If You Love Me…

  • Read Exodus 20 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (December 13) you can listen to it here.

As I conclude my series from Exodus, I have a couple of goals:

  1. To demonstrate the continuity between the Old & New Testaments, and the continuing relevance of the Old to the church today.
  2. Emphasise the relationship between loving God, and obeying His rules.

Both of these points rely on reading Exodus 19 & 20 together, as I discussed in my previous post.  The covenant of chapter 19 represents the culmination of God ‘courting’ the nation of Israel and here ‘marrying’ them.  Israel unreservedly commits to the God who has rescued, protected, and provided for them in the preceding months.  But now they are are ‘married’ God shares how Israel can express her love: how the nation can adopt the same values as Yahweh already has.  So the relationship begins with love and only then moves to law.

A close examination of the Ten Words (Commandments) reveals that the first four relate to the nation’s relationship with God, while the last six establish standards for horizontal, or interpersonal, relationships.  This division follows the identification of the Two Greatest Commandments identified three times by Jesus in the NT (Mt. 22:34-40; Mk. 12:28-31; & Lk. 10:25-28.)  Love God.  Love Neighbours.

The chart above illustrates that Jesus didn’t develop these Two Greatest Commands on his own.  (start at the bottom left and read it clockwise)  He adopted them from Jewish teachers who identified them in the OT.  In Mark 12, Jesus teaches, “Love God.  Love Neighbour.”  But in Luke 10 we see that the Jews were already familiar with this summary.  A quick survey of basic Bible reference tools quickly identifies both of these commands as simply quotes from the Pentateuch.

So these commands that Christians through the centuries have rightly quoted as divine summaries of Christian obligations, are in fact divine summaries of the Jewish Old Covenant given at Sinai.  This is why in Matt. 22:40 Jesus says that All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. This doesn’t mean that the church should discard these commands as vestiges of the old covenant, but that we should reconsider the degree of continuity between the two covenants.

Having reached the top of the second column and understanding that the rest of the Law hangs on The Two Greatest Commands we see that dividing the Ten Words into vertical and horizontal commands is consistent with Jesus’ teaching.  It’s also important to recognize that the Ten Words also provide context for the detailed instructions that follow in the rest of Exodus as well as Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy.

All of these laws derive from two: Love God. Love Neighbour.  And all of the laws relating to loving our neighbours derive from the Greatest Commandment: Love God.  This is the sequence found in chapters 19 & 20, first relationship, then law.  It’s also the sequence found within the Ten Words themselves, first love God, then love neighbours.

The apostle John in His writings explicitly makes this connection.  If you love me, keep my commands. John 14:15 see also Jn 14:21, 31; 15:9-15; 1 Jn 5:2-3; and 2 Jn 1:6.  I believe this is another succinct summary of Exodus 19 & 20.

The relationship God intends between Himself and His people begins with God demonstrating His love for humanity.  People then have the opportunity to respond to His love and commit to Him.  As a consequence of that commitment, we also commit to adopt his values and to express our love in ways He finds meaningful.  So we commit to keep His laws.  When we try to either love God while ignoring His laws, or observe His commands with out understanding His love, we step outside of the full relationships God intends for us.

  • I recently reviewed the Bible class subjects that have been taught at Lawson Road between 2004 & 2009.  During those 5 years only 5 OT books had been studied compared to 16 NT books (some twice!) and numerous other topics.  Are Churches of Christ the only ones who have difficulty finding value in the OT?  What do you think are our barriers?
  • Do you agree that it can be difficult at times to appreciate the connection between loving God and keeping His commandments?  Have you seen examples of people over-emphasising one or the other?
  • I’ve often heard people say, “You can’t love others unless you love yourself”, but I think these passages teach that, “You can’t love others unless you love God”.  What do you think?

PS. A friend just blogged on a similar topic here.

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6 comments

  1. rob

    I recently reviewed the Bible class subjects that have been taught at Lawson Road between 2004 & 2009.  During those 5 years only 5 OT books had been studied compared to 16 NT books (some twice!) and numerous other topics.  Are Churches of Christ the only ones who have difficulty finding value in the OT? 

    In all the time that I have been a member of the Church, I do not believe that I have ever attended or been a member of a congregation that have difficulty finding value in the Old Testament as it is the Teacher and the New Testament is the Law.

    There is a lot to learn from the Old Testament in regards to the relationship of Israel and God, how Israel did things that were not commanded by him thru the prophets and how every time HE sent them into bondage for the sins that they committed or destroyed the sinners directly, just as any good parent would punish a child that misbehaved.

    What do you think are our barriers? Do you agree that it can be difficult at times to appreciate the connection between loving God and keeping His commandments? 

    I think that our barriers are our selfish wills that want to do things that God never authorized or commanded. In Jer. 10: God said: “Do not learn the ways of the nations”, yet this has been happening across the entire landscape of the Lord’s church. In part because we as the Church are no longer putting the emphasis on the commands but on the “Grace”. God promises eternal life to all who Obey his commands, we do not get by osmosis, we have to hear, believe, repent, and be Baptized for the remission of our sins and then we spread the True Gospel of Christ. I have no problem with following the commands of God and know that he loves me. Without the commands we would not know how to act as Christians, the commands are very important to our eternal life and we must follow all of them, not just the ones that we want to pick out of the Bible.

    Have you seen examples of people over-emphasizing one or the other?

    I think that we can never over emphasize the commands in the Bible. The commands are just apart of our salvation as the grace. I do not think that it can be over emphasized as we have already gone from one extreme to another and we need to stop before it is too late. In James 1:22 we are commanded: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (ESV) & Matt 28:20 “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” 1John 3:22 “and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (ESV) I see the over emphasizing the of grace in the churches today, we no longer have book, chapter, verse preaching and thus saith the Lord for all that we do. We say we can do it because we have grace and that is just not true, there is nothing more than the commands, we cannot add to the Bible as we please.

    I’ve often heard people say, “You can’t love others unless you love yourself”, but I think these passages teach that, “You can’t love others unless you love God”.  What do you think?

    I believe that God told us that we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor (brother), as we can see our neighbor (bother), but we can not see God (1 John 4:19-21). So we have to love bother to love God.

  2. ozziepete

    Rob,

    I’m glad you’ve not been part of a church that short-changed the OT. I agree that most churches would say similar things to what you’ve written. No one wants to say that studying the OT is a waste of time!

    However, my experience at most churches I’ve attended is that the OT is barely touched in the preaching and class curriculum (except for the kids Bible stories). I’ve heard a lot more lessons on how the OT doesn’t apply to Christians than any other OT topic.

    At a church I attended for 18 mths in Memphis the minister would fire off Bible verses like a machine gun each week. I couldn’t read them all so I started keeping track of them. I don’t think he ever had a sermon based on an OT text, and of all the verses he quoted only one in 25 was from the OT.

    Another problem is that OT books are generally longer than the NT, so they’re harder to fit into a quarterly Bible class. Or if they are, they’re not dealt with in the same depth as NT books. (It would take at least 9 mths to give Isaiah the same level of attention we give Philippians!)

    It’s my impression that the Church of Christ goal to be the NT church (rather than the Bible church) tends to draw attention away from our study of the Old Testament.

    It seems that in the area of commands etc. your comments frequently address worship and “church issues”. My intent with this sermon and blog post was to look at our personal attitudes to individual commands such as those found in The Ten Words, or Sermon on the Mount. So I’ll just let your comments on those topics ride.

    Finally, I want to clarify my understanding of the last point. I agree that one way we express our love for God is by loving our brothers & sisters. (Worship is another way we express love to God.) My question was primarily one of priority. I think 1 Jn 4:19 summarizes this nicely. “We love because he [God] first loved us.” If we don’t accept and return God’s love, we can’t truly love our neighbours.

  3. rob

    Peter,
    I agree totally that generally, the old Testament is harder to study in a quarter, I know of one congregation that started Isaiah on Sunday mornings 9 months ago and they are about half way thru it. They Studied Daniel and then went onto Revelation on the Thursday evening class as away to cover both an Old Testament book and a N.T. Book (plus it helps to have an understanding of how prophesies came true in Daniel before they tackled a book that not all the prophesies have been fulfilled).

    I also agree around the brotherhood, the O.T is more of an after thought, but it really should not be, Christ used the O.T. in his preaching and teachings, even the apostles used O.T. scripture to settle disputes (the circumcision of the Gentiles;Acts of the Apostles chapter 15) and Paul certainly told Timothy that all scripture is good for teaching (this will need to include the O.T. as the N.T. was not written completely at the time).

    One way to study some of it is the way Ron presented the minor prophets in the Sunday Morning Study or the way that you presented the Exodus of Israel in a short series (both were excellent series presented by Lawson Rd). No one says that the entire book has to be covered. One suggestion for a topic of the O.T. is to study all the prophesies of the O.T. for the coming of Christ/ then look at Matthew and Luke for how those prophesies were completed (by the Birth thru his death).

    Part of our responsibility of the Church is to make sure the members are equipped to fight Satan at every corner, how do we do that? By knowing what God’s word is, the only way to get it is thru preaching the Gospel: book, chapter and verse (I am not saying just bombard with scripture) but add a little for flavor, if we are writing down 100 scriptures in one sermon, we are not really paying attention to the sermon, there should be a happy medium (I am not saying you, as I find most of your sermons you try to put the scriptures in it).

    One thing Lawson Rd does really well is: there is a scripture reading in worship and even the Lord’s Supper there is generally scripture given.

    On a personal bases we need to make sure we are studying the bible. I was not sold on the growth groups at first as I thought that it was forsaking the assembly of God, but I see there is some merit, as my wife has learned a little bit from them and it is always good to study the scriptures w/ other Saints and if lord being sinners as well.

    The reason that my comments address the corporate worship, as it goes back to I have to ask myself when I leave the building was: “my worship pleasing to God, did I follow all of his commands with all of mt heart or was I just going thru the motions?” If I was just going thru the motions then my worship was in vain.

    It is the same when I study the scriptures or pray or sing a hymn to God outside of worship. I do not see a difference in the way I should worship at the house God provided my family or the building that the Saints meet in. (although I have more liberties at home (Rom 14) I still have to make sure what I do is scriptural.

    Both should be pleasing to God and follow his commands, not because I fear God, but because I want to please Him as the child that I am.

    I agree with you last point as well, I think that is a big circle, that goes around and around. God loved us, so we love him. But how: for me trying to follow all of his commands/ to preach /teach His Gospel to the unsaved of the world, or bring someone who maybe caught in sin out of that sin.

    • ozziepete

      I agree that Christians should be concerned with whether they worship God in a way that is meaningful to Him. But I dread the thought that we leave the building each week with no other questions. I would hope that beyond asking ourselves “Did I perform too many acts of worship at the same time?” We might ask ourselves questions such as:

      – How can I better care for my family this week?
      – Am I doing a good job of serving my spiritual brothers and sisters?
      – Today’s text discussed God’s joy. Am I a joyful person? What do I need to change to become one? Do I share joy with people around me?
      – If God wants me to be compassionate, what opportunities do I have to practice that in my life?
      – Does my daily speech reflect my relationship with God?

      Loving my neighbour certainly includes sharing the Gospel with them. But it’s not limited to, and may not even start with, that. Loving God results in us living moral lives that benefit our neighbours in practical, as well as spiritual, ways. It’s worth noticing that the example Jesus gave of the Good Samaritan loving his neighbour only concerned physical needs and social taboos, not anyone’s spiritual zeal.

      Focusing on worship allows us to “get it right” and go home content. In contrast, I find Scripture constantly urging us on to a higher standard, depending on God’s grace, and never quite “getting it all right”.

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