What you are going to see today is that you only love God as much as you love the person you love the least. God does not separate your love for Him and others. That is a packaged deal. To evaluate how much you love God evaluate how much you love people. If you say you love people but don’t love God then you don’t really love people. If you say you love God but don’t love people then you don’t really love God.
Today, Jesus is going to teach you something significant about loving Him and loving others. Let’s get started and see what we discover.
We are told in Mark 12:28-34,
One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” 32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” 34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions. (NLT)
There are three sections to this: the question, the answer and the response. We have already looked at the question in detail last week. Let’s review and then look at Jesus’ answer.
We see the question in verse 28 which says, One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” This teacher of religious law was not asking Jesus which of the Ten Commandments is the most important. He was asking Jesus which commandment from the 613 commandments they created and listed from the first five books of the Bible. There was much debate surrounding these commandments regarding which ones were more important and which ones were not as important.
This question was a trap question. Jesus had already said things like, “You have heard it said (then he would refer to one of their commandments), but I say to you (then He would clarify with a deeper meaning).” Many of the religious leaders took this as Jesus disregarding their religious laws and instating His own. They saw this as Jesus replacing the Word of God.
Jesus would also deliberately break some of their religious laws like healing on the Sabbath which they considered working on the Sabbath. They thought Jesus would answer the question is such a way as to reveal that He was not from God and didn’t support God’s Word and/or commit treason against the Roman Empire in some way. This question was more about exposing Jesus as a fraud, rather than learning from Jesus.[i]
This brings us to the Lord’s answer. In verse 29, Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’
Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy. A little history on the book of Deuteronomy will help us. When Deuteronomy was written, Moses was nearing the end of his life. He spent the last 40 years of his life leading the Israelites around the desert. They had to wander in circles until everybody died that was from the previous generation. The 40 years of wandering were now up and a new generation was getting ready to go into the Promise Land. Moses was preparing them for his death and the years ahead of them in the Promise Land. To do that, he held a month-long Bible conference where he gave everyone a refresher course on their history with God and challenged the new generations of Israelites to stay faithful to God in the years to come.
The sermons and the lessons that Moses taught were written down and compiled into a book. It is called the book of Deuteronomy in your Bible. The main message that Moses delivered was love for God and love for others and the natural overflow of that love would be obedience to God and His Word. That is the book Jesus quotes from.
There is only one God
Jesus said, The most important commandment is this…. Circle the phrase most important. This refers to rank and priority. Jesus was saying of the 613 commandments that the man asking the question referred to, the most important commandment is to love God and love others. The two commandments that Jesus referred to was on their list. Jesus is saying these two commandments should be given top priority and the most weight.
Another way to look at this is the phrase most important refers to centrality. This commandment is the center for all the others commands. It is essential to experiencing God in your life. Without it, following God becomes a burden. Without it, you simply become religious without a relationship. Without it, you become a legalist and not a lover of God.
Jesus is saying the most important, the one that is above all others, and the commandment that is central to every command in the Bible is this one command to love God and love others. This is the one that carries the most weight. If you miss this, you miss it all. Jesus is putting all the eggs into one basket. If you miss this, you miss it all!
Then Jesus goes on to say, Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.
Jesus says, Listen, O Israel! This message was originally given to the Israelites, but it is now for everyone. I want you to put your name in that statement. I want you to make this personal. Jesus is saying, “Listen Jeff,” “Listen Billy,” “Listen Kate,” Listen Chris,” Listen Dan,” “Listen Ray,” “Listen Susan,” “Listen Josie,” “Listen Josh.” Put your name there because Jesus is talking to you. Jesus is wanting your attention because He is about to say something significant to you. Listen carefully to what He is saying.
Then Jesus says something significant, The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. God is perfectly unique. There is only one God. This God is the one and only.
- This one and only created everything.
- This one and only parted the Red Sea so that His people could cross on dry land.
- This one and only caused the walls of Jericho to fall at the sound of His people shouting.
- This one and only protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the middle of a fiery furnace.
- This one and only sent His one and only Son to die for the sins of the world.
- This one and only has provided the one and only way of salvation through faith in Christ.
- This one and only is omniscient, He knows it all.
- This one and only is omnipresent, He is everywhere and you cannot get away from Him.
- This one and only is omnipotent, He can do whatever He wants to do.
- This one and only is full of grace, you cannot out sin His forgiveness.
- This one and only is abounding in love, you cannot do anything that would make Him stop loving you.
- This one and only is worth all the praise you can give Him.
- This one and only deserves your worship and admiration.
- This one and only merits loving obedience from His people.
- This one and only is worth following, trusting, believing, living for and dying for.
Jesus said, The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. He is completely unique, one of a kind, and there is no other god besides Him. He is the one and only and He deserves your one and only life that He gave you!
But I have a question for you. Jesus referred to this one and only as the Lord our God. Can you say with me, that He is our God? He is my God? Is He your God? Is He your Lord?
The Bible tells us how He personally becomes your God and your Lord and that by placing your faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible says in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (CSB).
Love God supremely
Because of who God is we are to love God supremely. In verse 30 Jesus went on to say, And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. That means everything about you is to be committed to God. How do you love God supremely?
- You love God supremely by loving Him with all your heart. Your heart refers to your will and your decision maker. It’s the core of who you are. It’s where your values, priorities, and standards live. Your best life is a where your heart is obsessed and completely committed to God. You make every decision based on His glory, not your convenience or comfort. You are loving Him with all your heart.
- You love God supremely by loving Him with all your soul. This deals with your feelings and emotions. This includes your attitudes and convictions. Let how you feel about things reflect your love for God. Let what you enjoy reflect your love for God. Let what you hate reflect your love for God. Let what you are passionate about demonstrate a commitment to God. By angry about the right things and be joyful about the correct things. Love God with all your soul.
- You love God supremely by loving Him with all your mind. This deals with your thoughts, intellect, and imaginations. This is where you take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). This is where you set your mind on things above. This is where you allow God to change the way you think so you can know His will for your life (Romans 12:1-2). This is where you “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Philippians 4:8). Proverbs 4:23 says, “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life” (NCV). Love God with all your mind.
- You love God supremely by loving Him with all your strength. This refers to your physical power in the physical world. Whatever healthy and physical strength you have, use it for God’s glory. Whatever financial strength you have, use it to support the kingdom of God. Whatever relational and social strength you have, use it to influence others for Christ. Use your influence whether that is at church, work, school, family, or community to express your love for God. Love God with all your strength.
Jesus is saying that if you were to summarize all the commandments in the Bible and all the things it refers to when it comes to your relationship with God, it can all be condensed down into loving God supremely with all that you have and all that you are. This one and only God is worthy all the love you can give Him. Don’t hold back. Go all in.
Love people greatly
Then Jesus does something strange. You would think that Jesus had just answered the man’s question, but Jesus hadn’t because to Jesus loving God is only part of the answer. He was asked about the greatest commandment, but He adds a second one saying in verse 31, The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Let’s break this down.[ii]
This second commandment by Jesus is equally important. Jesus places the same value and importance on loving God as He does loving people. Before we go any further, I need to be very clear here. Jesus is NOT saying the most important thing to do is love God and the second most important thing to do is love people. Jesus is saying that loving God and loving people are equally important. You cannot separate the two. They go together. You can talk about them separately, but you cannot separate them in principle.
The reason they are equally important is because they are completely connected. Remove one and you don’t have the other. These two commandments come as a packaged deal. You cannot say that you love God and hate others. You cannot say you love others and hate God. If you do, then you don’t understand the nature of divine love. Love does not work that way.
God addresses this in 1 John 2 when He says, “If anyone claims, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness” (1 John 2:9, NLT). That is John’s way of saying, “If you hate the Christian people in your life, then you are not Christian.”
Then in 1 John 3 we are told, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God” (1 John 3:16-18, NLT). Again, John is connecting the love of God and loving people together. You cannot separate them.
Then in 1 John 4 we read, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, NLT). Again, John is trying to help see that loving God and loving others go together. They cannot be separated. As Jesus said, they are equally important.
Then Jesus says, Love your neighbor as yourself. What does loving your neighbor look like? What does Jesus mean by that? Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18. In that section it talks about how to treat your neighbors in very practical terms. It says things like this…
- Be generous toward them (vs. 9-10)
- Do not steal from them (v. 11)
- Do not deceive or cheat them (v. 11)
- Do not defraud your neighbor (v. 13)
- If you hire your neighbor to do something, pay them what you promised (v. 13)
- Do not insult them if they have a weakness (v. 14)
- Do not twist justice in legal matters to fit your agenda (v. 15)
- Do not gossip about them (v. 16)
- Protect them if their life is threatened (v. 16)
- Do not nurse hatred toward your neighbor (v. 17)
- Do not seek revenge (v. 18)
All of that is concluded with the statement love your neighbor as yourself (v. 18). Loving your neighbor involves things like honesty, generosity, impartiality, justice, support, protection, forgiveness, compassion, patience and kindness.
The reason why you cannot separate these two commands is because God is honest, so you honest. God is generous, so you are generous. God is impartial, so you are impartial. God is forgiving, so you are forgiving. God is compassionate, so you are compassionate. Loving God is loving others. How you treat others is really a reflection of how you love God. This is why I said, you only love God as much as you love the person you love the least.
Jesus takes these two commands, love God and love others, and treats them as if they are one command. They are equal. If you want to love God, you have to love people. If you don’t love people, you don’t love God. This is the two sides of the same coin.
- When you start loving God supremely and loving others greatly you will love your wife more sacrificially.
- When you are loving God supremely and loving others greatly you will love your husband more humbly.
- When you are loving God supremely and loving others greatly you will love your children more patiently.
- When you are loving God supremely and loving others greatly you will love your neighbor evangelistically.
- When you are loving God supremely and loving others greatly you will love your enemy more graciously.
- When you are loving God supremely and loving others greatly you will love your fellow believers more deeply.
The man asked Jesus what the most important commandment is. Jesus told Him to love God and love others. Then in verse 32 the man responds to Jesus’ answer. We are told in verse 32, The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” In essence, this man has just said that he agrees with Jesus that the most important thing in life is loving God and loving others. This is more important than all the religious activities combined. Relationships (with God and others) supersedes all religious rules and laws. This guy is close to understanding the kingdom of God.
That’s why, in verse 34, we are told, Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” There is a huge difference between being near the Kingdom and in the Kingdom. How does a person go from being almost in the kingdom of God and actually being in the Kingdom of God? If you go back to Mark 1:15 Jesus tells us. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (NLT). This man who was not far from the Kingdom of God, what must happen for him to enter the kingdom of God? Two things.
- He must repent of his sins. To repent means to change your mind. When you repent you agree with God that you are a sinner, that you have sinned against God, and that sin is what is keeping you out of God’s kingdom. Repentance does not mean perfection. It means you agree with God about your sin and you are determined to give your sin to Him.
- He must believe in Jesus as His Savior. To believe the Good News is to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior of mankind. Your place your faith in Him for salvation.
To enter the Kingdom of God, this man must repent of his sins and believe the Good News about Jesus, the same is true for you. Some of you are not far from the Kingdom of God. You already believe there is only one God. You believe that this God created everything and is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. You already agree that loving God and loving others is the most important thing in life. You are not far from the kingdom of God.
Mark concludes this section by saying, And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions. At some point in your life you are going to have to stop asking questions and make a decision on whether you believe or not, are you going to follow Him or not.
You are designed and created to love God and love others. The sinful nature messes all that up, but your purpose (through Christ) is to regain that love, grow in that love, and express that love. That is where you find abundant life, loving God supremely and loving others greatly.
- What is your initial reaction to the statement, “You only love God as much as you love the person you love the least”?
- Why is it important that God’s people understand and emphatically that God is a “one and only” when it comes to being God?
- What does it mean to love God with “all your heart”? What does that practically look like in your life?
- What does it mean to love God with “all your soul”? What does that practically look like in your life?
- What does it mean to love God with “all your mind”? What does that practically look like in your life?
- What does it mean to love God with “all your strength”? What does that practically look like in your life?
- Generally speaking, describe someone who loves God supremely.
- What is your response to loving God supremely and loving others greatly being “equally important”? Do you have a tendency to separate these two? If so, why?
- What are some practical ways to “love your neighbor as yourself” (see Leviticus 19:8-18)?
- Jesus said to the man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” What does that mean?
- How does a person go from being almost in the Kingdom of God to being in the Kingdom of God?
[i] For more information, details, and applications based on this teacher of religious law and the question he asked, see previous sermon notes.
[ii] The order of these two commandments does not place one over the other, but emphasizes one flowing from the other. True love starts with God because He is love. When you experience His love and love Him in return the natural overflow is to love others. The first commandments flows into the second.