[i]And one of the scribes . . . asked Him, Which is the first commandment of all?[/i] Mark 12:28
In answering the scribes question Our Lord does not say anything original, He takes two commandments from their place in the Old Testament, where they are obscured (see Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18) and brings them out into a startling light. Think not, He said, that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
[b]1. Duty of Love for God[/b]
[i]And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.[/i]
Where do we find ourselves with regard to this first great dutyThou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart? What does that phrase mean to us? If Jesus had said, Thou shalt love thy lover with all thy heart, we would have known what He meant. Well, He did mean that, but the Lover is to be God. The majority of us have an ethereal, unpractical, bloodless abstraction which we call love for God; to Jesus love for God meant the most passionate intense love of which a human being is capable.
The writer to the Hebrews states that Jesus Christ was perfected through sufferings, but there is any amount of suffering that im-perfects us because it springs from unregulated passions. This fact has made some ethical teachers say that the passions themselves are evil, something human nature suffers from. Our Lord teaches that the passions are to be regulated by this first duty of love for God. The way we are to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil is by the force of our love for God regulating all our passions until every force of body, soul and spirit is devoted to this first great duty. This is the one sign of sanctification in a life; any experience of sanctification which is less than that has something diseased about it.
If my first duty is to love God, the practical, sensible question to ask is, What is God like? Aristotle taught that love for God does not exist; it is absurd to talk of such a thing, for God is an unknown being. The Apostle Paul met with the result of his teaching in his dayYe men of Athens, . . . as I passed by, and beheld your devotions [the gods ye worship, mg] I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you (Acts 17:22-23). To-day the teaching in many of our own colleges and universities is being honeycombed with pagan philosophy, pagan ethics, consequently there is a state of mind produced that appreciates what Aristotle said, that we cannot know God. Then what a startling statement Jesus made when He said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart"!
[i]No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him[/i] (John 1:18).
Jesus knew God, and He makes Him known: He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father. Get into the habit of recalling to your mind what Jesus was like when He was here, picture what He did and what He said, recall His gentleness and tenderness as well as His strength and sternness, and then say, That is what God is like. I do not think it would be difficult for us to love Jesus if He went in and out among us as in the days of His flesh, healing the sick and diseased, restoring the distracted, putting right those who were wrong, reclaiming backslidersI do not think it would be difficult for us to love Him. That is to love God. The great Lover of God is the Holy Spirit, and when we receive the Holy Spirit we find we have a God whom we can know and whom we can love with all our heart because we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
[b]2. Duty of Love to Man[/b]
[i]And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.[/i]
Everything our Lord taught about the duty of man to man might be summed up in the one law of giving. It is as if He set Himself to contradict the natural counsel of the human heart, which is to acquire and keep. A child will say of a gift, Is it my own? When a man is born again that instinct is replaced by another, the instinct of giving. The law of the life of a disciple is Give, Give, Give (e.g., Luke 6:38). As Christians our giving is to be proportionate to all we have received of the infinite giving of God. Freely ye have received, freely give. Not how much we give, but what we do not give, is the test of our Christianity. When we speak of giving we nearly always think only of money. Money is the life-blood of most of us. We have a remarkable trickwhen we give money we dont give sympathy; and when we give sympathy we dont give money. The only way to get insight into the meaning for ourselves of what Jesus taught is by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, because He enables us first of all to understand our Lords life; unless we do that, we will exploit His teaching, take out of it only what we agree with. There is one aspect of giving we think little about, but which had a prominent place in our Lords life, viz., that of social intercourse. He accepted hospitality on the right hand and on the left, from publicans and from the Pharisees, so much so that they said He was a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! He spent Himself with one lodestar all the time, to seek and to save that which was lost, and Paul says, I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some (rv). How few of us ever think of giving socially! We are so parsimonious that we wont spend a thing in conversation unless it is on a line that helps us!
[i]And who is my neighbour?[/i] (Luke 10:29).
Jesus gives an amazing reply, viz., that the answer to the question, Who is my neighbour? is not to be found in the claim of the person to be loved, but in the heart of the one who loves. If my heart is right with God, every human being is my neighbour. There is engrained in the depths of human nature a dislike of the general ruck of mankind, in spite of all our modern jargon about loving Humanity. We have a disparaging way of talking about the common crowd: the common crowd is made up of innumerable editions of you and me. Ask the Holy Spirit to enable your mind to brood for one moment on the value of the nobody to Jesus.
The people who make up the common crowd are nobodies to me, but it is astonishing to find that it is the nobodies that Jesus Christ came to save. The terms we use for men in the sense of their social position are nothing to Him. There is no room in Christianity as Jesus Christ taught it for philanthropic or social patronage. Jesus Christ never patronised anyone, He came right straight down to where men live in order that the supreme gift He came to give might be theirsThe Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. It is only by getting our mind into the state of the Mind of Jesus that we can understand how it is possible to fulfil the royal law and love our neighbour as ourselves. We measure our generosity by the standards of men; Jesus says, Measure your love for men by Gods love for them, and if you are My disciple, you will love your neighbour as I have loved you.
[i]Conformed to His image[/i]