The Rev. Dr. Bob N. Wallace

Sermon

October 25, 2020

TWO GREATEST COMMANDMENTS

Matthew 22:34-46 Text: vss. 37-39

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

          A rich man wanted to give his mother a birthday present that would outshine all the others, because he wanted her to enjoy it and keep it a long time. He had read about a bird. It had a vocabulary of 4000 words and could speak seven different languages. Fluently! And it was able to sing 3 opera arias. So, the man immediately bought the bird for $50,000 and had it delivered to his mother. The next day he phoned to see if she had received the bird and asked, "What did you think of the bird?" She cleared her throat, paused, and then replied, "Why son, it was just delicious!"

          Obviously, she didn’t know what the purpose for that bird was! And before you begin looking for purpose in your life, don’t try to get help from self-help books, or the new age movement. You will come up empty every time! Because your purpose in life is that you were made by God, for God! Remember last week? We learned how Jesus silenced His enemies when they saw an opportunity to put Him on the spot. They said, “Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”. Remember how Jesus then held a coin up front of them and said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s”. Then He said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. They marveled at His answer and went away. Now, the Pharisees had gotten together again. "And one of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'”. They’re called two of the greatest commandments ever spoken by Jesus. And just what is a commandment? It’s an order to do something. Like the Ten Commandments in the Bible.

          In a book titled Living God’s Love, author Douglas Cooper said, “the average person is programmed from birth to love only conditionally. Consequently, you grow up feeling you have to earn any love you get. Earn it by good behavior. Earn it by agreeing to let someone else have their way with you. Earn it by giving someone what they want. Or simply, by just being ‘nice.’”

          But what Jesus really meant in our lesson this morning when He said those two greatest commandments were, the purpose in your life should be to love unconditionally. So, what is unconditional love? To define unconditional love is to say that you love someone unselfishly. You care about the happiness of the other person. You will do anything to help that person feel happiness, without expecting anything in return. In other words, the term unconditional love is "love without conditions". To put it another way, it’s the type of love that exists between a parent and child. Or between a dog and his master. It’s a love that’s given without expecting, or even really caring if that love is returned. You love that person wholeheartedly. Nothing’s going to change that! Unconditional love means you accept someone’s faults, without judgment.

          For example, romantic love. It’s between two people who love each other unconditionally! And that unconditional love refers to one, or both individuals who love each other and expect nothing back! That’s how your love for God should be! It should be like that with your neighbor! But who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is anyone around you with whom you can share God’s love. You’re called not only to love those who you like, but you are called to love those you don’t like. And are uncomfortable with. Your neighbor just happens to be everyone God places in your path. In fact, Jesus said it so well in Matthew 5:44-48, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

          So, it’s important for you to understand that loving your neighbors means attending to their needs. Whatever they are! Be they physical, or spiritual, or both. You should love your neighbor who may seem like an enemy to you. But when you act toward them with a heart that first loves God, then you’re loving your neighbor with an overflow of God’s love for you. It’s the way to show your love toward God.

          Some years ago, Dr. Karl Menninger, a noted doctor and psychologist and founder of the Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas, a leading psychiatric hospital dedicated to treating individuals with mood, personality, anxiety and addictive disorders, as well as teaching mental health professionals and advancing mental healthcare through research, was seeking the cause of many of his patients' ills. One day he called all his clinical staff into his office to unfold a plan for developing an atmosphere of creative love in his clinic. All patients were to be given large doses of love. No unloving attitudes were to be shown in the presence of the patients. All nurses and doctors were to go about their work, in and out of the various rooms, with a loving attitude. And at the end of six months, the time patients had spent in the clinic was cut in half. And in Ezekiel 34:16a, God says, “I will seek out the lost, and I will bring back the strayed”.

          God does that in so many ways. Jesus didn’t spend all of His time around the saved. He spent most of His time with the unsaved! So, make your life a reflection of His. Seek out someone God has placed on your heart. Really seek them! Then, love them for who they are. Not for who you want them to be. Jesus ate with tax collectors. He talked with women of ill repute. He spent time with the sick. His reputation wasn’t a concern to Him! He spent time with them because He loved them. And it was unconditional! Put your pride and your reputation down at the foot of the cross of Jesus if you want to truly love others.

          Listen, you can understand how much weight God places on a word by how many times it occurs in the Bible. “Love” is mentioned 551 times. And it includes 3 types of love. In Greek, one word for love is eros. And God’s very clear that eros love is reserved for marriage. Then the Greek word Phileo is brotherly love. That’s the word from which the city of Philadelphia derived its name. The city of brotherly love. And finally, there is agape. That’s the unconditional love that replaces “self” for the care and compassion of others. That’s the kind of love Jesus used in our lesson today. Agape your neighbor. Unconditionally! Agape the Lord your God. Unconditionally! And agape your neighbor as yourself. Unconditionally!

          If the whole world would do this, what a wonderful world it would be! The neighbors you are to love aren’t necessarily those who look like you. Or sound like you. Or live near you. Or are like you. Your neighbors are not just members of your own family. Or the people who live in your apartment complex. Or neighborhood. They’re not always your coworkers and your friends. But they’re your neighbors! And you should love them! For Jesus’ sake. But you should love “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you because if you love those who love you, what reward will you get”?

          As the song says, “Reach out and touch somebody's hand. Make this world a better place if you can. If you see an old friend on the street, and he's down, remember, his shoes could fit your feet. Try a little kindness, you'll see. It's something that comes very naturally. You can change things if you start giving love, unconditionally!

          So, why don't you reach out and touch somebody, today?” It’s the second greatest commandment. Jesus wants you to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. AMEN