Ask the average church-attending Christian ‘What are the two great commands of the Bible?, and how will they answer? How would we answer?
Usually, we quote Deuteronomy 6: 4+5. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart; and with all your soul; and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ ... and Leviticus 9:18: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.
There is a good, theological sense, in which we can say that these are not the two great commands of God ... and that neither the teacher of the Law, nor Jesus, actually said so, in our text from Mark's gospel record.
The 'Teacher of the Law' asked Jesus a specific question "Of all the commandments; which is the most important?’ He was referring to the Mosaic Law; those 613 commandments; which; as we touched on this morning; are the base upon which Jewish faith and practice were built.
So, Jesus answered the teachers specific question; and quoted the desired answer direct from scripture; by linking Deuteronomy and Leviticus ...
... and by saying: 'Yes! These are, indeed, the two greatest commandments out of the 613 of them found in the Books of the Law. He could have gone on to say: ‘but, under-girding these, are two basic commands, which are not, as such, included in the list of Laws...
but which are, otherwise, stated throughout scripture; and upon which the whole of the law, and faith, and everything else is built’.
What are these two, great and fundamental commands?
Simply this: believe ... and ... obey. (To obey, is to behave as though we really do believe).
Jesus; when he approved of what the Teacher of the Law said, and when he joined him in quoting the 'Love the Lord’, and ‘Love your Neighbour' texts, was saying something like this:
‘The Jews consider themselves to be a believing and obedient people. If they really are as believing, and obedient, as they think, and say, that they are ...
... then their believing obedience, will produce love of the necessary quality, towards God; and towards men’.
Right from the early chapters of the Old Testament; from at least the 'Book of Deuteronomy' onwards, love is clearly shown not to be a gift from God, which we accept, and therefore, possess ...
... but the fruit; or outcome; of a way of life, stemming from the person that we are. Believing and obedient people, are, through their obedience, loving.
Jesus picked up this Old Testament emphasis, in various places; most particularly in his 'Vine and Branches' teaching, at John 15.
‘If you obey my commands; you will remain in my love. My command is this; love each other, as I have loved you. This is my command; love each other’.
As said, love is not a gift from God. It is, instead, the outcome; the result, the 'fruit' of a believing and obedient way of life.
Most Christians have never thought of love in these terms. Therefore, they have not seen the loss which comes through disobedience, at all clearly; nor have they seen the gain which comes through obedience.
Not to be critical; but to be realistic; many Christians are dull-sighted, and even blind, in this matter.
Dull-sightedness, and blindness in this matter, has caused otherwise good and God-loving Christian people, to go about things in a frustrating and ineffective manner.
They tend to set about matters of faith, in a back-to-front manner; looking for results (such as love, joy, peace, effectiveness and whatever else it is that they want) without, first, undertaking all that is necessary to produce such results; essential; vital things, such as belief; obedience; and discipline.
What has, so far, been said, forms the base from which to examine aspects of the text from Hebrews 3: 7-19.
1)- SINFUL. (V.12). The writer of 'Hebrews' speaks of a 'sinful’ unbelieving heart'. All sin separates us from God. Scripture declares that separation, caused by sin, is a form of rebellion.
Unbelief does not persuade us that we are separated from God. Therefore, the unbelieving heart; being unaware of its situation; will not be repentant, and forgiven; but will remain rebellious.
2)- Verses 7 and 15 tell of 'hardening' the heart against belief and obedience; and implies that the process of ‘hardening’, is not something which simply happens, willy-nilly, but is something which we do.
Many of today's Christian people, see themselves as having options, which their fathers and mothers in the faith never had.
One of those options, which we tend to give to ourselves, and to allow in each other, is unbelief. We grant ourselves a facility to pick and to choose; to accept what pleases us, and to leave the rest.
These 'options' (which do not exist in Christ's great scheme of things) when they are taken up by us, not only ‘harden our hearts’ against belief, and obedience; but also, ultimately, against God.
3)- Verse 10 tells us that the ‘unbelieving heart', which is 'hardened’ against God, whether we realise it is so or not; 'tests' or 'tries' God's patience, in ways which he has said he is no longer willing to put up with ...
... and that such wilfulness on the part of man, stirs his anger; just as it did in the old days; when Israel wandered in the wilderness.
Verse 10 goes on to say that the 'hardened', unbelieving heart, obliges men and women to go astray, because, through their unbelief, they do not know God's way.
Because they do not know God’s way; they cannot count themselves in to God's plans and purposes. Therefore, they get left out of things; perhaps never really realising what has happened; and go blandly on, believing that they are on the right path.
4)- Verse 11., tells us that God has declared, on oath, that such hardened and unbelieving hearts shall never enter his 'rest'.
'Rest' is seen to be the peaceful presence of the Lord; in which men and women find:
RELIEF from whatever has beset or hindered them.
RELEASE into new horizons, and new freedoms in the Lord.
SATISFACTION for the soul.
FULFILMENT in pleasing the Lord, and doing his will.
The hardened and unbelieving heart, debars men and women from all of this and more. Not only that, Verse 12 gives us the reason for such loss. It says that unbelief turns us away from the Living God ... and so it does!
Again, not only that, the unbelieving heart; through the sin of its very unbelief; recreates the barrier which Christ broke down, through the cross.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot even begin to truly love God, let alone with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; so long as we are basically unbelieving ...
... and unbelief is very, very common, among God's people, within Christ's Church.
Equally, we cannot begin to truly love our neighbour either, for exactly the same reason; so, we fail, and we feel frustrated, and our spiritual palate is more than a little jaded.
Christ never intended his people to feel like that, to live like that, yet so many do; because they have never really considered that there is a better, more effective and fulfilling way forward, in their 'Upward Call of God, in Christ'.
The writer of ‘Hebrews’ gives a great warning: ‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart; that turns away from the living God’.
Then he points to a great help, and says: ‘Encourage one another daily; so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness’; and one of the most deceitful things that sin will foist upon us, if we are not careful…
…is the idea that we can, in our day, pick and choose as to what we may believe, and what we may ignore, or actually disbelieve.
But, the 'great help’ mentioned just now, is the encouragement that we are called to give each other.
Encouragement may sound a bit ordinary; but, in Romans 12, it is shown to be; indeed, taught as being; a powerful and needful ministry, within the 'Body of Christ', that is his Church.
When we so encourage one another; and do this honestly, and consistently; then we move away from the risk; and beyond the warning; about 'hardened' hearts and unbelief ...
... into what the writer of Hebrews calls 'A share in Christ'
…and this ‘share in Christ’, ensures that we move on; away from eternal loss, into eternal gain. Thanks be to God!