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Insight into Love

April 1st, 2016

When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34)

In Mark 12:28-44, during this time of intense questioning of Jesus by the religious authorities, the perspective of the narrative turns slightly, from focusing on Christ answering questions put to him by others, to focusing on Christ’s own perspective and his assessment of others.

God first, others second: The turning point is a question put to him about the most important commandment. The scribes, with their attention to details, had little sense of priority among the numerous commands – they tended to say that all were equally important, and even argued among themselves whether that were really true. “Which commandment is the most important of all?” they asked.

Christ quoted the “Shema” as it was known among the Jews, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The synagogue worship would begin with a quotation of this verse as a call to worship:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:4-5)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 10:30)

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matt. 22:37)

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. (Luke 10:27)

The various readings of this command – “heart, soul, might” in Deuteronomy, compared to “heart, soul, mind, and strength” in Mark, “heart, soul, and mind” in Matthew, and the slightly different order of “heart, soul, strength, and mind” in Luke – were attempts to bridge the centuries of language disparity. The Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint was the New Testament Christian’s version of the Old Testament, and it was also influential among the common Jewish people. There the order is “kardias, psyches, dynameows” or “heart, soul, and strength.” But how is the “heart” different from the “soul”?

The meaning was clear, that love of God demands all that is within us. There were different words in Hebrew for love. Hesed (also written chesed) was used to describe the sacrificial and faithful love of God. It was often translated as “lovingkindness.” Ahab (also written ahava) described the spontaneous love of people. Ahava was used in Deuteronomy 6 for how we are to love God. What we have here is something similar to the conversation between Peter and Jesus in John 21:15-19, where Jesus asked, “Do you agapeo me?” And Peter responded, “I phileo you,” his point being that he did not love Christ as deeply and as profoundly as Christ loved him.

Yet the Septuagint used agapeo, and not phileo for Deuteronomy 6:5. There is a balance here that I appreciate; the Septuagint translators gave humanity no way out of loving God less than he loved us, even though it is impossible to do so. The point of the command was not to give humanity a way to love God less – as if I can love God with some parts of my being and not love him with other parts. The mind, the emotions, the will, and even the strength of our life, should be given over in our love of God. Any “love” that omits a certain section of our personality is not love at all. Love is to be all-consuming, costly, demanding, and sacrificial. Though we are weak, the standard of our expression of love is God himself and how he loves us. Anything less is unworthy of our effort.

George Matheson wrote the hymn:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

But there is also deep within us the knowledge of how unlike God we are, how weak and halting is our love and devotion to him. Each of us have had some Peter-like experience of seeking to love Christ and then painfully discovering the hidden reservoirs of selfishness in our minds and souls. Somewhere between the honesty of our weakness and the demands of Christ’s sacrificial love upon us, our response to attempt to love God as we are loved by him stands. There is no call given to us to love God halfheartedly. The command is to love him with all that is within us.

God is One! This is still the Christian’s profession of faith, as it was the Jew’s. We have but one God – not three. Whatever we understand about the Trinity should never be abused to suggest that there are three separate “gods” and the more like this we think, the further we have drifted from the biblical revelation.

And because God is one, we his people are also one. Our unity is found in his unity.

Neighbor love: And the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18), brought our fellow human being into the picture. Christ gives us no basis for a religion that considers devotion to God but has no social conscience. Love for God demands also love for mankind. John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Love for God is the first priority of life, yet in its expression it must be satisfied with loving mankind that was created in God’s image.

John goes further in his emphasis of this than any other New Testament writer, that it requires us not only to love the stranger but especially to love those of the family of faith.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

During the days of Paul’s ministry Christian compassion was taken advantage of by unscrupulous pretenders, especially in Thessalonica. He gave the apostolic command, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). But he does not mean that we should cease to help one another, for in the next breath he wrote, “Do not grow weary in doing good” (1 Thes. 3:13).

Affirmation of a scribe: One scribe reacted positively to Jesus’ teachings, even excitedly. He took up the frequent theme of the prophets that to truly repent from sin, to truly be a righteous person in one’s dealings with his fellow human being, was more important than the ritual sacrifices. This was not to teach a “justification by works” but rather to point out the insincerity of those who professed faith, even participated in the temple sacrificial rituals, but whose repentance was not marked by a change in attitude or actions. God said, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? … I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 1:11). God accused them of “trampling” his courts, of having hands that were “covered with blood” while they celebrated his feasts. He wanted real repentance that was evidenced by justice to the widow and orphan.

“You are not far from the kingdom of God,” said Jesus to the scribe. He answered as “one who had a mind” – the meaning of the original Greek. Christ pointed out, however, that he as the Messiah had then come, and the path into the kingdom of God required faith in him. It was the same message he had proclaimed to others, that the thing that the scribe had yet to do was to profess faith in Christ. He was the door.

We never hear anything else about this particular scribe, whether he came to faith in Christ or not. Christ went on to explain how the scribes loved the special privileges that they received from he people. Coming to Christ requires that we put aside these things, that we die to sin and self and come to him and to him only. Paul wrote that he considered his attainments as a Pharisee as worthless compared to the greater knowledge of knowing Christ personally (Phil. 3:7-10). The scribe had to put aside his own reputation and take up his cross of self-denial and follow Christ.

The widow’s mite: The final comment in chapter twelve is of Christ noticing the temple giving of a poor widow. She gave more than the others because she gave out of her poverty, a rue gift of love to the Lord. We look on the outward person – how much someone gave, how much they achieved, what they did for God, etc. Christ though looks at the heart – not the sheer volume but the percentage of the gift, not how much we have done only but how much we have done with what has been given us. To whom much is given much is required.

The perspective of Christ put God first, and to love God meant to give one’s whole soul and body to love. It also meant to love those made in God’s image. Faith meant to follow Christ, and to live with the confidence that God watches over us, he notices our hearts and our sacrificial work and ministry. God sees even the lonely widow and notices the sacrifice that she makes.

We are to love God with our strength or might also. This requires that love express itself in this physical, materialistic world in which we live. It should be noted that Christ was on his way to the cross, to die for the sins of the world, to give his body to be abused and crucified. He could not save us through the passion of Gethsemane alone, and neither can we claim to love God and our only expression be merely some emotional feeling.

The good Samaritan stopped to help. The widow gave all she had. Christ died on the cross for our sins. Love acts. It does not feel only.

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