This past weekend at GCC I shared a message titled, ‘Rules’ of Engagement, which is Part 3 of the Community series. For audio or video of the message click here. Below are some thoughts from the message.
The Bible, more specifically Jesus and Paul, makes it clear that a God-community is governed by relationship, not rules, regulations, or mere religious activity; and that LOVE is the motivating factor that generates these right relationships. Note Matthew 22:34-40. Jesus, replies to an “expert in religious law” (you know those types) that the “greatest commandment” is to Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind… and to love your neighbor as yourself. He goes on to say that all of the OT and the words of the prophets simply amplify these two things. Basically Jesus is saying that they’re aren’t 2000 rules or 200 or even 20 that we need to concern ourselves with; there’s really just two!
Interestingly, the first thing Jesus says, Loving God with everything, covers the first 5 of the 10 Commandments. Loving your neighbor as yourself covers the final five. In essence, even the 10 Commandments are simply about your relationship with God and your relationships with other people. The very fact of Jesus’ mission and his message specifically relates that the kingdom of God is governed by relationship that is motivated by love. Because when this happens, it will always build trust and bring accountability. Trust is truth over time generated by love. Laws will never make you accountable (everyone breaks the law- think about the speed limit…), but love compels you to be accountable.
To further put this into perspective, consider that Jesus is dealing with Pharisees, who declared there were 613 precepts or rules incorporated into a book they called the Decalogue; and yes, as you might expect, they were indeed experts at these rules. But more pathetically, in my opinion, is the fact that they were constantly meeting (even more so when Jesus came on the scene) to debate which law or laws were the greatest. As a result, they would then try to impress everyone in respect to how committed they were to the laws they felt were more important than the others (in other words, look how spiritual I am). Notice, in Mark’s account of this event, how Jesus implores everyone: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes (as if holiness is an outside-in deal) and receive respectful greetings in the marketplaces. And how they love seats of honor… Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.” I’m not that smart, but I can figure out from Jesus’ words that you don’t want to be an expert at religious law and become a Pharisee!
We are directed by Jesus to just focus on loving God with all your heart (total commitment to God’s purpose), all you soul (total commitment to living out God’s plan), and all your mind (total commitment to thinking about what please God! And, love your neighbor as yourself. I’m pretty sure that by practicing the first one, you are putting the second on into practice! Your “neighbors” are those people who, according to the Greek word used here, are “close by or near you” or all the people you interact with or rub shoulders with every day! I’m called to love them the way I would want to be loved- to have a real sense of security, of being special, of satisfaction in life; to want the best for them. And in both instances- loving God and loving others, Jesus calls us to do so without conditions!
In 1 Cor. 13, Paul very frankly states that love is the greatest thing! Read the chapter and you soon realize that it really doesn’t matter how gifted we think we are, how holy we think we are, how religious we think we are, how spiritual we think we are, etc., if we don’t love, and specifically, love others, we are nothing, have gained nothing, and are just making a lot of noise! That’s why, again back to Jesus’ answer to the question posed by the religious law expert, we really need to concentrate our efforts on loving God with everything and loving others as ourselves, because loving relationship is not only what governs the kingdom of God, it’s our only means of accessing it, as well as being credible when it comes to Jesus’ message and mission!