What Shall I do?

Luke 10:25-28(NKJV) 25And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” 27So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” 28And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

(Over the next two weeks I will be traveling. As usual, when I am on the road, I may not have the time or opportunity to blog. Keep checking though as I will try to get as many posts up as possible.)

Last week we spent our time together looking at one of the most important concepts in the Word of God. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:40 that all the law and the prophets hang on two commandments. You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. We want to continue learning about love this week.

In Luke 10, we come upon another story that centers on these two very important commandments. The 70 believers that Jesus sent out to ministry have returned to him rejoicing. He tells them to remember what is important. It is wonderful that they were able to bring freedom to people because demons obeyed them; it is more wonderful to remember that their names are written in the Lambs book of life. In verse 21 Jesus makes an open statement that was heard by those around him.

Luke 10:21(NKJV) 21In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.

Many people heard this statement. One of them was a certain lawyer. This lawyer was one of the “wise and prudent” people Jesus mentions in verse 21. I can imagine that he was not terribly excited about what Jesus had to say. This lawyer tested Jesus by asking him what he must do to receive eternal life.

I can understand his point of view. He had studied the law his whole life. The people that Jesus was praising probably had little education if any. Jesus seems to praise them for knowing things that the “wise and prudent” do not. In addition, it seems that miracles were produced through their ministries. This Pharisee was not producing any miracles. Jesus seemed to indicate that these unlearned people had something he did not. What was this thing and how could he get it?

I do not think he was asking in order to find out what Jesus had to say. I think his was trying to justify his own position. He was a Pharisee and a lawyer. He was as deserving of eternal life as any of the people sent out by Jesus. I believe he fully expected to be able to say, “I have done that and more.” However, that is not the way this story playes out.

The action in this story is very similar to the action in Matthew 22. I have tried to determine if this might have been the same story told from a very different perspective or if it was another instance entirely centered around the same commandments. It seems that the differences make it likely that it was a separate instance. The question asked by the lawyer is not the same as in Matthew 22. The person quoting these commandments is not the same and the situation is different.

In this story, the lawyer wants to know what he has to do to receive eternal life. Jesus asks him what his “legal” opinion is. The man’s response was the same as Jesus’ response had been in Matthew 22. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’

Jesus commends him on his insight. He says, “If you keep these two commandments you will have what you are looking for.” It would seem the man should have been pleased with Jesus’ answer. All he had to do was what he stated he believed. Surely, he was already doing that. However, it would seem that Jesus’ answer did not have that affect on this lawyer. He then asks Jesus a very important question. “Who is my neighbor?”

Keeping these two commandments does not seem so hard in theory but it is much more difficult in practice. Loving God with the highest level of affection, the whole of the strength of my life and allowing this love to dominate my thinking is not easy. Loving my neighbor as myself is not only difficult, but it is in the open. You can say you love God, and only you and God will know the difference. However, if you say you love your neighbor and do not act on that love, the whole world can see. The problem with these commandments is that they are impossible to keep if we understand love strictly in a natural, human context.

Whenever we think of love, we immediately focus on emotion. Natural love is emotion based. We feel love. There are other elements of natural love, but it all begins with an emotion. If we do not feel we think we do not love. In the natural, this is true. However, these two commandments are not based in natural love. If we wait to feel this kind of love before we believe in it or apply it, we will fail.

I may feel great love toward God. He has saved me from eternal torment. This is very important to me and I am, literally, eternally grateful. However, we all must admit that there are many times when we do not feel that we love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. If we wait for the feelings before we act on that love, we would never act

This is also true when we think of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Some neighbors are a joy to have and some are not. We have all had neighbors living next to us that were difficult. We lived in one apartment when we were first in the ministry that was located right next to our landlord. He was a difficult man. He was always watching us to make sure we were not damaging his property. I often had to work to hold my temper as he angrily confronted me for some imagined transgression or another. Loving this man with emotion was not possible. Natural love could not get the job done.

God’s love is very different from natural love. Natural love begins in the emotions. The emotions will usually lead to decision. We fall in love with our future mate based on attraction, which then leads to deep emotional attachment. The emotional attachment leads to a decision to marry and spend the rest of life together. Babies are born and when we first see them, the emotions are indescribable. Those emotions lead to many decisions encompassing the rest of our lives. Natural love is emotion based. Decisions rest upon the base of emotion. This is as it should be if we are dealing strictly with natural love.

However, the love that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 22 and Luke 10, as well as most other places in the bible, is not natural love. It is far more powerful and effective than natural love even at its best. It is the love of God. In Greek, the word is Agape. The most important difference between natural love and God’s love is where it is based. Natural love is based in emotion. Agape love is based in decision. God does not wait to feel something before he acts in love towards you. He makes a decision to act in love.

If we will ever walk in the two commandments Jesus calls pivotal to all spirituality, we must do it with this new kind of love that Jesus introduced into our hearts at the new birth. We must decide to love. We cannot wait to feel love. We must choose to obey the Word of God and act according to what the Bible tells us love looks like. If we love based on decision we will find that the emotions will follow. If we wait for the emotions before we act, we will never keep these commandments the way we must. More tomorrow.

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Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?

Matthew 22:37-40(NKJV) 37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

As we begin our study of the Love of God, in Matthew 22 Jesus gives us some significant insight into the importance and nature of the God’s love. He tells the Pharisees that the most important commandment in the law has nothing to do with circumcision, the Sabbath or keeping the Law of Moses. He tells them that all these things, as well as the prophets of old, hang on two commandments. These commandments are love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. If we keep these two commandments, all aspects of our spiritual life will come into balance. If we keep every other aspect of the law and obey the prophets but do not keep these two commandments, it will account for nothing.

Yesterday we looked more closely at the first of these commandments: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. We discovered that to love God with all our heart is to place him above everything else for which we may have affection. To love him with all or soul is to offer him our entire life. We must be willing to live for the Lord and die for him if necessary. To love him with all our mind is to submit all of the way we think to him. If I think in a way that is contrary to his words and his ways, I must change how I think. I must submit my intellectual conclusions to his way of thinking and not try to fit his words and ways into mine.

We cannot simply decide to feel this way about the Lord. We can recognize that this is a commandment. It is something we can choose to do. We can make the changes to our lifestyle, our behavior and our thinking that this kind of love for God demands. We do that by faith in verses like Romans 5:5 that make it clear we have this love in our hearts because we are born again. As we act in faith on the Word of God, we will find that our emotions will come into agreement with our actions.

Today let us take a moment to look at the other commandment Jesus calls vital to our spiritual life. We must love our neighbor as ourselves. In 1 John we read this thought.

1 John 4:20-21(NKJV) 20If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

As difficult as it may be for us to love God in the way that this scripture indicates, we are still loving someone neither we nor anyone else can see. I can tell you that I love the Lord with my whole heart, soul, and mind, but you cannot know if that is true or not. You may see certain things in my behavior and in my words that tell you it is true, but only the Lord and I really know. However, when Jesus commands me to love my neighbor, or my brother, as I love myself, it is open for all to see.

Loving God can be difficult because we do not see him, but God is perfect. Loving people is more difficult because we see all the imperfections. People do bad things to us. People fail us. People sometimes persecute us. People can also be so important to us that loving them with God’s love can be very difficult. God’s love does what is necessary, not just what makes the other person feel better.

We see in 1 John that if we say we love God but do not love our neighbor, we are deceiving ourselves. If we want to cultivate our love for God, one of the best ways to do that is to walk in love towards our neighbor. The more we act according to God’s love toward a brother or a neighbor, the more that love grows in our hearts and mind.

Loving God with our whole heart, soul, and mind can be a spiritual concept that gets a little lost in the natural world. However, loving our neighbor brings this spiritual concept into sharp focus in our natural life. We see our neighbor. We experience their weakness, their struggles and their need. We respond to that, not based on a feeling of love, but a decision of love. We respond to the Word of God and act towards them accordingly. If they harm us, we forgive them. If they have need, we do our best to meet it. If they have cause for joy, we rejoice with them. If they have cause for weeping, we weep with them.

In this way, the commandment to love takes on definite proportions. We understand how to walk in it. We practice it toward others, but at the same time cultivate it toward God. In our decision to respond in love to others, we begin to see that we are also growing in our love of God.

Jesus makes an interesting statement concerning this commandment to love our neighbor. He says it is like the commandment to love God. What does that mean? I think it can mean that we should love our neighbor with our whole heart, soul and mind. I think Jesus is saying that we must put affection for others on the same plane as love for ourselves. If we do not love ourselves, we cannot love our neighbor. However, if we love ourselves above our neighbor, we cannot fulfill this commandment.

We should love our neighbor with our whole soul. We should be willing, as the Lord directs, to use all of our life to meet the needs of others. We should love our neighbor with our whole mind. Our way of thinking should be dominated by the commandment to love others. It should come to the place that selfishness no longer makes sense to us. Our automatic response should come to the place that we naturally put others first.

Let me end the week with some corroborating testimony from some other scriptures. 1 Corinthians 13 is called the great love chapter, and that it is. What does Paul say about the importance of these two commandments?

Verses 1-3 Tell us that we may speak powerfully, walk in wisdom and insight and serve until our last breath but if these things are not motivated by love they mean nothing to God

Verses 11-12 tell us that true maturity is not measured by what we know or our physical age. True maturity can only be measured by the level of our love. This is speaking of both our love for God and for our neighbor.

Probably the most revealing verse is 13.

1 Corinthians 13:13(NKJV) 13And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I believe hope is vital to the human heart. The devil is constantly attacking our hope. Without hope, there can be no faith.

Faith is paramount to the Christian life. Hebrews 6 tells us without it we cannot please God. Romans 14:23 tells us that anything that does not proceed from faith is sin. Faith makes the connection to God and the world of the spirit. Faith is how we transcend the limitations of the flesh.

Faith and hope and vital and yet, of the three great virtues, neither of these is the greatest. The greatest of these is love.

I want to issue a challenge to all of us. Let us make a decision that we will “hang” our lives on these two commandments. Let us decide that they will govern our responses, our relationships and our view of life. We will need the help of the Holy Spirit. That is certain. We will need faith in the love of God that abides within us. We cannot do this based on natural love alone. It is not strong enough. Nevertheless, we have the love God in our hearts because we have the Lord in us. We can do this if we decide to make it a priority

The Nature of These Two Commandments

Matthew 22:37-40(NKJV) 37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

As we began our study of the love of God, we have seen that Jesus made a revolutionary statement to the Pharisees. In answer to their question concerning which is the great commandment of the law, Jesus tells them the law itself hangs on the two commandments listed in today’s verse. Not only does the law, Israel’s guide to behavior and maintaining relationship with God, hand on these commandments, but so do the prophets. The prophets represent the spiritual side of Israel’s relationship to God. Both their behavior and lifestyle and their spiritual well-being are determined by how they keep these two commandments.

This is also true of our Christian walk. We are not under the law in the same sense that Israel was. We do not have to keep all the details found in the book of Leviticus as Israel did. What is supposed to govern our behavior? These two commandments must govern our behavior. That does not mean that we get to ignore what the bible says we must not do. The Ten Commandments have not been repealed. However, we will best be able to keep them, not because we fear punishment, but because we love God and love people.

The Bible is our primary guide in life. We do what it says. We build on its foundation. However, our primary motivation should be love for God and love for man.

Let us take some time and look more closely at these commandments. God does not command us just to love him. We are commanded to love God with three specific areas of our being. Moreover, not only must we love him with those areas but also we must love him wholly with those areas. We must love him with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole mind. What does this mean?

I am going to borrow from Barnes Notes on the New Testament to help us understand what Jesus is teaching. The heart in this context means the center of our affections. Here is what Barnes says concerning loving God with our whole heart.

To love God with all your heart means; to fix the affections supremely on him, more strongly than on anything else, and to be willing to give up all that we hold dear at his command.

It must be understood that we cannot simply decide to do this. We can decide to want this. If we decide to want this kind of love, the Holy Spirit will work in us to form it in our hearts. The first step is to understand that the commandment of Jesus here is that we place love for God above anything else we might feel affection for, and we must be willing to give up anything else in favor of loving God.

The word for soul in this verse is the same word that we use to describe the seat of our intellect, emotions and will. This word can also mean breath or physical life itself. Here is Barnes take on loving God with our whole soul.

We must be willing to give up the life to him, and to devote it all to his service; to live to him, and to be willing to die at his command.

Once again, I must say that we cannot expect to feel that way just because we know we should. However, we can ask the Holy Spirit to develop that within us. We can be willing to be willing.

All over the world, there are people today who must choose death or the risk of death in order to serve the Lord. We do not know how we would react in that situation. We will never know unless we are confronted with such a choice. Of more importance to us is the other part of this quote. We must ask the Lord to help us be willing to devote the best of our life to his service. If we do not do this, we do not love him with our whole soul.

Finally, Jesus tells us we must love God with our whole mind. This particular Greek word means our way of thinking. Each of us has a perspective from which we view life. It may be determined by culture, upbringing or where we live. As we progress through life, our particular life view develops. To love God with our whole mind is to submit our life view, our way of thinking, to him and to his Word. Once again, let us hear what Barnes has to say.

To love God with our whole mind is To submit the “intellect” to his will. To love his law and gospel more than we do the decisions of our own minds. To be willing to submit all our faculties to his teaching and guidance, and to devote to him all our intellectual attainments and all the results of our intellectual efforts.

To offer God a love that withholds any of the elements put forth in these standards is to give him something less than what Jesus commands. Once again, I must point out that we cannot just decide to feel this way and it will happen. We can expect the Holy Spirit to work these things in our hearts so we eventually do feel this way. We must begin with a decision to desire this depth of love and then act on that desire by choosing to govern our behavior and responses based on what Jesus says here.

This would be an utterly futile thing to attempt except for one powerful truth.

Romans 5:5(NKJV) 5Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

We could not love God with our whole heart, mind and soul if it were not for the new birth. Romans 5:5 reveals something that is very important. When I was born again, the love of God was poured out in my heart. God is love. When I received Jesus, I received love. I have the capacity to love God with my whole heart, soul and mind because that same love was imparted to me when I was born again. I may or may not feel that love. However, the kind of love we are talking about is not based in feeling. It is based in the reality of who God is. God is Love.

As I read these two commandments, I can choose to say, “I can’t do that. It’s too much.” On the other hand, I can say, “I have that love in me because of the new birth. I choose to act on Romans 5.” I can make a decision to place love for God above all other affections in my life and act accordingly. I can choose to make my whole life and all that I am available for the work of his kingdom and act on that to the best of my ability. I can choose to submit all of my understanding to his Word and his ways and order my life that way.

If I do these things by faith in scriptures like Romans 5:5, I will find that the power of this commandment and of this love will be released in my heart. Life will take on a new dimension and I will see the power and order of God manifest in my life and through my life to those around me.

Everything Hangs on These Two Commandments

 

Matthew 22:36-40(NKJV) 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ £ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ £ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

One of the most potent weapons in our efforts to possess our land, drive out our enemies and occupy our land of promises until Jesus comes is the love of God. Without the love o God, true fellowship is not possible. Without true fellowship, we will never see the power of God manifest to the degree we need it. Walking in the love of God must become a priority for all of us.

Yesterday we began looking at an incident in the life of Jesus that directly relates to this topic. In Matthew 22, we see Jesus confronted by two groups as they attempt to trap him into saying something they could use against him. In both cases, he displays divine wisdom with his answers and turns the tables on his attackers. The Pharisees, seeing how he answered their arch rival the Sadducees, decided to test him with one of the religious questions of their day. Which is the great commandment in the law?

Their motive at this point was not so much to trap him, as it was to see if they could use him. They wanted to know where he stood on this question, as it would have a bearing on his religious thinking. This question revolved around things like circumcision and the Sabbath. Their discussion was on a strictly intellectual level. The answer Jesus gave them was revolutionary.

Jesus did not try to open a dialogue. He did not say something to the effect of, “Well, all the different points of view have merit, but let me offer a slightly different perspective.” He spoke with absolute authority and said to them, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

What he said next was what changed everything.

Matthew 22:40(NKJV) 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

He was not talking about theory or theology. He was not engaging in some intellectual exercise that had no real impact in life. He was cutting to the heart of all that it meant to be Jewish. He was not eliminating or minimizing the Mosaic Law or the prophets of old. However, he was taking the focus off either of those entities and putting it squarely on something the Pharisees probably had not even considered in the discussion. He said all the other commandments and even the prophets hung on two commandments involving love for God and the love of God toward others.

What did the law mean to Israel? The law was what governed their behavior. It covered all aspects of life. There were directives for everything and sacrifices for all the ways you could break the law. The law was how you did Judaism. It is what kept them in relationship with the God of the covenant and it was what governed their relationships with one another.

What did the prophets represent to Israel? The prophets represented Israel’s spiritual relationship to God. The Old Testament prophets were the primary voice of God to Israel. They kept Israel moving in God’s direction. They corrected Israel when they strayed from the Lord’s path. They revealed to Israel what the will of God was in any and every circumstance.

The Law was the outward to Israel. The prophets were the inward. Between the two, Israel’s whole relationship to God was governed. Yet, with these words, Jesus changes the entire focus of their religious practice.

The discussion of the day for the Pharisees, who were focused on the law, was what commandment of the law was the greatest. Jesus answer tells them that the Law itself is not even the greatest or most important thing. The law hangs on something else. The prophets hang on something else.

This is an interesting use of words. This word in the Greek can also mean suspend. An interesting side note is that it is the same word used of one who is hung on a cross. There is a correlation between what Jesus is telling these Pharisees and what was going to happen to him. Let me use a very simple illustration to show you what this means.

We all have closets. Some of us have closets that are very organized. There are people who have all their clothes in order. Shirts are hung in one place, pants in another and so on. Others have color coordinated closets. Then there are those of us who just hang whatever wherever. No matter what degree of organization you have, all closets have something in common. There is some way to hang the clothes in the closet. This usually consists of a bar upon which we hook hangers.

All of the clothing in the closet hangs on that bar. The clothes are important. Without the clothes, there is no point in the bar. The order may be important to us. The closet itself is important. However, the whole purpose of the closet and the whole order of the clothes hang on that bar. If the bar breaks, the clothes fall into a heap in the bottom of the closet.

Obviously, this illustration has its limits. However, I think you can understand the point. The Law is important. The prophets are important, but without the love of God, they all will fall in a jumbled mess on the ground. On the other hand, Everything will be in order and in balance if it is hung on these two commandments.

If this is true for Judaism, it is even more important to Christianity. In this statement Jesus defined the balance and focus for all of us who call ourselves Christian. There are many doctrinal disagreements in the body of Christ. Many things are very important in our Christian walk. However, all of these things must hang on the two commandments Jesus points out in these verses.

Many years ago, as I was struggling to find my way as a Christian, I was exposed to a powerful teaching on faith and the Word of God. This teaching revealed things I always thought should be true. I still teach and believe what those from that stream of ministry taught me. There were some who hear the same message I did but they got out of balance. I believe their problem was that they did not hang the revelation they were receiving on these two commandments.

Faith is vitally important. I believe healing is from God and for everyone. I believe in Godly prosperity and successful Christian living. All of these things are important and made a great difference in my life. However, if they are not hung on these two commandments we will find that all these wonderful things become a jumbled mess on the floor of our closet.

Doctrine is important. We need to know what we believe and why we believe it. We need to walk in holiness and righteousness. However, our doctrine can be absolutely accurate and founded on the bible, but if it is not hung on these two commandments, it will end up a jumbled mess on the floor of our closet.

Take a look at your life this week. How much of what you do and what you believe is hung on these two commandments. It is a very important question and one we each must answer.

What is the Great Commandment

Matthew 22:34-36(NKJV) 34But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Unity in the church is the key to releasing the power of God on the earth. This unity happens in the local church through the effect of strong fellowship between believers. Over the years, I have heard much talk about unity in the universal body of Christ. This is a noble and desirable thing however, how can we expect denominations to come together in agreement when their reason for existence is separation. Different streams of ministry and churches exist because there are truths, whether rightly or wrongly held, that each feel vital to true Christianity.

True unity comes from the interaction of individuals through fellowship and communion. We will never come together on doctrinal purity. I can come together with you when the Jesus in me and the Jesus in you have the opportunity to interact. Then we find that our disagreements are far less important than the spiritual unity that already exists between us. (Eph 4:3) This process requires a working revelation of the love God.

I want to begin a new direction of thought today. The study of the love of God is one of those topics we have heard so often that there is a sense we already know everything about it. In many ways, it has become a cliché. However, the bible says that God is love. To think we understand the love of God is to think we understand God himself. We can never learn enough about the love of God.

That said, even as I prepare to teach on this vital topic, I find myself going over messages I have taught before and thinking, “There does not seem to be anything new to say on this topic.” I have to remind myself that studying the word is not primarily about information or education. Whenever we study the Word, there is the opportunity to see something we have never seen before. However, that is not the only reason to study.

The Word is nourishment to our spirit as natural food is nourishment to our body. If we need protein, there are certain types of food we eat to get that nutrient. Other foods provide different nutrients. Our bodies need them all so we need a balanced diet in order to be healthy. The same is true of our spiritual food.

If we need healing, we need to feed on healing scriptures. If we need to overcome sin, we need to feed on righteousness and holiness. If we need to increase our capacity to walk in the love of God, than that is what we need to study. For the next few weeks we are going to “hang out” with the love of God and see what nutrients the Holy spirit will serve our hearts.

I want to begin in Matthew 22 with an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees. To understand what we read here, we need to back up a few verses and see what has happened to this point in the story. In verse 15 we read this.

Matthew 22:15(NKJV) 15Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.

The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to their power. They sent some of their disciples with a group called the Herodians to try to trap him into saying something that would enable them to denounce him or even have him arrested. The Herodians were people who supported King Herod, the political leader of parts of Israel under Rome.

In the next verses, we read that Jesus avoided their trap and answered their questions with great wisdom. There was another religious/political party called the Sadducees. They were equivalent to the liberals of today while the Pharisees might be considered the conservatives. The Sadducees saw that Jesus avoided the trap of the Pharisees so they tried to trap him themselves.

Once again Jesus recognizes what they are trying to do and puts them solidly in their place. This brings us to verse 34. Just as there is tremendous division in our political system today, there was the same type of division in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees hated the Sadducees and vice versa. When the Pharisees saw how skillfully Jesus answered their question and that he had debated the Sadducees with such skill, they began to reconsider.

The bible tells us that a lawyer put a question to him to test him. This man was not a lawyer in the sense we understand it. A lawyer was a Pharisee who was an expert in the Law of Moses. His question was not meant to trap Jesus. In Marks account of this incident, we find that when Jesus answers him, this Pharisees approves Jesus answer. Jesus says to this man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” He would not have said such a thing if this man was asking a malicious question.

The background here is very important. It seems that there was a bit of a discussion amongst the Pharisees concerning the question the lawyer asked Jesus. That question was, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Amongst the Pharisees, this was topic of some discussion. This asked this question in order to see where Jesus fell on a topic that was important to determine his stance on certain things. In my mind, I believe that instead of trying to trap him, this group of Pharisees wanted to see what he believed to determine if they could us him. He was, after all, an apparent enemy of their rivals the Sadducees.

The discussion of which was the great commandment centered on which commandment was the most important in terms of how it affected Judaism and Jewish life. When we use the word “commandment” we think of the Ten Commandments, but they considered the whole law commandments.

Some felt that the commandment to be circumcised what most important. This was the sign of the covenant and without it, one was not a member in good standing of the Jewish faith. Others thought the Sabbath commandment was more important because the Lord himself rested on the Sabbath. It was necessary that the Sabbath be properly observed so that God would be honored and man would maintain his awareness of and submission to the one true God. I do not know how many points of view there were, but knowing human nature, I suspect that each point of the law had its proponents.

The answer that Jesus gave was truly revolutionary in its simplicity. Where there discussions were intellectual in nature, his answer cut through every argument and perfectly revealed the true heart of God in the matter. His response challenged the whole focus of the Jewish religious system. His answer also set the agenda for what would become Christianity and the Christian Life. What was his answer?

Matthew 22:37-40(NKJV) 37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Tomorrow we will begin to look at this revolutionary statement by the Son of God.

Fellowship, Love and Unity

Matthew 22:37-39(NKJV) 37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

2012 is, for our church, a year to possess our land of promises, drive out the enemies who keep us from our rightful possession and occupy the land until Jesus comes. We do these three things on two levels. On one hand we do them for our own individual lives. On another level this is a corporate undertaking.

I believe the church as a whole is called to possess, drive out and occupy. The result being the immergence of the church as the dominant spiritual force in the world until Jesus comes. This part we can only accomplish together. We must rise up as the body of Christ and be what Jesus called us to be.

We have discovered that fellowship is an important element of this process. Fellowship produces agreement and connection. It allows each of us to fill the place God has for us in the body. In relationship, we find strength and effectiveness. Although this fellowship can happen in the universal church at times, it must be cultivated in the local church. It is only in the local church setting that the degree and depth of fellowship we see in the church in Acts can exist. It is in this local context that the fellowship we see in Acts can develop into the power we see in Acts.

The next logical step in our sequence of discussion is to gain a deeper understanding in and faith for the love of God. We will never develop true fellowship without a revelation of God’s love. Natural love is simply not strong enough to overcome the differences in background and personality that exist in the local church. We all tend to like people that are like us. However, the differences between us are necessary to produce a complete and effective body. It takes the love of God to cause those differences to become a force of completion instead of competition and division.

The truth is that every one of us can be difficult, petty and selfish at times. We all have differences in habits, likes and personality. We “rub each other wrong way” sometimes. In natural relationships, we simply stay away from people who are so different from us. We find people that we naturally like and cultivate relationship with them. This is not possible in the church.

The church is a family. As the old saying goes, “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.” We are together for a reason. We each have a part to play. One part of the body is a hand and one is a foot. They each have different roles and different characteristics. They feel things differently. Their experiences are different. Their purpose is slightly different. However, to be the body we must have both. To be effective they must love each other. This is not possible without a working revelation of the love of God. Natural love and friendship cannot overcome the necessary obstacles.

Another aspect of why we need the love of God for real fellowship is that within the framework of relationship we are challenged. My weakness may be your strength. That should help strengthen me, but we all know that it is not that easy. Your strength may intimidate me. It may bring conviction on my life. The devil will often pervert the conviction into condemnation. I may see your strength as something I do not agree with.

In all of these scenarios, the result will be division. Without the love of God at work in both of our lives, we will never overcome that division. If the communication your strength to help my weakness is motivated by that love, I will not feel condemned or criticized. I will sense that your heart is for me and not against me. On the other hand, if I walk in love towards you, I will be more likely to receive your strength as help for me because I love you.

Over 24 years ago, I met a wonderful apostle of God named B.J. Pruitt. It was in a difficult time in my life. I was still fairly young in the ministry and my relationships were not with senior ministry people. We did not know anyone who had served God for a long time. We live in a part of the country that is far from the “bible belt.” I made many mistakes and had no one to help me through them.

When I met Dr. Pruitt, he invited me to a conference that he started at his church in Maryland over 40 years ago now. God had spoken to him to create a place for the ministry to come together. The Lord said it was not to be an organization. If someone was part of another organization, that was fine. If they were not that was fine as well. If they had some “pet doctrine” that might be divisive, they did not need to abandon it. Dr. Pruitt would get up at the beginning of every conference and say, “If you have a pet doctrine, that’s ok. Just leave it at the door and pick it up on the way out.”

There were a number of things that we did not discuss during this conference. It was not that they were forbidden, it was just that they did not come up. We did not talk about the size of our church or ministry. We did not self promote. We did not argue about those “pet doctrines.”

We did talk about the common challenges of being in the ministry. We did share our prayer needs. We did pray for one another. We all discovered that we were not alone. We discovered that many others were going through the same challenges we were. We found that some had already been through the things we were facing and received wisdom and counsel. We also found that there were others who were dealing with things we had already faced. We were able to help them overcome these challenges in their lives.

One of the things that happened was true fellowship between us. We did not just talk about deep things. We laughed together. We shared our families together. We came from different backgrounds and different streams of ministry. However, as we shared our hearts something happened. We fell in love with one another.

One of the deep friendships that developed during these meetings was between my wife and I and Pastors Tom and Joy Collins of the Detroit are in Michigan. We came from very different backgrounds. We had some different doctrinal points of view. We came from a stream of ministry that they were not really fond of. They were from a type of group we would not have been likely to encounter let alone fellowship with. However, when we first got to the conference, Sister Joy took my wife under her wing. We were new and did not know many people. She reached out to us and then we met her husband Tom who became a friend to me.

Later we discovered some of our differences. Had we known about them before we met, we probably would never have gotten together. However, by the time we found out about them, it was too late. We had already fallen in love with one another. Since that time, they have saved our lives more than once and I believe they would say the same.

The principle we found in this process is powerful. It is the same principle that can lead to the kind of unity that we need to see in the local church. As the Love of God flows between us, our differences and our disagreements will be swallowed up in that love. The resulting unity will lead to a power in the church that we have not seen since the days after Pentecost.

I am going to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to all, but especially those in leadership or ministry in the body of Christ. We have decided to “tap into” Dr. Pruitt’s anointing again for this kind of unity and fellowship. He coined a phrase, unity through fellowship, that we have adopted for a new series of conferences in Newark, De. The dates are June 19-22. We are still working out some of the details, but you can email me at Livingwordgreene@aol.com for more details. We have some information on our website, livingwordgreene.com under events. More will information will follow. There is no cost however, offerings will be received. I believe you could find some lifelong friends as you fellowship over the Word of God, just as we did with so many dear friends.

Fellowship in 1 John Chapter 1 Part 2

1 John 1:5-7(NKJV) 5This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

The level of fellowship the first church was instrumental in the release of the power of God that we see recorded in the book of Acts. In 1 John chapter 1:1-4 John reveals that as he shares his first hand experiences with his readers, fellowship between him and them is enhanced. However, he tells them that their fellowship with the Lord is also enhanced by sharing their lives together.

We do not have the kind of firsthand experience that John enjoyed with Jesus, but we do have experiences with him. Our lives have been shaped by those experiences. As we come together around those experiences, the Word of God and worship, we find that our fellowship and unity is increased. Our understanding of who the Lord really is becomes stronger and the potential for the release of God’s power is enhanced.

Today I want to look at the next few verses in 1 John 1. As I have been studying fellowship, I have seen the rest of this chapter in a slightly new light. The context of this whole chapter is established in verses one through four. John is talking about fellowship between him and his readers and all of them together with the Lord. As I considered these verses in that light, they took on an even deeper meaning.

John tells us that the message he wants us to see is God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. On its own, this is a powerful statement. James 1 tells us that there is no “shadow of turning” in the Lord. I had a friend who used to say that this indicated the Lord was not a “shady character.” God is all light, all good and there is nothing of darkness or evil within him. That is powerful, but what does it have to do with fellowship?

We can neither fellowship with the Lord or really fellowship with one another if we allow darkness in our lives. Verse 6 tells us that if we walk in darkness we are not walking in fellowship with him. If we try to hide sin and think we are in fellowship with the Lord, we “lie and the truth is not in us.” He did not say God does not love us. He said we are not allowing truth to reign in us. When this is the case, we are not walking in true fellowship.

Verse 7 gives us the opposite side of the equation. If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. Walking in the light is necessary for true biblical fellowship. True biblical fellowship will help the body walk in the light. The one will lead to the other. This may seem almost contradictory but it is not.

If any one of us is allowing darkness to dominate his life, he is not in true fellowship with the Lord. That is the point of verse eight of this chapter. Sin does not cause God to stop loving you. Sin causes a break in the sense of righteousness between you and God. Jesus died for your sins: the blood of the Lamb pays for them. However, every Christian still sins. Verse eight tells us that if we try and deny this, the truth is not in us. We are human. We fall into temptation and we do sin.

Verses nine and ten give us the wonderful good news that the Lord has already put into place a remedy for this kind of sin in the life of the believer. If we come to the Lord with repentant and humble hearts, we will receive forgiveness for those sins and the sense of righteousness will be restored to us. This “sense of righteousness” is the most important component to fellowship.

I was basically a “good kid” growing up. I did not get into trouble. I was good in school. I was not perfect and probably not as good as my parents thought I was, but compared to my siblings I was definitely the good kid. When I did do something wrong and my parents got angry with me, I really had a hard time. They were rarely angry with me so if they were I felt I must have done something really wrong. I remember being in my bedroom in my early teen years after some transgression. I do not have any idea what the transgression was, but I will never forget how I felt.

I felt that I had ruined the relationship I had with my parents. I felt I could never again come into their presence the same way. Of course, that was nonsense, but that was how I felt. Within a few short hours it was dinner time and I found that my parents still loved me and all was well again.

To a degree, this is what sin does to us. We break our sense of fellowship with God. Whether consciously or unconsciously we know that there is something between the Lord and us. If we allow that to stay, it breaks our fellowship. We come into his presence but the darkness makes us uncomfortable. We try to hide it but it still bothers us. The real danger is that if we continue to hide sin from the Lord we become comfortable in our lack of fellowship. When that happens, sin multiplies and we can be in for a very difficult time.

However, if we come to him, confess our sin as soon as we become aware of it, we will find that the sense of righteousness and thereby fellowship is restored. God welcomes us back into his presence and it is as if the sin never happened. He cleanses us from the unrighteousness.

In the context of fellowship, we can see that if we do not deal with the darkness in our own lives it will hinder our fellowship with other believers because fellowship with them is tied to our fellowship with the Lord. It is vital for fellowship’s sake that we do our best to deal with our own darkness. How can fellowship help us do that if darkness hinders fellowship?

The answer to that is that fellowship produces light. The more we are together with others in true fellowship the more we will find that we can trust one another. We find that all of us have the some darkness that we are dealing with. We are not alone in resisting temptation. One of the devils favorite tactics is to make us believe that we are the only ones that struggle. He wants to keep your struggle in the dark because as long as it is in the darkness the light cannot heal it. Fellowship brings us into the light of reality. We all have the same enemy and we can help one another.

I am not advocating that everyone tell all their deep dark secrets. There is a place for accountability relationships, but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about sharing life. I am talking about the sense of commonality that occurs when we allow ourselves to have fellowship. Communion will produce an unspoken understanding that we are all the same. We need each other.

Fellowship will also challenge us. As we see those who may be farther along in their walk standing in righteousness, we are inspired to do the same. There is a “positive peer pressure.” The bible speaks of this when it tells the older men and women to teach the younger. Good character will breed good character. If we are around people who live right, we are more likely to live right. If we choose to fellowship with sinners, we will be inspired to sin.

As we allow this process to work in our churches, we will see the glorious light which comes from God fill them. This light is one aspect of God’s nature. Where the light reigns, so does his life. In his life is power. In the manifestation of his power, we will see that revival have been praying for all these years.