We are exploring this commandment that Jesus said was the greatest, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength," and the second greatest, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said in Mark 12 that these commands are the sum of the Law and the Prophets, in another gospel it says all the Law and Prophets hang on these two commands. That means the whole Bible, all of God's written word, is there to show us how to do these two things, or in some cases how to not go about loving God and neighbor, or even why we should bother. Today we are exploring the first part of Jesus command on how to love God: Love the lord your God with all your heart.
What does it mean to love? We talked last week about how it is not a fuzzy feeling. This love we are called to is a choice. Jesus says in John 14:15 that this love shows itself in obedience. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a whole list of the characteristics of godly love. And we know that Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that giving of ourselves is our acceptable act of worship. Loving God with all our hearts means giving him our whole heart, not holding anything back.
Our text this morning is Genesis 22:1-18. This is a familiar Bible story about God calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. This story is given a bad reputation sometimes, but it is really not about Divinely sanctioned child abuse or God on a power trip. This is an account of God testing Abraham's love for God above all else. Note in the first verses of this chapter that it says that God was testing Abraham. This was just a test. Like most tests of our faith, this one was designed to speak more to Abraham than to God. God knew Abraham's heart, Abraham needed to know the content of his heart as well.
God says to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you LOVE" and sacrifice him to me. Isaac was the fulfillment of God's promise. The promise belonged to God, not to Isaac or to Abraham. And Abraham somewhere had fallen into the danger of holding this gift closer than the giver. God calls Abraham on his dangerous condition when he emphasizes Abraham's love for his son. In essence God is asking, "Abraham, do you love me or do you love what I do for you?" It was a test of Abraham's priorities, and what held first place in his heart.
We see Abraham's obedience, and God's provision, just as Abraham had stated to Isaac, "God will provide the lamb for sacrifice." Abraham returned to God his gift, and God gave it back. Isaac had been a gift from God, now he was a double gift. And God tells Abraham that because he showed his love by not holding back the most precious thing in his life, God could bless all nations through his offspring.
So what does this have to do with us? Anyone have God tell them to sacrifice their children as a burnt offering? If so, please see me, or a psychiatrist, or walk in at your local police station. God does not ask this routinely. The story of Abraham and Isaac was a one time deal. But just because God is not asking us to sacrifice our children does not mean we don't have things in our lives that pose potential road-blocks to our total surrender to God.
There is a big temptation in our lives to dish out pieces of our heart to the people and things we love. Like a pie, if we start giving some away, thinking we'll give God the rest we won't have much to lay on the altar. We give a piece to our spouse; one to our children; one to other family. Pieces go to our friends; our job; our house or car or that boat we've been wanting. And of course it wouldn't be right to give it all away without keeping a piece for ourselves. Pretty soon we find ourselves with just a sliver of heart left to give to God. But this is not what Jesus meant when he said love the Lord your God with all of your heart. It wasn't give God what is left of your heart, but all of it.
An amazing thing happens when we decide to give God our hearts, though. It might be a scary thing, but if we will step out in faith, we find that God does not take our hearts and leave us without love for anyone else. Quite the contrary, we give God our whole heart and all our love, and he gives it back filled with his overflowing, never-running-out, eternal and infinite love. We find we have more love for our families, because we love them with God's love. We have more love for our friends, because we love them with God's love. We even find love for our enemies because we love them not with the puny love of our own natural hearts, but with the all-encompassing love of God.
So I challenge you today to give God your whole heart. It starts with a decision to surrender your heart to him, without holding anything back. It is followed through and proven in your life by obedience; doing what he calls you to do. It shows itself in your character as you live a life full of patience, kindness, humility and love in your relationships with others. Give God your whole heart and see his love pour out into your life, and through you to others.