The Great Commandment Pt 1 – Matthew 22:33-40

I.  INTRO

A.   We are going to take the next couple of weeks and look at what the Bible refers to as the Great Commandment.  An important preliminary vision passage because it synthesizes so much of the Bible into two pretty straightforward commands.

B.    Matthew 22:33-40 (NAS): “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Notice the order.  Loving people id the outflow of loving God.)

C.    We will divide this passage up into two messages…

  1. This week: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment.”
  2. Next week: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

D.   Here are two important questions…

  1. What is God’s heart for Southside Bible Fellowship?  And for you?
  2. What is God’s VISION for us during this transition season?  Vision will focus us.  Vision will restrain us – Pro 29:18 (NAS): “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained…” 

II.   BODY

A.   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment” is a quote from Deut 6:5 and is:

1.     Part of the Shema Yisrael (Heb word for hear), vs. 4-9. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and is usually the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns – as well as the prayer that is most often said each morning and evening by the Jewish people.

4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

2.     Rabbi Julian Sinclair: Oneness, [or] unity, is the aspiration of love, and love emerges from a perception of unity. This insight is also expressed in the Shema: its first line declares God’s unity, and ends with the word “one.” Then follows the mitzvah [commandment] to love God. Love comes out of a sense of God’s unity pervading all things.

3.     In the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) there are 613 commandments (explicit and implicit).

4.     The 10 Commandments (Ex 20 & Deut 5) are understood to be the root commands — revealing God’s standard of holiness.  They also reveal our need for a Savior.

  • Gal 3:24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
  • The Law is like a dentists mirror – it can point out decay, but can’t do anything about it.

5.     In Deut 5 – the previous chapter, we find the second listing of the 10 Commandments (also in Ex 20).

  • The first two commandments speak to the issue of idolatry:  #1 is Deut 5:7 – “You shall have no other God’s before me.”
  • The 2nd Commandment states – Deut 5:8-10: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

6.     Theologians think that if someone were to be able to keep the first commandment the others would not be a problem – because they all have to do with idolatry.

7.     Martin Luther:  All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace, and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry.

8.     Tim Keller:  Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.

9.     So, what are we saying? All 613 unchangeable commandments of the Torah can be summed-up in these two verses (or 6 words): Love God and love your neighbor. Every person on the planet has this built-in longing to deeply connect with God and people.  We were designed, created to be worshippers.  This, then, becomes the grand objective and passion of every human heart.  Augustine said it well:  “Our heart’s are restless until they find their rest in God.”

B.    Years ago Rick Warren said something that, I think, begins to put this into perspective: “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great [Christian and a great] church.”

  1. A key and critical question is, how will this commitment be expressed?
  2. The Church (at least in N America) has placed an emphasis on the Great Commission without a sufficient understanding and practice of the Great Commandment.
  3. John Piper:  Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in evangelism because we cannot commend what we do not cherish.
  4. I believe this is THE most critical issue facing Southside Bible Fellowship during this season – duty or delight.

C.    So, if we are to “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” our question is – How do we get there from here?

1.     Come alive to God.  Ephesians 2:1-10 An explanation of the Gospel…

 1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 

2.     Find your true joy and delight in the message of the Gospel – and the Person of Jesus Christ.

  • My prayer for us as a community of believers: “That we would experience Jesus Christ, the sovereign, risen, living, Lord of the universe; and that He would continue to become THE source and content of our real hope and joy.”
  • One of the most important discoveries we will ever make is:  God is most glorified in you when you am most satisfied in Him (John Piper). This is to be the motor that drives our lives.  This concept, I believe, will be key to this transition season here at SBF.
  • Tragically most of us have been taught that duty, not delight, is the way to glorify God. But here is what the Great Commandment is instructing us to do: To delight in God is your duty!
  • John 15:11-12 (AMP) – “I have told you these things, that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing. This is My commandment: [or, out of that joy and delight] that you love one another [just] as I have loved you.”

3.     Come to grips with the idolatry that grips ALL of our lives.

a.     Tim Keller:[1] One of the main ways to read the Bible is as the ages-long struggle between true faith and idolatry. In the beginning, human beings were made [created] to worship and serve God, and to rule over all created things in God’s name (Gen 1:26­–28).

Rom 1:21–25 — Paul understands that original sin as an act of idolatry:

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

b.     Instead of living for God, we began to live for ourselves, or our work, or for material goods. We reversed the original intended order. And when we began to worship and serve created things, paradoxically, the created things came to rule over us.

1 John 5:20-21“And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, [speaking to believers] guard yourselves from idols.”

c.     What is idolatry?

  • It exchanging the truth for a lie.
  • Putting our trust in other saviors – “momentary functional saviors,”
  •  “Exchanging God for pitiful substitutes.” (John Piper),
  • Whoever or whatever we give central value to,
  • Whatever controls us is our Lord.

d.     David Powlison writes in Seeing with New Eyes[2]: The most basic question which God poses to each human heart: “Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, or delight?

e.     Here are some questions that will bring some of our idol systems to the surface:

  • What do I worry about the most?
  • What, do you really want, or expect out of life?
  • What do I use to comfort myself on a bad day?  Cope?  Release valves?
  • What preoccupies me?
  • A Puritan writer from the 17th century said: Our religion is what we do with our solitude (What do you daydream about?).
  • For what do you want to be known?
  • What prayer, unanswered, what make you seriously question God?

f.      Root idols vs. branch (surface) idols:  Lust, like rape, is hardly ever about sex – it’s about self-image, it’s about anxiety, it’s about fear.  These are some of the root idols that seek to control our lives – they are the sin behind the sin…

III.         CONCLUSION

A.   How do we replace our idols?[3]

B.    Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is setting our heart and affections on something, or someone other than God. This cannot be remedied by repenting that you have an idol – or by engaging willpower to try and live differently.

C.    Here’s the final passage for today…

Colossians 3:1-3 (Put On the New Self)

1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above [i.e., YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, SOUL, AND MIND], not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died [to sin, to idolatry] and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

D.   We are invited to rest in, appreciate, rejoice in what Jesus has done through his hideous death – and resurrection.

E.    Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idols.

F.    If we uproot our idols (through repentance) but fail to plant the love of God (or, delight in God) in its place, the idol will grow back – like mowing a weed.

G.   Repentance and rejoicing must go together.


[1] “Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age.”

[2] Pgs. 132-40.

[3] Adapted from Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, pgs. 170-172.