During the month of May, our body system of focus is the muscular system. We all know what muscles do even if we don’t think about it much. When we think of muscles we think of strength. We see this in young boys who compare biceps. We might think of weightlifters in an Olympic competition. Of course, some people make a career out of building their muscles – we call them professional bodybuilders.
But muscles are far more than about just strength. Muscles allow us to move and to maintain posture. No doubt you have scene a depiction of a skeleton moving. Technically, the only thing a skeleton can do on its own is fall down. Bones cannot move. Bones are for structure. As we saw in the month of March, bones allow us to have form. For the church, the skeletal system was about leadership – and the need and structure of that leadership within the church. But if bones are to move, muscles must be involved. As muscles stretch and contract, our bones and every other part of the body can move. If we over-stretch or over-contract our muscles, the they become strained (or pulled) and it becomes painful to move.
Muscles have another function as well. Without muscles, we cannot maintain posture. What keeps you from slumping over in a chair? Muscles. What keeps your head upright? Muscles. If we stop to think about the bones in the head – primarily the skull – the muscles in the neck must be strong to hold the head in position or to move it from side to side.
As I mentioned back in March, the human body has over 200 bones. But it has 3 to 4 times that amount of muscles. The body has at least 650 muscles, but some suggest that number should be over 800 due to some muscles being complex muscles (if the complex muscles are broken out into the individual muscles, the 650 increases by nearly 200 more).
But regardless of how many muscles we have, the question is are they functioning? Are our muscles able to function? Or have they been damaged in some way? Or maybe due to another health issue, the muscles in a particular part of the body have atrophied?
Well, what is true in the human body is certainly true for the Body of Christ as well? This month is not about service (that will be in July when we look at the nervous system). But let’s face it, we cannot serve – that is, we cannot function – if our muscles are too weak? So, this month is about building our muscles. And our muscles need to be built within the divine trilogy Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13. That trilogy consists of faith, hope, and love. I will say more about this trilogy next week, but because Paul says that the greatest of these is love, then we will begin by discussing developing that muscle today. And to do that we will review the Great Commandment – to love the Lord with our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Our passage today is one of the most commonly known statements in the Bible. The specifics are given in four different times. Three of those are in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 22; Mark 12; Luke 10), and the original statement is in the Shema from Deuteronomy 6. Each statement is a little varied, but the essence of each is the same with Jesus’ words in the New Testament linking Leviticus 19 about loving our neighbor as we do ourselves.
The problem with Jesus’ statements is not in what He said, but in our response. In fact, in my email and Facebook post sharing my initial thoughts on the message, I chose the Mark passage (in part because our Sunday School lessons are currently from Mark. But as I started with my sermon, my mind was changed to the Luke passage for reasons you may already be able to consider, but if not, for which I will share shortly. And ultimately, that reason has to do with our response which is how this paragraph started.
In Matthew and Mark we are told to love God with everything we have, and everything we are – our heart, soul, and mind. Mark also adds strength, as does Luke. The original command was to love with all of your heart and soul and might. But our response to the command generally falls into one of two categories. We either think we do not need to improve or we think it is impossible. Let me state that either thought might be true if you allow it to be, but neither thought has to be true. That is, loving in this way is not impossible. At least, it is possible part of the time for some. But for most of us, we need to improve.
Again, our system this month is the muscular system. So, we need to develop our muscle of love. That begins with loving God, but it must include loving others. That fact is why I originally chose Mark’s message because of Jesus’ words in Mark 12.31. He recites from Deuteronomy 6 to love the Lord, then says that a parallel idea is to love our neighbor we do as ourselves (Leviticus 19), but then Jesus makes this statement. There is no greater commandment than these.
Now, I pay attention to words. It is how God built me. And when I see a pronoun I want to know what the antecedent is. So, in that sentence, I see a very ambiguous word – these. That word is plural – meaning Jesus has multiple ideas in mind, but the word commandment is singular. This is fascinating. What Jesus is saying is that the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor might look like two different thoughts (“these” – plural), but Jesus combines them into one idea (“commandment” – singular). Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that if you love God, but do not love your neighbor then you are not fulfilling the single most important commandment. Likewise, if you love your neighbor, but do not love God, then you are not fulfilling what God wants you to do.
So, if we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, most of us, perhaps all of us, have work to do. Because we are talking about muscles, I want to focus on the strength portion. And to do so, I am going to return to two primary functions of a muscle – posture and movement.
Strong Muscles Make Good Posture
How do you approach God? How do you approach others? What do you think about God? What do you think about others? While each of these questions is true and both posture and movement should related to God and others, I am going to focus on our posture before God and our movement regarding others.
Do you have a high view of God or can you take Him or leave Him depending upon the moment? The Bible says that because of Jesus, we can be bold in approaching the throne of grace. But many people turn that boldness into arrogance. When we are arrogant toward God, or even about God, we are not loving Him with all of our heart or mind, let alone our soul, and strength.
I do not know of anyone here who may have attended a charm school. These schools were also known as etiquette schools or most commonly as finishing schools. The purpose of these schools was to train young girts to be ready to move into society (particularly, high society). The idea was that some manners were known, but to be ready to mingle appropriately, certain customs and mannerisms had to be taught and refined. One such aspect was that of how to carry yourself – that is, what posture should be maintained. A proper posture meant that your place was secured.
For those who choose to follow Jesus, our place is already secured. But that does not mean that we do not need some finishing ourselves! In building muscles, we may know what we are supposed to do, but we may not know how to do it, or how to do it correctly. For instance, people get injured all of the time while lifting weights. For novices, it is because they may not know how to lift properly or perhaps because they are trying to lift more than they should. If the latter is true, it is about pride. And pride really reflects a lack of strength. Sure people can be good at something and we should have pride in what we do, but to be prideful is different. Being full of pride often causes us to pretend to be something we are not. In other words, being prideful distracts us from being our true selves. And, if we are not our true self, then we cannot properly love with our heart (because it is full of pride), our mind (because it is focused on self), our soul (because the essence of our lives, which is what our soul is – our thoughts, passions, desires, etc., is focused on pleasing others), or our strength (because we do not acknowledge the source of true strength – as Paul said, when I am weak, then I am strong. More on that verse next week.)
So, our posture is important. If we are going to love God correctly – with everything we are, we must remain true to Him (heart), we must remain humble (mind), we must remain obedient (soul), and we must remain ready to serve. Those are the elements of having a good posture towards God. And that last are – being ready to serve, leads us to the next item – movement.
Strong Muscles Allow for Movement
Loving God with everything we are is both the easy part and the hard part. It is easy because we can say we do, but it is hard because how can we prove it? The reality is that Jesus has given us a measure for making sure our talk matches our walk.
First, we can see that movement requires obeying God. And, as we have just seen, a part of that obedience involves loving Him with everything we’ve got. Jesus further said, in John 14.15, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” There is that word again – commandments. But this time it is plural. As in, we are to keep all of them. And a part of that keeping is to teach others what and why you are doing because Jesus said in Matthew 28.20 that a part of being His disciple is to be about the business of “teaching others all that I have commanded.”
So, if we love Him, we will obey Him which means teaching others about Him and making disciples for Him which means showing them how to live by His commands. How do you measure up? Me, not so well. And, yet, I would say I love Jesus. I would admit that maybe I do not fully love Him with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, but I want to love Him that way. And yet, He gave this simple test, and I find myself failing. And, I do not have to ask to know the truth that you fail it too. I know that because that is what sin is – it is failing to live our lives loving God with everything we are and everything we have. Because if we loved Him perfectly, we would be making more disciples as well as fulfilling the new commandment He gave His disciples on His last night with them – Love one Another (John 13.34). In fact, Jesus said this is how others will know we are His disciples – if we love one another (John 13.35).
So, before you balk at me and say you love everyone – let me show you the story that follows Luke’s version of Jesus naming the Great Commandment. The story is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Many will know this story quite well, and you have likely heard sermons or lessons that loving like this means loving Osama Bin Laden (well, he’s dead, so we are off the hook there, or are we? Having a love for him would mean we don’t want Him to suffer in hell). But let’s get real, Osama bin Laden, may have been hated, but what is the likelihood you are I would ever really deal with him? So, let me share a few pictures? See if you get agitated with any of these?
Perhaps, you get agitated with someone from a different political party? Perhaps, a dividing issues like abortion causes you to find others disgusting. Perhaps, someone burning your country’s flag might be unlovable to you. Or perhaps it is just someone who lives a very different life from you (like a homeless person or someone who has the biggest house in town).
These are ideas that are in our mind all of the time – each week, if not each day. And God says that loving our neighbor is completely in sync with loving God. Samaritans and Jews despised one another – in part, because the Jews thought they were so much better than the Samaritans. Thus, the Samaritan was not only good, He was extraordinary! Because love, and being a neighbor, must transcend rivalry, conceit, and bitterness – regardless of who is involved.
And that requires us to move. It requires us to move into service (again, that will be the focus of July); but we must be willing to move our minds toward the ways of God as well. Jesus death was not just for you and me. He died for everyone in those images. And He rose again that everyone, including the people we like least (or hate most) might truly find life. And that life is only found through us building our muscles to love others.
As we consider building our muscles, we must consider that just as little boys compare biceps, churches compare themselves to one another too. Why? Because people are the church and we compare ourselves to one another. If I love God and others better than you, then I must be better than you. But that is not what the verses say. The text of the Great Commandment in every instance, does not say, “Love God better than other people.” It says, love the Lord your God with ALL of your heart and with ALL of your mind and with ALL of your soul and with ALL of your strength.
Thus, our comparison is not with others. Our comparison is against the standard God set for us. And that is why we need Jesus! Jesus lived that standard perfectly and expects us to. But He knew we could not on our own, so He died showing what true love is and how much it costs. And because of His sacrifice we have the opportunity to love others for Him by loving others through Him.
And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: J – JESUS.
1 John 4 says God is love. And Jesus, as God, showed us what love truly is. If we are to become like Jesus, we are not simply to love better or love more. We are to BE love. (I encourage you to read Bob Goff’s books – Love Does and Everybody Always – for how he depicts this idea.)
PRINCIPLE: We are to love God and others because He first loved us (1 John 4.19-21).
QUESTION: Will you be one who hardly loves or will you commit to love hard even when loving others is hard?
OPPORTUNITY: Pray that God will help you to love more truly and deeply. (See WayPoint.)
LEARN: Learn to love the Lord your God with all of your mind.
LIVE: Live to love the Lord your God with all of your soul.
LOVE: Love loving the Lord your God with all of your heart.
LEAD: Lead others to love the Lord your (and their God) with all of your strength.