Monday, October 9, 2023

What is the Most Important Command of God?

"A lighthouse along a bleak coast was tended by a keeper who was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read. Still another needed some for an engine. The keeper saw each as a worthy request and measured out just enough oil to satisfy all. Near the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse ran dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than 100 lives were lost.

When a government official investigated, the man explained what he had done and why. "You were given one task alone," insisted the official. "It was to keep the light burning. Everything else was secondary. There is no defense." -Source Unknown.

What is the highest priority in your life? That is the key question today. What is the most important thing? There are so many things that pull at our attention daily, our finances, our family, friends, commitments, chores, laundry, running errands, getting a haircut, going on vacation even. All these things pull at our attention. What is most important in life?

We all know the Sunday school answer: God should be first in your life. It’s easy to say that. But is it true? Or do we need to make an adjustment to our daily schedule? Do we need to carve out times to read the Bible, attend a small group, to pray and talk to God?

That is the challenge. If you can carve out those times in your busy schedule though, you will be one of those rare Christians who really glow with the power of God. The Holy Spirit will lead your life. And you’ll be securely on your way to heaven.

If you can’t quite carve out those prayer and bible reading times, and if you can’t quite make it to small group and church, then you’ll be one of those Christians who is unstable in their ways. You will be double-minded. You will be often confused and upset. You’ll be unsteady, and you’ll be liable to shipwreck.

Which do you want to be?

Conquer yourself. That is the challenge isn’t it? We’re not talking about something outside ourselves. We’re looking right into our own heart. Conquer yourself, he who can conquer himself is greater than he who can conquer a city.

The first step to conquer yourself: Realize you can’t. Surrender to that reality. I can’t do it alone. I can’t force myself to get there by pulling myself up by my bootstraps. I need God’s help. The first step is surrender. Honestly, that’s where I started when I couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm of praying and reading my Bible. I was too distracted by TV, my favorite series on Netflix, too distracted by videogames, and social media, and my laptop and my cell phone. I’d sit there knowing I should be praying as I stared at the TV, as I stared at the videogame or the computer screen or the cell phone screen, I knew, I should be praying, I should be reading the word.

But I felt held captive by the device. So, my first step was to stop, and pray and ask God for help with breaking free: God, help me please, I can’t seem to break away, please God do it in me, give me the power I need to carve out a prayer and Bible reading time each day. In Jesus name, amen.

And I found this new power in me, that had not been there before, and I was able to shut the lid on the laptop, put down the phone, and sit down on my floor, and talk to God in the dark at night. And later, in the mornings as well, and soon, it grew and grew over time, and when I wanted the time to grow, I would again turn to God, surrender, and ask for His help.

That process, of surrender, first, then turning toward God, then believing that God really can, and then watching him do it in you, as your cooperate with him, is a process that you can see repeated over and over again in your life.

If you struggle with drinking, or smoking, or porn, or lust, or stealing, or lying, or manipulation, or hatred, or unforgiveness, repeat this simple pattern:

First, surrender to God. God, I can’t do it alone.

Second, begin to believe God can do a miracle.

Third, turn it over completely to God and put it in His hands.

Fourth, watch as in His power, you overcome by the Holy Spirit victory in you.

It’s absolutely amazing. Time and time again when I get stuck in my walk with God in some area, some sin, some struggle, I return to that process of surrender and turning it over, and in time, in His time, suddenly, a see a miracle happen, and God gives the breakthrough. It’s astonishing.

So if you’re struggling to keep God first, well, realize you can’t. Surrender, ask humbly for God’s help, right now, pray, I challenge you, pray, and watch what he does, if you follow that simple process.

But that brings us to our scripture today, from Mark 12:28-31: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Notice this is a teacher of the law asking this question. So they aren’t all bad. Some of the teachers and Pharisees and officials and elders really did honestly love God and want to understand what was happening around Jesus the messiah.

What is most important?

Jesus quotes two scriptures here:

The first is called the Shema by Jews, it’s from Deuteronomy 6:5, which says, ““And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

And the second portion, Leviticus 19:18: “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

The single most important thing that we should do as Christians is to learn to love God with all that we are and all that we have. That happens through deep relationship with God. That deep relationship happens through personal prayer, bible reading, group bible study, prayer meetings, singing and praising, Sunday worship, and every aspect of personal and corporate worship of God. So the more you want to love God deeply, and obey this command of Jesus, the more you should participate in the body of Christ, and have one on one time with God. Plain and simple. As your pastor I can’t do that for you, you have to make that happen with God’s help.

Secondly, Jesus also indicates, to love each other is second most important. Love God first, love others as well.

After hearing this the teacher of the law responds this way: Verses 32-34:

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

This man Jesus says was not far from the kingdom of God. He understood that what God wants is for us to love Him first and love our neighbors, more so than any sacrifice. Love is central to everything.

Second section today, we see Jesus provoking an important question: Who is the messiah really? Truly?

In verses 35-37 it says this, “While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delight.”

Jesus quotes here from Psalm 110, where it says, essentially God said to God, Sit at my right hand. So God is talking to God, telling God to sit at his right hand and wait until he puts his enemies under his feet.

In this time the Pharisees and religious leaders believed that the messiah would be a man born in the lineage of King David. And that part was true. The messiah would be in the line of David. Jesus our messiah was born into the family line of King David.

But, Jesus is pointing to a key fact to understand: The messiah was not just a man. The messiah was God in human form. The messiah was God dwelling in human flesh. Jesus was God in human form.

King David wrote that in Psalm 110, I’m sure not fully understanding what he was writing, but he was writing by the Holy Spirit, pointing to the coming of the God-man Jesus Christ.

Jesus was explaining to the crowd that the messiah would be the Lord himself, on Earth, to save us.

Section three, the true character of a Christian. Jesus warns against the attitude of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.

So what we read here, we should do our best to do the opposite of.

It says in verses 38-40: As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

The Lord Jesus is telling us to not be like that. Don’t act in that way, as a Christian. Don’t try to show how important you are. Don’t try to show how knowledgeable you are. Don’t try to wear fancy outfits for the purpose of being greeted with respect by others. Don’t try to find the most important seat at get togethers and events. Don’t make lengthy prayers to show how wonderful you are at praying.

Frankly, just as much as it was true two thousand years ago, today, many, pastors, priests, and everyday Christians make a show of their faith.

I listen to different preachers and pastors and teachers on Youtube and online and on TV and such, and one thing you can always sense very quickly is arrogance or pride. It is so incredibly common among preachers and pastors today, pride, ego, arrogance, pre-madonna, look at our important I am, look at how great my ministry is, look at what I’m doing, and we’ve got to guard against that. Most people can sense it though. I can sense it. If someone is prideful or arrogant or doing it out of self, I get a sense in my Spirit, something is off here, my fiancé Chelsey can sense it very quickly, if a song or a speaker is “off” she can sense something here is off.

The Spirit is not here. Or the Spirit is being hindered. Or self is being displayed, not God. It’s an easy thing to slip into. I often wanted to show how creative I could be, how deep I could go, and how important I was, and I still have to fight that, to want to show myself, instead of simply showing God in His glory. Lord help us to resist that spirit of selfish ambition and to glorify God, not self.

Jesus ends this section saying that these leaders, these teachers, who were entrusted with the very words of God himself, would be punished “most severely” because they made it about themselves, and not about God. May we always keep the focus on God, not on self. That is hard when hundreds or thousands of people are listening to you speak or listening to you sing or play guitar, or the cameras are pointed at you, or millions of followers are hanging on your every word, that’s when we gotta get on our face before God and plead with Him to keep us humble, and deliver us from pride of every kind. Lord help us!

The character of a true Christian, which is opposite of the teachers of the law described here, is this: To have no desire to be seen by others, but simply have a heart of love, wanting to be helpful to others who need to know Jesus and know God’s word. A simple desire to be helpful. A desire to get God’s word out there. A desire for others to be saved. An honest, genuine love for the real God who is here. It’s so simple, but if we’re consumed with love for God and love for others, a simple honest love for God and people, then pride is choked out in humility and love. Keep this motto: “I’m not that important, God is, I’m simply a servant of God, nothing more.”

So that’s the true nature of service to God. Now, last section, section four, the true nature of giving.

Here we see in verses 41-44 it says, “41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

The nature of giving is not actually what we might think. We might assume, well, the billionaire who gives 20% of his wealth to support world missions has giver a greater offering than the poor man who gave his last 2 dollars. But that actually isn’t true. According to God’s kingdom, the man who gave his last 2 dollars has in fact, given more.

Which tells us something very simple, but profound: God is looking at the heart of the giver.

But just as much, he’s looking at the level of trust of the giver. The widow gives her last two coins, all she had to live on, she is now broke, she won’t be able to pay for her next meal, but she is trusting God, trusting that God will provide for her.

So there are two things at work here: God looks at the heart, and God looks at the trust level.

Particularly if you give when it hurts, when you know you won’t be able to make ends meet otherwise, that is the a faithful offering to God. Giving when it hurts is the key to matching the heart of the widow who gave her last two coins. Now God won’t always call you to do that. But when he does, you should do it. But don’t assume that every time you have only a little left you are required to give it over to God. That’s not necessarily true. Go by the Spirit’s leading. Don’t make it into a 24/7 law. But give as God inspires you to.

But I think that’s best seen by tithing, most people assume with their finances being so tight, they couldn’t possibly tithe 10% of their income to God. But if they would simply trust God, and trust that God will provide in the lack, they would be blessed as they give 10% and greater and greater. But if God can’t trust you to give 10% and you refuse it, how can he ever trust you with more? That’s the question you should ponder. This widow gave her last two coins. Can we trust God and give even in tight finances? Pray on this, and seek God’s help again, just like we talked about it, if you’re afraid to go 10% in, start with surrender to God, and ask for God’s help. He will help you. Give it to Him.

So in conclusion, let’s look at our application points today:

1. Struggling to build relationship with God? When you can’t, Surrender it to God in Prayer

2. Use the “Surrender to God” process with other problems

3. Loving God & others is built on relationship

4. Jesus is both God and man (Son of God, son of Man)

5. Don’t be the teachers of the law, don’t show off

6. Have a sincere desire to be helpful in the background

7. Give to God financially, willingly, and out of lack to be blessed (Trust God in giving)