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If loving God with all we've got and love for our neighbor are the two greatest commandments, then the two greatest sins must be withholding love from God and from each other.
One of the scribes, perceiving that Jesus had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?"
Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.
"And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
The scribe said to Him, "Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul , and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared question Him. Mark 12:28-34 NKJV, condensed
Love in a Nutshell
Those whose writings make up our Bible, tried to tell us what God is like. One of the images they used is that God is a jealous God. We humans can relate to being jealous. When someone claims to love us, we expect an undivided love. It burns us up when we suspect their love is being shared with a third person. When someone or something else receives the love we think we should receive, the flames blaze like a scorching wildfire.
The #1 commandment sets our loyalties and priorities straight. Love God first and foremost with everything you have and are! Love is an emotion and a commitment; a matter of the heart and the will. Love brings the brightest joys and the darkest grief.
If you have ever been treated like crap, then you can understand how God feels. Ignored, abused, slighted, mocked, abandoned, falsely accused, taken for granted, the perfect target for venting, you name it, and don't forget the infamous "silent treatment"--most of us have been there. But did you ever stop to think that God is treated that way all the time!
Next time the door slams shut and off they go, just remember that's why God is also known as the waiting Father. How refreshing it must be when one of us, despite all our imperfections, turns a smiling face toward our waiting Father and expresses a genuine desire to love God with all our heart, mind and soul.
Jesus listed this as the #1 commandment. If you do none of the others, do this one. Or, better said, if you do this one, it will help you with all of the other commandments. By loving God, we learn what love is and how to do it. We learn to love whether we feel like it or not, whether the other person is loveable or not. God loves us in spite of ourselves; can we not do the same for others?
Love is patient and full of mercy. It motivates us to overcome all those things that disappoint, frustrate, and make us angry or afraid. Love convinces us not to retaliate or keep track of wrongs. Love adds the grace of forgiveness to our actions and our speech. We learn this mighty love from God because that is how God loves us.
Thankfully, Jesus summarized the commandments for us before he died. #1, love God; #2, love "our neighbor". Two loves that in time, or at their best, become one. Listen up, all who are in search of a guiding principle, the Lord our God is the hope of our salvation. Therefore, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Secondly, love your neighbor as yourself. This is the most important precept any of us can practice.
Our goal in life is not to strive toward keeping more and more of the commandments. Our goal is to love God and likewise to love others in the spirit of Jesus. When we learn to love, then we will see God's will being done "on earth as it is in heaven" . We can not speak about love without mentioning joy and excitement. The love God desires from us is like Enthusiastic Stew, of which the waitress explained, "The cook threw everything she had into it."
The scribe responded to these words of Jesus with a hearty "Amen!" He picked up the thread Jesus was weaving and added a phrase from the prophet Amos, indicating that acts of love were much more to God's liking than all the offerings and sacrifices people could bring to the temple. He got it! Traditional religion is secondary to love of God and neighbor--it was a courageous insight for a man in his position. And Jesus told him he was not far from the kingdom.
What would get him all the way there? Turning those words into action. Deeds have more value than talk. Jesus talked about going to the cross but if he had never done it, where would our salvation be? "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Jesus said it and then he did it. He expects no less from his disciples. Action figures rather than mere dolls.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Say a few words about some of the special people in your life.
Sometimes, after the fact, we learn to laugh at things which were painfully serious when they happened. Share such an experience as it relates to love, or jealousy, or a personal relationship.
The Shema (Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.) is taken from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy 6:4 and was cited daily by pious Jews. What thought from Scripture do you recite most frequently?
We often make these requests of our loved ones: leave me a note, call me, let me know where you are and what's up. Imagine God making those requests of you and picture your response.
Loving God--What does that look like? What are some ways you express your love for God? How much "face time" are you spending with your heavenly Father?
No one can claim that they love God with every fiber of their being or that they love their neighbor as much as they love themselves. If perfection is not the point of this text, then what is the point?
Reflect on the word "all" in this text. We may fear that if we give all we will get depleted and have nothing left. Yet Jesus associated fullness with giving. When you love, is it giving till you drop, or giving till you're full? How and when does it happen that "Love is something if you give it away you get back so much more."?
Discuss whether it's true that if the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor, than the greatest sin would be withholding love from God and each other? What does withholding love look like? Give examples of how we withhold love from each other and from God.
The Bible doesn't say we have to like everybody in general or anybody in particular. All it says is that we're supposed to love them. What's the difference between liking and loving? Do you have to like someone before you love him or her?How do we stop focusing on self-- our own needs, desires, and spiritual progress--and focus instead on loving God and those we live with and among?