they love the physiological effect that music has on their bodies, but if the focus remains on the “unholy trinity” - me, myself, and I - and not on God; if the focus remains on how I feel and not whether God has been praised or glorified, if I come out of church feeling good about MYSELF and not having ascribed goodness to God, then I have to ask the question “Do I love God or do I love worship?” and they are NOT the same thing.

I often hear two comments about our church. “Why to do you go to that church?” We really enjoy the worship. We really enjoy the preaching, and other things. That’s really good. Don’t walk out of here thinking that I want you to dislike the worship and hate the preaching. That is not the point. But you know what I would really like to hear?

“Why do you go to church?” Because the people love God. That’s what I want to hear. The people love God. They do first things first. They may mess up on other things, but they do the first thing first. They are people who love God and when I am there I am encouraged to love God.

I am encouraged to express my love in worship; I am encouraged to be informed with Biblical preaching, but when I go to church I am in the midst of people who LOVE GOD; who, by the power of the Spirit are following the first commandment, “You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind and all of your strength.”

III. A Singular Commandment

That is the hallmark that a church should have. It is obedience to the first and the foremost and the greatest commandment. It is emotional and it is intensely personal.

But, it is interesting in this account. The scribe asked a singular question. He said “Which commandment is the greatest?” But Jesus cannot stop at the one greatest commandment and he goes on and gives the second greatest commandment, because you can’t love God without at the same time having that love spill into action and end up loving your neighbor. In essence it is two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have a one-sided coin.

Look at verse 31; look how Jesus concluded that, “There is no other commandment [singular] greater than these.” You can’t have one without the other. You can’t have the greatest without the second. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor. It is impossible.

Jesus knows that our tendency, I believe, is to love in the abstract, but all true love moves to action and if you and I do not love our neighbor we do not love God.

Now, the word “neighbor” is an unfortunate translation; there is no other English word for it. The Greek actually means “the other person”. So this pertains to more than just the people who live up and down your street. This pertains to whoever you are with; to whoever is next to you in any context. That is “the other person” and our love for God must overflow in love for the very people for whom he died on the cross. Loving the other person.

Love for God necessarily leads to love for others. 1 John 4:20 & 21: “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar for he who does not love his brother [and that is the other person, especially those within the context of the church] he 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, ‘whoever loves God must also love his brother [the other person].

Love for God necessarily leads to love for others. Love for God necessarily overflows into loving actions to other people.

In 1st Corinthians 13 that talks so much about love says, starting at verse 4: “Love is patient. It is kind. Love doesn’t envy. It doesn’t boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong-doing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Our love for God overflows in our love for others, not in any abstract, theoretical way, but in concrete ways! It affects what my feet do. It affects what my hands do. It affects what my eyes do. It affects what my tongue does.

My Dad told me the story of a pastor that he knows, or at least heard of in South America, a pastor named Juan Carlos Ortiz and he got up in front of his church one morning and he said “The text for this morning is “love your neighbor”. [And he sat down.] Five minutes later he got up and he said “Let me emphasize, let me repeat the text. The text this morning is: “Love your neighbor.” [And he sat down.] And he didn’t get back up to the pulpit. He went and sat down next to a lady who sat on the front row who had cleaned his house for years and years and he realized that he knew her name and nothing else. So he sat there and he talked to the lady. He found out that her husband had epilepsy and wasn’t able to hold down a job, and they lived in a cardboard shack. So Juan Carlos Ortiz, the next day, went down and bought a bunch of wood and gave it to his “neighbor” so that they could live in the rain in a wooden shack. The text for this morning is “love your neighbor”.

Do you love God? Ask the person sitting next to you whether you love God. Do you love God?

Listen to how you and I speak about another person, especially when they are not present. Is our tongue full of love and grace or is it full of criticalness and judgment? Because we cannot at the same time love God and speak in critical, demeaning, negative ways about each other. And I could use many other examples, but the tongue is always one of the most powerful.

The greatest commandment is to LOVE GOD! It is the MOST IMPORTANT thing that you and I will ever do in the course of human history.

That love must necessarily move my affections; it must be deep.

My love must be directed to the PERSON of God and not good things about him.

And my love for God must overflow into my life and my neighbor’s and my brother’s, and my sister’s. It must affect my feet, my hands, my eyes, and my tongue.

If we do nothing else as a church, may we love God and may that love be visible in how we treat and how we talk about one another.

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