This article is adapted from a sermon preached by Adam Brock entitled Supremely and Genuinely.
Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with how language evolves. And it doesn’t take much for us to start to feel old when a new word or phrase gets thrown around and we don’t know what it means.
I’ll never forget that embarrassing feeling I had in seminary over not knowing what “SMH” meant. SMH is mostly used in texting and isn’t really a spoken thing and it means: Shake My Head. Right?!
Well, I kept seeing it in texts and tweets from kids in my youth group and I remember being at a high school JV football game with some of my students when I finally leaned over and asked one of the kids what it meant that this guy was texting me SMH. I was glad I asked because I was nowhere close to understanding what that meant!
Well, GOAT means GREATEST OF ALL TIME! So, if your kid or grandkid has been calling you GOAT then good news, it’s a good thing! Now I bring that up because it’s a real popular thing right now to debate about topics related to being the GOAT. And in scripture, we find an example of where this happens. No, it isn’t sports-related or anything like that. In scripture, a scribe comes to Jesus wanting to know, of all the 613 commands in the law, what’s the Greatest of All Time?
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. 33 To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask Him any more questions.” (Mark 12:28-34 NIV)
Today, I’m praying we’ll be shaped by the Word of God in such a way that we know and encounter this truth today: We exist to love God supremely and to love people genuinely!
Let’s look at verses 28-30. One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Often, we see the religious elites of the day bringing questions to Jesus, but because their motive and intent was only to trap Him, and not to learn from Him, Jesus often responded with another question. But here, the man’s question was honest and open. And so, Jesus answers him honestly and openly.
God responds to our open and honest questions! What questions of faith do you have? The problem we see in society is a question is asked, and then no listening occurs. How often have we been guilty of this? When we ask questions of faith, do we follow that up with listening? Or do we move on because we think we already know the answer, or because we get distracted? In either case, we seem to have lost the art of listening!
Be encouraged today with this: Our God responds to genuine questions. Be challenged today with this: To hear from God requires you to listen.Jesus’s response begins in verse 29: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Jesus quotes from the Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This confession was recited by every devout Jew morning and evening. And was a central component of their faith.How do we love God supremely? By having a love for who God is! You see, this is a powerful statement of the uniqueness and exclusivity of God. There is only one God and he’s the God as revealed in scripture!"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NIV)
If you’ll take some time this week to study the Deuteronomy 6 passage, you’ll see that the Shema is a call to love God supremely for all of life and in a way that helps the next generation do the same thing! It’s important to remember that when the people of God received this word in the Old Testament they were surrounded by polytheistic cultures; that is cultures that worshiped many gods. And the fundamental teaching God wants his people to understand is the reality that our God is one! To love God supremely means you must not follow other gods.
You might say, "Well, I don’t follow 'other gods.'” Watch out. Let’s look at the next verse.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
How do we love God supremely? By loving Him with all that you are! Jesus is saying that love for God should consume our entire being. It encompasses everything that we are, everything that God created us to be. Loving God with our heart speaks to our emotions and passions. This is the real me.
In Psalm 42 the psalmist writes: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
Loving God with our mind has to do with our intelligence and thought life. Loving God with our strength speaks to our will. The idea is pretty straightforward, we are to love God with everything we’ve got! All of who we are! This is what it means to love God supremely. In this moment, can you say your supreme love is Christ? Are you loving God for all that He is, with all that you are?
The scribe did not ask for the second greatest commandment, but Jesus gave it anyway. And in doing so made it clear for us that we are called to also love people genuinely.
Verse 31 says: The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This is actually another Old Testament quote, this time from Leviticus 19:18. By giving this commandment, He showed that the two could not be separated. If we love God with all our being, then we will love our neighbor as well.
On this subject, Tim Keller says, “When Jesus says all the laws boil down to ‘love God and neighbor,’ he is saying we have not fulfilled a law by simply avoiding what the law prohibits, but we must also do and be what the law is really after — namely love.”
Loving other people is only truly possible on the basis of one’s love for God, which is good news, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but some people are hard to love.
For several years, I worked in ministries that were aimed primarily at middle school students. In college I worked at a Christian camp called Pine Cove in Tyler, Texas, that was just seventh- and eighth-graders. My youth groups over the years always had lots of middle school students and when I first moved to Lake Charles it was to be the middle school pastor, right here at Trinity. And for years people would ask why I would work with middle schoolers?
Often their question was accompanied by the statement that middle schoolers are awkward, smelly, and weird … like they were telling us something we don’t know! And the best answer I ever gave was simply this: Why middle school? Because Jesus loves middle schoolers! That’s it. Jesus loves them! Even when they are acting, just like middle schoolers.
I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it again: in a lot of ways middle school never ends. And whether they’re in middle school, high school, college, adult, or even senior adult, some people are difficult to love, if you’re trying to love them in your own power. Only by truly loving God supremely will you be empowered to love those around you genuinely. Because the closer we grow to God the more we realize the truth that we’re all hard to love. And yet, Christ demonstrated his great love for us by coming and dying for us! Even while we were still sinners is how Romans 5:8 says it.Now I want you to see what the text of Leviticus 19:18 says: “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” When you study this chapter, it becomes abundantly clear that our relationship with God and with people is connected. It is impossible to love God and hate those made in His image. I’m not going to read the whole chapter to you but listen to this list that emerges from Leviticus 19 as it relates to loving your neighbor.
To love your neighbor means you will:
Loving God supremely works itself out in our lives by loving your neighbor genuinely.
Now, in Leviticus, the command was to love your neighbor, i.e., those of like-faith. But Jesus expands that definition for us, and we see him doing so in the story of the Good Samaritan. You can read that in Luke 10 and what you’ll find is that when Jesus is asked, “who is my neighbor?” he means all people!
Let’s look at Mark 12:32-33, for there is more for us to see about what it means to love genuinely.“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. 33 To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Notice the insight that the scribe has! He hears the response of Jesus and then comments that to do what Jesus says is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
You see, real religion ultimately is a matter of the heart. Rituals must give way to the superiority of a right relationship with God and others! Now, I’m not saying there is no value in rituals or even in “religion.” What I am saying is that rituals have no meaning unless they are the overflow of love for God and others. This same idea is expressed in other passages:
This is why so many churches have this main truth as their purpose statements. Do you know what we say at Trinity? See if you can finish this phrase:
“Trinity Baptist Church. The Family Place. Where it’s all about __________ (relationships): Loving ___________ (Jesus) and loving __________ (people).”
If you thought we made that up on our own, then I’m sorry to disappoint. This vision and purpose statement comes directly from scripture! And if the GOAT says this is the GOAT of all commands (did I say that right?), then you make it the focus of everything you do!
Let’s finish with verse 34: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”The words, You are not far from the kingdom of God, were not Jesus’ way of saying, “You’re close, try harder.” He said this to encourage the scribe to continue down this path he had described. It was the equivalent of Jesus’ “follow me.”
Now whether or not the man did is not recorded. But the invitation on the table for us today is this: Realize that obeying rules and regulations will never get me into the Kingdom of God because I can never measure up to God’s perfect standard. Correct theology does not assure salvation! Knowledge of the Bible does not assure salvation! The performance of religious rituals does not assure salvation! Instead, we must all turn to Jesus and trust him to bring us into a right relationship with God. Only faith in Christ! Have you placed your faith in Christ today?
We have no hope of ever loving God supremely or people genuinely without first turning to Jesus for salvation! If you’ve not don’t that today then I urge you, lay down your pride, confess your need, and let Jesus be the Lord of your life!
Remember we cannot Love God with all we are and hate people made in his image! Listen to the words that John wrote in 1 John 4:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:7-12 NIV)Our Father, shape us today by the power of your word, to look more like your Son so that we might love you supremely and love others genuinely.
What does it means to be compelled by the love of God and to no longer live for ourselves? Here are 6 things Christians are compelled to do.