“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; This is the first commandment”-Mark 12:28-30.
For some time Jesus’ enemies had sought to entrap through trick questions, and had tried every devious means to bring him into disrepute. But now something quite different enters the scene. The respectable young man approaches Christ as a sincere seeker after the truth. His is not a trick question, nor is his motive evil. Jesus had so wisely answered his enemies that this young man instinctively recognized the fact that Jesus possessed wisdom far above the average, and so a straightforward question is put to the Lord.
At this time the Jews were divided into numerous sects and parties, each distinguished by some particular point of doctrine. For the most part they were mere quibblers. They searched the law with a fine toothed comb to find, what they believed, were the important laws; then they would emphasize these laws to the exclusion of all other laws. God never gave a law that was not necessary to be obeyed. David’s statement, “All thy commandments are righteousness” [Psalms 119:172] needed to be heeded then as it is now. No one can tamper with God’s laws without grave danger to his soul. No group of men have authority from the Lord to act as a court to pass upon the constitutionality of God’s laws. No law was ever given by the Lord but what it requires sincere obedience if we are to obtain the Lord’s favor. Obedience to Christ must not be predicated on our own judgment as to the importance or non-importance of his laws. He has given no command that can be ignored with safety. While we may not understand the reason of certain laws, the extreme limitation of our own wisdom should not cause us to question the wisdom of God. The highest wisdom we can manifest is to render complete, unquestioned obedience to all that God commands.
But in one sense there are two laws that stand above all others, and these are the first and second commandments. The first command requires unlimited love of our heavenly Father. The second requires that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. Elsewhere (Matthew 22:40) Jesus taught that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This can be explained by stating that all of man’s duties have either a God-ward or a man-ward bearing. All the laws of God center around our duty to God and to our fellowmen. If we love God supremely, that love will naturally lead us to obey all of his commands; and if we love our neighbor as we do ourselves, we naturally will do our full duty to him. Thus we see there is one com- mand that is above all others—to love God with all the heart.
Loving God supremely! What a rare person it is who puts God first in his life! Yet love is the greatest thing in the world (I Corinthians 13:13). It is even greater than faith and hope, yet how very rare it is! Professed Christians are to be found everywhere, but a soul completely surrendered to God is harder to find than diamonds. The outward forms of Christianity are to be found by thousands, but souls truly in love with God are so rare as to be almost unknown. How easy it is to practice the outward forms of religion, without practicing that which alone will make religion of any worth.
The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-4) possessed every good quality religiously in practice, yet they had forgotten the one thing that would make them acceptable to Christ. They were so busy in getting their doctrine straight that they all but forgot Him from whom all good doctrine comes. They had left their first love, and in so doing they had endangered their souls. The church at Laodicea made itself greater than Christ, and gave only a lukewarm service to him. This, Christ would not accept (Revelation 3:14-17), and so they were threatened with outright rejection unless they changed their ways.
These examples reveal to us the solemn fact that God will have all of our affection or else he will not take any. We cannot give a divided service to him and expect him to accept it. It is all or none! There is no real Christianity except in a deep, personal love for Christ. If we foolishly separate Christ’s person from his doctrines, those doctrines become as worthless as salt that has lost its savor. Christianity is more than a code of laws, or a set of doctrines. Real Christianity is personal love for Christ, and unless we vitally connect Christ with his doctrines, we will fail in life’s greatest undertaking.
Just here we meet with a difficulty. Many seem to be utterly unable to love Christ. They realize the hollowness of their professed faith in him, and recognize that their religion does not give them the exhilaration of soul, the peace of mind that makes religions satisfying. No religion can be a real part of a person, unless that religion is centered in the heart, in the affections. The core of the trouble is this: They have no personal acquaintance with Christ. We cannot love anyone unless we know him. It is only through acquaintance with a person that we can learn to love him. To the vast majority of professed Christians, Jesus Christ is merely a historical character who lived and died two thousand years ago. We need to learn that Christ is not a dead hero, for he is saying, “I am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and have the keys of hell and of death”-Revelation 1:18.
An acquaintance with Christ requires spiritual and mental contact with him. He can be just as close to you as your right hand. Did he not say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” [Revelation 3:20] He also said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him”-John 14:23. That is real Christianity! A personal walk with Christ, having him in our homes and in our lives. If we have a friend whom we love dearly, we enjoy conversation with such a friend. We listen to him talk and talk with him. Christianity needs to be put on such a sensible basis. Christ can talk to us daily through the instrumentality of his word; and we can talk to him through the instrumentality of prayer. Prayer should be something more than stilted, ritualistic words, barren of real spirituality. It is talking to Christ and the Father just as easily and confidentially as talking to friends. This is perhaps modern Christianity’s greatest failure. We have made Christianity but a mental acceptance of an historical Christ, rather than an act of opening of our hearts that he may dwell therein. How well I remember the old childhood song, “And so we walk together, my precious Lord and I.”
While on earth, Jesus’ personality was such that people instinctively flocked to him by the thousands. No one can be around Jesus without being profoundly impressed by his personality. That same personality lives and glows on the printed pages of his word. The burdened sisters, Martha and Mary, knew that Jesus was the only friend to whom they could turn in their sorrow. The sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with the tears of her penitence, and wiped them with her hair, knew that in Christ her sinful soul could be regenerated into something fine and beautiful. Christ can be the safe to all needful souls today if they only understood the facts about him. We need to dwell in his spiritual presence, and by so doing we will learn to love him. Get acquainted with the real Christ and the stream of love will flow with refreshing abundance from your heart. Even though Christ is personally in heaven, there is not a day nor an hour but what we may approach him before the throne of grace, and find “help in the time of need.” [Hebrews 4:16]
Here we are reminded of the fact that there is much confusion as to whether we truly love Christ. Some people through their religious teaching are beset with gloomy doubts and fears, and dolorously sing, “‘Tis a point I long to know. Oft it causes anxious thought. Do I love the Lord or no. Am I his or am I not.”
As long as there exists doubts in our minds as to our real relationship with Christ, we can find no real happiness in our religion. The husband or wife who doubts each other’s love will never find in their marriage that which they expected. We need the “full assurance of faith.”
Others will say with a great show of emotion, “I know I love Jesus because of the wonderful feelings in my heart.” Well now, love is not all emotion. Love is based on something more substantial than passing feelings. The emotions of the morning hour may seem but a passing fancy in the evening, or a lovely dream that has no reality nor substance. Love is something that is constant and steadfast, and can be as real as the body of flesh in which we dwell. But there is a real test which we can make that will ascertain once and for all time whether we truly love Christ. Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me”-John 14:21; and again “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” [John 14:23] A plain, simple, infallible test! That test is obedience. The king of heaven and the Lord of the earth has a right to require obedience from his subjects; and his subjects have a divine obligation to yield themselves to his laws. Those laws are for their own good, and not chains of bondage placed upon us by a cruel despot. “This is the love of God that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous”- I John 5:4. Commandments based on holy love cannot be a galling yoke of servitude.
The anxious, worried mother who lays down the law to her small son that he must not play in the street, does not give such a law just to assert her authority as a parent. She lays those restrictions on the child for its safety. Even so, Christ has given us laws and restrictions because he knows far better than we do the constant dangers to which we are exposed. To obey Christ’s laws shows proper respect for his authority, and is an acknowledgement of his wisdom and love. He who will talk loudly and with gushy emotion of his love for Christ, while at the same time refusing obedience to Christ’s word, knows not the meaning of love. Jesus said, “He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings”-John 14:24.
A recognition of Christ’s exalted place in the universe reveals why he is entitled to our full and complete obedience in all matters of religion. Jesus once asked, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Only through hearing and obedience can we build on the rock of eternal safety—Matthew 7:24-27. Christ is the author of eternal salvation only to those who obey him—Hebrews 5:9.
Now we come to a very important question, and that is: Why should we love Christ? The apostle John has given us the great motive of love: “We love him because he first loved us”—I John 4:19. The love which Christ has shown toward the world is beyond all human expression. It is that which “passeth all understanding.” “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich” -II Corinthians 8:9. Lets get it clear-Jesus did not have to die! Jesus was not compelled to come to the earth. He did not have to endure poverty and the trials of this life. No earthly power accomplished his death upon the cruel cross of Calvary. He could have avoided it all had he chosen to do so. All that he sacrificed and suffered was done gladly and willingly. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he revealed to his disciples that he could call the legions of angels to his aid, who would have scattered his enemies like chaff before the wind: but he did not call for them. On the contrary he chose to die-to die the most horrible death human hands could inflict simply because that was the only way by which he could save the sinful souls of men. “The wages of sin is death,” and inasmuch as “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” the entire human race was doomed! But Christ loved man, and could not endure the thought of man’s destruction, and so he in love decided to pay our debt to God. We sometimes sing:
“On the cross he sealed my pardon, Paid my debt and set me free.”
God permitted him to carry the burden of our sins to Calvary, and there he died “the just for the unjust, that he might reconcile us to God.” “For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die; but God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” -Romans 5:6-8. No wonder John exclaimed “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we might be called the sons of God!” [I John 3:1] Surely such a love as that of Christ’s should strike a responsive cord in our hearts, and break down our stubborn wills. Knowing the depths, the heights and the breadth of his love, a heart is callous and hard indeed that will not respond to the story of the cross. That is why the first com- mandment is greater than all others. All service to God is predicated on the motive of love; and as his children it should be the highest privilege of our lives to show our gratitude for his infinite grace.
A wealthy, childless woman sought to obtain a child of her own by adoption; and so she went to an orphanage to select one of the little, motherless girls there. In looking them over, she became interested in a very lovely little girl some five years of age, and took her to a room where they could converse by themselves. She told the child of her wealth, of the beautiful home in which she lived, of how she could educate the child, and buy her everything her heart could desire. The child was much impressed, and then with a child’s frankness, asked: “What do I have to do to get all of that?” The lady burst into tears, and drawing the child to her heart, said, “All you have to do is love me, and be my child.” Surely this would not be a burdensome task for the child; but that is exactly what God is saying to us. Heaven with its eternal and never fading glories, awaits us. The celestial city with its walls of jasper, its gates of pearls, and its streets of gold is offered to you on the one simple and wonderful condition that you love God and be his child. Who can rightly call God a stern and dictatorial ruler? His “rod of iron” is the iron of infinite love. No metal can equal it for endurance and strength. It rises to the highest heights, reaches down to the lowest depths, and forgives the greatest of sins. Why not yield your heart in full and complete submission to his will?