Crossways Concepts

Because it is all about the cross...

Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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The Number One, Most Important Thing

It seems that all Christians have their favorite Scriptures.   Perhaps it is something that inspires, catches their imagination or has sustained them through crisis.

In addition, there are scriptures that are workhorses.  They are so foundational that the can serve as a compass for a Christian life.  Many of these verses provide guidance, focus and direction.

The compass verse that I think is the most significant is originally found in the Old Testament, but then is repeated in each of the Gospels.  It is important not just because it is repeated, but also the way in which it is framed when it is mentioned.  The book of Deuteronomy says about this simple thought:

These words I am giving you today are to be in your heart.  Repeat them to your children.  Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you wake up.  (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

In the New Testament, this verse gets an even more amazing endorsement.  Jesus is asked, in effect, “What is the single most important thing we should be doing as a believer?'  Jesus then chooses this verse to answer this critically important question.   After that, He goes on to describe how pivotal it was to the entirety of the Bible.

Even the newest babe in Christ can understand this verse. Its meaning is obvious and self-apparent.  Yet a person can spend a lifetime bringing the depth of this simple verse to their life.

The verse is:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37)

This simple concept is what Jesus identified as the very most important thing we should be doing, the greatest commandment.  It sounds too easy, but all we have to do is to love God.

What is love?  How do you recognize love when you see it?

Love is where we put somebody else's interests above our own.  When we are willing to put aside what we want (or maybe even what we need) to take care of another's interests, then that is love.

We see it with people that put their life on hold to take care of their children.  We see love in the person that gives up everything to care for a ailing spouse.  When somebody donates a kidney so a relative can live, that is obvious love.

But, how does that kind of love translate into loving God?  God doesn't need raised, or cared for or a kidney.  In fact, God doesn't need anything, because He is God.

Real love isn't limited to self-sacrifice only to meet needs.  Real love wants the very best for the target of the love.  A person that really loves, wants to see the other do well.  We want to please the other person.

When we look at this sort of love, as applied to God, then loving God makes more sense.  To love God is to put His interests above our own.  The way to love the King of the Universe is to allow Him to be King of our life.  To love Him is to allow Him to be Lord.

Then there is also the matter of the, “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” part of the scripture.  There is a temptation to think that when He says “all” that we are to love Him only and not love anything else.  Yet the bible is full of admonitions to love others, so that can't be the exact right interpretation.  He still clearly says that we should give Him “all” of our love.  How can that be?

Humans are built with a capacity to love others.  While we may be born with varying amounts of this gift, we all have some amount of it.  While we are all capable of love, this human love is always tainted to some degree.  There is always some amount of selfishness and “what's in it for me” that is a part of this love.  With different people, different times and different circumstances, this selfish side of their love may be more or less, but it never goes away completely.  This selfish love leads to things like jealousy, lustful love and the love of power and possessions.

God asks us to give all our love to Him.  When we give all our love to Him, there is no more capacity for selfish love for self, things or pleasure.  However, it would also make sense that giving him all our love would use up our capacity to love others.  That would be precisely the case if God left us like that.

Something happens when we start to love God, we open the floodgates for God to pour love into our lives.  God's love floods into us.  He gives us more love than we can hold, so it begins to splash onto those around us and we find ourselves loving people that we couldn't love and loving in ways that we couldn't imagine.

This love that we give others is not an impure love that is tainted with selfishness, instead it is God's pure love.

It is through this process that we are able to give God all of our love, yet we still have a capacity to love others.  This helps explain verses like, “No one can be a slave to two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and money” (Matthew 6:34).  Many people try to love both God and money.  But what they are really doing is failing at the greatest commandment, because they aren't giving all their love to God.

Like so many aspects of our Christian walk, this process of giving God all our love isn't a one-time action that you can mark off your to-do list, then move on.  Instead it is a complex, dynamic situation.  The world continually beckons to us, encouraging us to pull that love back from God and place some of it in the world.  Then, as we grow in the Lord, we continually find pockets of our love that is stuck in the world, that never was given to God.

I suspect this is why the Lord didn't simply say, “give all your love to the Lord, your God.”  Instead He specified that we should love Him “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”.  He want us to search our very being to be sure that all of our love is His and His alone.

Loving God with all your heart
The heart is considered to be the center of our capacity to love those around us.  Whether we consider our love for our spouse, our children, our pet or our friends, this love is regarded as coming from the heart.  While these loves-for-others is basically good, it is possible for these loves to get out-of-whack.

If our love is supposed to all be given to God and He responds by giving us love to give those around us, then those loves can never be greater than our love for God.  If we find ourselves taking away from God to give to the people we love, then something is wrong, because God's interests should be our highest priority.  If what God wants conflicts with what the people around us want, then we should disappoint the people.

While I am sure that Jesus loved the apostle Peter, when Peter told Him that He shouldn't be crucified, Jesus told Peter that He would do God's will.  Peter's interests were a lower priority and God really knows what is best.  Although Peter was disappointed for a time, He later saw God's true and important purpose.

Just as God's job isn't to be a Santa Claus and do everything to keep us happy, our purpose is to serve God first, then see to the happiness of those around us secondarily.  While we can tell our children, “sure, if it makes you happy to play on the highway, you go right ahead,” we have their greater interests in mind.  God has our greater interests in mind, so if we have to disappoint somebody to be faithful to the Lord, it is all the best thing in the long run.  God has our back, even when we can't see it.

If we have any relationships that are taking a higher priority than our relationship with the Lord, then we need to reconsider where we are giving our love.

In addition, to these love relationships, the heart is also the domain of our romantic and sexual side.  This is an area that can get very complicated, because romantic and sexual feeling can very quickly fog up our reason.

Since our human love is always subject to being tainted with selfish motivations, we need to very carefully evaluate those situations that we find the most gratifying.  Could we be in this situation for selfish reasons?

When we give our heart to God, He doesn't want some or most of it, He wants it all.

Loving God with all your soul
Our soul is the part of us through which we connect to God.  He is spirit and the part of us that is spirit, our soul, is the part of us that can touch Him.  We should be loving God with all our soul, but there are so many other distractions for our soul.

The soul is the home of worship.  Worship and love are very closely related.  When we are worshiping God, then we are acting out our love for Him.  Worship is not a Sunday morning activity, it is something we do automatically without thinking, all through the day.  Yet it is so easy for this form of love to be misdirected.  It is ridiculously common for God to get a small fraction of a person's daily worship while the rest gets wasted away on other things.

Let's consider what happens when we worship God.  We focus our being on who He is.  We run His attributes through our mind.  We remember the good things He has done.  We set aside all the distractions of the world and focus our being on Him and Him alone.  This is worship.

Then, after church is over, do we do the same thing with the things of the world, focusing our being totally on them, forgetting about God?  At that point we have begun to worship and love the things of the world.  We need to look closely at all those aspects of the world that want to get a monopoly on our attention and our love.

We tend to think of our love only applying within relationships, but that isn't always the case.  Jesus addressed this when He said, “But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)  A person can be wasting their love, that should be God's, by an action as simple as looking at images on the Internet.  Even this type of “love” is giving away something that should be God's.

Similarly, greed or love of stuff can be misdirecting the love that should be God's.  God has always had a huge issue with idolatry, where people would worship an inanimate, created object.  In our “sophisticated” world people wouldn't exactly pray to an object, but I have seen folks that are so crazy about their car, their home or their collections of stuff, that it bears a strong resemblance to worship.  Money has always been a big distraction for God-seekers.  We want it and we feel justified in wanting more and more.  The Bible says, “Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: … greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5)  The love of money is love that needs to be given to God.

Loving God with all your mind
In our mind is where we absolutely need to love the lord.  There is such a tendency to consider our thoughts to be an anything-goes area.  Although we consider our thoughts to be private, God is listening.  Just imagine how embarrassing it would be if the people around you could hear your thoughts.  Even as you consider some of the more embarrassing circumstances of people hearing your thoughts, God is listening to every one of them.

If we love somebody, we don't say things to them that will be hurtful, unless some higher purpose is being served.  If somebody you love shows up at a restaurant to meet you for a meal and their clothing is horrid, there is no purpose that will be served by telling them.  Most people would not tell them.  If we love somebody, we don't want to inflict unnecessary pain on them.

Yet many Christians, like me, have things that are in their minds that are hurtful to God.  We allow so many things to reside in our thoughts that are not appropriate for a Christian.  We allow many things to dwell in our thoughts that we wouldn't think of vocalizing.  Yet, each of those inappropriate thoughts is disrespecting God and the Holy Spirit that lives inside us.

We tend to think that there is no harm in just thinking about these things, yet so often our thoughts are the precursor of our actions.  The Bible describes this process, “each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires.  Then after desire has conceived , it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)  Our minds are the incubator for sinful desires.  Somehow, when we think and dwell on a thought, it starts to seem more real, more possible and more acceptable as we grow comfortable with the concept.  When this is a sinful desire, then this process can lead us into actions that we might not take otherwise.  

However, conversely, time spent dwelling on the Lord increases our faith in Him.  To love the Lord with our minds is 2 sided:  first off, we should be “taking every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) to filter out the unacceptable thoughts, but, secondly, we should replace those bad thoughts with thoughts of Him.  While it is inconceivable to love somebody, but never think about them, that is exactly how some Christians attempt to function.  Love the Lord with thoughts that are not just acceptable to Him, but those that glorify Him.

Jesus knew that we needed to love the Lord.  He knew how critically important it was to a right relationship.  He showed us this when He said that God's greatest commandment is to love Him completely.  We are to love Him with a love that consumes us, a love that becomes a foundation of who and what we are.

This is not an easy or natural love.  This is a love that runs contrary to the world we live in.

All this love we are to give Him, while it seems so challenging, seems so minimal when it is compared to the love that He has demonstrated for us.  I know that by all normal ideas of justice, God should have tossed me into eternal damnation for everything I have done, but instead He has blessed me, He has given me hope, He has given me His Spirit to guide me, and He has even given me an eternal future in heaven.  That is real love.  How can I not love Him?

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