Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sermon: The foremost commandment (Matt 22:37-38)

WHAT IS FOREMOST?
The Foremost Commandment (Matt 22:37-38)

pdf
Dr. Paul Manuel—2011
(This sermon is part of Dr. Manuel's sermon series: "What is Foremost?" Links to
each of the sermons in the series will be found here
as they are posted.)
With the New Year comes a host of good intentions called resolutions, decisions for self-improvement, often physical, like eating healthier and exercising more.
Simon was concerned that he might have eaten more than was prudent over the holidays, especially as his clothing was fitting more snugly. To confirm his suspicion, he decided to calculate his Body Mass Index, which uses a person's height to determine approximately what he should weigh. The results classify a person in one of four categories, ranging from underweight to normal weight to overweight to obese. Fortunately, Simon was not in the obese range, but he was technically overweight. He hated exercise, and dieting had never worked, but he was determined. "My New Year's resolution," he declared, "will be to get myself back to a healthy BMI." After a thoughtful pause, he added.... "All I have to do is grow four inches."
With the New Year comes a host of good intentions, decisions for self-improvement. Whether or not you attempt any physical self-improvement, an area you should not neglect is the spiritual.

I once asked a young man who was about to get married what he thought the most important things in life are, in particular, what should take priority in his life. He listed family, job, and education. I asked him if God made the list. "Yes," he replied, "God was next." As we spoke further, he mentioned that God was certainly important but not as much as the others on his list. When I asked the young man where he thought God would want to be on the list, he did not know but assumed that God (being family oriented) would put family first. The young man claimed to be a Christian but was not very familiar with the Bible, so I gave him some passages to consider.

That conversation, though, made me wonder: "What does the Bible identify as most important? If I were to make such a list, what would be on it?" More to the point, what would God want on it? As I searched the scriptures, my list grew (far beyond Letterman's top ten to more than fifty items). This series of messages will offer the current state of that list, and I encourage you to consider them for your own list. You may discover more, but this is a good place to start as we answer the question, from God's perspective, What Is Foremost?

What must head the list is what Jesus identifies in Matt 22 as...

I. The Foremost Commandment1

...which is to possess...
  • The passion for God
Please turn to...
Matt 22:37 [Jesus said:] "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment."
Here, Jesus is answering a question designed to test his knowledge of God's word, when a scribe asks...
Matt 22:36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
If you get nothing else in this series, get this; because if you get this, everything else falls into its proper place. When Jesus calls this "the first...commandment," he does not mean the first precept God issued in scripture. Many others preceded it—permeating four biblical books (Gen, Exod, Lev, Num)—but none superseded it.

After Israel's forty-year sojourn in the wilderness as punishment for the people's rebellion at Kadesh Barnea, where they chose to reject God's program, a new generation stands on the Plains of Moab, with a fresh opportunity to accept God's program. Moses issues this instruction in...2
Deut 6:4 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.
This admonition becomes the centerpiece of Israelite religion, which Jesus, 1500 years later, confirms is the preeminent command for God's people. It reveals to them (and to you) what devotion to God entails, how concentrated and how complete it is to be. First...

1. Your devotion must be focused.3

The proper object of your affection must not be divided (diffuse). Earlier in the gospel, Jesus warns that...
Matt 6:24a-b No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
Divided devotion is deficient devotion. However much you love your spouse or your dog—and, in come cases, that difference may not be obvious—those affections must pale in comparison to your affection for God.

Jesus, in his capacity as God's messiah,4 alluded to this degree of devotion when he explained the stringent demands of discipleship.
Matt 10:37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
On another occasion, Jesus offered a similar explanation but in starker and more demanding terms.
Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.
The commitment God expects is concentrated on Him alone.5 Your devotion must be focused. Second...

2. Your devotion must be full.

...complete, both extensive and comprehensive, involving every part of you: "all your heart...all your soul and...all your mind." In other words, loving God is not just an emotion; it is more than having a fuzzy feeling about Him.

Many people try to compartmentalize life. They divide their attention among various responsibilities and activities—work, family, leisure— allotting to each a portion of their time. Most Christians think that along with a time for work, a time for family, and a time for leisure, there should also be a time for God, a time they set aside on Saturday or Sunday for church.

However equitable that may seem, it is not what God expects; He wants it all, not that you spend every moment in church but that you submit every faculty to Him, your whole being. Your devotion must be full. No part of your life can be out of bounds or off limits.

The two greatest competitors for the foremost place among your priorities are likely to be your family and your finances. You may recall how they were the deterrent for two discipleship candidates who approached Jesus.6
Matt 8:21 [One] said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
Matt 19:16 [Another] asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" .21 Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect...sell your possessions and give to the poor.... Then come, follow me."
It is not that family and finances are unimportant. They are very important, and you must not neglect either one—the young man who was about to get married understood their importance—but they come after your first priority.7

With all that vies for your attention and affection, it is vital to have the foremost commandment clearly before you at all times. You must have a passion for God that is focused, concentrating on Him above all else, and a passion that is full, involving every aspect of who you are. The Lord Himself sets that bar in Deuteronomy, and Jesus affirms it in Matthew. God is worthy of nothing less, and He demands nothing less. You demonstrate your love for Him by your devotion to Him.8 As John says...
1 John 5:3a This is love for God: to obey his commands.
How well are you showing your love for God? ...Is it obvious to others?

Having considered The Foremost Commandment, we will look next at The Foremost Complement to that command, which is the pairing of God with another command, in Matt 22:39.

For the Bibliography and Endnotes, see the pdf here.

(This sermon is part of Dr. Manuel's sermon series: "What is Foremost?" Links to each of the sermons in the series will be found here as they are posted)