Sunday, July 4, 2010

The First and Greatest Commandment

From the Ten Commandments we read the very first of the great laws of Moses: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3.) But our Savior put forth doctrine which superceded the first of those commandments. When once a Pharisee tried to trick Jesus by asking, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” The Master answered him, saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. THIS is the first and great commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38.)

In Mark we read that a scribe asked Jesus which is the “first commandment of all,” and Jesus responded with, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30.)

Luke records that a certain lawyer tempted Jesus by asking, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” To which Jesus replied, “... Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27.)

This commandment was not new when Jesus lived in mortality. As Jehovah of the Old Testament the Lord gave ancient Israel a similar commandment. Through Moses He proclaims, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut. 6:5.) As we consider all of these attributes together, we could say that there are five that we must demonstrate to inherit eternal life. Putting them all together, we are to serve Him with all of our heart, soul, might, mind, and strength.

As we study these attributes, we find that the definition of one may be similar to another. For example: The Hebrew word for heart is lebab (lay-bawb’), meaning courage and understanding; the Greek word is kardia (kar-dee’-ah), meaning feelings, thoughts, and so forth. The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh (neh’-fesh), meaning vitality; the Greek word is psuche (psoo-khay’), meaning vitality and life. The Hebrew word for might is me‘od (meh-ode’), which means, diligently, wholly, speedily, and the like. The Greek word for mind is dianoia (dee-an’-oy-ah), meaning deep thought, imagination and understanding. The Greek word for strength is ischus (is-khoos’), meaning forcefulness, might and power.

There are other scriptures we could quote that contain one or more of these attributes, which time and space do not permit. It is sufficient only to say that God requires us to serve Him with all of our courage, forcefulness, power, strength, understanding, feelings, thoughts, and imagination. We are to serve Him diligently with all of our ability, and do it speedily, or now, with all of our vitality, life, and whole being. A couple of good examples from the Bible are those of Moses and the Apostle Paul. They seemed to have exhibited all of these qualities. That’s pretty comprehensive service for us to consider.

Embracing Godliness
To Titus the Apostle Paul wrote that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness. (Titus 2:11-12.) He also wrote to the Romans and said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,...” (Rom. 1:18.) The original word for ungodliness is asebeia (as-eb’-I-ah), meaning impiety, irreverent, and wickedness. So, it sounds reasonable that if we are to deny ungodliness, we must accept the virtue of godliness.

Speaking of godliness, Peter included that attribute when he wrote: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.” Then he gave a list of attributes such as diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity; after which, he added, “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:4-8.) So an attribute that we must possess, if we are to partake of the “divine nature” of Christ, is to possess the characteristic of “godliness.” Therefore, we deny ourselves all ungodliness, and love God with all of our heart, soul, might, mind, and strength, which show our commitment to the first and greatest commandment.

An Eye Single to the Glory of God
We must be aware that when we do not have an eye single to God’s glory, and are not singly serving Him, we are serving someone else, or some “thing” else. Because of pride, that “someone” is usually ourselves, and that “thing” is often some possession or position. It is interesting to realize that when we serve other entities, ahead of honoring God, it is usually because of some personal selfish reason. That is pride, which is serving ourselves and seeking our own glory; which is the opposite of having an eye single to the glory of God.

While walking the shores of Galilee the Savior taught, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.” (John 7:18.) Man cannot serve God and the world (meaning himself) simultaneously. The scriptures tell us that “No man can serve two masters ... Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: ” and that “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” However, it also says, “... if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Matt. 6:24; 12:25; James 1:8; Matt. 6:22.)

One of our biggest challenges is not to seek honor from others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10.) And Jesus said, “I receive not honour from men.” (John 5:41.) The Savior’s example is, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30.) We are instructed by the Lord to turn our thoughts, minds, and service over to Him, and seek for no honor or glory from the world.

A true disciple of Christ glories not in himself, but glories in that which God commands. Wherever we go is in the name of the Lord, everything we do is in His name, all of our thoughts are directed unto God, and the affections of the heart are always towards Him. Satan knows that when we seek for the honors of man, we lose focus of Christ.

There are many churchgoers who seem to have lost focus, taking their faith rather casually, and who often give nothing but lip service rather than heart service. I am sure this is because all of us are on differing planes of understanding. And I know that the Lord is usually patient with us as we grow and progress in the light of truth, but as He said in Genesis 6:3, “... My spirit shall not always strive with man...” Consequently, purity of motive and a single-minded relationship with God are paramount when striving to be worthy disciples of Christ. This brings to mind the writer of Proverbs who said,“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6.)

Those who hold membership in a particular church means only that the person has his or her name officially listed on the membership records of that church. But, perhaps, the Lord looks at members of His church quite differently. Those who really belong to the Church of Christ (meaning the entire body of Christ) are those who have repented and turned their hearts totally over to Him.

True church membership involves far more than simply being a member of record in an organized religion. As important as that may be to some people, all the ordinances and rituals in the world will not suffice to inherit eternal life; only true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which sincere and meaningful repentance must be built. When we truly seek to put away sin and deny ungodliness, we first look to Him who is the Author of our salvation, Jesus the Christ, not any religious organization or ecclesiastical leader; otherwise, we will not have an eye single to the glory of God.

Where Your Treasure Is
Once Jesus simply said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21.) So what is a treasure? It is simply that which we treasure most. To the extent that we treasure other things, people, or activities more than we treasure our covenants with the Lord and our devotion to Him, to that same degree our hearts will not be upon Him. We have a tendency to serve those we love the most, those we give first consideration for our affection and desires. This helps us indicate where our allegiance and loyalty lie. We cannot help but serve that which we love and consider first. Where we direct our passions and expectations, discloses where our fidelity remains.

In considering these most important thoughts, we must do some personal and honest soul searching. What do we really treasure most in our hearts? In seeking for the answer, we must become aware and consider where we put our energy, how we use our time, what we buy with our money, where we direct our interest, and so forth.

By focusing upon the pure love of Jesus, more than upon the crude and base things of the world, we will truly know what we treasure most. We will know what our treasure is when we mostly pursue the Kingdom of God, and the things that do not corrupt, instead of our houses, cars, boats, or any other personal and material objects. We know where our treasure lies when we spend our energy seeking the treasures of eternal life, instead of the pursuit of money, sports, pleasure, and entertainment. When we direct more of our interest toward Jesus Christ, who has all charity, compassion, forgiveness, knowledge and light, than we do toward family, friends and associates, then again, we know what we treasure most, and thus where our heart is. Our heart will be upon God and godly things.

But if we focus more of our attention and desires upon crude and base things; more upon immoral thoughts and acts; more upon money, houses, or other material objects; more upon sports and various forms of recreation and entertainment; or even more upon family, friends or associates than we do upon Jesus Christ, then, again, we know where our treasure really is, and thus our hearts. These things then become our gods; they become our false gods, because we treasure them most of all.

Many want to please others, such as family members or other acquaintances. The desire to be accepted and approved of is important, and the fear of rejection may, at times, be greater than their love for God. The Lord, however, expects our thoughts and affections to be upon Him, and on no one else or anything else. To have an eye single to the glory of God is to have a love for God that is greater than any other love. There are some uncomfortable words spoken by the Savior upon this subject, which are hard for many to grasp; but we must keep them in perspective and understand their real importance. At one time Jesus said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26.) And this is in keeping with the theme of this study of the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” So, there is a question we might ask ourselves: Who, or what, do we treasure most, and where is our heart?

As a Man Thinketh
In Proverbs 23:7 we read, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Do we think with our hearts? No, we don’t, we think with our minds. For the most part, we focus our mind on that which we love—love being that emotion which manifests itself in the bosom, or heart region of the physical body. We previously read: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” In other words: where our treasure is, there will our “mind” be also. Love is equated with the heart, so it is said that man “thinketh in his heart.” In reality, we choose our treasure by permitting our minds to think in that direction, and our hearts love it. We treasure up in our hearts, or our minds, the things most dear to us. Those things are what motivate us and help us choose where we go, what we receive, and what type of beings we will become.

Some of us may wonder why we have troubles in life when we have not desired it, or receive a special gift when we have not asked for it, or secure a particular blessing we didn’t even pray for. In too many cases the answer is that our thinking mind may have been focused on that particular thing, person, place, or situation.

Perhaps a personal example can illustrate. I enjoy fine music, and many years ago, when the compact disk (CD) first came out, I desired one for myself; notwithstanding large phonograph and cassette tape collections I already possessed. But due to the high cost of one of the finer CD players at the time, I wasn’t ready to purchase one—at least for quite a while. However, I kept the thought of one foremost in my mind. Even though I couldn’t play them on anything, I began purchasing one or two CD’s, here and there, with the hope of someday owning something that would play them.

At about that time I had the opportunity to share some of my talents and services with a friend of the family, which I did at no cost to them. Not previously having discussed my CD player desire with this friend, and to my utter surprise, he gave me a CD player in appreciation for my help. For me, this item was only a want and not a need, and I didn’t even pray for it. Of course, the CD player was gratefully accepted. However, I realized from whom this gracious gift really came.

One day, while I was resting and listening as my new CD player produced lovely music, I wondered why the Lord blessed me with such a temporal gift when I felt I was in need of more spiritual blessings. Through the Spirit, then, the thought came forcefully to me that it was a desire of the heart. It was where I often and unknowingly focused much of my attention. Although I did not pray for it, having more important needs, that energy still reached up to the heavens and a desire of my heart was realized. In other words, the dominant thought of my mind was manifested.

Now there is no inherent evil in a compact disk player. In this case it was a blessing and perhaps a reward for unselfish service. However, the point to be made here is that we often focus our attention on more than that which is godlike, and we reap the results. When someone is going to college, and his or her mind is not focused on the work at hand, the experience could end up being a great disappointment. It is the same with employment, marriage, serving the Lord on a foreign mission, or whatever. If our attention is not focused on the important task and object at hand, unexpected disasters could result.

In the great intercessory prayer that Jesus offered, He expressed His feelings about His beloved disciples. He prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” (John 17:21.) To be one with God we serve Him. To serve Him is to know Him, for how can we know and serve the Lord when He is a stranger to us and far from our thoughts? To increase in the spiritual endowments of God we become one with the Lord and fully turn to Him. When we cleave unto Christ, with our thoughts and full purpose of heart, we can increase in the knowledge of God, in the spirit of revelation, in the gift of prophecy, and in visions and dreams.

Here is a question for you? What do you think about when you don’t have to think? Have you ever thought of that? When you can honestly answer that question you will then know where your focus is, and where your heart will be. If it isn’t with Jesus Christ, then you will know where your heart truly is.

So our treasure is what we think about—what we ponder and see in our mind’s eye. It is where we focus our attention with our thinking. There are times when we may not even be aware of this focus, imagining that we love God and are mostly serving Him. Many are not aware that it’s possible to go through the religious rituals of “duty,” while at the same time, desiring something altogether different than they suppose. However, if the outward appearance is contrary to our inner, central and true focus, we “deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” said John. (1 John. 1:8.)

To be sanctified in Christ Jesus, our purpose is to be single with His purpose. We follow Him wholeheartedly, without hypocrisy and deception. This is the sole intent of our repenting from all sin and turning our hearts to Christ. Because of the gift of grace, the power is in us not to fall. The choice is ours and ours alone. When we intentionally stay focused upon God, we will not become focused upon that which is ungodly. As we read above, a house divided against itself cannot stand, nor can we serve two masters at the same time. (Matt. 12:25; 6:24.) So, we can either receive Christ by choice, or serve Satan by default.

No Other Gods
The Apostle Paul said that we are not to be “unequally yoked together,” but instead, “be of the same mind,” that we become “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” and that we become “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (2 Cor. 6:14; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 1:10, Philip. 2:2.) These statements cannot only be applied to social relationships but inner, or personal, relationships as well. They also apply to our earlier discussion: when we are divided, and our thoughts stay focused upon other things than that which is Godly, those other things, then, become our gods because we treasure them most; they become our false gods—our idols.

Whatever one’s treasure is becomes their idol, because it is what they “idolize” most, but many people don’t look at it that way. They consider an idol to be something such as a golden statue or an image that represents some god and is worshiped as divine. However, an idol can be where one’s attention is focused most of the time.

What does it mean to “idolize” another person? How does that fit in with the first commandment when one venerates, reverences, glorifies and even “worships the ground” someone “walks on”? Many idolize movie stars, singing stars, athletic stars, and political stars, and some wrestle other fans for coveted autographs. When we set other people up as heroes and we honor them more than Jesus, we are setting up false gods. When we allow other activities to take the place of worshiping and praising the only true God, those activities then become false gods. When we let the words of any other person take precedent over the whisperings of the Spirit, we are esteeming that person more than God, and he or she becomes a false god. When such things are center focus, true commitment to God does not exist. But, when our mind is one with the Lord’s, and when our loyalties are not divided, we have an eye single to His glory, and we do not become “lukewarm,” (Rev. 3:16) as John the Revelator put it. (Maybe it would be well to ponder what it means to be an idolatrous people.)

The mind is conditioned by what is put into it—such things as movies and television watched, books read, music listened to, web sites surfed, and people with whom we associate. All types of input help condition the mind, and we need to be conscious of how we train our thought patterns. We become what we mostly think about, because an act is a direct response to thinking. If we do not put off all ungodliness of mind, all evil or unclean thinking, and even all casual acceptance or tolerance for things that are slightly off color, it will inevitably lead to the realization of that mind set. Because of such mind conditioning, the Lord said, “... come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” (Rev. 18:4.)

When one desires to serve and worship the Lord with all his heart, might, mind, and strength, and has only an eye single to the glory of God, then he will have a basis for a belief which eventually leads to the working of great miracles in his life. Jesus is to be our role model and our hero. Only with an eye (mind’s eye) single to His glory and not to our own praise, or praise for someone else, can we unselfishly serve Him.

A true disciple of Christ has the faith that Jesus is the only worthwhile treasure. They do not lay up for themselves “treasures upon earth,” but lay up for themselves “treasures in heaven.” For where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. If, therefore, our mind’s eye is single to His glory, our whole body shall be full of light. (Matt. 6:19-23.) When our faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ instead of man, or the things of man, when we treasure Him above all else, then we will move toward that mighty faith that brings the fulness of the Glory of God. Then we shall not be “barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We shall be “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Pet. 1:4-8) which is the greatest treasure and miracle of all.

If Ye Love Me
We need to trust that God’s love and grace are sufficient to bless us far more than we can bless ourselves. In teaching us how to love God, Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.) Keeping the commandments, and honoring our covenants, show that we love Him, and our love will grow as we continue to faithfully obey His will. Love teaches us what to do. The worldly man, or the flesh, is an enemy to God. Therefore, we must yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and put off the flesh and become a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

One way to put off the flesh is by covenant. God’s people are a covenant people. They always have been. God gave Israel commandments from Sinai because they would not keep the covenants of their forefathers, such as those which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made with God. The covenants that God wants us to make with Him automatically include all the commandments. Therefore, we do not need to worry about keeping commandments when we make covenants with Him and faithfully honor those covenants. Covenants are sacred, and God greatly blesses and gives special endowments to those who freely covenant with Him and unflinchingly keep those covenants. And by understanding the true nature of God it becomes much easier to covenant with Him, and keep those covenants.

Anyone can keep a commandment, or God would not give the commandment in the first place. He does not expect us to do something that is beyond our ability, or beyond that which He has endowed us. Therefore, He will not ask us to do anything that is beyond our capacity. So, when the Lord commands, we can obey, when we choose to do so. However, it seems that few can make and faithfully keep covenants. Keeping commandments is one thing, but making covenants and keeping them is another.

The way that we become purified and sanctified through the blood of Christ is by way of covenant, not just by keeping commandments. To prove we are willing to love God and put Him first, above all else, we consecrate our lives wholly unto Him. This is done by making covenants. Then, and only then, can we have hope of eternal life. In the final scheme of things, we will find that all who inherit the Father’s kingdom are those who covenant and commit their lives to Christ—totally. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth....” (Rom. 1:16.)

True conversion involves a sincere desire to consecrate all things to God. It involves devoted faith in the Lord, love for our neighbor, sincere and complete repentance, a desire to sacrifice all upon the altar, keeping an eye single to the glory of God, and endurance to the end. When these things are achieved, we will not have to be concerned about being worthy, because worthiness will be the result of a natural process. We must understand that many people can become worthy of certain things because of obedience to laws and rules, but not be truly converted to righteousness. One can put down the right answers to a college exam, for example, but are they converted to those concepts, or are they only jumping through the hoops, so to speak? When we are found worthy, which is determined by compliance to rules and guidelines, conversion to righteousness is only implied. Worthiness can be shallow, while conversion has depth.

The way we truly become clean, pure, sanctified, and receive an inheritance in the Kingdom of God, is to faithfully keep the first and great commandment of loving God. The depth of our conversion is measured by how much we are willing to sacrifice for Him and consecrate to Him, which signifies how much we love Him. Of course, as many of us consider this, some may be concerned about how others view them. The true disciple understands, however, that it isn’t so important to know who loves us, as it is to understand who we love.

Treasure the Greatest Gift
We must have faith and remember that Jesus is the only worthwhile treasure. We are not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, but to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. For where our treasures are, there will our hearts be also. If, therefore, our mind’s eye is single to His glory, our whole body shall be full of light. (Matt. 6:19-23.)

When we desire to serve and worship the Lord with all of our might, mind and strength, and only have an eye single to His glory, then we will have a basis for a belief which eventually leads to the working of great miracles in our lives. Jesus is to be our role model and our hero. Only with an eye single to His glory, and not to our own praise or praise for someone else, can we unselfishly serve Him.

When our faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ, instead of man or the things of this world, when we treasure Him above all, then we will move toward that mighty faith that brings light and the fulness of God’s Glory. We shall not be “barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We shall be full of the pure love of Christ, and “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Pet. 1:4-8) which is the greatest treasure and miracle of all.

Because of the great value that our Father in Heaven places upon all of His children, and because He loves us so much, He gave us His most prized possession: “... he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.) Are we to love Him any less?