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Getting To The Heart
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There is a popular phrase that is used when we want to get to the bottom of something, or of our need to get to the most important aspect of something. We say that we need to get to the heart of whatever that something is.
Like when I was having a problem with my computer this past week, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. What I needed to do is to get to the heart of the problem, because if I didn’t, a whole day’s worth of work would have been lost.
And so, when we need to understand the most important aspect of some issue, we are going to have to get to the heart of the matter. And this is exactly what Jesus did in our passage today. He got to the heart of the problem with religion, and then tells us how to get to the heart of God.
If I were to give a definition of religion, part of it would be that religion is about keeping and maintaining laws and traditions that surround and are interwoven within religious institutions.
What Jesus states in our text, however, basically nullifies these rules and regulations in favor of a relationship, and within that relationship all the laws of God are contained and worked out.
Back in the days of Jesus, the religious leaders were devoted to carrying on lengthy debates on religious traditions and the laws they considered important or greater than others. This was no easy task considering how many laws there were, not to mention all the rules and traditions that surrounded them.
Take for instance the one law of keeping the Sabbath day holy, or number four in God’s top ten. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
Now, what has happened over the years is that the Jewish religious leaders began to surround this one law of God to keep the Sabbath day holy, with over 300 rules and regulations. And now with that in mind consider there are 613 commandments in God’s law. Can you imagine how many rules and regulations there would be if they all were so stringently kept.
So, what the religious leaders did was to divide these into greater and lesser commands, that is those they felt were more important than others.
Jesus, however, never got caught up in such debates; rather He taught that all of these were tied up in what He called the weightier matters, or what we know them as the principles contained within the laws.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23 NKJV)
The religious leaders were so intent on keeping the law, even in its minutest detail that they forgot what the laws were all about and the principles God desired to teach us through them. These principles, however, never countered or voided out the law, as Jesus said that the tithe was to continue regardless of what they did.
What do I mean by the minutest detail? They were so precise in keeping to the letter of the law, that when it came to the tithe, they would literally take a spice twig or leaf, and measure off a tenth, and cut it, giving that tenth part to the temple.
The reason Jesus was so intent on the principles rather than the specifics was because no one can keep the full extent of the law. And by trying to make some laws greater than others would give people an excuse for not keeping those laws they considered less important, thus discounting God’s word altogether.
The Apostle James speaks to this problem as sin.
“Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10 NKJV)
James said the law comes as a packaged deal. If we break one law, no matter how inconsequential we may think it is, then we are guilty of breaking them all.
Just because we may deny the importance of some of the laws doesn’t make them unimportant. Our unbelief and denial doesn’t void them out. They still condemn us no matter how little we may value them.
Under the law, therefore, we are judged guilty. This is why Jesus came and died for us, that through His death and resurrection we no longer are judged by the law, but rather we are judged upon our acceptance of God’s grace and mercy through faith in Jesus Christ.
A common deception that has affected many is the belief that if we deny, ignore, or refuse to accept something then it won’t come to pass. Many treat the Bible in much the same way, especially when it doesn’t line up with what they want.
And so, people start conforming religion and beliefs to their own culture and behaviors. They want the right to do what they want, and so they make everything else fit into their wishes including God’s word. Therefore, they only follow those commandments that allow them to do things their way.
Now, when Jesus was pressed for an answer as to which commandment was the greatest, Jesus answered in a surprising way saying that it begins and ends in having a love relationship with God.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 NKJV)
Therefore, it is only in a love relationship with Jesus that we’re able to keep the commandments.
Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15 NKJV)
Our love of God, therefore, should be our focus.
Have you ever been to the circus and watched the lion tamers? We see them with their whips and pistols. But neither of those are the most important tool in the lion tamer’s arsenal. The stool is by far the most important. Holding the stool with its four legs pointed at the lion paralyzes him because the lion tries to focus on all four legs at once, thus fragmenting its attention, making it relatively tame.
Like the lion, fragmenting our attention also paralyzes us, and this is usually through the various religious rules and regulations we allow in our lives. Therefore, by stating the first and greatest commandment is to love God, Jesus is taking the stool out of Satan’s hands helping us live a focused life.
Jesus takes away what the world wants us to focus on and places it squarely upon a living, loving relationship with God, rendering the world’s religions impotent.
What does this first and greatest of commandments mean?
To love the Lord your God, is to love God as your very own. The word “your” makes this relationship personal, not distant. God is not some impersonal force that exists out in time and space, far removed from our everyday lives. Rather, God is personal and very close. It means that God wants to be personally involved in every aspect of our lives.
It is a love that envelops the whole of our being, that is, heart, soul, and mind.
Our love for God should then be with the whole of our being, which is brought out by the word, “all.” We are to love God passionately. It is a love that is intensely emotional, one that energizes, stirs the blood, sets emotions on fire, turns heads, and sweeps us off our feet.
It’s the same passion that one unidentified man experienced. An attorney would often walk to work. One evening as he was walking home it began to rain. His condo was right around the block, but to shorten the route he cut across the graveyard. Unfortunately, a new hole had been dug and he fell into it. Try as he might, the wet sides made it impossible, so he sat down to wait out the storm.
After midnight someone else had the same idea with the same result. Not knowing the attorney was there he also tried to climb out. After a minute or so the attorney said, “It’s no use, you can’t get out.” Not only did this man become passionate about getting out, but he also ran the 100-yard dash in record time.
This is the passion that God desires for His church to get out of the grave, or as Jesus said, from being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). We are to be excited and awakened in our faith. We are to fervently stir up our hearts and spirits, along with the gifts that God has given, and to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
So, when Jesus commands us to love God with all of who we are, He means with a love so fervent and so alive that we’ll do anything for Him.
This is the same love God has for us, and the type of love that Jesus demonstrated by dying upon the cross so that we would never suffer the pain of separation from God again.
Further, this commandment reveals that God allows us to direct our love, but often it is misdirected love towards the things of the world and away from God.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15 NKJV)
Seeing how easy it is to get our focus off the Lord, and how difficult it is to love God in such a focused and passionate way, Jesus tells us how we can do it. It’s through a loving demonstration, or what He refers to as the second commandment, which he likens unto the first.
“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:39 NKJV)
Loving God with the whole of our being cannot be understood without a demonstration. A profession of love without such a demonstration is nothing more than empty words. Doing religious stuff like keeping rituals, observances, ordinances, and laws don’t do a thing. They are lifeless and unfeeling.
Jesus, on the other hand, reveals the act that demonstrates our love for God, and that is to love our neighbors as we would like to be loved. If a person says they love the Lord, but hates and acts unkindly towards others, then his love for God is in words alone.
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 John 4:20-21 NKJV)
This naturally raises the question as it did back then as to who our neighbor is, and to answer this question Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Through this parable we see our neighbor as being everyone, no matter their status, condition, race, creed, color, gender, or walk of life. Everyone should be looked upon as special and helped.
The problem, however, is that people become so engrossed in religion and all its rituals, ceremonies, rules, and regulations they easily ignore and neglect people, those whom God breathed life into and in whom are made after His own image and likeness.
How can we revive our passion for God? It comes through cleansing the very things we are to love God with.
We need to cleanse our hearts. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and had her husband murdered to hide it, He cried out these words to God.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NKJV)
David also revealed that if we ever regard sin in our hearts, the Lord wouldn’t hear us (Psalm 66:81). So the first step in restoring our passion is for God to restore our hearts so we can get attuned to His heart.
Next, we must cleanse our emotions. This world, our wants and desires, and Satan can corrupt our emotions.
Solomon said, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28 NKJV)
Solomon is saying that when we have no control over our emotions it opens our lives to devastation. But we can change our emotions.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” (Psalm 42:11a NKJV)
At first glance we might get the impression that there is no help for our emotional state. But the Psalmist goes on to say that we can discipline ourselves to speak directly to our emotions to see them change through God.
“Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” (Psalm 42:11b NKJV)
King David said, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my mind and my heart.” (Psalm 26:2 NKJV)
The Apostle Paul says that we are to cast down those arguments, vain imaginations, and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God by taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Therefore, the sum and substance of all that God did and said is love. And the sum and substance of all that God wants from us is love, that is, to love Him and our neighbor.
So, let’s return to that first love relationship by making our love for God and others our priority, which is nothing less than what Jesus told to the church of Ephesus.
“Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5 NKJV)
Outwardly they didn’t look all that bad. They were resisting those false teachers spreading their evil lies and doctrines. They were patiently enduring and not growing weary in the process. But there seems to be an inner decay happening. They had all the right words and even right doctrines, but they were leaving behind the most important thing, and that is love, a love for God and others.
They were the embodiment of Paul’s admonition to the church of Corinth saying that while they could say and do everything right, without love they were no more than loud clanging cymbals, making lots of noise but no music.
But in the Ephesian church’s case, it was more of a gentle moving away from a living loving relationship and making it into a religion. And God said, “turn it around,” “repent,” and get back to the Great Commandment to love the Lord God with the whole of who they were and for us, with the whole of who we are, and then love others with that same love.
That is how we truly get to the heart of God for our lives and for the church.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study