Following my last post, “Who Makes The “Rules”?, I now want to ask the next logical question: “What, then, are the ‘rules’?” So, let’s dig in.
What Are The Rules?
There is a very interesting thing you find in Scripture: the rules aren’t about external action, but internal affection. And this reality is seen in God’s statement to Samuel during his search for the king of Israel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). And while this truth is abundant in the Old Testament, it becomes even more startling in the New Testament.
The greatest commandment, says Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40, is (not shockingly) to love God with every fabric of your being. And the second is (again, not shockingly) to love your neighbor like you love yourself. The shock comes when Jesus utters the next line: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets” (Mt. 22:40). What makes this so shocking? It’s not that Jesus said that loving God and loving people are the two most important; it’s that He said they are the only commandments. Everything God requires of people is wrapped up in those two commandments. Let’s look a little more closely at what exactly God demands from people in terms of loving Him and loving people.
1) People must worship God…
The word “worship” means “to revere or adore,” and the same word also translates, “to bow down.” Worship is to honor something or someone as ultimately worthy of everything you are. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 and 1 Samuel 7:3:
“You shall worship the Lord your God…” (Lk. 4:8a).
Godâ€™s standard, or rule, is that people must honor Him above everything else. This has been the standard from the beginning, and is reflected in the very first commandment God gave to Moses (i.e., â€œyou shall have no other gods before meâ€). We need to see that Godâ€™s standards demand that He alone be the object of worship, a standard that deals primarily with the heart and mind, and secondarily with a person’s actions, or works, since God-glorifying action can only flow from the person whose heart and mind are enamored with the greatness of God.
a) … Affectionately (i.e., with their hearts).
The heart response of worship is love, so that the two are inseparably linked. This is why Jesus tells the woman at the well that, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23). The emotions/affections, or “heart,” must be laser-focused on Jesus.
Jesus’ responds to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:37-40 by saying:
â€œâ€˜You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.â€™â€
This last sentence may be summarized this way: â€œEverything God demands from His people may be summarized this way (and in this order): love God with every fabric of your being (i.e., your affections, your wants, your desires, your thoughts, your goals, your efforts, etc.), and, as result, love other people to the same degree and with the same intensity that you love yourself. So, Godâ€™s greatest desire, His primary demand, is for people to love Him. Heâ€™s always been most concerned with the heart, the affections. And we find this echoed in the Old Testament when God reminds Samuel, who is searching for the new king of Israel, â€œDo not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.â€ Again, Samuel says to the people of Israel, â€œIf you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.â€
While, as we will see, filling your mind with great truths about God is essential, information intake alone is not sufficient worship.
b) … Intellectually (i.e., with their minds).
Similarly, Jesus didn’t say merely that, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit.” Rather, He said that, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23). This is not “either/or,” but, “both/and.” True worship, as we discussed previously, necessarily involves the heart, or affections/emotions, but true worship also necessarily involves the mind. Though worship with the mind is often neglected in American Christianity, true worship demands on it.
c) … Only (i.e., to the exclusion of all others).
The very first of the 10 Commandments God gave to national Israel through Moses was, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). The idea here is not that God will be the most important of the gods you worship, but that He will be the only God you worship. And, finishing the passage partially quoted above, Jesus very plainly asserts the singularity of worship when He says, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Lk. 4:8). Elsewhere, Jesus makes what may be the most crystal clear assertion that God is the only acceptable object of worship:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has to buy that field” (Mt. 13:44).
Do you see what was required of the man in order to inherit that field? The loss of all that he had. Of course, this does not mean that Jesus requires every person who will follow Him to get rid of all their stuff. Rather, the parable Jesus tells demonstrates the singular focus of proper worship. The man didn’t receive the treasure by adding it his list of valuables; he received the treasure by making it, and only it, the list of his valuables. As such, proper worship is singular in nature, having only one object.
2) People must love…
While all of the New Testament writers highlight the necessity of love for people, there are two authors whose writings I want to examine more closely. The first is from John’s first epistle, or letter, and the second is from the Gospel of Matthew.
a) … God.
See #1 above.
b) … God’s people.
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 worldâ€™s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does Godâ€™s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:16-18).
What does one even say about a passage like this? The love God demands that His people demonstrate toward one another is the kind of love that quite literally knows no bounds, resulting even in one’s own death, if necessary. Specifically, this love feels genuine concern for others and sacrifices something of themselves to meet their needs. So, what about you? In what ways do you sacrifice yourself to meet the needs of others?
b) … Your enemies.
Perhaps even more stunning, Matthew records the following words directly from the mouth of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Love your enemies? How can God require such a thing? The answer is simple: because that is what He has done. People are commanded to love their enemies, doing good even to those who hate them. What is your mode of operation? Do you really love your enemies?
What are you thinking right now? Are you surprised to find that God isn’t most concerned about what you’re doing, but why you’re doing what you’re doing? Were you caught off guard by the reality that God is not most concerned with how much alcohol you consume, whether you gossip to and about your friends, or how often you go to church, but that God is instead concerned primarily with your heart? What makes this disturbing, though, is Jesus’ command in the Matthew 5 passage: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”. The standard is not “Do your best” or “Make sure you do more good than bad,” but, “Be perfect.” God’s standard for humanity is perfect worship/love for Him, and perfect love for others. Will you ask yourself the very honest question, “How am I doing with that?”