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The Greatest Commandment

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

The Giving of the Ten Commandments

34When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

      41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44“‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?  45If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:34-46

With these words, Jesus sums up the entire Law of God.  Indeed, as noted elsewhere in the Bible, Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).  Love God and Love neighbor are the two tables of the Law.  This is what is taught in our confirmation classes.  The First Table, Love for God, has to do with Commandments 1-3, Having no other god before the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Not misusing God’s Name, and not despising the preached Word.  The Second Table, Love for Neighbor, has to do with Commandments 4-10, Honoring Father and Mother, Not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, and not coveting.

But by keeping these commandments of God, summed up with that word, Love, we are not saved.  So St. Paul writes, The law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them’ (Galatians 3:12).  He also says, As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11).

To be saved by the law, you would have to be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).  Such you are not.  And neither am I.  By the law is not salvation, but condemnation.  By the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).  Salvation must come another way.  It comes by way of Christ.  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14).  By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Law shows us our sin.  And just by those few words of our Lord from our text, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And You shall love your neighbor as yourself, our Lord convicts us all, even the Pharisees to whom He was speaking (Matthew 22:37, 39).  If it was just a matter of outwardly doing what God says, that would be one thing.  This is what the Jews of Jesus’ day and the Sons of Israel thought.  They believed that just going through the motions of sacrifice and giving lip service that they were doing their good works to God.  It was as Isaiah the prophet writes, These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men (Isaiah 29:13).

There is such a thing called ‘civil righteousness’, which all are able to do.  By civil righteousness, I mean the ability to follow the outward doings of human law, like keeping the ordinances, statutes, and laws of the local, state, and federal governments.  But by these we are not saved.  Doing them is a good thing and serves our own interests of not being punished for doing what the law requires, as well as serving society and keeping order.  But before God, just ‘doing the doing’ is not sufficient for eternal life.

To some extent, too, we are able to keep God’s law, at least the external side of side of it.  A number of years ago, surveys revealed that most people believed that they would be going to heaven because they’ve done just that, that is, kept the law outwardly; they haven’t murdered, they have stolen, and they haven’t committed adultery.  But by this way of thinking, they were greatly mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the nature of God’s law.  It is true that they might not have done those things outwardly, but it is not true that those people have done those things inwardly.

Not committing adultery also means having chaste and decent thoughts.  Not murdering also means not hating.  Not stealing also means not wanting something that is not yours.  When God says, Love your neighbor as yourself, He means love others as you would like to be loved.  This includes the heart, not only the show of love.  God even goes further and tells us to love our enemies.  He says, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).  It’s easier to love someone who loves you back.  But here, God would have us love even those who don’t love us.

By ourselves, this is impossible, but as we look to Christ, we see Him loving us, even as fear, love, and trust in Him above all things on our part be lacking because of our sinfulness.  But even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  It is of God who shows mercy, not because of any merit or worthiness in us, but because of who He is (Romans 9:16). Our God is a God a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth (Psalm 86:15).

Because our God is these things towards us, though we deserve them not, so His Word also takes root in our hearts, and thus we are so towards others, in Christ, even as St. John writes in his first epistle (letter), Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)

Love others we begin to do because of God’s love towards us.  And though our love be imperfect, God’s love towards us is not.  In Christ, full forgiveness is ours.  He paid the penalty for all of our sinfulness.  No sin is left remaining against us on account of Christ.  Though we don’t love our neighbor, all who around us, even within our own family, as we should, on account of Christ, these sins are not held against us as we cling to God’s Son in faith.  This is not, however, reason to forsake God’s law.  We should not keep on sinning because we are forgiven.  Nor are we to continue in sin that grace may abound (Romans 6:1).

God’s Law, summed up by the Word, Love, is not an option, nor does the Gospel mean that God’s law can be set aside.  This might be the understanding of many within Christendom, but it is not God’s way.  Just because God is love doesn’t mean that He accepts sinful behavior.  Nor does it mean that tolerance is to be the watchword in the church towards couples living together before marriage, homosexuality, and the dumbing down of God’s doctrine for the sake of mission.  Our God is a God of love, but He is not a permissive God who lets anything and everything go.  This is not forgiveness.  Forgiveness has to do with Christ on the cross.  On Mt. Calvary is where God meeted out just punishment for the sin of the world.  By our works and according to our own inclinations we have God’s mercy not.  Only in Christ we do.

God’s Word still stands.  Being God’s people doesn’t mean that we do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want.  Being God’s people means that, baptized into the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we live according to His Word, not our own.  This we do by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  God’s purpose for our life doesn’t have to be figured out or searched out, as is the popular thing to do among many in Christendom.  God’s purpose for you is to be found in His Word.  Christ’s words of Loving God and loving neighbor are all encompassing.  There’s nothing left for us to figure out according to these words.  Here, Christ is crystal clear.  All the books in the world, as popular as they might be, add nothing to the summation of God’s law with the word Love.

By love, I do not mean that we get right with God by us doing.  God’s commands still stand.  His Word we are to keep regardless of what we think or feel.  But loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves won’t save us.  Only Christ does.  By Him are our sins not counted against us.  And thank God that this is the case.  If it wasn’t, all would lost and for naught.

To God, we have faith and are saved.  But while we live in the world, God would have us live in love towards Him in our hearts and by what we say and do.  He would also have us love our neighbors as ourselves, even our neighbors that we believe not to deserve it.  As God loves us, so also are we to love others. Loving God above all things has to do with loving His Christ, believing in Him alone for salvation, for there is salvation in none other (Acts 4:12).  Loving God also means keeping His Word, His doctrine, pure and undefiled.  Loving neighbor means not only letting the little things go that trouble us, but also speaking the truth in love.  Loving neighbor also means bearing one another’s burdens, looking out for the interests of others, giving respect to whom respect is due and giving honor to whom honor is due (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4; Romans 13:7).

With love towards others, we live in the world.  But by our love, eternal life is not ours.  We confess our sins for this very reason, for we have not done as we ought.  But God’s love in Christ covers our lovelessness, and by Him, do we begin to love others, even as He loves us.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Mt22.34-46, Pentecost 19, 2011, Outline & Notes

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