Monday, July 07, 2008

Sermon 7/6/08 Back to the Basics Part Five: "The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing, The Main Thing"

“The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing”

Matthew 22:34-40 & Mark 12:28-34

Last week we talked about how the goal of salvation in not just getting to heaven, but it is being conformed to the image of Jesus. We also talked about how God will be faithful to do that for us if we will let him. This morning I want to focus on what is looks like to be conformed to the I image of Jesus. What does the goal of salvation look like?

One day this week I was at my computer and I “googled” “The most important thing a Christian believes.” One of the results took my to the web site of a fictitious Baptist church called Landover Baptist where there was an article entitled, “Who We Are and What We (God) Believes.” Here is the advice it gave to new Christians,

We believe that when a person first gets saved, the first thing they should do is buy a suit and a tie. If the individual is a female, then a dress not raised over an inch above the knee is acceptable. Clothing is perhaps the most important thing about being a Christian. If one is not properly clothed and fully representative of what God would want them to appear like... well then, that person is probably not saved. Our motto is "get saved, get to a Christian Clothing store, and get fitted for the kingdom." A man should dress and act like a man, and a woman should dress and act like a submissive female helpmate. That about sums it up. Anyone who does not conform to the dress code at Landover Baptist will be fined no less than $300.00 a violation. It is a privilege to be a Christian and we believe that it is about time folks started acting like it![i]

I know this article was written in good fun about how some churches loose focus off of God and place it on lots of rules that people have to follow, but it does raise a good question, namely how should Christian’s life look? Is the goal of our faith to follow a dress code? What does the bible tell us the main thing is about our faith?

Jesus was asked a similar question towards the end of his life. The story is told in both Matthew and Mark. In both gospels Jesus is in the temple where he is being asked a series of questions so that the religious leaders could test his faith and maybe trap him into saying something they could use against him. The Pharisees (which was the religious group that stressed strict observance of the law, followed the whole of the Old Testament, and believed in the resurrection of the dead) asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. When Jesus answered this question, one of the Sadducees (which was the religious group which took care of the temple, had a see no evil policy with Rome, only believed the first five books to be true of the Old Testament, and did not believe in a resurrection) asked Jesus a question about marriage in the afterlife. In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus gives another successful answer, these two groups get together, which was a miracle in itself, and ask Jesus which command is the greatest? In Mark’s gospel, the conversation actually turns good because Mark records a lawyer, after being truly impressed with Jesus, asks him which of the commandments are the greatest.

Just for informational purposes, this question was really not that random. It may have been like us asking a Bible scholar today which laws in the Old Testament still apply to us today. The religious leaders had been able to count 613 commandments in the Old Testament, which is quite a bit and obliviously some of these commandments were broken. They often wanted to know which were the most important so they would know which ones the HAD to obey and which ones they could skip out on.

Jesus answers the question by quoting two Old Testament passages. He says in Matthew, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” The gospel of Mark adds one phrase and that is also to love God with all your strength. In other words, Jesus says that the main thing is to love God and your neighbor because all of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two things. In Mark’s gospel the lawyer agrees with Jesus and compliments him on his answer.

Loving God

What does it mean to love God? Jesus was quoting from perhaps the most famous passage in the Old Testament. It is called the “Shema” and it was recited in Jewish prayers. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Four words: ‘Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.” Eugene Peterson uses these words instead to help his readers understand the meaning of what Jesus is saying, “Passion, Prayer, Intelligence, and Energy.” Lets explore these one at a time.

Heart- Passion The Hebrew’s believed that the heart was the essence of a person and it was the place where all our emotions come from. Jesus said once that it was not what comes out of the month that made a person clean, it was what was in the heart. Out of our heart comes what we truly are. We must then love God with all of the emotions that we have inside us. I think this is why Peterson uses the word ‘passion.” Passion is what our true desires are so we have to love God with our passions.

Soul –Prayer The Hebrew word for “soul” is nephesh, which comes from the root of “breath.” When we breathe we are then alive and when we stop breathing, we have no more life in us. Sometimes we talk about the soul as being the part of us that will not die as opposed to the physical body. Peterson uses the word prayer I think to relate loving God with the spiritual part of our being. I would take this one step further and suggest that loving God with our souls means loving God with our actions because we love God with every breath we breathe. We love God with our emotions and our actions.

Mind-Intelligence We are to love God with our minds. I think this is often the most neglected part of how we love God. It is easy to see that our emotions and actions should love towards God, but we normally see intellect as a barrier to our faith. Instead we are told that our mind is a good thing and we need to love God by using our mind. After all, God gave us a brain so we ought to love God with it. So often I talk with people who attend church somewhere because they their friends go there and when I ask them what the church actually believes and teachers, they have no clue. When I tell them that the church actually teaching things they do not believe, they reply, “If you love God, it does not matter.” Jesus is telling us to stop checking our brains at the door. Love God with your mind.

Strength-Energy As you may have noticed, Deuteronomy uses “strength” instead of “mind” while Matthew uses “mind” instead of “strength” while Mark uses both. I have generally understood strength to be a summery of the other three by saying succinctly that we are to love God with everything we have.

Loving your Neighbor

Notice that Jesus continues on by added another Old Testament verse from Leviticus 19:18. It simply says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.” Jesus is not making up something new, but he is tying together two threads that run throughout the whole Old Testament. Look at the 10 commandments for example. The first 5 commandments are about how to love God and the second are about how to treat other people. O often though, we try to divorce these two things. We either focus on loving God or forget to love our neighbor or we forget to love our neighbor as a response to our love for God. Later on John says that if we cannot love our neighbor who we can see, how can we love God who is unseen. The way Jesus bridges these two things together means that we cannot unconnected them. They are both the essence of our faith.

The Main Thing

Jesus reminds us to never forget the main thing. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to (1) Love God with everything we have and (2) Love our neighbor as ourselves. This is religion itself!


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