The Greatest Commandment: Love God First

I know a little bit about talking to lawyers because I raised one. My home grown litigator could be hard-headed and frustrating at times. He could easily argue the paint right off the wall, and I imagine lawyers were much the same in Jesus’ day. The Messiah was in the middle of a cross examination by the prominent religious leaders of His time when a scribe asked Him to identify the greatest commandment. No doubt he thought this would be quite a challenge for the rabbi from Nazareth, and that Jesus would squirm as He decided which of the 613 commands was most important. Would it be one of the dietary laws, a law regarding sacrifices, or perhaps a sabbath regulation?

In a mic drop moment, Jesus answered the question. He declared that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) The scriptures tell us that the audience was speechless as Jesus’ words hung in the air. The self-righteous teachers of the law felt their egos being crushed beneath the weight of this scriptural mandate. They were confronted with the fact that this commandment is foundational to obedience in every area of life. So why does God want to be the boss of us? He made us. He knows what’s best for us. He knows what’s bad for us.

He made us.

“Come, let’s worship and bow down; let’s kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalms 95:6) God commands us to love Him because He made us. Like a mechanic who builds an engine, or an architect who designs a structure, He knows how we function best, and is intimately acquainted with the purpose for which we were designed.

We were made to run on Him. C.S. Lewis explains this concept in Mere Christianity when he says, “Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (Book 2, Chapter 3, p. 50)

We will be most fulfilled when we use each part of who we are for the purpose for which it was designed. God made our hearts to worship, and stirs in them a restlessness that can only be satisfied when He is the object of our worship. Our triune God had perfect community within Himself, and created us to enjoy fellowship; therefore, our souls will never be content until they join in communion with Him. God Himself is a rational being, and so He created our minds to be able to reason and discover evidentially who He is. He designed our physical bodies to be vessels through which we can work with purpose and serve Him. Because He made us, He also knows how to best maintain His creation by providing what’s best for us.

He knows what’s best for us.

My older son has always harbored a disdain for green beans. I remember one particularly unpleasant showdown over his least favorite vegetable when he was about six years old. Having tired of playing short order cook and catering to his whims, I was determined that he was going to eat just one bite of green beans before getting up from the dinner table. He was just as determined to defy my demands. After about a two hour show down, he balled up his tiny fists and declared, “You’re ruining my whole life!” For the record, he did eventually eat one bite (score one for Mom), and has managed to live a productive and healthy life, none the worse for the incident.

Much like my son, we often ball up our fists and determine that God takes pleasure in issuing edicts designed to ruin our good time. We think God should prioritize our happiness, and simply allow us to consume whatever satisfies our appetites in the short term. We often forget that He is out for our eternal good. It’s the difference between gorging on chocolate and disciplining ourselves to eat our vegetables. Ultimately, He knows what’s best for us and He knows what’s bad for us. He knows it’s harmful for us to be filled up with ourselves rather than to love and be led by Him.

Thankfully, God’s Word tells us where to find sustenance. The Psalmist encourages us to satisfy our hunger and thirst through feasting on God’s commands. “How sweet your word is to my taste — sweeter than honey in my mouth.” (Psalms 119:103) “I open my mouth and pant because I long for your commands.” (Psalms 119:131) Jesus, the Word Incarnate, tells us that He is the Bread of Life (John 6) and the Living Water (John 4) and that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Matthew 5:6). When we love God first, we receive what is good for us, but we also avoid what is bad for us.

He knows what’s bad for us.

He knows it’s bad for us to be our own bosses. God knows that when left to our own devices, our hearts are inclined to churn out idols. Often those idols bear a strong resemblance to the person we see in the mirror, because it’s human nature to want to be in charge. My younger son invented an interesting word when he was about three years old. Having overheard us call him both strong-willed and independent, he merged the terms and declared that he was “wendapenda.” The same son, tired of being bossed around by his older brother, also once emphatically prophesied, “One day I’m gonna be the boss of somebody!” While this was sort of cute and even a bit amusing to observe in a toddler, it’s not so attractive as we get older. This is the same struggle humans have faced since the very beginning, recorded in Genesis 3, when the enemy convinced Eve that God was holding out on her by not allowing her to be her own boss.

God also knows it’s bad for culture to be the boss of us. The world we live in reverses the two greatest commandments. We live in a me-centric, selfie-obsessed culture that does its best to convince us that only by loving ourselves first can we truly love others. The truth is that we cannot love ourselves or others until we first love God. We have no definition for real love apart from Him. The culture also assures us that we will be happiest if we just follow our hearts and let our feelings lead the way. God’s Word warns of the danger of this approach in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I know that my feelings will lead me astray in a hot second, so they are definitely in no position to be the boss of me. Following our hearts is a one way self-destructive path.

Love initiates action.

Love for God is a command that initiates an action. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” When we accept the free and gracious gift of the gospel, we are called to obedience in following His commands. Obedience to the first command bears fruit which flows over into the second, and compels us to demonstrate our love for others. Unless we embed the anchor of our faith deeply into the immovable bedrock of God’s steadfast love, we risk flailing about in the stormy sea of our emotions, grasping onto the drifting wreckage of things wholly unworthy of our worship. It is only by virtue of loving God first that we experience the transformation and renewal of our hearts and minds, and become equipped to change our world with the life-giving gospel.

Does My Worldview Matter?

When my family and I lived in the Texas Panhandle for a few years in the late 1990s, we became accustomed to driving long, lonely stretches of highway without seeing another car for miles. For Pete’s sake, the closest Walmart was an hour away! The windshield of our Dodge Caravan would easily accumulate a few zillion suicidal bugs on trips down those desolate dusty roads. They were assisted to their fate by the perpetually blowing winds common to that part of Texas. A thick gritty paste would eventually develop on the glass, requiring us to utilize a little elbow grease and one of those nifty squeegee things at the car wash to restore a clear field of vision. If we didn’t take this necessary step, our ability to safely operate the vehicle was severely impacted, and the mess on the windshield would prevent us from taking in the unparalleled beauty all around us. The flat treeless plains in the Texas Panhandle provided a panoramic backdrop for some of the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets on the planet. It would have been a shame to miss out on the vibrant red, blazing orange, and deep purple hues because of some bugs and dust.

Sometimes in life, our view of the world around us can become obscured, as if we are gazing out through a dirty windshield. We are tempted to peer through the lens of preferences, misconceptions, or everyday disappointments in order to shape our view of life. Other times life altering circumstances come hurtling at us like rocks kicked up off the road toward the glass, completely shattering the way we see the world. An unclear or inconsistent worldview can be incredibly disorienting, causing us to live life off balance and uncertain of whether or not our feet are planted on a sturdy foundation. For this reason, it’s worth taking some time to carefully examine the source of our worldview so that when challenges come, we can meet them with confidence.

In “The Universe Next Door” James Sire defines worldview as “…a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” One’s worldview will answer questions like: How did I get here? What’s the meaning of life? What is right and wrong? Where am I headed? We all have a worldview whether we realize it or not. We live our day to day lives as if we believe certain things to be true, even when we may not be able to clearly articulate the specifics.

As Christians, our worldview should be rooted in the Bible as we allow it to encompass and guide all aspects of our lives. It provides a fully faceted answer to all the big questions in life by showing us who God is, what He’s like, and what He does. Scripture tells us that God reveals Himself to us both through nature and His Word. Paul says in Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” The natural world shows us things about God’s character that should guide the way we live. The Psalmist reveals in Psalm 19:1-2, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge.” We observe order, intentionality, beauty, and purpose in creation, and make the assumption that Someone bigger than us is responsible for it all. This Someone brings order to our lives, creates beautiful things for us to enjoy, and intentionally guides us to a greater purpose outside of ourselves.

God also reveals Himself to us through His inspired Word. It’s no coincidence that the longest chapter in the Bible focuses on delighting in God’s Word. Psalm 119, consisting of 176 verses, highlights attributes of God like His righteousness, trustworthiness, truthfulness, faithfulness, immutability, and eternality. The Psalmist reveals how God opens our eyes (v. 18) and turns our hearts (v. 36). God is defined as good (v. 68) and as the Creator who gives understanding (v. 73). Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” Scripture provides the illumination we need as we journey along the paths of our daily lives. God’s Word is both a light that shines directly on each step we take, and a lamp that illuminates the farthest horizon to bring our lives sharply into focus.

When I received specialized training as an occupational therapist in low vision rehabilitation, one of the first and simplest concepts I learned was the effective use of lighting. I was taught that if the light comes from the wrong direction, it can actually be more harmful than beneficial. A light coming from behind instead of in front, beside, or directly above can be blocked or distorted, making completion of a task more difficult. The same is true of the perfect light of God’s Word. When imperfect people (that’s all of us) don’t give Scripture its proper position in our lives, we miss the benefits of understanding God’s character, and risk coming away with a distorted view of how He works His purposes in and through us. The work of the Holy Spirit changes us as the Bible points us to God and illuminates aspects of His character. The point is not for us to see ourselves within the pages of Scripture, but to see Him, and allow Him to transform us into who He desires for us to be. We discover in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

A truly Biblical worldview leads us to the conclusion that our value does not originate within ourselves, but comes from the One who made us. We are loved not because we are good, but because He is good. Our worth does not come from some external earthly standard, but from the One who is Himself the standard of all that is true and just. We don’t find our significance by looking within, but from looking above. A painting or sculpture is not valuable because of the materials that comprise it, but because of the artist who designed it. A story is not compelling because of the paper and ink on which it is written, but because it came from the mind of the one who crafted it. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” From the perspective of a Biblical worldview, the way we see ourselves in the world should be all about Him and the purposes for which He created us.

Jesus told His followers in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Our culture applauds carving a broad and winding path through life, rather than traveling along the well-defined narrow way of God’s Word. Truth is defined as whatever feels best or is most convenient at the moment, rather than the truth embodied in Christ and revealed in Scripture. Often living “the good life” is celebrated as preferable to submitting to the One who is good. There is no doubt that it is becoming more and more difficult to live consistently within a Biblical worldview in the midst of a culture that answers the big questions of life much differently than we do. The views of Christ-followers are viewed as peculiar and intolerant. A culture that values rugged individualism and instant gratification simply can’t wrap its collective brain around a worldview that claims its followers are hidden within Someone bigger than themselves as they await a future glory (Colossians 3:3-4). But Jesus never promised it would be easy. Instead, He assured His disciples that He would be with them as they faced persecution, rejection, and hardship. Holding onto a worldview centered on God and His Word does matter and is of eternal significance as we strive to illuminate darkness and provide clarity in an increasingly confused world.

Book Review: Another Gospel?

Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers provides an honest look at the author’s journey through a profound period of doubt that ultimately led to the rebuilding of her faith. Her tone is gracious and thoughtful throughout the book as she provides her readers glimpses into deeply personal and often painful moments in the process. Through her compelling narrative, Childers reveals how she dug deep down into the roots of historic Christianity in order to unearth an authentic portrait of the Christian faith. She shows with incredible vulnerability how she painstakingly picked apart doctrines once held dear in order to arrive at the bedrock of truth. She writes in chapter one, “God either exists, or he doesn’t. The Bible is his Word, or it’s not. Jesus was raised from the dead, or he wasn’t. Christianity is true, or it isn’t. There is no ‘my truth’ when it comes to God.”

The author, a former CCM recording artist with the group ZOEgirl, is relatable as she admits to having a genuine, yet unchallenged, faith in her younger years. This ultimately left her susceptible to some very unorthodox claims by a pastor who described himself as a “hopeful agnostic.” The description of the struggles she faced shines a light on the critical need for apologetics training in the church today in preparing Christians to face challenges that are becoming more prevalent all the time. She provides insight into how the progressive Christian movement pushes back against foundational Christian doctrines like Biblical authority, reliability of the Gospel accounts, the reality of Hell, and the atonement.

Childers is equal parts authentic storyteller and meticulous researcher.  She provides keen insight into the roots of the progressive Christian movement and details its impact on today’s evangelical church. She is careful to include quotes by key thought leaders in progressive Christianity (Brian McLaren, John Pavlovitz, Rob Bell, Richard Rohr, Rachel Held Evans, and others) and contrasts their views with historic Christianity by quoting the earliest church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Athanasius, and others.) In doing so, she demonstrates that progressive Christianity really is a different gospel altogether from what Christians have historically believed since its inception.

This book is a helpful tool for anyone seeking to navigate the often confusing landscape of the church today. Alisa Childers demonstrates the way in which beliefs that are completely antithetical to historic Christian doctrine can easily slip into the church in the absence of attention to Biblical literacy and without a carefully examined and reasoned faith. It provides a valuable review of essential, historic doctrines of the faith, while also serving as a warning for churches and individuals treading dangerously close to  embracing progressive Christian beliefs.

I wholeheartedly recommend Another Gospel? It is an uplifting and challenging read appropriate for several distinct groups of people. For those outside the Christian faith seeking to examine its tenets, it provides an overview of historic Christian doctrine and the evidence that undergirds it. For readers firmly committed to historic Christianity, it provides an affirmation of the faith they already hold dear. Honest doubters seeking answers will find that Alisa provides an empathetic response demonstrated through details of her personal journey which attests to the benefits of earnestly seeking truth. All three types of readers will grow to appreciate Alisa’s compassionate and reasoned responses to the challenges that she faced throughout her personal pilgrimage.