Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Loving God, Serving People

The Bible is a BIG BOOK. Have you noticed what a BIG BOOK it is? Most copies are about a thousand pages long. That’s longer than a “Harry Potter” book…and frankly, it’s much harder reading.

In Jesus’ day, they didn’t have the New Testament yet, so the Bible was just the Old Testament—all 39 books, still a long book, written over more than 1000 years.

In the time of Jesus, Jewish scholars had carefully gone through the Old Testament looking for all the commands that God had given. They found a total of 613 laws. 365 were negative (“thou shalt not”) and 248 positive laws (“thou shalt”).

There were laws for everything, from how to make your clothes to how to prosecute people for murder to how to offer sacrifices to God. There’s even a law that says you’re not supposed to eat fruit from a tree during its first three seasons.

Imagine living in that society at that time, and imagine also that you really want to please God. Would having 613 laws to keep track of sound hard? A little confusing? You bet.

Along comes Jesus. The Bible says that when He taught, He taught like someone with real authority. The greatest compilation of His teaching is the Sermon on the Mount. He taught from hillsides to villages to the courtyards of the Temple in Jerusalem.

It’s not surprising that someone would ask Jesus about all those 613 laws. Both Matthew and Mark record the time; here is the way the story is told in Matthew 22:34-40:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "'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. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Jesus had sifted through all 613 laws and boiled it down to two laws to live by: Love God completely and love people as much as you love yourself. Jesus wants us to be clear that we aren’t to love God with just part of who we are. He gives four aspects: heart, soul, mind, and in Mark 12, He adds, love God with all your strength.

The heart is the center of our will and our emotions. The soul is the totality of our lives, life as a whole. The mind is our thinking capacity. And our strength refers to our ability to apply ourselves, to make efforts of both the body and the mind. Obviously, these four overlap, they don’t mean the same thing, and at the same time, they’re still distinct.

To love God this way is to treasure God above all else and to apply that love in our service of Him. God wants people who will love Him with a passion and will serve Him with devotion.
God wants a relational connection to us. He doesn’t just want us to say, “Oh, yes, you are my God” when we come into a temple or into a church building. That’s the so-called relationship that 2/3 of all so-called Christians worldwide have with God. He wants more; God wants a love connection with us where we respond to God with a purposeful passion.

And God really does want it. In John 4:23, Jesus says that the Father seeks true worshippers:
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

If you feel far from God, if you feel like He’s a million miles away, remember, what Jesus says: you can know God, you can experience His love, and this God is seeking you out to be a “true worshipper.” He already knows and loves you—now He wants you to know Him, and love Him. There’s nothing better in the whole wide world!

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