Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart, I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart, with tender mercy cheer me…
That’s quite a claim from the hymnist. “I love Thee with all my heart, O Lord.” Do we truly love God in such a way? Are we right to sing such a thing?
This claim from the hymn answers today’s Gospel reading. The Pharisee asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” What commandment is behind all the five books of Moses? The Pharisees aren’t just asking, which of the Ten Commandments are best. No, these men argued among themselves about the literally hundreds of commandments that they had produced over the years designed to enable them to follow God’s law, or so they thought. They confused their commandments, which were manmade, with God’s law. They hoped by following such a complex system of piety, they would please God and avoid another exile of Israel, or end the current occupation, and bring on an earthly kingdom, a little paradise on earth. Desiring themselves and their system to look good before men, they test Jesus to get him embroiled in a fruitless argument, to be able to discredit Him.
But watch Jesus teach. While he is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, he places himself under the authority of the Holy Scriptures. No citing other rabbis, no citing one’s favorite theology professor, no quoting Augustine or Martin Luther even. When God in the flesh gives his position on a theological topic He affirms the teaching authority – not of a group of pious, respected, or highly educated men – but of the Bible. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus quoted the Bible. He quoted from what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Jesus answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with the whole of your heart, and with the whole of your soul, and with the whole of your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And secondly alike unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. In these dual commandments is caused to depend the whole of the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22.37-40; my translation)
The command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind is a summary of the first three commandments of the Decalogue: You shall have no other gods before me; You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Our catechumens just completed their first examination on this first table of the Law, summarized by loving God with all your heart.
The command to love your neighbor as yourself is a summary of the next seven commandments, the second table of the Law: Honor your father and your mother, You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s.
God did not give the Ten Commandments in addition to the two commandments to love God and neighbor. He gave the Ten Commandments to explain how to love God and neighbor.
How are you to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind? How? By having no other gods but the true and only God, the Holy Trinity, and rejecting all other gods as idols. By worshipping him alone and acknowledging him as your greatest good. By calling on his name in prayer and thanksgiving and not misusing his name to curse your neighbor or to cover up your own sin. By gladly hearing and learning his word, attending church faithfully, reading the Bible, paying attention to what God says, and confessing his truth. This is how you are to love God.
You don’t get to define love or to set down its boundaries and limits. God does. He has explained what it means to love him with your whole heart, soul, and mind. His commandments are not hard to understand. The children can understand them. It’s not in the understanding. It’s in the doing. It’s quite a claim, isn’t it, to sing, “Lord, Thee I love with all my heart…”!
How are we to love our neighbor? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Honor your parents and other lawful authorities in life who act in their place, such as employers, teachers, pastors, law enforcement, government. Don’t impose your undisciplined will on everyone else, but willingly follow the rules in humility as you would want others to do. Don’t do your neighbor bodily harm. Help him if he needs your help. Respect your neighbor’s marriage and keep yourself faithful to your own husband or wife. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. Help your neighbor keep what is rightfully his. Respect your neighbor’s reputation. Don’t run him down and hurt him by your tongue. Be content with what you have. Don’t think of ways of taking advantage of others to get more for yourself.
These are perfectly reasonable. It is not so hard to understand what love requires. The commandments that teach us how to love God and neighbor resonate with the consciences of those who don’t know God. At least, as we’ve seen this week in the case of the disgusting Hollywood producer who has abused and taken advantage of so many, it sometimes resonates in the conscience of some of the people, but maybe only if the offender doesn’t agree with one’s politics.
Nevertheless, that’s a good reminder: people are constantly trying to justify themselves. They try to paint themselves holy. This is what most false religion is all about. It’s mostly hypocritical posturing and pretense. That’s because people haven’t loved as God’s law says they must. They’re guilty and they don’t know how to get out from under their guilt. But they try. Too many try by just ignoring it and acting like it doesn’t exist.
Our catechumens on Saturday morning have learned the words of our Lord Jesus at Matthew 15: “…What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Mt. 15.18–20; ESV)
Out of who we are as humans, according to our sinful nature, comes everything that defiles us as sinners. Every human born is defiled before God. So how can we at the same time sing, “Lord, Thee I love with all my heart”?
If we loved God above all, it would not be nearly so hard for us to confess our faith before men. The commandments that follow from loving God and neighbor with all our heart would never be thought of as a burden. There would never be any uncertainty when asked to make a choice between God and the things of this world. There would be no fear of God, only perfect love and trust.
The only answer the hymn gives us, which is the Bible’s answer, is that love for God and neighbor comes from outside of ourselves. It is a gift.
I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart, with tender mercy cheer me…
And should my heart for sorrow break, My trust in Thee can nothing shake.
Thou art the portion I have sought; Thy precious blood my soul has bought.
Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord… Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.
Remember that the commandment to love God and neighbor above all things belongs to the Law which Christ alone has fulfilled. While you are clearly sinners, defiled and unholy when weighed against the Law, and unable to answer before God in any way whatsoever, nevertheless, your Lord Jesus Christ, your God and Lord, David’s Son and David’s Lord, has come down among you to be that person whose perfect love casts out all fear, and gives you someone to throw all your trust towards.
You would all be lost and shut out from God unless God had first loved you, despite all, with such a love that He gave His own Son, who shed His blood for you. It is not you loving the Lord with all your heart that saves you, but God’s love toward you. Love is not to be found in that you have loved God, but in that He first loved you and sent His Son to redeem you from your sins. The true and complete nature of love, which does not seek its own ends, has come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, God and Lord. He gave every ounce of Himself out of love for you, and the Father accepted His redeeming love as perfect and holy and righteous in that He raised the Son from the dead on the third day.
Now, in His Holy Church, this same risen and ascended Savior comes from heaven with love, baptizes you, feeds you His resurrection meal, and bespeaks you holy and righteous in His Father’s sight, all done on account of His holy, precious blood which bought you, body and soul. Here, in His Church, He gives you that lavish grace, that rich bounty of love that enables you to help and serve your neighbor. Here, no false doctrine beguiles you; here, Satan is beaten back from defiling your soul. Here, you are given strength and patience to bear your cross, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ even unto your death.
These gifts of His love you receive by faith. To sing, “Lord, Thee I love with all my heart” is to sing a song of firm faith in the Lord who loves you. It’s true that we live in a great paradox, that we in this life of labor are never fully free of the shackles that hold us back from perfectly loving God. But faith in Christ, born of His love for you, sings freely and with the firm hope and conviction that despite all the ugly, defiling, terrible things that happen to you and that you experience in this life, God’s love for you in Jesus Christ means that you will be awakened from your death slumber, and with joy you will see with your own eyes the glorious face of the risen Son of God, your Savior and fount of grace. He you will praise without end.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +