We have talked a lot in the last three years about the Christian life; about the basic things that God requires of us; about Jesus' declaration of the two principles that are the foundation of the Old Testament Law and Prophets. One place that this is recorded is Mark chapter 12.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Jesus said that two things are necessary to fulfill the law: Love God, and Love Others. We like that. It is nice, it makes us feel good, and it is true. But I wonder if we have a good understanding of what it means to Love God and Love Others. We are going to begin a study of these previous verses. We are going to look closer at what it means to Love God with all we are and Love Others as ourselves.
Sometimes we think that Love is a fuzzy feeling. We should have a positive attitude towards God. This is good, but incomplete. I can have a positive attitude toward you and feel all fuzzy inside, but still not do what is best for you. We can feel good about God, but not be willing to obey him. Love in it's simplest form is one person saying to another, I will give of myself to you.
Romans 12:1 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship." Our appropriate response to who God is, our worship of him is defined by Paul as giving our lives to him to use fully and completely. As fully and completely as one would give an offering to be burnt on the altar of sacrifice. Once that offering is there on the altar, it is on fire, it is consumed and there is no take backs. Paul says our spiritual act of worship that is acceptable before God is giving him our lives so completely we see them as lost to our own agendas and plans and purposes; and completely given over to God's agenda, his purpose and plan.
So fundamentally to Love God with all we are means to give our entire self to him as a sacrificial offering. To love our neighbor also requires us to give. James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." The religion that God accepts, the practice of our faith that pleases God, is to look after those in need. To see that children are taken care of, and that those who are unable to care for themselves are cared for, and that those who are unable to provide for their own support are supported. To care for orphans and widows—those who in Jame's time were completely and utterly alone.
As individuals this thought of giving of ourselves to others and to God may be a familiar theme. But what does it mean for our church body to surrender not only our individual lives, but our whole church—our property, our income, our services, our programs, our fellowship time, everything—to God and to give of ourselves to others? What does that mean for us as a church?
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.
But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little." [Exodus 16:18]
Do you remember the extraordinary ways God has provided for us this year? I do. I remember the Lord providing for a new parsonage roof. I remember the Lord providing every penny of expense for my trip to Burundi. I look at our budget sheets from this year and see not a dip in giving, but an increase in spite of the economy being in a crisis. Some people get nervous when we talk about giving, but I get excited because I know that the provision is from God.
The ability to give is supplied through his riches, not mine, not yours. He supplies our needs and he gives to us abundantly so that we can share with those in need. We do that in some ways in our church. Our Friends Women Missionary Fellowship gives to the rescue mission. We give our Shiloh noisy offering. And some give to the Lyon County Restricted Emergency Fund. These are all great. I want to encourage you, but I know that even in this giving, we have not given to the point of sacrifice, which probably means we could all give more. I include myself in this. So I want to issue you a challenge. I want you to begin praying with me. Let's seek God together and ask what it is he has for us as a church to give to him or to those around us. If God leads you to do something specific on your own, do it! I want you to pray, and if God leads you to something specific for our church to do, share it with our church family so we can pray about how to put it into action.
We need to be about the business of pouring ourselves out in love to God and to those around us. In doing so we fulfill the great commandments. We fulfill the law of love.