Date: March 3, 2019 Audio: Transcript:
You have probably noticed how you can ask two individuals the exact same question; and one person will answer that question in ten seconds, and the other will take ten minutes, even if they are giving essentially the same answer. Some people are prone to be succinct – to the point and brief, while others have a tendency to be verbose – to expound or maybe ramble when they speak.
Preachers and politicians are two groups of people not usually known for brevity. Most preachers can take an eight-word sentence and then spend 30-45 minutes talking about what that sentence means. Many politicians have an amazing ability of talking for 45 minutes without saying anything at all.
However, one of the most concise people in history was a politician – Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States.
You maybe know the story of when Coolidge went to church one Sunday, while his wife stayed at the White House with a cold. When he returned, she asked, “What was the sermon about?” He replied, “Sin.” “Well, what did the pastor say about sin?” she asked. “He was against it.”
Another time, a lady came up to Coolidge at a dinner party and said, “Mr. President, my friend bet me $5 that I won’t be able to get you to say three words.” Coolidge replied, “You lose.”
Once, a class reunion was being held at Amherst College (Coolidge’s alma mater). The President did not attend, but sent a telegram. During the program, the MC enthusiastically announced, “And now I want to read to you a telegram from our fellow alumnus, the President of the United States.” He unfolded the piece of paper and read: “Greetings. C.C.”
Friends, another individual who had a tendency to get right to the point without wasting words was Jesus. If I was asked to explain what the Lord expects of each of us in life and what the message of the Bible is, it would be not just a long sermon, but a long series of sermons.
Jesus, however, sums up what life is all about in just six words: Love God and love other people. That is all we need to do. That is all God expects of us. Folks, it is quite simple. Not very easy, but simple.
Friends, today we are going to look at a conversation Jesus had recorded for us in Luke 10:25-29 (page 869). As we do, my hope is these words from the Lord will help each of us better focus on what life is really about. Let’s pause and pray that would happen this morning.
Luke 10:25a – Then an expert in the law stood up to test him (Jesus).
This man is not an expert in Roman civil law, but in the Old Testament law – especially the five books of Moses, which the Jews considered God’s law. He was really more of a theologian, a Bible scholar, but we will refer to him as a lawyer, just like many Bible versions do. The man asks Jesus:
Luke 10:25b – “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This is certainly an important question. This man realizes our existence on this planet is only the beginning. He knows one of the primary objectives in life is being prepared for the next life – or as he put it, “inherit eternal life.” As a good teacher, Jesus answers the man’s question with another:
Luke 10:26 – “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?”
The man replies:
Luke 10:27 – He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”
It is interesting – this is almost the exact summary of the Old Testament law that Jesus gives in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. In fact, some people think Luke has read Mark’s gospel and is putting Jesus’ words in the mouth of this legal expert.
I don’t think that is what happened. I believe this man heard Jesus teach before and heard Jesus give this exact summary of the Old Testament law. He was impressed by it, remembered it, and now he repeats it. Thus, it is no surprise Jesus totally agrees with him.
Luke 10:28 – “You’ve answered correctly,” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live.”
Now, next week we will continue in this passage and will see the next question the lawyer asks indicates he was not real sincere in his desire to truly love God or other people. Of course, we didn’t really expect a lawyer to be the hero of the story anyway!
This morning, however, I want to point out that this man’s answer to Jesus’ question, his summary of the Old Testament law, a concise statement of what God expects of us hits the nail on the head.
But…..this passage does raise an important question: Is loving God and loving other people really the path to eternal life?
The initial response of many of us in this room is, “No!” People don’t get to heaven and are not saved by trying their best to love God and other people. In Acts 16:31a, for example, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippian jailer:
Acts 16:31a – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
It seems people would have told the lawyer, “No, loving God and loving other people will never get you to heaven; you need to believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved!”
At first glance, there appears to be tension between what Jesus says and what Paul says. Paul believes in salvation by grace, through faith; while Jesus seems to teach that salvation comes through being a loving person and doing loving things. Which is it?
Well, folks, I am confident Jesus and Paul are in agreement on this most important question of how we will experience eternal life. There are actually a couple possible explanations of why what Jesus says is consistent with the Bible’s teaching of salvation by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.
One possibility is that Jesus is saying, “Yes, Mr. Lawyer, if you love God and other people perfectly, like you say the law requires; if you love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, then you will, indeed, make it to heaven.”
If that’s what he is saying, then he also is implying, “But, keep in mind, Mr. Lawyer, you will never be able to do this! You will fail in your effort to love God and others perfectly. Thus, you need to find another path to eternal life. The other path is the path of grace, where God forgives your failures to love God and others because Jesus has paid the penalty for all those sins.”
Folks, it’s quite possible this is what Jesus meant. It is certainly true. If someone loved God and other people perfectly, he/she would not be guilty of any sin, and I think God would welcome that person into heaven. It is also true no one has ever lived that way – no one except Jesus himself.
Romans 3:10, 23 – “There is no one righteous, not even one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
I would point out this was true in both the Old and New Testaments. The message of the Old Testament law was, indeed, love God and love other people. Yet, no one in all of Israel ever did that perfectly. They, too, needed God’s grace; and they, too, experienced that grace by trusting in the Lord.
Romans 4:3 – Abraham (the great Old Testament patriarch) believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.
There is not one path to eternal life in the Old Testament and another in the New Testament. Salvation is, has always been, and will always be by grace and will be experienced through trusting in God and in the Savior he provides. In the New Testament, we learn the Savior is Jesus. This is the truth of the gospel and may, indeed, be Jesus’ point in this passage.
Yet, it is also possible that Jesus’ statement…..
Luke 10:28b – “Do this and you will live.”
…..points to something else – to the close relationship between faith and love. One of the most important things love involves is trust. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says love always trusts or believes all things or never loses faith. Those are different translations of the same Greek phrase. There may even be people you love so deeply that you would trust them with your life.
Here is a thought for those of you who are married: Have you ever considered how easy it would be for your spouse to murder you while you sleep at night. All he/she would have to do is put a pillow over your face and smother you. I suspect, however, that none of you lose sleep over that thought. Maybe you will tonight! But my love for my wife, Nancy, includes a trust and faith that she will not try to harm me.
Friends, the same thing is true with God. If we love God, we will trust him and believe him. When we read God’s Word, and it tells us he sent his one and only son to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, part of loving God is believing that is true and receiving his grace by trusting in Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
Loving God is not an alternative path to believing in Jesus Christ. It includes believing in Jesus. A person who doesn’t believe in and trust in Jesus Christ, doesn’t truly love God.
“OK, Pastor Dan, that kind of makes sense. But what about loving other people? Why do I have to do that if salvation is by faith alone?”
Well, it is true that loving other people is not how someone earns salvation. However, the New Testament, especially the book of 1 John makes it clear there is a close relationship of experiencing God grace, receiving his salvation and loving other people.
1 John 4:20a – If someone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar.
It is possible that in this passage Jesus is saying, “Mr. Lawyer, if you love God and love other people, if you are truly living as God desires, you will receive eternal life because the fact you are living that way is a clear indication that you have, indeed, experienced God’s grace and salvation.”
Friends, you see, none of us are “naturals” when it comes to loving God and others. Loving ourselves comes much more naturally. Loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves are two things of which we are incapable in our own strength.
By nature, we all have more in common with Adolph Hitler than we do with Jesus Christ. Whenever, however, we are made alive in Jesus (regenerated, born again – whatever term you want to use), then our nature (who we really are) begins to change, and it becomes more and more natural for us to love God and love others.
1 John 4:19 – We love (God and people) because He first loved us.
So what Jesus may be saying is this: “Mr. Lawyer and all you other folks out there, if you truly love God and have genuine love for other people, then yes, you will inherit eternal life. Why? Because it is only through experiencing God’s grace, only when you are born of God, born again, that you will be able to truly love God and other people.”
On the other side of the coin, if you are a person who has no love for God in your heart and has no desire to love other people, it doesn’t matter how religious you are or whether you have been baptized or are a church member. There is no indication you will inherit eternal life!
Friends, Jesus’ words today are a wake-up call for anyone who doesn’t love God and other people. If someone here is in that boat, you need to wake up, turn to God and seek his mercy. You need to repent of your lack of love and turn to Jesus Christ and trust in him to save you. That, friends, is the only path that leads to eternal life!
OK, though it may seem a little unclear how loving God and other people is the path to eternal life, it is very clear that is where the Lord expects us as Christians to focus in our lives.
Life can be very complicated, but this is a simple summary which we can use to evaluate each day: Am I loving God? Am I loving the people around me?
That is what the Lord expects of me. In many ways, it is what life is all about. To devote ourselves to anything other than loving God and other people really misses the purpose of life.
If your focus is just loving yourself and your own comfort and convenience, it is a pretty shallow existence. This isn’t true just for pastors or spiritual all-stars. This is true for every believer in Jesus. It is true for you! Every part of our lives should be colored by our love for God and other people.
Loving God and loving others – that is basically our assignment for life. What does that look like in practical terms? Well, the second part is probably the easiest to understand – love other people as you love yourself. Or you might phrase it in terms of the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Love for another person involves being concerned about his/her welfare just as much as you are concerned about your own. Or as the Apostle Paul says:
Philippians 2:4 – Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
He goes on in the next verse to say that the greatest example of this type of love is Jesus, who humbled himself for our benefit.
If anyone is still unclear about what loving other people involves, check out 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul provides a pretty clear description of what love involves.
Loving God, however – loving him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, can be a little more difficult to comprehend. Many folks have difficulty grasping how we can love someone we cannot see, hear or touch.
George MacDonald, the 19th century pastor who had a significant influence on C.S. Lewis, once said: “Is it easy to love God? It is for those who do.”
That is another way of acknowledging that it is not always easy to explain what loving God involves. So here is my attempt to do just that:
#1 Loving God involves relating to him as a person.
The first step is learning about God through reading the Bible. One cannot truly know God without learning who he is and what he is like. Getting to know God, through his Word, is the first step to loving him.
A book like J.I. Packer’s Knowing God that focuses on God’s character, which some of the gals are studying on Tuesday mornings, can be very helpful. However, knowing and loving God involves more than just having information about him.
The Holy Spirit, who has made every believer in Jesus spiritually alive, enables us to relate to him in a personal way. Through the Holy Spirit, reading the Bible, prayer and worship become encounters with the living God – through which we come to know God in a personal way. When that happens, our love for God is born and grows. Because to know him is to love him, and the better we know him, the more our love will grow. Knowing God and knowing him better should always be a priority if we really want to love him.
#2 Loving God means focusing our attention on him.
A man and woman who are in love may be separated for long periods of time and by great distances. But…..they will be thinking about each other frequently. They will treasure letters, emails or any form of communication. They will long for the time when they can be reunited.
People who love God think about him frequently. They treasure being able to read what he says through the Bible, and they long to be in his presence and see him face to face. And yet, many people say they love God, but will go for hours, days or even weeks without ever thinking about him.
In his book, Christian Atheist, Craig Groeschel points out that many people believe in God but live as if he didn’t exist. That sounds kind of terrible, but it is an easy trap in which to fall. When we get so caught up with life, work, hobbies or other activities that we are not even thinking about God, we are really not much different than atheists. And we certainly don’t seem to love God. If we do, we will focus our attention on him.
#3 Loving God means obeying him.
At its heart, love is more about actions than words. The best way to demonstrate our love is to do what he has asked us to do. Jesus puts it this way:
John 14:15 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Now, none of us keeps God’s commands or obeys him perfectly. The reason is because we don’t love God perfectly. The only person who ever did love God perfectly, obeyed him all the time and in every way. That was Jesus.
Yes, because Jesus obeyed his Father perfectly, God loves and accepts us even when we don’t yet. As people who have experienced that love and who have received God’s salvation, we should have a desire to obey him. That is how we express our gratitude and love to God.
And when we become aware that our disobedience is not pleasing to the Lord, our love for God should lead us to confess our sin, repent and seek his help to obey.
#4 Loving God means we worship him.
When we truly love someone, we find joy in praising that person. And the Lord delights in the praises of his people. Here at CBC, the focus of our worship time is “who God is and what he has done for us through Jesus.” We want our hearts and minds to be filled with thoughts of God’s greatness and goodness, his glory and grace.
And then, out of gratitude and love, we joyfully express our praise, adoration and love to him!