Loving God, Loving People

Matthew 22:37-40

There’s an old story about a professor who was teaching a time management class for freshmen orientation. Without saying a word, he walked into the classroom and set a one-gallon, wide mouthed glass jar on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen tennis-ball-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, inside the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, Is this jar full?

Everyone in the class said, Yes. Then the professor reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel into the jar and shook it, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, Is the jar full?

By this time the class was starting to catch on. Probably not, one of them said. The professor smiled and reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it filled all the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked, Is this jar full?

No! the class shouted. Then, he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour in the water until the jar was filled to the brim. He looked back at the class and asked, What is the point of this illustration?

One eager student raised his hand and said, The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit something more into it!  No, the teacher said, that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is this: if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.

He undoubtedly made his point. The problem is, sometimes it’s hard to know what the big rocks are supposed to be. Life can get pretty hectic at times. We have projects at work, priorities at home, and a plethora of extra-curricular activities. Sometimes it can all be pretty overwhelming. We don’t always know where to start.

What about in your own life? As a child of God we are called to emulate God, His priorities should be our priorities. So, what are His top priorities? Let’s face it; the Bible is a pretty big book. My Bible has over 1,200 pages in it and it’s small print. I know God has told us what is important to him, but where do you start?

Well, if you’ve ever wondered what was most important to God, you’re not alone. It was a topic commonly debated among Rabbis in Jesus’ day. They identified 613 specific commands in the Torah, or Old Testament. Which one was the most important? Which one took top priority? They would argue endlessly. So it’s not surprising that, when a young Rabbi appeared on the scene, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees would draw Jesus into their debate.

Jesus’ answer to this all-important question would reveal a great deal about His own heart, which of course is the heart of God. So this morning, what matters most to God, and what the big rocks should be. In our text this morning a lawyer asked and Jesus gives us the answer.

I think that God’s Laws are very similar to Russian nesting dolls. Have you ever seen those? They’re these wooden dolls that open up and there’s another doll inside. Well, God’s Law are like that. You start with the entire Bible, open it up, and inside you find the 613 Torah laws. When you dig into those, you can narrow it down to the 10 Commandments, God’s basic laws of right and wrong. And nestled inside the 10 Commandments are two very simple principles: Love God. Love people. That’s what matters most to God! These are the Greatest Commands. These are the big rocks! As simple are those two commands may be, they take a lifetime to fulfill.

Last week we talked about loving God. In our text this morning once again, Jesus is essentially saying to love God with every fiber of your being. That’s quite a command. It’s hard enough to love a spouse or children who can be seen and touched. How are we supposed to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? The answer is, we do it with his help.

There is a misunderstood verse in Psalm 37:4 where we read, Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Many people assume that if they simply show God lip service that He will start giving them everything they ever wanted, but that’s not what God is telling us here. God is saying that if we delight in Him, make Him the desire of our heart, then He will give us what our heart desires. He’ll give us Himself.

I hope that you understand why Jesus said that this is the greatest command. When we understand the first, then we can grasp the second greatest as well, Love Others.

When Jesus said, The second command is this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself He was still quoting from the Torah, Leviticus 19:18. During Jesus’ lifetime, Rabbis were often busy arguing over the meaning of the word neighbor. For most of them, a neighbor was a Jew who strictly observed the Law. Other people were hated and considered enemies. Jesus would say that the question isn’t, Who is my neighbor? but, Am I being a neighbor? Loving your neighbor essentially means loving the people around you, all of them.

Loving our neighbor is the second greatest command because essentially loving people is really just an extension of loving God. Jesus knew that these were completely entwined. Loving people is the visible manifestation of loving God.

How do you perform an act of service for God without serving another person? How do you give a gift to God without giving to a human being? How do you physically touch God without touching people? You can’t! But when we serve, touch, and give gifts to other people, we are nonetheless doing it for God. Jesus once said, I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me Matthew 25:40.

Loving God means loving people. And loving people means going out of our way, rearranging our schedules, or using our resources to meet the needs of the people around us. When you put your arms around someone who needs a shoulder to cry on, you are fulfilling the greatest commands. When you give an expected gift to someone struggling to pay their rent, you are loving your neighbor and your God.

Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli make some relevant observations about Jesus’ command to love one another in their book, Falling in Love with Jesus: Do you know what the Bible says is the mark of a Christian? Is it our views on abortion or homosexuality? Is it our involvement in a Bible-believing church? Is it our doctrinal stance on salvation? No. What arrests people, what causes us to stand out from the world, is not our convictions, as important as those may be, it is love. When we can live a life of love, the world sits up and takes notice. All people will know that you are my followers, Jesus said, if you love each other John 13:35.

All of this sort of begs the question, how loving are you? How sensitive are you to the pain and struggle of others? The book of Lamentations is the frustration of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah as he looks at the ruins of the city of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem had once been a great testimony of the power and glory of God. It held the glorious temple that Solomon had built. And inside its walls families had lived, children had played, and love had been shared. It had been a city of peace and prosperity as God had showered His blessings upon them.

But in 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed, and the scene in the 1st chapter of Lamentations is a scene of destruction. The walls of the city and the homes in which families had lived had all been reduced to rubble, mixed among the stones were the broken toys of children.

As Jeremiah watched, he saw people passing by the ruins. He was appalled at their reaction, or, rather their lack of reaction. They didn’t seem to care at all. No one seemed to care. They didn’t cry or laugh. They simply walked on by, showing no emotion or concern at all. Jeremiah looks at them and cries out, "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?" They were absolutely insensitive to it all.

There are times that I wonder how sensitive we are in our daily lives. How do we react when we see the suffering of those around the world, and right next door. How did you react this week when you learned about the earthquake in New Zealand and the hundreds of people they feared had perished? How did you react when you saw on TV the horror that is happening in Libya, and Egypt as those people fight for freedom? Does it bother you to hear that nearly one-third of the world’s population will go to bed hungry tonight, and many are dying of starvation?

More importantly, does it bother you to hear that there are millions of people who are lost and dying without ever hearing the good news that Jesus came to save them from their sins?

Our call this morning is to love both God and the People that God loves. We will never properly love people until we learn to love God. We can only love other people when we are in touch with God, the author of true love!

I have heard folks say, I don’t have a problem loving the whole world. My only real problem is the guy next door. Sometimes loving those closest to us is the hardest thing to do. We can give money to feed starving people on the other side of the world, but to deal kindly with someone at work or our next door neighbor may be a different matter entirely.

To be honest our society, and the church is becoming more and more insensitive to the plight of others. I am sure that you have heard many stories about men and women who stood idly by as they watched people drown in a river, or women being attacked in parking lots, crying for help while neighbors closed their doors and windows because they didn’t want to "get involved."

But maybe the question we should be asking is not how sensitive are we to the needs of others? Maybe a better question is why are we so insensitive? Why are there so many people who really don’t seem to even try to love their neighbor, or care what happens to them.

I think there are two possible answers to that question.

Victor Frankel, who was a prisoner of the Nazis during World War 2, wrote about his experiences, and he tells about the emotional stages a prisoner goes through during captivity. Frankel says the final and  most awful stage of all is one where the prisoner actually ends up murdering his own emotions.

He says, you can only view human suffering so long. If you are sensitive, if you are compassionate, then it hurts. So, finally, when you have seen so much suffering, you kill your own emotions. The result is that you can watch your friend being knocked down and picked up, and knocked down again, and  never look the other way and never feel anything.

It becomes a defense mechanism that we use to shield ourselves, because we don’t want to hurt any more. Maybe our all-pervading coverage of the news of the world has done that to us. Every time we pick up a newspaper, every time we turn on our TV, we hear of more human suffering.

Maybe we have heard too much, maybe we have cried all the tears that we can cry, maybe we have felt all the sympathy that we can feel, until finally, we have murdered our own emotions. And now we sit there looking at it all and never shed a tear, never show any emotion at all. Maybe that is the safe place to be, a place where we can’t hurt any more.

Or maybe we are insensitive because it costs something to be sensitive, it costs something to care. A prime example is the story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told. You see, the two men who passed by on the other side made their appointments on time. They had just as much money in their pockets after they saw the man bleeding as they had before. They went on their way and it didn’t cost them anything.

But the Samaritan, who cared to love, found that it cost him a great deal. It cost him time. It cost him possessions. It cost him money, and probably he was ridiculed because of what he had done. Yet, he is the only one in the whole story that we call "good." It always costs something when you care.

This morning I need you to understand that we can never love God or people too much. The more we love Him, the more we will love people. The two go hand-in-hand. To love the Father means we must all love His children. Unless our lifestyle reflects genuine love for God and our neighbor, then all of our sermons, songs, and prayers are nothing more that a resounding gong or clanging cymbal 1 Corinthians 13:1.

Real love is something you do for someone, and not something you feel. This active love can be demonstrated only by loving our neighbors, even the unlovable ones. Loving others is the only avenue God has given us to love Him. This, of course, is the reason the second greatest commandment is like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself. This is why John is so emphatic when he writes, If anyone claims to love God and yet hates his brother he is a liar 1 John 4:20.

Real love is doing the unexpected, the unnatural, and sometimes the socially unacceptable thing for someone who is unlovable. It is doing the loving thing, whether you feel like loving or not. That is how we show our love for God, by allowing His unconditional love for all people to flow through you, drawing everyone into a deeper relationship with God. If you only show love when you feel like loving and to who you feel like loving you have sacrificed Godliness for worldliness. There is nothing Christian about loving the folks that are easy to love.

True Christian love is not an emotional feeling, it is a deep concern about the well being of others. When the church finally figures that out we will not be able to hold the crowd that comes desiring to be loved.

Our assurance of salvation is closely tied to our being a living example of God’s unconditional love. It is foolishness to claim that we are saved by grace and then refuse to share that grace with others. When we love God by loving others, we are demonstrating that we truly understand that magnitude of the gift we have been given. Or as I heard an older gentleman say once, “there is no use in saying you love God when you refuse to talk to your neighbor.”   


Questions To Consider


Why do you think that Jesus said that we should love God with our whole being?

How is loving God intertwined with loving people?

What attitude or trait that God wants you to have in your life is the most difficult?   

Who is the hardest type of person for you to love?

What do you think makes them so difficult to love? 

How sensitive are you to the needs or problems of others?

How does God feel about those who are lost and do not know about His love?

What is our responsibility to those who are hurting?

In Luke 10 we read the parable of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the parable (verse 37) Jesus tells the expert in the Law to “go and do likewise”. How can we go and do likewise?

Why is it so difficult for us to find ways to show God’s love?


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