One of the most important lessons that I ever was taught by a friend was that I should never lose touch with my heart. A person who loses touch with his feelings might just as well be dead, he said. But he didn't just mean any feelings. Specifically, he said that what makes a person fully human in the best possible sense is one who has a heart which naturally and spontaneously swells with warm and tender feelings when they see or experience something good, holy and pure - or one that feels sorrow, compassion and moral indignation when it sees injustice or people suffering.
One of the discoveries I have made in my search for truth is that true religion cultivates and builds upon heavenly sentimentality. A religious experience that makes a person cold and heartless can never be built upon the truth, because the truth is always centred in, and flows out of, love.
You will notice that when Yah'shua (Jesus) summarised the Ten Commandments in order to emphasise the core of true religion that He made it very plain that it began and ended with the heart. He said: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.'" (Matt.22:37-39, NIV). He was not saying, as some insinuate, that true religion was devoid of sound thought, because in the Hebrew language the word 'heart' was used to represent both thinking and feeling. He was not saying that to be loving was to be mindless. What he meant is that love is a quality firstly of feeling but closely in alliance with thoughts and deeds. True love has three components that cannot be separated from one another: True love is a perfect marriage of pure feelings, holy thoughts and kind deeds.
There have been many times in my life when I have been so deeply touched in my heart that I have been moved to tears but only in some of these has the experience actually led me to go and do good deeds. The surest, and perhaps the only, way of knowing whether thoughts and feelings are of God is whether they lead us to immediately do good towards others when the opportunity presents itself.
Many years ago three little children wandered from home one afternoon. Evening found them playing on the seashore. It grew suddenly dark and cold, and they could not return. In the morning they were found, the two youngest sleeping warm and safe under coverings of garments and sea-weeds, and little Mary, the elder, lying cold and dead, with her arms yet full of sea-weeds. She had taken off nearly all her own warm clothing to cover the younger children, and then carried grass and sea-weeds to pile upon them, until she died in her loving devotion. She did not save herself, because she would save the little ones entrusted to her care.
In this story, which is true, we see displayed the highest love of all - a love which gives of itself even unto death so that others might live. True love, in the Christian sense - in the sense that Christ always taught - does not think about self but only of others.
The teachings of our Lord make it perfectly clear that when we are in true service we are serving others and not self interest. He taught time and time again that to fulfill the greatest commandment of all was to think about and serve other people.
I want you today to notice two things. When He taught the greatest commandment, He did not say: "Love the Lord your God with some of your heart and with some of your soul and with some of your mind". He didn't even say: "Love the Lord your God with most your heart and with most your soul and with most your mind." He made it clear that in order to be living the Ten Commandments we would be loving the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. But lest people be misled into believing that loving God was something abstract and otherworldly, He added: "Love your neighbour as yourself."
How, then, does one love God? And how does none love one's neighbour? And who is one's neighbour? The last question He explained in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, telling His listeners that everyone is our neighbour, including people we don't like or even despise because of their wickedness. To love God is to love all people.
But love is a pretty big word that people tend to define in ways to suit themselves. At other times Yah'shua said that the better part of our time and service should be to the Christian community - to the true believers, because they were Christ's. And He said that in looking after His people by visiting them in prison, clothing them when they were naked, feeding them when they were hungry, and so on, was no different than doing these things to Christ Himself. But though this was our priority, our love was not to stop there: He ensured that His disciples understood that loving your neighbour extended to your very ends of the earth if necessary, even to those who wickedly use you and may even seek your life.
Love does not mean accepting a person's wickedness or supporting him in wrongdoing. To love your enemy is not to encourage him in evil but to lead him to the path of salvation. To love someone is to do what is best for them. And what is best for them is what God says is best for them.
To love in the way God desires is to love God. To love in a selfish way is not to love God. But what does it mean to love God with all one's heart, soul and mind? How can one give all one's love to God and also love others? Isn't that a contradiction?
If Christ set this apart as the greatest commandment of all then obviously it is vital that we understand it. As it stands, it means that we cannot look upon love like a box of biscuits by giving the majority of biscuits to God, some to ourselves, and some to these we love ... or even hate! This cannot be the meaning. Love is not something that we can divide up as one would give gifts to people. Love is a single thing that cannot be divided up. And all of it has to be given to God.
The apostle Paul helps us here. He says: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Col. 3:23-24, NIV).
Notice that as Christians we are to invest all our heart in whatever we do. God wants a heart that is fully alive and active - and by heart, remember, we are talking about both feelings and thoughts and ... ultimately, good deeds. To put it another way, Paul is saying: "Don't do anything halfheartedly."
Now I am sure you have set about a lot of things in your life halfheartedly. People will tell you that they are only able to work at something with all their hearts if they feel free to do it and enjoy it. If they are forced to do it against their will, or if it's something they don't particularly like doing, then they are less than enthusiastic. If you're one of those people who feels like that at any time, then know that your thoughts and feelings are from the flesh and not the Holy Spirit.
Can anybody guess what sort of people Paul was talking about when he told them to put their whole heart into their work? Soldiers, perhaps? Housewives? Priests? Farmers? No, it was none of these - he was talking to slaves - people who had no freedom and likely didn't enjoy the work they were doing at all.
Now this is vitally important to understand. Paul was saying that a man or woman who had no freedom and had a job they disliked should work with all their heart - with good and positive feelings and thoughts - not because they liked their masters or the work they were doing, but because they now had another Master, the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus)! Note what the apostle said: "work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.".
A person who is not born of the Holy Spirit cannot possibly do this. They will resent having no freedom and being compelled to do something they dislike. But the moment they accept Christ as their Master and Saviour - for 'Master' is what the word 'Lord' means - they will know through the revelation of the Spirit that they are in God's employment, and once they know that, they will set about their tasks and duties with pleasure. In addition to that, they have an additional motive, for Paul says: "since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward".
A person who has a job gets paid by his employer. A person who works for the Lord receives an inheritance in the next life. His salary is, as it were, put on deposit in a spiritual bank where it earns interest, and when he collects his money, he will be fortunate indeed. And God pays a far better salary than any earthly employer could, for His salary is, amongst other things, everything your soul could ever desire in righteousness.
Can you see now how it is that we should and can love God with all our heart, soul and mind? The first commandment is we should serve God before anyone and anything else, and Yah'shua (Jesus) amplifies that by explaining that to do this means giving Him everything. A Master has complete control of your life. When you accept Yah'shua (Jesus) as your Lord and Saviour you are giving Him all rights to your life, to do with it as He wants, in exactly the same way as an earthly master could do what he wanted with a slave. Indeed, Paul many times describes true believers as slaves to Christ - not in a negative way, but in the most positive way imaginable, because the Christian's Master is everything that is good that may be called good.
To love God is therefore to yield one's own will to His. To love God is to energetically and joyfully serve our fellow man in hard work, thinking not of self or personal ambition, but of ever more ways to give.
If I were to summarise what it means for a Christian to love I would describe it in this way: To love is to give yourself away. And the only way you can ever do that is by forgetting self completely. When Christians living together in fellowship forget themselves and live only to serve one another, then that state of paradise has been found on earth. A Christian is by definition, then, not self-conscious at all because he is always other-conscious.
Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25, NIV).
He could not have put it plainer. To serve yourself - your wants, desires and ambitions is in actual fact to lose everything - the end is absolute nothingness. Yah'shua (Jesus) uses strong language to make His point, doesn't He? He says we are to "hate" our life. However, it must be understood that He is using a rather special idiom or form of speech - he is not saying we should despise, loathe or detest ourselves, because this was a Hebrew figure of speech meaning that we should be so focussed on serving others that any preoccupation with self will seem like hate. He uses this word "hate" in many places in Scripture with this particular meaning. Or to put it another way, we would put love of self in a firm second place - far down the list of priorities.
Of course, such a teaching is the complete opposite of that of modern Western society which is so focussed on its own navel that it can't see anything else. And so are its disciples. This is probably one of the most selfish societies that has ever existed and yet it talks more about "love" and "peace" than almost any other. It's ironic, isn't it, and yet so typical of fallen, human nature.
If we are in any doubt as to what Christ meant when He said that we are to love, we need only remind ourselves of one of the most powerful teachings ever given by Him: "Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, NIV). A friend is someone you love, and whilst laying down your life can, and does mean, the supreme sacrifice of dying for him if called upon to do so, it also means laying down your life in service - your life from today and for the rest of your life - a life of continuous giving.
True love does not need to be told what to do - it does it instinctively, just like that elder sister who sacrificed her life for her younger sister by giving her clothes to them and freezing to death so that they might live. There was no parent there to tell her to do it - it was something that naturally sprang up out of her heart. She forgot herself - even her own life - in order to let her sisters live.
No-one naming the Name of Christ as theirs can avoid this teaching. To become a Christian means laying your life down - giving it completely to God in Christ, and then in service to your fellow human being.
It was because Christ wanted save others that He could not save Himself. The soldier in battle cannot save himself and save his country. The mother cannot spare herself and save her child. Yah'shua (Jesus) could have saved Himself, but what would have been the fate of sinners? We would all have been lost.
Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation have only obtained it because Christ was willing to forget Himself and give everything. He, in His turn, asks us to do the same. He asks us to live lives of sacrificial devotion, lives that will give others life by our sharing the Life of eternal dimensions with them.
There are in the Bible Two Chief commandments which Christ taught which are a summary of the Ten Commandments, but those Ten Commandments are a summary themselves of about several hundred other commandments, and probably as many as 1,500 of them in total. I reckon there are about 120 categories of commandments - of things that the man of woman will spontaneously be doing if he is loving God with his whole soul and loving his neighbour as himself. If he finds himself having problems with any of these commandments - because he doesn't like them or because he finds them hard to obey - then the problem is either that he hasn't fully surrendered his life to God (in which case he cannot possibly love God with all his heart) or because he hasn't been baptised by the Spirit yet, in which case it is impossible to live the commandments, because in your own strength you never can.
The Bible has been given to us by Yahweh so that we can check to make sure we are loving Him and living up to the profession of our claim to be Christians. And the best way we can know whether we are loving God and living His commandments is by examining the way we are treating others. Are we sacrificially serving them with joy in our hearts, as though we were serving God Himself? Are we behaving as slaves, as we should be, or trying to lord it over others and insisting that others treat us as royalty? Are we being rude and obnoxious to them, or pleasant and kind?
To love God is to please Him. To hate Him is to deliberately sin knowing what His commandments are. There must be at least 3,000 Scripture references to help us make sure that we are in His will and under the blood-covering of Christ. I will end today with but one - we could start almost anywhere, but this one will do as well as any of the others. It's from the Book of Proverbs:
"There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart for ever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you" (Proverbs 6:16-22, NIV).
A person who loves God and is serving Him fills his mind and heart day and night with His Word. It is a pure delight to him. Yahweh is the one consuming love in His life. And it is so easy because all you have to so is surrender - to come to God and say: "Lord, I give my life to you without any preconditions. I make no demands. I trust you to lead me to do what is right." Such a soul will dwell in peace. He will know what it is to be free and happy, because He has forgotten himself and is thinking only of serving his friends as a slave - his brothers and sisters in the Lord.
If Yah'shua (Jesus) had tried to save Himself, the world, and everyone in it, would have been lost. If that elder sister had tried to save herself, her younger sisters would have frozen to death. Christ's death was entirely voluntary - He gave His life for His sheep. We in our turn, if we love Him, will, if the situation clearly demands it, do the same.
Many a Christian has sacrificed career, fame, popularity and great wealth because he cared only to serve his Lord. The honours of the world mean nothing to the son or daughter of God. People the world over are carefully saving and investing for themselves, and depart this world having done nothing at all for God. And because they try to save and serve their own lives, they end up losing them - for ever. For them physical poverty, self-imposed limitation and sacrifice mean nothing because they know they are gaining something infinitely more precious.
Paul said: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2, NIV). To live in this way is to have everything - absolutely everything. And these are the signs, as Paul went on to say: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving" (vv.3-4).
Are you thankful for your life and for your circumstances right now and this very moment? If you aren't, and you are a Christian, something is seriously wrong. Paul said: "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (v.5). And "Let no-one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light" (vv.6-8).
"Love Yahweh your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself". Amen.