The Greatest Commandment is the Hardest

Image result for love your enemies Bernie Diaz, May 31, 2017

Less than a week after observing Memorial Day in our country, I wondered what kind of armed forces would we have, if soldiers were free to disobey certain orders they disagreed with from their commanding officer – even taking into account the most difficult and onerous commands a solder could ever receive?

That question is quite relevant being that our nation is still fighting a war on terror and there are brave men and women out there, particularly in parts of the Middle East, trying to protect us and to do so, they have to follow orders- orders from their superiors, and ultimately, THE commander in chief of the United States.

Imagine how disorganized they’d be and what kind of chaos would ensue in the military if not this country as a whole, if they were free to do whatever they wanted, or if they didn’t have orders to follow.  Someone said, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master.” How true.

I read a story about someone who had problems getting his son to clean his room. The son would always agree to tidy up, but then wouldn’t follow through. After high school the young man joined the Marine Corps. When he came home for leave after basic training, his father asked him what he had learned in the service.

“Dad,” he said. “I learned what ‘now’ means.”

When you understand who your ultimate commander–in-chief is and what His orders are, it should make following those orders a lot easier and more satisfying I would think.

Love Seems to Be the Hardest Word

So, it is was with that mindset that I Iaunched our church plant just over eight years ago, beginning a ministry as a community of faith, to preach and teach God’s word and gospel to others, in the hopes of playing a part in advancing the kingdom of God and the cause of Christ by the making, maturing and multiplying of disciples.

I just never knew how hard and challenging that mission would be, to teach people to obey God’s great marching orders, beginning with the first and greatest of all – you know the one that summarizes all of the Bible- all of God’s commands, the great commandment to basically love God and love people. That’s the first message I brought to our church in a brief series entitled, God’s Marching Orders and became the slogan for our ministry.  

This week as I’m preparing to preach on another radical text from the Sermon on the Mount, I find that I’m confronted in other words, with that same command and the same realization that most Christians- myself included, would rather ‘punt’ or pass on our greatest commandment- which happens to be our hardest.

In Jesus’ revolutionary message overlooking the Sea of Galilee, he uttered three words that would become the hallmark of the born-again kingdom life of a Christian: “Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44b).” It is virtually inarguable, that that phrase is what sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion and worldview system known to man as moral ethicists over history including Gahndi, have concluded.

The simple reason that it is so, is because our flesh- oue humanity instinctively recoils at the very idea of loving an enemy and seeks to hate rather than love and seek revenge or commensurate justice against an adversary.

To love one’s personal enemy though, is encompassed by the great commandment, which Jesus stated in response to a lawyer’s question of which was the greatest of God’s laws.

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 first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matt. 22:37-40).

There are nearly 300 explicit commands or commandments of God in scripture- 200 in the Old Testament, 70 in the New. But this order, or prescribed rule that we refer to as The “great or “greatest” command, speaks to the charge that is of the highest rank, coming from a Greek word which we transliterate as mega, or that which is of the greatest importance.

Knowing that a powerful motivation to obeying Christ comes from gratitude to God for saving us by His grace, and by the knowledge that our heavenly Father both blesses obedience and disciplines disobedience in His children (Heb. 12:3-11), we should pay particular attention to God’s biggest command, even if it’s the hardest one.

Rather than give my sermon away here, to be preached this coming Sunday, I would agree with no less a theologian than the rock group Boston, that love is “More Than a Feeling.”

In fact, the love we are to give to neighbors or enemies, is one in which a  commitment is made, a commitment to meet needs. It is a love which is not dependent on good feelings, but rather on a consistent and courageous decision to extend oneself for the well-being of another. So, we commit and extend ourselves for God, which is a way in which we love God himself.

That commitment can then produce good feelings, rather than the other way around. Jesus became the perfect demonstration of God’s unconditional love for us by laying down his life for our benefit- we, having once been his enemies (Ro. 5:8). The idea is that you and I are to make a conscious decision to love regardless of how we feel, to love people – even our enemies this way.

This is just another way of understanding the ‘Golden rule’ actually (Matt. 7:12) and the concept of doing to others as we would want others to do to us.  In the final analysis, love and obedience go together. First John 3 and 4 in fact tell us if we love God, we will love people. Guess what? Enemies are people- image bearers of God as difficult as that truth is to swallow for some of us.

How to Love your Enemy?

For the details, you’ll have to come to Christ Community Church this Sunday to find out. But for starters, let’s remember that obedience is a fruit of our love for God in Christ. The manifestation of that obedience is never greater than we obey the greatest and hardest commandment, as Glenda Fulton Davis put it in a poem, “It’s Never Easy”:

It’s not always easy to smile and be nice,
When we are called to sacrifice.

It’s not always easy to put others first,
Especially when tired and feeling our worst.

It’s not always easy to do the Father’s will.
It wasn’t so easy to climb Calvary’s hill.

But we as His children, should learn to obey;
Not seeking our own but seeking His way.

It’s not always easy to fight the good fight.
But it is always good and it is always right!

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