How to Love God
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Luke 10:25-27
We often think of the above text as a New Testament command – a softer summation of the Old Testament laws. But actually the lawyer was quoting the Old Testament. Look in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
How are you doing with this command? If you look closely at what Jesus is saying I don’t think you’ll find it to be “softer” than the Old Testament. Much like the Sermon on the Mount sets the standard of the law far higher than what Old Testament saints had thought, so Jesus here moves the definition of loving my neighbor. The lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Who is YOUR neighbor? If you are like me you are probably thinking about the people who live next door. The lawyer was possibly thinking of them as well and thought he was doing a pretty good job loving his neighbors. How are you doing with the people next door? Do you know them? Do you love them like you love your own self? Really? Think about it for a minute.
Of course Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a famous story – the story of the Good Samaritan. You can read it in Luke 10:30 – 37 if you need a refresh. But Jesus picks not the guy’s next door neighbor for him to love but a random stranger. And not just any stranger but a guy laying on the side of the road in a mangled mess. Then Jesus picks the hero of the story – the one who loves his neighbor – and he is not a priest nor even a Jew but a lowly and despised half-breed – a Samaritan. Then Jesus with a blow that almost seems below the belt tells the lawyer, “go and do likewise.” Do you hear what Jesus is saying? Everyone is your neighbor and a Samaritan is doing better at this than you!
So I ask you again. How are you doing with this command? Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:27-36
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
I don’t know if it is because these words are so familiar that we can read them so casually. But look at what it says… Love your enemies – Be as merciful as God. That is law not grace. The law demands your perfect adherence to what it commands. And if you keep it you will live – which is Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s answer to love God and love his neighbor. Jesus answers, “you have answered correctly – Do this and you will live.” “And you will live” should clue us in that this is law. He is quoting Moses. Deuteronomy 4:1 says, “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you and do them, that you may live…”
Now if you have honestly evaluated yourself you have probably come to the conclusion that you don’t love your neighbor as yourself in the way Jesus describes. You may feel guilty about that. And that could be good unless you are saying to yourself right now “I have GOT to find a way to conjure up more love – I just need to work harder at it.” The law of God is not intended for you to figure out some way to make it happen – like a Nike slogan – just do it. No! It is intended (hear this) to point you to Jesus who is your wisdom and your righteousness and your sanctification and your redemption by revealing to you your sin and brokenness and need. Romans 3:20 says that “by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” So when Jesus says love your neighbor as you love yourself (that really should be enough to convict us right there) and then says everyone is your neighbor the point he is making is not you need to do more but rather you CANNOT do this and you need another person’s righteousness.
Let me give you one more text showing this from Galatians 3:11ff.
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”
Notice the theme again on “you shall live.” The law says do it and live or don’t do it and die. Now look at Galatians 3:21-22
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
It is not that the law is bad but rather the law reveals we are bad and unable to keep what it requires. The law reveals our inherent sinfulness. When we deny this and try to fix ourselves through the law we are as Brennan Manning says like a young eager plumber who sees Niagara Falls and says “I can fix this” – ie delusional. The law cannot fix you. It cannot justify you before God. It cannot sanctify or change you into a better person. All it can do is kill you with its demands or in killing you it can point you to Jesus who is your life.
So if you are struggling… perhaps that should say when you are struggling – telling you to love God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself without telling you something else, is like telling you to run and jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon and hope you make it to the other side. Good luck! The chasm is just a bit too wide. And Jesus was telling the arrogant lawyer the same thing – you think you can fulfill the law on your own – let me define the requirements for you – It is not possible for you to love your neighbor as yourself. You must come to me for your life.
Tomorrow I will post part 2 of this. But I think this is very important for us to understand in our Christian lives that even as believer’s we are prone to go to the law to enable our obedience and that is a colossal mistake that will lead to depression and despair or arrogance.
So what is the alternative to just telling you “love more and then you will obey.” I believe that the answer scripture gives is faith. John Piper very helpfully defines faith as “being satisfied with all that God is for me in Christ Jesus.”
Beholding the beauty of Jesus with eyes of faith enables us to love how we should love.
More on that tomorrow.