Loving God Exclusively

ishot_55Today’s Scripture: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)

The ultimate purpose for which you and I were created is to worship God.  Our foremost calling as believers is to exalt the Lord, to magnify and glorify Him.  Worship is central in in the life of the church.  The church is a redeemed fellowship of sinners set apart to worship and declare the truth of Jesus Christ.  Since this is true, we had better have a good grasp on what worship really is.  Worship is the honor and adoration directed to God.  It is the celebration of who He is in His supreme worth in such a manner that His worthiness becomes the norm and motivation of our life.  Thus, to worship God is to ascribe to Him the worth of which He alone is worthy.  Within this verse, Jesus tells us that God is to be worshiped exclusively.  That means that He alone is to occupy the throne of my heart.

First, exclusive worship speaks of DIRECTION.

Loving God is to be the primary pursuit of the believer’s life.  My life is to move in a Godward direction whereby I seek Him above everything else.  Instead of merely seeking His hand, I am to passionately seek His face.  There is nothing more important than loving God supremely.

Within this passage, Jesus is quoting from the law of Moses:

Deuteronomy 6:4-9—“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  

This was known as the ‘Shema’ in Jewish culture and was quoted twice a day by the faithful Jew in Jesus’ day.  The Pharisees would quote it and rehearse it, but they never would practice it.  Just because you know something and claim to believe it does not mean that it is being actively obeyed in your life.  Many people claim to know God, but the direction of their life proves otherwise.                            

Second, exclusive worship speaks of DEVOTION.

The word “love” in verse 37 is the word ‘aheb’ in Hebrew and ‘agapao’ in Greek and it refers to an act of the mind and will, the determined care for the welfare of something or someone; it might well include strong emotion, but its distinguishing characteristics were the dedication and commitment of choice.  It is the love of choice regardless of what one’s feelings might be.  It is intelligent love, purposeful, committed, and an act of the will.  The true mark of saving faith is always love for God.  Faith in Jesus that does not result in love for Jesus is nothing more than intellectual knowledge that even the demons have.

Third, exclusive worship speaks of DISTINCTION.

We are to worship the Lord, and nothing or no one else.  He is to have no rivals in my life.  All other loves in my life are to pale in comparison to the exclusive love and devotion that I have for God.  God refuses to be part of some hierarchy in your life.  He refuses to sit atop some organizational flowchart—He is the organization.  He refuses to president of the board—He is the board.  And life will not work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired.  He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position.

One Thing Lacking

ishot_55Today’s Scripture: “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'” (Luke 18:22)

I read the story of a lighthouse along a bleak coast that was tended by a keeper who was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night.  One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm.  Then a farmer came.  His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read.  Still another needed some for an engine.  The keeper saw each as a worthy request and measured out just enough oil to satisfy all.  Near the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse ran dry.  That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks.  More than 100 lives were lost.  When a government official investigated, the man explained what he had done and why. “You were given one task alone,” insisted the official.  “It was to keep the light burning. Everything else was secondary.  There is no defense.’”

Loving Jesus Christ is the ONE THING above everything else that matters in life.  Everything else is secondary.  Stephen Covey, author of the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  I would modify that to say, “The one thing is to keep the one thing the one thing.”  The possibility exists in our lives to allow a plethora of things to keep us from the one thing that matters most.  Instead of being our ‘one among many,’ Jesus is to be our ‘one and only.’

Simply looking on, the young man in this passage really seems to have it all together.  We see him showing an interest in spiritual things.  He seems to be a real promising disciple.  He is wealthy and no doubt well respected.  He is very religious and has an obvious grasp of the law of God.  Yet none of that ever impresses Jesus.  Jesus looks deep into the young man’s soul and puts His finger on the ONE THING that was lacking, the ONE THING that was the main thing that was simply not there—love for and submission to Jesus Christ.  The tragedy that we see in this text is that a person can have it all, yet not really have anything at all.  A person can appear to have it all when it comes to riches and religion and respect, while at the same time, be lacking in a real relationship with God.

Jesus gave this rich young ruler a test.  He had to make a choice between following Christ or living for himself, and he failed the test.  Regardless of what he may have claimed to believe, because he was unwilling to forsake all, he could not be a disciple of Christ.  Salvation is for those who are willing to forsake everything for Jesus.  Several things about this young man stand out in the text:

1.  His MISGUIDED opinion of Jesus (18:18)

“Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother.  And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’”

No person can ever come to faith in Christ without acknowledging who He really is.  I have found it to be true that many people want the benefits that come along with salvation, but they refuse to submit their lives to the lordship of the Savior.  They want the perks of salvation without the lordship of Christ over their life.  They come to Jesus because of what He gives, not because of who He is.  Such was the case with the rich young ruler.

Consider the young man’s ENTHUSIASM.  It is worth paying close attention to.  He eagerly approaches Jesus and shows keen interest in spiritual things.  He desires eternal life and longs to obtain it.  He comes to Jesus and refers to Him as “Good Teacher,” which explains why Jesus asked the young man what he meant, for if he really believed that Jesus was GOOD then he had to confess that Jesus was GOD.  It was a test of the man’s heart.  The man was eager about coming to Jesus.

Consider the young man’s EMPTINESS.  His search brought him to the feet of Jesus, and he asked Jesus about how to obtain eternal life.  Mark’s account says that he came running and fell down at the feet of Jesus, indicating how much he truly desired eternal life.  “Eternal Life” is to know God and to possess the life of God and have deep intimate knowledge of God; it is the life that God possesses in the heart of man so that man and God have fellowship.  Eternal life is the life of Christ in the follower of Christ.

This young man wasn’t like the phony Pharisees.  They lived with the illusion that they had eternal life, and in their smug hypocrisy, they convinced themselves.  This young man, in spite of all that he did have, knew that he didn’t have eternal life.  Yet he wanted it.  This is where coming to Christ begins.  You have got to know that you don’t have what you need and you want it above everything else.  In Matthew 19:20, he asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?”  In other words, he asks, “What is the missing puzzle piece in my life?”  He knew that his life was missing something.  He essentially comes to Jesus and says, “I don’t get it.  I have done a spiritual inventory in my life, and I am as good as I can get.  What is there left for me to do?”  He feels the absence of God in his life.  He was searching for the fountain of living water, and the fountain was there before him all along.  He was so preoccupied with himself and his own righteousness that he failed to see Christ for who He is.  Jesus said:

John 17:3—“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

The word “know” speaks of an intimate and experiential knowledge.  It is not merely factual knowledge, but is experiential knowledge.  Many within the church can claim Christ as their casual acquaintance but not their intimate Friend.  Despite all of his religion and impressive resume, the young man acknowledged that he was lacking the true life of God within his own life.  There was a void deep down in his soul that he longed to fill.

2.  His MISTAKEN view of himself (18:21)

“And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’”

This young man comes to Jesus and asks the single most important question that a person could ever ask.  Yet the way that he frames his question and the way he answers Jesus reveals his mistaken belief about salvation and the way one obtains it.  He came to Jesus relying on his own effort and good works.  When he looked back on his life, he simply did so from an external perspective.  He had not killed anyone.  He had not been involved in an affair with another man’s wife.  He had not robbed anyone.  He had not dishonored his father and mother.  In his own estimation, he had kept the commandments as far as the letter of the law went.  But he missed the point of the law altogether.  He had totally failed to see that the law was not given as a means for achieving righteousness, but for picturing righteousness.  The law was given to show men how impossible it is for them to live up to God’s standard of righteousness in their own strength.  Jesus held the law before the young man to reveal his sin, but the young man looked into the mirror and would not see the stains and blemishes in his life.  His was a passing glance instead of a penetrating gaze.  In fact, the Bible says that the law of God is like a mirror, and its purpose is to show us how desperately we need a Savior.  Paul even said that the law was a “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ.

The problem with this young man is that he had only given himself a casual glance.  This is the problem in our day.  There are plenty of people who casually glance at their outward appearance and determine that they are good, but Jesus always carries us beneath the surface.  Jesus isn’t concerned with the leaves; His concern is with the root!   Someone has well said that human goodness apart from Jesus Christ is the worst form of human badness.

Paul spends three entire chapters in Romans declaring the sinfulness of man before he ever discusses the way of salvation.  Law must always precede grace.  Before the good news is ever good news, one must be aware of the bad news.

Romans 3:10—“There is none righteous, no, not one.”

The rich young ruler had too much pride in his life to acknowledge that he was sinful by nature and that his whole life fell short of God’s holiness, and therefore was an offense to Him.  Thus, his desire for eternal life was eclipsed by his refusal to repent and humble himself.

John MacArthur—“Salvation is for people who despair of their own efforts, who realize that, in themselves and by themselves, they are hopelessly sinful and incapable of improving.  Salvation is for those who see themselves as living violations of His holiness and who confess and turn from their sin and throw themselves on God’s mercy.  It is for those who recognize they have absolutely nothing good to give God, that anything good they receive or accomplish can be only by His sovereign, gracious provision in Jesus Christ.”

Until a person understands their sin guilt and their total inability to do anything about it, they are not ready to receive salvation.  Before a person will ever accept Christ, they must first see their need for Christ.

Samuel Bolton—“When you see that men have been wounded by the law, then it is time to pour in the gospel oil.”

Instead of being wounded by the law and seeing his need for a Savior, the rich young ruler was decieved in his own self-righteousness.  Though he diligently sought eternal life, he was seeking it on his own terms apart from confessing his sin and demonstrating repentance.

3.  His MISPLACED love for wealth (18:22-23)

“So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’  But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”

I like how Mark’s account renders this verse:

Mark 10:21—“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’”

The word “looking” literally means to look in, or to fix the eyes upon intently.  It means that something is known and observed by close inspection.  Jesus was reading the man’s heart.  While we would be impressed by what we saw on the outside, Jesus was looking at the man on the inside.

Nowhere in Scripture does it ever say that a person is saved by giving.  The point is not what Jesus is asking the man to do; the point is that Jesus knew the ONE THING that was most important to the man, and it wasn’t a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus puts His finger on the man’s covetousness.  His money was his god, and his god was his money.  And no matter how promising he looked on the outside, and regardless of the interest he had shown, deep down inside of this man, there was only ONE THING that mattered above EVERYTHING else—his money and his possessions.  Jesus singled out the ONE THING that the man was not willing to part with if it meant gaining Christ.  A true disciple desires Jesus above everything else and would willingly part with any thing if it meant gaining Christ.

Matthew 13:44-46—“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

The ultimate test was whether or not the man really wanted Jesus.  His actions and allegiance proved to be for himself rather than Christ.  The test only revealed what he really loved.  The bottom line is that no matter how upright and religious he appeared to be, the rich young ruler didn’t want Jesus as his Savior, and he didn’t want Jesus as his Lord.  The ONE THING that mattered most was lacking in his life.  Jesus was simply a means to an end.  I’m afraid that far too many in the church have responded to Jesus the way that the rich young ruler did, but someone along the way told them that they were fine.  So, they casually pay their respects to Jesus, but they live for self.

Compare the rich young ruler to Zaccheus.  He too was a wealthy man.  But when Jesus called him, the Bible says that he hurried down from the tree, “and received Him gladly.”  Spontaneously, without even being told to do so, he volunteered to do what Jesus had commanded the rich young ruler to do.

Luke 19:8-10—“Then Zaccheus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Today, salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’”

Zaccheus was saved because he confessed he was lost.  And he could easily part with his material goods because he knew that he had found the ONE THING that really mattered—the treasure of Jesus Christ.

One Thing Necessary

ishot_55Today’s Scripture: “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

Clovis Chappell, an old circuit riding Methodist preacher from way back, used to tell the story of two steamboats.  They left Memphis about the same time, traveling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.  As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail’s pace of the other.  Words were exchanged.  Challenges were made.  And the race began.  Competition became quite vicious as the two boats rolled down river.  Soon, one boat began falling behind, not having enough fuel.  There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough coal for a race.  As the boat dropped back behind the other, an ambitious young sailor took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ovens.  When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport.  They ended up winning the race, but burned their cargo.

That’s how people can live their life if they are not careful.  They can barrel down the highway of life at a breakneck speed, and they may appear to be way ahead of the competition.  But they can lose out on what matters most in the process.  They can “win the race, but burn the cargo.”  They can sacrifice everything that God has entrusted them with.  Jesus said:

Mark 8:36—“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

Life is about much more than what simply meets the eye.  Therefore, it is of utmost importance that understand what is MOST IMPORTANT.  Enter the word “priority” into our conversation.  In any bookstore, you will find a plethora of self-help books that offer a wide range of ideas on how to manage your time and structure your life.  As a person’s life becomes more frantic and frenzied, the battle grows more intense when it comes to staying focused on what should be his or her priorities.  The words of Jesus to the busy and frantic Martha here in Luke 10 are the words that He speaks to us in the midst of our busy lives in 2013—“ONE THING is necessary.”

All of life can be boiled down to just one all-important thing.  Above everything else, ONE THING matters in life, and this ONE THING is to be the sole focus and direction of our life—to love God.  There is only one way to be satisfied in life.  Only ONE THING matters and that ONE THING is this—glorifying God by loving Him supremely.

Three truths emerge from the text in Luke 10:38-42:

1.  The DISTRACTION of a busy life (10:40)

“But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Therefore tell her to help me.’”

The Bible tells us that Jesus was a close friend to sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus.  He was no stranger to their home in the little village of Bethany, which was only a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem.  It should be noted that verse 38 says Martha “welcomed” Him into her house.  Jesus always makes Himself at home in the house of those who welcome Him.  But rather than simply enjoying His company, we are told that Martha was distracted with much serving.  She was so caught up in what she thought had to be done that she failed to enjoy the presence of Jesus under her own roof.  The word “distracted” literally means to be dragged away.  It means that all of her busy preparations were dragging her away from the presence of Jesus.  She had her mind on the pots and pans, the dishes and the dinner rather than the divine Guest with whom she should have been enjoying fellowship.  Instead of FELLOWSHIP, she found FRUSTRATION.  Your life can filled with all sorts of busyness, but at the same time it can also be barren and empty.  Jesus here warns of the barrenness of a busy life, a life in which He is not the sole focus.

What were the results of Martha’s distractions?  What does distraction do in the life of a person of faith?  Consider:

First, it FOCUSES on good things, but not the main thing.

Make no mistake, Martha was upset and concerned about “good things” and not necessarily bad things.  She was caught up with the idea of serving Jesus and making sure that everything was just right for Jesus, so much so that she neglected to be WITH Jesus.  Very often, it is the good things that keep us from the main thing.

Second, it FOSTERS a subtle sense of pride and entitlement.

From her distracted and frantic heart, listen to how Martha approaches Jesus and consider what she says in v. 40—“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Therefore tell her to help me.”  Due to her misplaced priorities, Martha had lost the joy of serving and instead became frustrated, agitated, and upset.  Martha felt like she was the only one who was truly doing what was important.  Even her question was framed in an accusatory fashion.  Her life was so out of alignment that she even had the audacity to say, “Lord, do You not care?”  Can you imagine being so busy for the Lord that you can’t enjoy the Lord and even recognize the character of the Lord?  And notice that Martha even went so far as to command Jesus to be at her beck and call—“Tell her to help me.”  Her speech revealed what was most important in her heart.  Though she thought she was serving Jesus, she was really serving herself.

Third, it FILLS the heart with anxiety.

The Bible says in v. 41, “And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.”  The word “worried” means to be anxious.  This is the same word that Jesus used in other places to refer to the cares and concerns of life.  The word “troubled” means disturbed or crowded, and it carries the idea of noise and uproar. When distraction rules the heart, the result will always be uneasiness and anxiety within the heart.

Corrie ten Boom—“Worry is an old man with bended head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead.”

Worry concerns itself with many things, but Jesus says that only ONE THING is necessary.

2.  The DEVOTION of a worshiping life (10:39)

“And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus feet and heard His word.”

While Martha was busy running around the house like a chicken with its head caught off, her sister Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus the whole time.  While Martha was SERVING, Mary was SITTING.  While Martha was FRUSTRATED, Mary was FOCUSED.  While Martha was WORKING, Mary was WORSHIPING.  Two things stand out about Mary:

First, notice WHERE she sat.

Verse 39 reveals that Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus.  In fact, each time she is mentioned in Scripture, this is where we always find her:

John 11:32—“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’”

John 12:3—“Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

She wasn’t sitting at a distance, but was at His feet.  She wanted to be as close to Jesus as she possibly could.  It only serves to reveal her humility and the depth of love that she had for Jesus.  By sitting at His feet, it serves as evidence that she wanted to be in His presence and at the place of total submission and obedience before Him.  Those who love Christ don’t want any distance to be between them and Christ.  They long to be in His presence.  They desire to love Him more and be as close to Him as they possibly can.  That is what it means to love Jesus and to sit at His feet.  It is being caught up with consciously living in His presence.  Those who sit at Jesus’ feet aren’t there because of what He gives; they are there because of who He is.

Second, notice WHAT she heard.

The Bible says that she sat at His feet and heard His word.  While Martha was busy in the kitchen preparing a feast, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus already participating in a feast.  Rather than being a feast prepared for the stomach, it was a feast prepared for the soul.  The word “heard” means she was intently listening; the imperfect tense of the verb suggests a continual hearing meaning that her attention was riveted to His word.  There can be no genuine love for Christ where there is no love for His word.  Consider what Jesus Himself said:

Luke 6:46—“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”

John 14:15—“If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

1 John 5:2-3—“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”

While Martha was busy and frenzied with things that really were not that important, Mary took the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and to listen intently to His word.  Sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Jesus’ word is foundational for discipleship, and it is the ONE THING that ranks above everything else.

3.  The DIVIDENDS of a prioritized life (10:42)

“But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Notice how Martha’s decision to give herself over to the busyness of life only BURDENED her, while Mary’s decision to sit at Jesus’ feet BENEFITED her.  How so?  Consider that:

First, it was an ESSENTIAL benefit.

From the midst of all the hurried hustle and bustle in Martha’s home, Jesus puts His finger on the ONE THING that was necessary—the simple act of sitting at His feet.  The word “needed” in verse 42 speaks of an essential requirement.  Martha was worried about the bread that feds the body, but Mary was focused on the Bread that feeds the soul.  Jesus said:

Matthew 4:4—“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

The bottom line is that we have way too many spiritually malnourished people in the church.  This explains why the lifestyles and decision making of many professing believers seem to be no different from that of the rest of the culture.  Perhaps for many, they are professing outwardly something that they are not possessing inwardly.  Where there has been no change in appetite, there has been no change of heart and conversion to Christ.

1 Peter 2:1-3—“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”

John MacArthur—“The two words identify an infant that has just emerged from its mother’s womb and is crying for milk from her breast.  That sole and desperate hunger for milk is the newborn’s first expressed longing designed by God to correspond to their greatest need, and it illustrates how strongly believers ought to desire the Word.  It is singular and relentless because life depends on it.”

A newborn baby doesn’t have to be taught to crave its mother’s milk.  And a person who has been born again has a new desire for the Word that serves as inward evidence of his new nature.  I recently read where a pastor interviewed 100 people in his congregation and asked them to come up with the top four reasons why people never pick up their Bible.  The most common answers were these:

1)      Too busy

2)      I don’t understand it

3)      I forget

4)      Not interesting

Could you imagine people giving these answers when asked why they never eat?  If this were true, they would literally starve to death!  Colossians 3:16 says to the believer, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”  Yet someone has said that the worst dust storm in history would happen if all the church members who were neglecting their Bibles simultaneously opened them!  What is sad is that even though we have so much access to the Word of God, great numbers of people within the church know little more about the Bible than many third-world Christians who don’t even have their own copy.  It is therefore ESSENTIAL that we as believers have a four-fold response to the Word of God:

  • Read the word!
  • Hear the word!
  • Obey the word!
  • Share the word!

Second, it was an ETERNAL benefit.

In verse 42, Jesus says, “Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  The implication is that Martha’s insignificant busyness would yield no eternal benefit to her soul, while Mary’s time with Jesus would yield much eternal benefit.  Martha was troubled and concerned about temporal things so much so that she had forgotten that only ONE THING mattered.  ONE THING is necessary—sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His Word.  Will you be found at His feet today?

%d bloggers like this: