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Jan 27, 2013

Great Commandment Fuel

Passage: 1 John 4:16-19

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Great Commandment

Keywords: love, unconditional, fuel


Behind the Great Commandment to love God with all your life and people as yourself is the biblical truth of the Great Love of God for us. God invites us to experience this defining love from Him in order to give us the fuel to give that commanded love in the Great Commandment.


Great Commandment Fuel

January 27, 2012


What we believe about God impacts every area of our life…whether we recognized it or not.  And the more important the issue or relationship in our life, the more impact our God-belief will have on us.


I started reading a new book during my long journey over the “big pond” of the Pacific Ocean last week when returning from Cambodia.  It is written by an American woman who worked in Afghanistan for 5 years as a Christian with an international NGO (non-governmental organization). Entitled In the Land of the Blue Burka, the author writes about how very different life in Afghanistan is for women.  It is so utterly different in so many ways from life in America that I found it hard to really grasp what it must be like for the nearly 16 million Afghani women residing in Afghanistan.


One of the bigger areas of difference has to do with what most people world-over would consider THE most important human relationship a person will ever have, namely that with your spouseWhat we really believe about God will impact any person’s marriage relationship

            In Islam, for instance, Muslims believe that the example of the Prophet Mohammad is what people should follow, similar to the way we as Christians believe that Jesus’ life is what we are to follow.  In Islam that is called Sunnah, the example of the ultimate Prophet Mohammed.  When it comes to marriage, Mohammed is said to have had 13 wives or concubines.  That’s why, in many Islamic nations of the world, taking more than one wife…or taking multiple wives…is both legal and culturally accepted. 

            While many men may think that’s a great idea, I’m guessing that we should probably poll the women on this issue too.  In America it is against the law to have more than one wife at a time.  Why is that?  Well, I think it is pretty clear that the legal history of our nation has its moral and philosophical roots in Christianity or at least in the belief in a Creator who has spoken to us through Jesus Christ.  But that’s not where a large chunk of our nation is today.  And that, perhaps more than anything, explains why our definition of marriage is shifting.  Four, 3, 2 or even 100 years ago, most Americans believed that marriage should be between one man and one woman because that’s what Christianity, the predominant religion in America believed.  Christians take that template from both the Old and New Testaments. 

In the Old Testament, when God created humanity, he created one man, Adam, and one woman, Eve.  Had God wanted Adam to have multiple wives, it was argued, he would have given Him multiple wives.  

In the New Testament, the same pattern is seen.  Jesus didn’t take multiple wives.  He didn’t even take one wife.  But he did affirm on numerous occasions that God’s plan was one man and one woman in marriage.  He made that abundantly clear every time he talked about marriage.  And the rest of the N.T. is absolutely crystal clear about that too. 

So that is why we still have a legal system that says marriage is just between two people, not 12 or 20. But, as we know all too well here in Washington, that is changing.  And I would dare to predict that in most of our lifetimes, we will see polygamy become the permissible law of the land.  But I digress.

In Islamic nations of our world, because the Prophet Mohammed took multiple wives, it is perfectly acceptable for men to take multiple wives (but not women to take multiple husbands).  And, because one of Mohammed’s wives was 6 or 7 when betrothed to him and 9 or 10 when the marriage was consummated, it is considered good to marry very young girls or women.  In Afghanistan, most women are engaged by the age of 12 and usually married by 13 or 14.  And since Mohammad married a woman that was divorced and a woman who was a widow and a woman who was from a Jewish city Mohammed later destroyed, Muslim marriage laws allow for multiple marriages to various kinds of women. 

So, I’m just curious.  How many women here today would prefer a marriage culture in our country where you share your husband (or husband-to-be) with other wives/women for most of your married life?  No takers?  Probably a good thing!

But that is probably just because you haven’t experienced polygamy, right?  It’s a cultural thing, right?  What if we were to ask Afghan women how they felt about their man being married to other women at the same time, wouldn’t they respond differently simply because they live in a different culture with a different dominant religion? 

For what it is worth, the author of this book, who has worked with and interviews extensively thousands of Afghan women says this, “I’ve never met an Afghan woman who likes the idea of her husband taking a second, third, or fourth wife.  They consider it a great loss…” [when their husband takes more than 1 wife].  Interesting. 

You would have thought that God planted something, some inherent knowledge, in every human heart that says, “Marriage is to be an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman.”  Even in our so-called “sexually liberated” society of America, just about every husband or wife still feels deeply betrayed whenever their spouse “cheats” on them in a marriage.  So do Afghan women.

Kate McCord, the “protective pseudonym” the author of this book has taken, relates the following story about a young man she knew named Raimulla.

“One day Raimulla announced, with absolute pride, his engagement to a girl from his home village.  His father had won the negotiations for the girl he wanted.  His dream was coming true.

Kate writes, “I learned quickly that it would take two to three years for Raimulla to earn enough money to pay for the wedding and the bride price.  During that time, he wouldn’t be able to see his fiancée at all.  He did buy her a phone, though, and called her regularly.  That was how they developed their relationship.

On a whim, I decided to convince him of the merits of having only one wife.  I didn’t get far…..he was absolutely convinced that four wives is best, two is good, and one isn’t the example of the Prophet.  Whose example we follow matters.

I teased him.  “If you take a second wife, you will have the service of both and the heart of neither.”

He made a joke about his desirability and his manhood being enough for two women, then pointed out what seemed completely obvious to him.  “Islam says we should take more than one wife.  Women know this, and men know this.  It’s the right thing.”

I warned him, “If you do it, you will lose this first wife’s heart.” 

“No, no.  You don’t understand.  Afghan women want their men to take second wives.  It’s Sunnah, the example of the Prophet.  They are very happy with it.”

“At the time,” Kate remarked, “I was shocked at his absolute ignorance of the way Afghan women really felt about sharing husbands with other wives.”

How could he think that? Then I remembered, as a foreign woman, even with only a few years in Afghanistan, I’d spoken to far more Afghan women than he had in his entire life.  After all, men and women live very segregated lives.  In the end, we finished our conversation in laughter and complete disagreement.

Some six months later Raimulla came back to me.  He had just gotten off the phone with his fiancée and appeared troubled.  I asked if everything was all right.

“Yes, yes, it’s just that…” He paused.

“What’s wrong?”

He shrugged, smiled almost apologetically, and explained, “She asked me to promise her I would not take a second wife.” 

I almost howled but swallowed my delight.  [But] I couldn’t hide my smile.  “So what did you say?”

Raimulla shrugged again, shuffled.  “I promised.”

I told him he’d made the right decision, and I was proud of him.  Then I asked what happened.

He looked down at the floor.  “She told me she would stop loving me if I took a second wife.  She asked me to promise her I wouldn’t .  I tried to talk her out of it, but she refused.  She said I had to promise, so I did.” 

I smiled and told him, “The love of one woman is worth more than the service of two.” 

[Kate McCord, In the Land of Blue Burquas, Moody, 2012, pp 57-8.]

What we believe about God impacts every area of our life…especially the most important relationships of our life.


That must be why God has repeatedly told us, over and over in both the Old and New Testaments of his word, that there is 1 Great Commandment…and it has to do with 1 great love.  Because what we believe God wants for us and what we decide to do with what He wants will impact every area of our lives.


Just as God has called men and women to be lovingly devoted uniquely and solely to one spouse at a time, so He has called all of us to make Him the only god we love.  Just as the human heart was made for exclusiveness in marriage love, so it is made for exclusiveness in the spiritual realm.  There can be many mistresses and lovers in the spiritual realm that destroy our love for God. Everything from money and material things to causes and people themselves can intrude upon the whole-lifed love God has designed us to engage in with Him. But when we let anyone or anything take God’s place of ultimate and unparalleled object of our love, we lose.    


Moses stated it very clearly to God’s people, the Israelites, in Deuteronomy 6:1-5—These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

And Jesus reaffirmed that this was “the greatest commandment” when he had that little story-telling time with one of the religious leaders who, as Eric said last week, was really trying to trap Jesus so they could destroy him.  Luke 10 records what happened when it says, On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this [singular] and you will live.”

Well, if you read the rest of the story in that chapter, this legal-eagle tries to spring the trap on Jesus by asking him to please clarify, “Who is my neighbor?”  So Jesus goes on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan and, in so doing, springs the trap set for him on the legal expert himself. 


What’s interesting and unique about Judaism and Christianity is not that it has commands in its holy book.  All religions have commands.  What’s interesting is that the God of the Bible commands that we love Him and evidence that love by means of our attempted obedience to His declared will and Word.  All other religions in this world simply lay out a list of commands of what must be done to achieve the desired or ultimate state of perfection. 

  • Love of God is never commanded in Islam.  Respect, submission to Ala’s will, keeping of the 5 “Pillars of Islam”, are all commanded, but not love!
  • Love of God is never commanded in Buddhism or Hinduism, but honoring the gods or giving up all desire is commanded. 
  • Pantheism never asks you to LOVE the spirits or mother earth.  It may call you to honor and respect them, but love?  No.
  • Other theistic religions and other humanistic religions such as secular humanism and materialism may call you to “love your fellow man…your neighbor”, but they do not call for love of God.

But, THE singular and all-consuming call of the God of the Bible to us is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” is unique to our God.  WHY is that? 


As Eric reminded us last week, it is because only the God of the Bible is revealed to be a God of love…of self-sacrificing, self-giving love for the human creatures who He has made “in his image.”  And only this truth explains why every human heart longs for that seemingly elusive experience of unconditional love.  Why else should such love be the thing poets write about, musicians sing about, and lovers dream about?  It is precisely because God IS love that we find ourselves loving each other, gods or God and a multitude of things in this life.  That part of our nature which still reflects God is a nature that longs to love. 


The problem is, of course, that we continually fall far short of that unconditional, self-sacrificing, God-honoring love that our hearts long for, whether it is towards our spouse or parents or children or neighbors or dogs (well, O.K., maybe we love our dogs well J).  In fact, it seems that the more God-like the object of our love is, the farther we fall short of that mark of perfect, unconditional love.  (Many people actually treat their pets better than they treat some of their family members.  Parents often treat their children better than their spouse.  And most of us treat each other better… love each other better…than we love God, no?)

            Just as the entire Old Testament Law was designed, not to make us perfect people, but to show us how much we need a divine Savior, so with this, the Greatest Commandment.  As Eric so ably showed us last week, Jesus repeated this Great Commandment (with 2 parts) precisely to show the religious people who were asking him about it just how far from loving God and neighbor they were.  And if they, the religious leaders of the day, were miserable failures when it came to keeping the most important of all commands, where did that leave everyone else? 


Right where we all need to be—recognizing that we are hopelessly lost apart from the grace and mercy of a saving God who loved, loves and will love us unconditionally through His Son Jesus Christ who gave his very life that we might be reconciled to God and begin to know what it is to love God and each other by the power of His Spirit. 

[Call to faith in Jesus Christ.]


As I sat and listened to Eric’s message last week, I marveled at what God had spoken to both of us totally apart from each other, thousands of miles away from each other about the same passage.  The main theme of Eric’s message last week from this text of the Great Commandment was basically this:  The only way we can hope to love God and people with the kind of love called for here is to experience first the love of the God who makes this call. 

  • Just as unloved children have a hard time learning to love anyone, so unloved worshipers have a hard time learning to love God and people.
  • Or put positively, when you know you are the object of true love and you learn to receive great and genuinely unconditional, self-sacrificing love, you become someone who can love greatly and unconditionally.  


God isn’t asking us to drum up this kind of God-first love out of an empty well.  He’s inviting us to draw near enough to him to let his love transform us so that we can return that love to him in worship and disperse that love to each other in giving and self-sacrifice.  That’s precisely why the Apostle John says in I John 4, “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him (16)….We love because he first loved us(19).  It is only as God lives in us and we in Him…only as we are living under the love of God…that we will be able to love.  “We love because He first loved us.”


The journey of loving God and loving people begins and is sustained by the ongoing experience of being loved by God.  Jesus himself said as much when he was talking about us to the Father in his Priestly Prayer in John 17:25-26--“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Our greatest need is to have God’s love in us.  Therefore, our greatest need is to have Jesus Christ in us…to “know” him experientially…to enjoy a transformational relationship with Christ that is of the same nature and caliber as the relationship Jesus enjoyed with the Father when he walked this earth.  The more Jesus Christ is our LIFE, the more we will love God and the more we will love people around us with true love, God’s love.


Repeatedly the N.T. tells us that if we want to know God’s love, we must know and experience Jesus Christ. 

Romans 8—Vs. 32--“If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If we would love God and people well, we must download the love of God for us through personal connection with Jesus Christ.


Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5:14 that if we would love people well by sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ with them and if we would love God well, we must become well acquainted and immersed in the love of Christ. 

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”


Ephesians 3:17-19 makes it abundantly clear that being filled up with the love of Christ for us will bring amazing transformation in us.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Our very life in God depends upon our ability, our capacity, our passion for knowing in an experiential way the love of Jesus Christ. 

Now it is very possible to “know” about the love of Jesus Christ and yet not really experience it.  It is possible to know about how and when Jesus loves us and yet not be transformed into a person who loves God with our whole being and loves people as ourselves.  It is possible to hear other people talk about the love of Christ and yet not enjoy it.


ILL:  Every person and every marriage is imperfect.  But I was one of those rare children who got to live in a home with a father who practiced the closest human equivalent to unconditional and self-sacrificing love as I’ve been able to see in this life.  Ask any of my 4 siblings and they will tell you the same thing.  Dad wasn’t perfect but he came very close to living out the unconditional love of God towards his whole family as any man probably any of my family has ever known. 

            Just what did that love look and feel like?  Let me give you just a few of the symptoms.

  • It felt like daily hugs and kisses (sometimes scratchy…but nonetheless manly), whether we were children or adults, toddlers or teenagers.  There was his healthy, non-sexual, loving physical touch.  And he gave that touch to us whether we had been good or whether we had disobeyed that day, whether we were in a good mood or a very bad one.  Of course, I can remember just about all of us turning away from that loving touch when we were in bad moods or had disobeyed or been disciplined.  But we experienced unconditional love through physical touch whether we recognized it or not.

APP:  And in a way, isn’t that what God does with us?  The Bible says in Luke 6  & Matthew 5:44-5 that every human being, regardless of their level of evil, experiences the loving, physical touch of God through simple things like sun and rain and other universal manifestations of God’s kindness to mankind.  “44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  In order to love our enemies and pray for them, Jesus simply points us to a few hugs and kisses God daily hands out to all.

  • Unconditional love became especially evident when we had been disobedient and he had disciplined us.  I don’t know that I ever remember being spanked by Dad. I’m pretty sure he did somewhere along the line.  But all he had to do to get my attention and remind me that he meant what he said was to raise his voice just a little, look straight at me and remind me what he had already told me to do. 

I would usually go off pouting and go hide in my room or run out into the woods behind our house.  And it wouldn’t be long before Dad would stop by my room or call to me to come join him doing something.  He would coax and encourage me to move on and not let my past failure continue to claim one more minute of enjoying life with him.  He was always ready to forgive and forget…far more than any of us were able to forgive ourselves. 

APP:  Isn’t that the way God disciplines us?  His discipline is only as severe as needed to get our attention and turn us away from rebellion and sin.  And when we are convicted by His voice in our spirit, how often do we mope around for hours or days, disappointed with ourselves, punishing ourselves with a bad mood or isolation when the Father is ready to take us back into his arms and escort us into a party with him where there is joy and laughter and dancing?  Isn’t that what the Parable of the Lost Son, the Prodigal Son, is all about?  As soon as we “come to our senses” and repent of our rebellion, and take that road back to that place of blessing where He resides, He comes running, interrupts our self-berating speech and invites us into a future of feasting and joy with Him.

Even the O.T. prophets, famous for pronouncing judgment on wayward Israel, tell us this is the kind of love God has for his children.  Micah 7:18-19

Who is a God like you,
    who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
    of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
    but delight to show mercy.
19 You will again have compassion on us;
    you will tread our sins underfoot
    and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

  • Speaking of forgiveness, my Dad was very much like my Heavenly Father in this. (Story of family challenges during a certain period growing up.)

I saw the love of my father outlast the decades of things we kids did to him…like a rebellious and painful marriage my sister insisted on entering at 18, like the cult-inspired isolation another sister chose, like the warned-against squandering of money and property he had saved and set aside to be a blessing to his children.  I saw him be cheated by the lies and deception of close friends…and still he loved them, publically and privately.  I saw him be swindled out of family inheritance by his profligate brother. 

And the time is far too short to tell you about the ways I probably hurt him.  Yet he never withdrew his love…and never forced it upon us either. 

APP:  Forgiveness is one of Jesus’ greatest demonstrations of love to every one of us.  In fact, to those who feel particularly unworthy, he told a parable about two men who owed their master vast sums of money (Lk. 7:40-50).  He forgave them both, but the one whom he forgave most loved him the most.  So it is to be under this amazing, unconditional love of God:  when we feel least worthy, most sinful and stained by the evil of this world, that we are most in a place to receive this love of God…and most in a place to learn to love Him most deeply.


We could go on to talk about how “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rm. 5:5).  If we want to experience the love of God daily, some…perhaps many…of us need to learn to live in and walk with and be filled with the Holy Spirit—God’s “poured-out love” that lives IN us.  He’s not just here at church.  He’s not down the street at your Christian neighbor’s house.  He’s not there at chapel at college…or the lunchroom Bible study at your workplace.  He’s “in our hearts,” given to us freely by the God who loves to pour out his love upon His creation. 


What we believe…and experience…about God will impact every part of our existence. 

What we know personally of the love of God will change how we love God himself and the people he has called our “neighbors” who we will encounter throughout ever day of our lives. 


I’m not a big hymn guy, but there is one that I truly love.  It’s called “O, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.”  It was written by a man named Samuel Trevor Francis (1834–1925). Francis had a spiritual turning point as a teenager while contemplating suicide one night on a bridge over the River Thames. Maybe that’s why this song he wrote speaks so much of water.  Experiencing a renewal of faith, he went on to be a London merchant as well as a preacher and poet of the Gospel

Let’s just listen to this hymn and let the love God has for you speak to your soul.   It’s about the God of love who invites you to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.


O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free;
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love;
Leading onward, leading homeward
To my glorious rest above.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of ev’ry love the best;
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
‘Tis a haven sweet of rest,
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne.

O the deep, deep love….of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore;
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, never more;
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
‘Tis a Heav’n of Heav’ns to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee.