Monday, July 4, 2011

The Greatest Commandment: Mark 12.28-34

"'The most important one 'answered Jesus,' is this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, 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.'"  The greatest commandment in the bible.  You would think we would hear a lot of teaching on this one, but I don't think I have ever heard a lesson on it.  Why would that be?  I think it is because of guilt.  How do you live up to a command that demands everything?

When I was a teenager I felt very good about living up to the greatest commandment.  I went to Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night services.  I went to all the meetings in the area and some out of state, and I went to a couple of bible studies a week.  So, I felt like I was giving God everything and having a lot of fun too.  When I got a job, married and had children things got harder.  My boss expects me to be at work, my wife expects me to be at home, and my children want to play.  There are a hundred things demanding my time, and God demands all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.  What can  I do?  I go to work, come home and play with the kids and feel guilty that I am not being the Christian that I should be.  Should I  feel guilty for working and loving my wife and children?  Do I have to abandon them to serve God?  It is time we stopped ignoring the greatest commandment in the bible and understand what God wants us to be doing.

An obvious, but ignored fact about Mark 12.28-34 is that Jesus was quoting from Deu.6.1-9.  While Jesus does not give any examples of how we are to fulfill the commandment, God does give some examples.  Notice what He says in verses 6-9:  "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates."  God wants us to take the commands that He has given us and make them part of our lives, and then teach them to our children at every opportunity: when we get up in the morning, at home and walking down the road.  Our home is to be a godly home, the work of our hands is to be godly work and our minds are to be godly minds.  Rather than telling us to not work or have families God has told us to use them to fulfill his great commandment.

If what I have written above is the correct way to understand Mark 12.28-34 then we should expect it to be taught in other places in the bible.  So, let's look at some of the things we feel guilty about and see if they are wrong.  Is it wrong to get married?  That one is easy, Heb. 13.4 "Marriage should be honored by all..." and Prov. 18.22 "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD."  OK, we all agree that marriage is a good thing, but is it wrong to love your wife and want to spend time with her?  Paul has a lot to say on this subject.  He wasn't married, we could expect him to not hold it in a high regard, so it is surprising to read "Husbands,  love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,..In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself," (Eph. 5.25-28).  Not only is it OK to love your wife, we are commanded to love our wives as much as Jesus loved the church.  We should not feel any guilt about this.

What about our children?  As I write this my son is talking to me.  Should I be annoyed that he is distracting me from give God my all?  Paul didn't have children, we could expect him to not like them, so we are surprised to read "Fathers, do not exasperate your children: instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the LORD" (Eph.6.4).  Also, Col. 3.21 "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged."   Paul may have been thinking of Deu. 6.6-9 as he wrote Eph. 6.4.  Fathers often think raising children is mother's work; we guys are to spend our time studying the bible and doing guy stuff.  The bible is very clear that raising and teaching the children is the fathers work.  Imagine how it makes a child feel when dad is too busy doing church stuff to play with her?  It will "exasperate" her, and "embitter" her against the church.  Rather than preventing us from giving our all to God, spending time with our children is part of our service to Him.

What about work?  Now if there is one thing that interferes with us doing work for the church it is our jobs.  Paul was not always what we call a "full time preacher."  He sometimes had to work to support himself, so he had some very strong opinion on the matter.  In 2Thes. 3.6-10 he wrote "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not to be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but  in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.  For even when we were with you, we gave your this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.'"

As much as we like to sit around and think about all the wonderful things we could do if we didn't have to work, we know it is a bad idea.  The more time we have the more we goof-off; I know it is true and so do you.  Paul told the Thessalonians that they weren't busy, they were busybodies (2Thes. 3.11).   If we didn't work the world would see lazy gossips who are looking for a handout.  Paul had the right to expect support from the congregation he was working with, but he saw their greatest need was the example of a worker.  Our job does not keep us from doing God's work, it is an opportunity to show the world what Christians are like: honest, hardworking people.

How do we keep the Greatest Commandment?  By loving our wives as Jesus loved the Church, by spending time with our children and teaching them God's commandments, and by being busy and doing an honest day's work.  The Greatest Commandment in the bible is not something to avoid, it is something we must embrace, and allow it to transform our lives.


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