Wholly Singles Confrence 08“The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing
Matthew 22:34-40 & Mark 12:28-34
Just so you know some of my background and story, I grew up in Chattanooga. I attended Soddy Daisy High School and UT Chattanooga. I then left Chattanooga as a married person and went to Lexington, Kentucky to seminary where I received my Masters Degree. In the middle of seminary, my wife decided that being a Pastor’s wife was too much for her, so we divorced. So I left for graduate school a married man and returned divorced.
One of the first times it really dawned on me that I was divorced was when I went to the dentist office for my teeth cleaning. On the form, it asks: Relationship Status: Married, Single, Divorced. I thought about it for a second and I didn’t know what to pick. I was single and I had just thought of myself as single, I was also divorced, so which one did I pick. And, why did they need to know if I was divorced, shouldn’t single have said it all. Then I thought, what if they think less of me as a person because I am divorced or single. Then the thought crossed my mind, what happens if I get remarried, would I check divorced and married or would that confuse the desk clerk.
We live in a “couple’s world.” I think the whole time I was single between my divorce and getting remarried, lots of people in the church made it a point to get me married. It seems to me that somehow because of society’s expectations and the pressure we place on ourselves to get married, singles are oftentimes left with the impression that they are “less than” other people.
Sadly, when we look at the church, oftentimes we find that even in the church, our programming is really “couple driven.” This should seem odd to those of us who understand out Bibles because both Jesus and Paul held special places for those who chose to live the single life. He tells the Corinthians that he wishes they could be like him (in singleness), but due to their weaknesses, they can get married. Notice that Paul is saying that in this room, I am the one who is weak, not you all.
The question I want to look at this morning is this: “How can a single person, or anyone for that matter, have the best quality of life.” In two of the gospels, Jesus is asked a question, “What must one do to have eternal life?” Oftentimes, we interpret this to mean, “How can we go to heaven?” However, this question is deeper than just telling us about eternity. The word “eternal” can also mean “the best quality,” so that Jesus is being asked, “What can one do to have the best quality of life, both now and forever?”
Jesus tells the young man to obey the commandments and sell his possessions. Notice what Jesus does not say, “Go get married.” This morning I want to focus on the first piece of advice that Jesus gives the young man. What commandments must we follow to have the best life possible? Jesus later in his life is asked this very question.
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.
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.
There are several things I am passionate about. I love preaching. Being on this stage at this conference is an amazing opportunity for me. This is my passion. For me to love God with all my heart means that I cannot love preaching more than God. I have to love God and use my passion to show him my love. In our own lives we must ask ourselves, “Do we love God more than the things we love?” If not, Jesus is telling us that we will never have the best quality of live. However, when we can use our passions for God, then we will really get the best out of them.
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.
I want to add one more to this list that I think Jesus implies, but does not really say. He says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, meaning that we must LOVE OURSELVES THE WAY THAT GOD LOVES US. I think this is perhaps the one thing that keeps us from having the life that God wants for us. The problem is that we believe that society is correct that somehow because we are single, divorced, widowed, a widower, that we are “less than.” When people tell us that we are not good enough, we take it to heart. When people tell us we are not smart enough or not good looking, or …..fill in the blank, we believe them. The problem is that we are believing a lie. This is not what God says about us. When God created the heavens and the earth, he said, “It is good.” When God created human beings in his own image, he said, “It is very good.” When God created you, he said, “It is very good.”
I am not trying to say that you and I have no flaws. We aren’t perfect. But, I am trying to tell us that despite the imperfections we have, God loves us and sent a savior to die on a cross for us. We are that valuable to God. If God loves you and I that much, we ought to look at ourselves in the mirror and understand that we are a child of God and we are worth something. If we believe we are loved by God, then we can love ourselves. If we love ourselves, we can love each other, and if we can love ourselves and each other, the people that we can see, then we can love God who is unseen.
In seminary, after my wife had left, I was feeling pretty bad. I thought that I needed to drop out of seminary and quit my job as a youth director because I was not worthy of that. Come to find out, you are never worthy in your own strength, only in the strength of God. I was walking to the library to try to study and thinking it was useless. The library was just outside the dorm, so I had to walk outside for about 30 seconds. When I did, I looked up and noticed it was snowing. As the snowflakes came down I heard a small voice saying, “Brian, I love you and I am going to take care of you.” It was that voice that reminded me to love myself because God loved me. It has kept me loving God because he loved me and it keeps me loving those around me because God loves all of you all too.