The Gospel and Love – Matthew 22:37-40

 

 

 

The Gospel and Love

Nick Esch: Sunday, September 24, 2017

In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” I wonder, what goes through your mind and heart as you read those words. Are you encouraged? Are you comforted? Are you challenged? What do you feel? What do you think?… Friends, these words cause me to tremble… They cause me to tremble because they aren’t just some random words that Jesus said to some random guy; these are words that are extremely weighty that I fear I won’t do justice to in this sermon; these are words that define the Christian life…

Now, as Christians we are not under the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law for us; so these are not commandments that we must keep in order to be saved. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in the finished work of Christ alone; however, true faith never stays alone; true faith plays out in a life of love for God and love for people. Now, you’re probably thinking, but why does that cause you to tremble? What’s so weighty about that? Well, to understand that you need to understand what Jesus means by love here… Just as we use the word love in different ways there are different types of love in the Bible. The type of love that Jesus is speaking of here is agape love—gospel love—divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good… So to rightly understand what it means to love as Jesus calls us to love here, we need to think about how God loves us.

The Bible tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Christ loved us and gave Himself for us (John 3:15, Rom. 5:8, Eph. 5:2). And why was Christ given; why did Christ die? Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).

God sacrificed what was most precious to Him to save us. Christ gave His life to give us life. The love of God in Christ towards His people is shown through the greatest sacrifice that has ever happened: the substitutionary death of Jesus, the Son of God; that’s why God’s love for us is agape love, because God’s love for us in the gospel plays out in the ultimate sacrifice for the good of His people. And it was ultimate; it may be hard for us to put a value on a life, but I can tell you on the authority of God’s Word that there has never been more valuable a life than the life of Jesus; yet that life was laid down for us… The Father sacrificed His infinitely glorious, infinitely precious, infinitely worthy Son… The Son sacrificed everything… It was a great price… And the love of God is seen in that great price that was paid… Indeed, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13)…

The greatness of the sacrifice and the remarkable nature of God’s love are likewise displayed because of who He loves; He loves people who are still sinners, as in still rebels against Him. At the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). We were completely unlovely, yet God in Christ loved us anyway. Merely loving us at all is a sacrifice in and of itself. So the beauty and the depth of God’s love are most certainly displayed as He loves the unlovely. But what truly makes God’s love in fact love, is the great result of His love, the good that comes from it…

As I referenced earlier from John 3:16, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son… Why? So that whoever believes in Him would not perish but would have eternal life. But what is eternal life? Have you ever stopped to really think about it? In John 17:3, as He’s praying to God the Father, Jesus says, “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” And this isn’t just knowing God in theory, but knowing as in an eternal personal relationship, where we will spend all eternity with our God in eternal joy. Again, Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18). God’s love for us shows itself to be true love because it is a love that gives us God, that brings us to God, that enables us to know and love God… As we read earlier, “God is love.” He is the goal of love, He is the good of love, He is love… My 3 year old loves to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know… For the Bible tells me so…” And this is what he’s singing… That Jesus loves him enough to sacrifice everything so that He could enjoy God, so that He could know God, so that He could get God… There is no greater love than this; indeed this is what love looks like. And this helps us to understand what it looks like for us to love as Jesus calls us to love…

In Ephesians 5:2 we’re called to, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In other words we are to love as Jesus loved. So we don’t define love by emotions, or butterflies in our stomachs; we don’t allow Hollywood or romance novels to define love; love, agape love is defined by the cross. God has loved us at great cost to Himself—the greatest cost; Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. And we are called to love as Christ; His love was a costly sacrificial love, in which He gave all… And just as Paul says to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, so too when Jesus says, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…. [and] love your neighbor as yourself…” what He’s saying is that we are to love with gospel love, sacrificial love…

First, we are to love God this way; we are to sacrificially love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind… But what does that look like? Well, if what makes God’s love for us truly love is that we get God, that His ultimate sacrifice leads us to the ultimate good: the ultimate good being that we get God, that Jesus brings us to God, that Jesus enables us to know and love God in and through Himself… If that’s what makes God’s love for us truly love, then for us to truly love God we must desire, cherish, treasure, be satisfied in God as our greatest good. In the words of Paul, we must truly believe and live as though to live is Christ, and to die is gain, because it is. We must be willing to count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. For his sake we must be willing to suffer the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that we may gain Christ. We must believe and live this way with our heart, soul, and mind… That means using all that we are, all of our senses, all of our emotions, all of our affections, all of our talents, all of our strength and efforts, all of our possessions, all of our finances to treasure Christ, to delight in God, to show that Jesus is our supreme satisfaction, to display that He is our ultimate good. We’re not God, we’re not infinitely glorious, so it’s not right or loving to act as though we are supreme; we love God by showing Him to be supreme.

We treasure Christ, we delight in, we enjoy supremely all that God is for us in Jesus… That’s how we love God… First and foremost we love this way with our heart, and then our soul, and then our mind… In part He’s saying that this can’t just be a love that is in word or emotion only. Our love for God can’t be compartmentalized to just one area of our lives; it can’t be tucked away within somewhere… It has to play out in our life… It has to show itself in and through all that we are… But even as I say that I can’t help but think of 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” If we can’t currently see Jesus how do we love Him in every area of our lives? How does that love play out? How is that love made visible? Well, that leads us to what Jesus says next…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself…” Now, by neighbor Jesus just means anyone and everyone we have the opportunity and the ability to love. And in one sense Jesus is saying that we should love our neighbors, we should love others as we love ourselves, meaning be concerned for their all around welfare, just as we tend to be for ourselves. We should care about the whole person, and all of their needs, just as we care about ourselves and our own needs. But, there is more here than just that.

There is a reason why Jesus follows up the first and greatest commandment with, “love your neighbor as yourself…” Love for neighbor makes love for God visible… I mean, because we don’t now see Jesus, love for Jesus is primarily an internal reality, a reality of the heart. We desire God, we delight in God, He’s upmost in our affections; but how does that play out in our life? How do we show our love for God? What makes it visible? Love for neighbor… Love for people… And remember, we are to love as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us… Christ loved us and gave Himself for us… His love was a costly sacrificial love, in which He gave all… And that’s how we are to love people… Sacrificially… At great cost to ourselves… You see, agape love, gospel love is the overflow of delight in Christ that serves others… Our treasuring Christ compels us to meet the needs of others, even at great cost to ourselves… That’s how our love for God is seen… That’s how we love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind; we love people with gospel love…

This is what we see throughout the Bible. Take Paul for instance; on the path of obedience he was imprisoned and beaten over and over again, often near death. He was given lashings, he was beaten with rods, he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked; he went through much toil and hardship, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. He suffered greatly for the cause of Christ. And after all of that he still continued to pour himself out in love for God and love for people.

In Romans, Paul says, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20). He tells the Romans that, because he is going on a missionary journey to Spain, and he needs their financial support to get there. Romans is essentially a missionary support letter. Now I love missions, I love the cause of Christ, and I love Paul; but what really makes this awesome is Paul’s age when he writes Romans. Commentators estimate that Paul would have been in his sixties when he wrote to the Romans and was gearing up for his missionary journey to Spain. Now I don’t mean to imply that Paul was really old; but come on… That’s retirement age… And in his day the average life expectancy wasn’t much more than that… And think about it; Paul has been through more suffering than most of us could imagine; if anyone had the right to hang up his hat and get some r & r it was Paul; but instead he is so compelled by his love for Christ that he feels he must go and love people by sharing the love of Christ with them.

That’s sacrificial gospel love… That’s love for God made visible. And I don’t know about you, but I find that extremely convicting… It’s like Paul is looking at us and saying, “I’ve been beaten, imprisoned, bitten by snakes, shipwrecked, tempted and tried; and now I’m getting up in age; yet, at great cost to myself I will take the gospel to where it has not been heard… What are you doing with your life?!” Age… Circumstance… Paul says we have no excuse… We must be obedient to God’s call on our life… We must love God and love people… We must make our love for God visible through our love for people… Beloved, if we aren’t sacrificially loving people, we may not really love God… Paul was so moved by how God had loved Him in Christ that He was compelled to pour out His life in love for God, and that played out by Him sacrificially loving people…

Let me give you another example. In 2 Corinthians Paul is seeking to motivate the Corinthians with the gospel and a story of the faithfulness of the churches of Macedonia (Philippi and Thessalonica). He wants them to be so amazed by grace, to be so compelled by the love of Jesus that they would be glad givers, that they would be gospel-lovers. He doesn’t want to them to give or love or obey just because it’s the right thing to do. He tells them, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). That’s like Paul saying, “I don’t want your money! I don’t want your begrudging obedience! And neither does God!!! He wants your worship! He wants your glad hearted worshipful obedience! He wants His love for you and your love for Him to compel you to joyfully, to gladly give…” And that’s what the Macedonian churches did…

Paul says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Now notice, Paul begins by crediting the grace of God. He says he wants to tell them about the grace of God that was given among the churches of Macedonia. In other words, God’s grace was so poured out on the churches in Macedonia that it compelled them to give, and what they gave was a gift of grace.

The churches of Macedonia were so amazed by God’s gracious love, and they were so in love with God that they could not help but joyfully be gracious and loving to others. They were poor and suffering, yet joyful and generous… They were joyful because there joy was in God, not in money, not in stuff, not in comfort. And their joy in God and His grace so overflowed that they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to people. As Paul says after this, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). That’s the grace that was compelling them to give. Jesus gave all, for their sake, so, for the sake of others and for the glory of God, even in extreme poverty, their overflow of joy in God, of delight in Jesus, of amazement by grace, led them to give according to their means, and even above and beyond their means… They gave sacrificially! They gave until it hurt! But they gave with great joy because they were so in love with Jesus, because Jesus gave all for them!!! In fact, that’s how Paul says their love was seen to be genuine. In 2 Corinthians 8:8 he says, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” In sharing the story of the Macedonians he’s calling the Corinthians to also have genuine love like them. And their love was genuine, it was seen to be genuine because they joyfully, yet sacrificially gave… I mean, Paul says they begged for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints!!! It’s like they said, “I know we already gave once, but can we please take up another offering!!!” Their great love for Jesus showed itself through their sacrificial love for people… They were giving sacrificially for the relief of the saints, because they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to people…

I wonder, do we give like that? Before we write out our check, do we remember “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for [our] sake he became poor, so that [we] by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9)? Not rich in fleeting earthly treasures, but rich in God, rich in Christ, our eternal treasure… Do we give in light of that? Do we give like that? Church, God does not want your begrudging obedience! He doesn’t want your money! He wants your love! He doesn’t want you to give under compulsion, or do anything else under compulsion… He wants you, I want you to be glad hearted worshippers of God… He wants you, I want you to love Jesus so much that you joyfully give sacrificially… He wants you, I want you to love Jesus so much that you joyfully love others sacrificially, however you can. The churches of Macedonia were in severe affliction and extreme poverty (Remember what all Paul has went through… I don’t think severe and extreme are words he uses lightly…), yet they joyfully gave beyond their means… Why? Because they loved God with all of their heart, soul, and mind… That love was evident as they sacrificially loved people; as they loved others at great cost to themselves. As they loved others how Christ had loved them… Love for God is shown through love for people… Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” But they joyfully gave up their treasures for the glory of God and the good of people; and in so doing they showed that their heart was with God and with people… Their love was seen to be genuine because they showed that their supreme delight and satisfaction was in God by sacrificially loving people. True genuine love is gospel-love, and they truly loved God and loved people; do we?

Think of what we see in the book of Hebrews. There, the author tells us of Moses, and how this worked out in his life. “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moses could have had the ultimate life of pleasure, comfort, and ease… He could have lived in the house of Pharaoh, enjoying all the treasures of Egypt… But instead, he chose to be mistreated with the people of God; and let me point out that most of that mistreatment actually came from the people of God. The short time of suffering under Egypt was nothing compared to the mistreatment he suffered for forty years in the wilderness with and from the people of God. But, he chose that… He chose to lead and love the people of God, he chose to be with the people of God instead of living a life of comfort and ease… Why? Because he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward… In other words, he loved Jesus… He loved God with all of his heart, soul, and mind… He loved God enough to sacrificially love people. He loved God and loved people at great cost to himself; but it was worth it because the world and sinful pleasures are fleeting… They will not last… But the reward that is coming is eternal… Yes, he gave something up; but he gained so much more… The reward that is coming is pleasures forevermore in Christ… It’s eternal life and eternal joy in and with Jesus… So any sacrifice Moses made doesn’t compare with the reward he received, and is receiving still. The fleeting pleasures of sin do not compare with the eternal joys of Christ… That’s why Moses willingly gave his love, gave his life, gave his time to God’s people… Are we loving like that? Are we living like that? Moses gave 40 years, are we making any time for God’s people?…

I don’t point this out just to convict us; in fact it should be an encouragement to us… Beloved, whatever we suffer, whatever we may go through, whatever we sacrifice in this life in joyful obedience to the Lord, will not compare to our reward in Christ… Our gain will always be greater than our loss… So this call of Christ on us, to love God and love people, is weighty and hard, but totally worth it… This makes me think of one of the missionaries we support. He was a popular Christian author and speaker from Kentucky, but he and his family left all of that and moved to the mission field in the Middle East; they went to take the gospel to the Muslim world, on 9/13/2001 (crazy time to go to the Middle East). But they went and served for many years. In fact, they served for so many years that they found out that where they were serving has a rule, that all expatriates must leave once they reach retirement age. Last year he hit that age, and was told he had to leave. But, instead of coming back to the US to enjoy retirement, he and his wife decided to move to Iraq to plant a church there among refugees from the war. Instead of saying, “I’ve worked hard for years, I’ve been faithful to love God and love people for years, and now it’s time I love myself…” Instead of saying that, he and his wife decided to continue to pour out their lives in love for God and love for people, by going to marginalized people in a war-torn land, that most people have no desire to go to. In the process of moving out there they actually ended up losing almost all of their possessions; but even after all of that, they still went… Why? Why would they sacrifice like this? Because they considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of retirement, for they are looking to the reward.

Church, are you beginning to see why the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 cause me to tremble? The call to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as our self, is a call to sacrificial costly love; a love that goes, a love that gives, a love that makes time for and inconveniences itself for the good of others. Remember, the love that Jesus calls us to is a love that is characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good… And the ultimate good is God… So if we’re really going to love our neighbor we must love them in such a way that we’re seeking to help them come to know and love God. After all, that’s what Paul did, and that’s certainly what Jesus did; He gave all to get us to God… But let me give you one last example of this love, lest you think this is something only Jesus and the apostles, or super Christians are capable of…

Again in Hebrews we are given another example of this love. The author tells his readers, “recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:32-34). Now think about this; these Christians are in the midst of great persecution. We don’t know if it was formal persecution from the government or what; but what’s clear is that it’s bad—so bad that Christians have been taken to prison. And yet, even though being exposed as a Christian would lead to much affliction, these brothers and sisters made it known that they were Christians, by going and loving on people in prison. They had compassion on them.

In those days, if you were in prison, unless someone outside of prison brought you food or supplies, you wouldn’t have any. It’s not like today. But they had compassion on them. They went to them. They served them. They loved them as their selves; even at great cost to themselves. For in doing so they were exposed and their property was plundered. That could mean vandalized, burned, or just taken from them. We don’t know exactly, but what we do know is that they joyfully accepted the loss of their property, of their homes for the good of those in prison. Think about how much time we worry about our homes; think about how much time and money we invest in our homes… Would we be willing to walk away, to joyfully walk away for the glory of God and the good of people? When anyone else would have ran away from suffering, they ran towards their oppressors, joyfully sacrificing all in love. Why? Because they knew they had a better possession and an abiding one; namely Jesus… Their love for God freed them to love people, even at great cost to themselves. Beloved, this is what it looks like to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself…

Conclusion

Jesus’ call to love is weighty… We are so quick to say that we love God… But do we really? Are our lives marked by loving sacrifice in the pursuit of the good of others? Do we give joyfully and sacrificially to the church and the cause of Christ? Do we believe that Jesus is better than all the pleasures of this world, that He is more abiding than all the treasures of this world? This world is fleeting, but Jesus is forever… Do we believe that? Do we live like that? Do we love like that? If we would see the gospel rightly then we could not help but live this way. If we would understand how great the love of God is for us, then we would truly love God and love people… If we would understand how amazing the gospel is then we would live lives of gospel-love… And if we would do that, that could change everything. Our lives and the lives of all around us would be forever changed as we display our love for God through love of people. So, may God open our eyes and open our hearts, that we would love with great gospel-love, for the glory of God and the good of His people…