Complete Love

Complete Love:

A Sermon for Trinity 18

Anthony G. Cirilla

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my Strength and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Though distorted fundamentally by the fall of mankind, our hearts were built and made to love the eternal majesty of the Trinity, and to be cloaked in the light of God’s holiness. And not only that, but our hearts are also made to love the shared act of loving God together. Christ teaches us in the two greatest commandments that we must love God completely, with all aspects of love we are capable of, and that this first commandment cannot actually be fulfilled if we fail to love the neighbors who bear God’s image. So I want to focus this morning on the words that we hear every Sunday: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” In these words of such paramount importance, we discover what it means to love our Lord with a complete love.

  1. Love the Lord with all thy heart.

The Greek word, kardia, means, as it does today, the heart in both senses of the word – the physical heart, and the seat of emotions. The Pulpit Commentary says, the heart can be understood as “the seat of the understanding” and “the home of the affections and the seat of the will.” On this point we must exercise some caution, because the relationship between faith and emotions in Christianity has been distorted. There are those who would supplant biblical, spirit-filled faith with a vapid, emotionally driven faith which does not meet the standards Scripture sets for belief. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The things hoped for have substance – they have a rich combination of historical evidence, philosophical support, and poetic wisdom which come together to establish that our God and his Gospel are rightly the target of all of our emotions. Ultimately, of course, the gift of faith comes from the Holy Spirit, but we can take responsibility for cultivating in the seat of our understanding a rich faith that holds before our imaginations the nature of God so that we can inculcate love for him at the very core of our outlook. Last Wednesday we discussed Psalm 29, and the 2nd verse reads, “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Loving God properly requires that we learn to cultivate within our hearts, from Scripture, a deep sense of God’s absolute holiness – his goodness, his truth, his beauty, the wonder of his omnipotence, the wisdom of his omniscience, the fullness of his omnipresence. We love Him because anything which in this world seems worthy of love is at best only an image of the worthiness of love of which God supremely deserves love and is the ultimate fountain of all other things which merit love. This is, I think, one aspect of what John meant when he wrote in his first epistle, “God is love” – that is to say, he is the fulfillment, the pinnacle, the complete unity of all objects of affection. He is in fact what our hearts long for, and that is why, whenever we replace the true God with a God of our own making, whether literally or any other heart idol, we see devastation and despair everywhere we look. We are heartsick, in a spiritual but very real sense, for the one true font of satisfaction. But though we have turned our hearts to lesser loves and malnourished our spirits by feeding on the false gods of reputation, money, things, or whatever, God, despite needing nothing from us, took the initiative to restore the affections of our hearts. As 1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It would be enough to love God for the fact that he merits love in the highest, but even more amazingly, though we often have rejected God’s love in our hearts, though we have fed our hearts with love of sin which rejected his goodness and his glory, he saw you in the midst of your sin, and thought, “I love that sinner, and I am going to conquer the rebellion of his heart and take him back.” And the second Person of the Trinity, who receives perfect and holy love as He deserves from the Father, submitted himself to the wicked hatred of our hearts so that the seat of our affections could be restored. That is why we must love God with all our hearts.

  1. Love the Lord with all thy Soul.

The word translated soul in Greek is psyche, and can refer both to the literal breath in our lungs and to the spiritual component of our nature. The Pulpit Commentary explains that the soul can be understood here as “the living powers, the animal life.” Genesis 2:7 reads, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” If the heart is the seat of affectionate understanding, the soul is the very breath of life which gives us power to will and act out our affections and desires. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that powerful feelings about a moral issue is sufficient for the good life – how outraged we are is a sign of how moral we are. But just as with the body, with the spirit, living life requires action. For the health of the body, we should force ourselves to move so that we have to take in more air, to work the life within our limbs to make that life strong. Likewise, we must live out, with intentional choice and assertion of will, the affections of the heart we discussed cultivating. Even in the body there is a connection between the heart and the breath. As an asthmatic I well know the challenges which damaged lungs can put the heart through. We may have soaring feelings of affection for God while singing in Church, and those soaring feelings are a good thing, but only if we find a way to put our soul where our heart is. We have to use this place, these acts of worship, as a training ground to ready us for a bold show of faith in the view of a world often skeptical of our beliefs. If I run out of breath too easily, I know I might need to take my asthma medication. Just the same, if we grow weary too quickly of thinking of the things of God, then it is time to start doing the things of God. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”  Spiritually, after all, we are all asthmatics, but Paul made no provision for exemption from running the race in the Christian life on the basis of a wheezing soul. And if our soul is wheezing, then we may need to back up and check on our heart again – have we failed to establish a routine of worship, prayer, and living in God’s word dedicated to growing the affections of the heart? Then our spirit will be weak. And if we are always building up love of the Lord with our hearts but never striving to live it out, then our hearts will fall into doubt and confusion. And that is a dangerous place to be, because trials are coming. James 1:12 reads, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” That is why we must practice and persevere in loving the Lord with all our soul.

  1. Love the Lord with all thy mind.

The word translated mind in the Greek is “dianoia,” and has a more specific meaning than “nous.” The word “nous” would simply mean the mind, but “dianoia” takes it to another level. Strong’s concordance indicates that it means the exercise of deep thought. It’s to think in a way that requires that you furrow your brow and give it full attention, and really use, as they say, the brain that God gave you. Just to clear the air on this point, I am not saying that you have to have a towering intellect like Deacon Kenyon to fulfill this commandment. God is not commanding us to be smarter than we are. We aren’t all going to be professors or have PhDs in theology. That’s okay. We have a variety of duties and callings, and a world full of Deacon Kenyons would be very loving and very brainy, but it would not be the diverse world of people God intended us to have. But make no mistake. To love the Lord our God with all of our minds means that we will not be complacent in our knowledge as Christians. It means that we will have to really think, as best we can, about hard passages of Scripture that confuse us. It means that we should find the time to read quality books about Christianity, about Church history, about theology. I’m not saying to read thirty books a week like Deacon Kenyon, but maybe pick out an approachable Christian book like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, or Basic Christianity by John Stott, and read it over the course of a year. Read the entirety of the Gospel of Matthew over an extended period of time and study how Matthew used the Old Testament prophecies to precisely and thoroughly document that Christ is the Messiah. You don’t have to jump in headfirst and do a book study on the Book of Revelation, though you might. But start with an approachable book like the Epistle of James and read it in an undertone day and night, and really think it over and shape in your mind an understanding of what Scripture is asking for. Being a good Christian is not about being a know-it-all. While we don’t all have to be Bible scholars to read the Bible or professional theologians to understand essential doctrine, we do need to be intellectually engaged as time, circumstance, and ability allow. After all, how can our hearts learn to have affection for the true God if we are not studying who He truly is? How can we faithfully live out loving God with all of our spirit if we do not properly understand what He is asking us to do? Such confusion on its own weakens our confidence, but even worse is the fact that our own confusion will be the target of predatory voices who seek to lead us from Christ’s path. We need to be prepared for those who might seek to distort the Gospel with notions that take our sight from Christ on the cross and put our hope in human means only. Ephesians 5:6 reads, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” If our minds are unprotected by knowledge of God’s truth then our hearts will be vulnerable and our souls will be weak. To love God with our whole heart and our whole soul, then we must also love God with our whole minds.

  1. Love thy neighbor.

The second greatest commandment reads, “And the second, like it, we must love our neighbors as ourselves.” Suppose you came to my house and you saw something strange. Imagine that every picture I have of Camarie was defaced. I had either turned pictures of her backwards or upside down, or drew mustaches and funny glasses on those pictures, or had cut her head out of some of them. Or suppose I just had no pictures of her at all. What if you said to me, “Tony, why do you treat your wife’s pictures like that? Don’t you love her?”, and I said, “Oh, those aren’t my wife – they’re just images of her. I can do whatever I want with her image.” I suspect you would find that a bit troubling. The fact is, we cannot fully and properly love God if we do not strive to love our neighbors. We cannot treat His image however we want and then claim to be followers of the Christ who died to restore that image. Our fellow humans are of course not God, but deserve a neighborly love which comes from gratitude and even a sense of awe. As C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, “We have never met a mere mortal.” Imagine if we really acted as if every person we met bore the image of the God who created volcanoes, thunder, and asteroids. Imagine, more importantly, if we regarded each other as worthy of the sacrificial love which Christ showed our neighbors on the cross. Forget John Lenon: I say, imagine a world where every Christian lived with a concern and a love for his neighbor that mirrored not only our love for God but the love we have for ourselves. I may not feel like I like myself very much, but I feed myself, clothe myself, clean myself – I make sure that I am taken care of. If I look at my neighbor and see my neighbor in need and see that my circumstances make it possible for me to help that neighbor, then I should. I’m not saying that we should render ourselves destitute in helping others, but that we should delight in finding ways to serve one another out of awe of the fact that they bear the image of God, out of an awareness that they suffer from the same vulnerabilities that we do, and out of a desire to model for those who are weak the strength which Christ showed for us on the cross. Notice that the complete love of God, loving him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, should be modeled in miniature in how we love each other. We should love our neighbors with an affection for an understanding of how much God loves them. We should love our neighbors in an active, lived-out, soulful way, not just a back-seat driver’s abstract feelings. We should love our neighbors with our minds, with a curiosity about who they are, what they care about, and what physical, emotional, and spiritual needs they have. When we love God more thoroughly, we will love our neighbors more like how we love ourselves; when we love our neighbors in a manner more consistent with how we love God, then we will love God with a more complete, a more heartfelt, a more soulful, and a more mindful love. How will they know that we are Christians? They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love. Amen.

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