Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Revised August 2007
Rick Warren says a great church makes a great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission. Jesus was asked which commandment He believed was the greatest. This lesson analyzes the first part of His answer.
Matt. 22:37-38 (Holman) He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all
your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This
is the greatest and most important commandment.”
It is possible for one passion to be so all-encompassing that it overwhelms every other interest in life. A holy obsession for God can monopolize a mind’s thought patterns, purify motives, and cut away mental clutter. This premise underlies our text. Jesus told us God must become our all-encompassing fixation.
The call to be a Christian is a call to give heart, soul, and mind to something above this world, to yield our essence to Someone greater than ourselves. No life is fulfilled until it is wholly engrossed in this relationship of ultimate value.
Successful Christians sense Someone holy and worthwhile driving them from within. Caught up in Someone glorious, they are consumed. Divine enthusiasm impels them God-ward.
For believers, there is but one first right thing, one grand purpose in life–to please and pursue God. Keep this first of all. Other needs legitimately call for our attention in their place, but this one first right thing must always have priority.
Every human being is created for the purpose of loving God. D.L. Moody, before becoming a Christian, was one day hoeing corn in a field with an older man who began to cry. When Moody asked what was wrong, the man told the story of his life. When he was young he left home to make a fortune. His mother’s last plea to him that day was, “Son, seek first the kingdom of God,” but he paid no attention. After traveling a while, he decided to attend church. The pastor preached, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” “That is my mother’s text,” the man said, “I wonder if that man knows me.” He said to himself he would get rich first, and then think of religion. Later, in a second church, the same thing happened again. The message deeply touched and impressed him, but he was not ready to commit, wanting to wait until he made his fortune. Later, in a third church, he heard the same challenge preached again. He said he felt God call, and sensed the Spirit striving mightily with him, but fought it and chose to wait till he got rich. Moody said the man then claimed all the sermons he had heard since made no more of an impression on him than “on that stone,” and he struck it with a hoe. Years later, when Moody became a Christian, the first man he thought of was that fellow in the field. He went home and asked of him. Moody’s mother said he had been sent to an insane asylum, because whenever spoken to, he immediately pointed his finger and said, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Years later, Moody again returned home and learned the man’s mind was still gone, but he had been sent home. Moody went to see him, and tried to reason with him, but the man only looked with a blank stare and said repeatedly, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Moody said, “Reason had reeled and tottered from its throne, but the text was still there. God had sent that arrow down into his soul. Long years had rolled away and he could not draw it out.” Love God first. It is the main lesson of life.
At age 55, I have lived long enough to see firsthand the bankrupt lives of many of my childhood friends who chose not to love God with their whole heart, soul, and mind. My best friend at church married outside the faith; his whole adult life has been a zero, lived entirely without reference to God. My second best friend at church committed the only triple murder in the history of my hometown. The state of Missouri executed him. A third good friend has gone through much wealth and many wives. My sixth grade patrol duty partner later caught his wife in bed with another man and used a pistol to send the adulterer into eternity, and to send himself to prison for life. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, she was the fairest of them all”–our stalwart example of what it meant to love God, but in her late teens she chose a different path. I saw her at a twenty-year class reunion; at 38 she looked 58. I could go on and on, describing the wrecked carnage of people I have personally known who chose not to love God first in life–broken homes, shattered lives, smashed dreams, splintered resolutions.
You be the judge. I submit for your consideration that the vast majority of the misery we see every day can be traced in one way or another to the rejection of the command in our text. Friend, we cannot afford to not love God first or to not teach our people to love God first; to ignore it demands a price too high to pay.
When God is not our first love, He becomes on a functional level our antagonist rather than our protagonist; our foe, not our friend; our hinderer, not our helper. This results in disaster. Life gets out of kilter, spins out of control, everything swirling into chaos and confusion, all because we fail to love God first. Life is hard enough without having God against us. Let’s not compound our misery.
Our union with Jesus, being in the Lord, is the channel that conveys to us the joy of our life with Him. The intensity of our love relationship with Christ is decided by how well our fellowship in Him is maintained in uninterrupted vigor.
Vibrant Christian living is not so much extracted from Jesus, or bestowed on us by Him, as much as it is a by-product of our life in Him. A successful life in Christ entails ongoing bonding, a never ending merging of our essence into ever more intimacy with Jesus.
In the routines of daily life, commune. Love God first. Let thoughts of pure passion rise to Jesus. In prayer, commune. Love God first. Christians do not believe words in and of themselves have mystical powers. Our faith is in God, not magic. The power is in the relationship, not in the requests.
George Mueller, powerful expert in prayer, said the first thing we must do in prayer is to realize the presence of God. In prayer, words are vital, but not as important as the atmosphere, the love. We should not begin private prayer by speaking immediately. Before talking, meditate. Love God first. Before conversing, commune. Consider the fact Jesus is near; take time to relish the thought. Hurry kills prayer. We cannot have our eyes on God and the clock at the same time.
Even after the prayer is begun, our words must continue to rise from a sensed consciousness of love reveling in God’s presence. Prayer thrives best when its primary focus is kept away from our pressing problem, the at-hand supplication, and turned instead toward the Lord. Our finest prayers contain much adoration and praise, for these terms of endearment accent His worth and reveal we understand the importance of a sensed intimate, personal relationship with God.
Without a constant sense of vital communion with God, our communications rise no higher than the ceiling. Realizing His nearness, sensing His presence, consciously loving Him, is more important than anything we can say.
My own personal pilgrimage in learning how to express my love for God has been long and arduous. The church I grew up in essentially taught loving God was displayed by showing obedience to His laws. I was an adult before I was ever exposed to the possibility of experiencing true, deep emotional bonding with God. Reading Rutherford’s letters from jail, in which he described his love relationship with God in terms as passionate as a man’s love for a woman, was the first time I ever considered the possibility of “romancing” God. This emotional aspect of my relationship with God continues to be a struggle for me. I am working on “romancing” God, on loving Him with my whole heart, soul, and mind.
Loving God must be made the controlling drive of life, our ultimate quest, absorbing all our essence in pursuit of an honorable goal, and keeping our feet ever on the path called straight and narrow, and also known as lonely.
To love God first will require us to resist a crush of public opinion. If you decide to serve God with reckless abandon, expect it to be lonely going. When I decided as a teen to yield my life totally to God, my main opposition came from within the church. People told me not to get overly exuberant or too carried away. One couple even volunteered to sneak me to parties without my preacher-dad ever having to know about it. I thank God for a family who urged me forward, and for a wife who later came alongside me, willing to run the Godly gauntlet with me.
The cost can be excruciating, but we must love God first, nothing held back. We have to ask ourselves, are we merely playing games, or is God truly the most important thought that ever enters our minds? He is worthy to be followed and loved by disciples in dead earnest about Him. The best among us have done this.
John Wesley said, “My one aim in life is to secure personal holiness.” As a young man, he began spending two hours a day in private devotions, communing with the God he loved. He wrote his mom, “Leisure and I have parted company.” A biographer later added, “And they never met again.”
McCheyne prayed, “Lord, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be.” Ambrose claimed, “If I were standing on a wall between hell and sin, I would leap into hell rather than into sin.”
We were made for God, to love Him with sheer pleasure, with nothing held back, to obey and serve Him without hesitation or reservation. Pressing life’s passions toward Him must become our main object of pursuit. Holiness matters most.