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Keep It Simple
October 27, 1996

MATTHEW 22:34-46

We human beings do like to complicate things. Especially do theologians, biblical scholars, those who design our church language, like to complicate the gospel. Pharisees asked Jesus, "Which commandment in all of God's laws is the greatest?" Jesus gave them the orthodox answer. He quoted their own scriptures back to them. And, in so doing, Jesus put the entire law in its simplest form. Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God." Keep it simple.

In our church we talk a lot about God's love for us, which we call grace. But, what does it mean for us to love God? We pray, we sing, "I love you, Lord," but how? Certainly we don't mean physical expression. We can't hug the Lord because God is spirit. The Greek language, into which Jesus' words were first translated, uses several different words which in English are all translated love. There is eros, which is sexual love. There is philia, which is friendship. And, there is agape, which is the Greek word used in Jesus' simple admonition to love the Lord your God. Agape is to give or do for another without thought or expectation of anything in return. God's love for us is agape-- unrestricted, boundless grace. Jesus says we are to love the Lord with agape love. Let's take the word agape this morning and make an acrostic.

Let the A in agape (both As) stand for adoration. To love the Lord means to adore or worship, to ascribe worth, devotion, praise, thanksgiving to the Lord. Prayer begins with adoration. O Lord, I love you, adore you, thank you for being who you are, and for loving me. The psalms, which were the hymns sung by worshipers in the temple, are filled with adoration. Listen to a few verses from Psalm 104,

Bless the Lord, from the depths of my being.

O Lord my God, you are very great.

You are clothed with honor and majesty,

wrapped in light as with a garment.

You stretch out the heavens like a tent,

you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,

you make the clouds your chariot,

you ride on the wings of the wind.

You set the earth on its foundations,

so that it shall never be shaken.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;

they flow between the hills, giving drink to every wild animal.

O Lord, how great are your works!

May the glory of the Lord endure forever.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

Bless the Lord,

Praise the Lord!

To love the Lord means to express adoration and praise. That is why we worship. That is why we must worship. We cannot contain ourselves. Praise and adoration burst forth from those have received the grace of God. How can we not love the Lord when we realize how the Lord loves us. We worship and adore the Lord privately and individually. And, there are weekly times when we gather corporately as God's people to worship. When we gather for worship, I encourage you to let go, relax, let down the inhibitions, sing with abandonment, kneel and pray, let the tears come, let the laughter come. What we do here together is our offering to God, our gift to God, not only because of all we have received, but because we adore the Lord.

Let the G in agape stand for giving. To love the Lord means to give, to live a life of giving. Giving is the very nature of God, and we all have the need to give. John Maxwell has written, We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. God gave his Son. God gives us the earth to take care of, or spoil if that is our ultimate choice. God gives us the very air we breathe. God gives us our lives through birth. God gives us our salvation through Jesus. God gives us the gift of eternal life. Giving is the very nature of God, and to love the Lord means to give, to give without thought of what we might receive in return. No-string giving is agape.

Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist and author, once said that generous people are rarely mentally ill. When we live a life of giving, when we live beyond our self, when we become interested in others outside of ourselves, when we catch the excitement of doing God's work, and giving generously to do God's work, we become healthy people-- emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually. Such is the power of giving.

Give your time, give your money, give your talents. Develop your spiritual gifts and give them. We can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving. The very nature of love-- loving the Lord, loving your family, loving your spouse, loving your neighbor-- means giving. You cannot love without giving. Agape is giving without thought or expectation of something in return. No-string giving, I call it.

A young girl needed emergency surgery, with the possibility of needing blood. She had a rare blood type, and the only member of her family that had the same type blood was her younger brother. The doctors and parents approached the young boy, carefully explained how they needed blood for his sister, explained the procedure of taking a pint of his blood, and asked if he would be willing to give blood to his sister. He thought for a few minutes and then consented. The boy was brought to the hospital with his parents. Father and mother flanked the table as the boy was prepped and the needle inserted to start the flow of life-giving fluid. The boy looked over to see the plastic bag slowly filling with his blood. He looked up to the faces of his parents who stood by him in awe of his courage. "Mom, Dad," the boy asked quietly, "How long will it be before I die?"

He thought giving his blood meant he would die. Yet, for the sake of his sister's life, out of love for his sister, with absolutely no thought of anything in return, he was willing to give his life. That is giving. That is love. That is agape.

Let the P in agape stand for priority. To love the Lord means to put God first, to give God first priority in your life. We have been saying the Ten Commandments in our worship service for several Sundays now. Jesus summarized the first four commandments in the admonition, "Love the Lord your God," and he summarized the next six commandments in the admonition, "Love your neighbor." Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments. Jesus did not replace the Ten Commandments. Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments begin with You shall have no other gods before me, which assumes the existence of other gods. The second commandment says, You shall not make an idol. A god, an idol, is whatever is #1 in your life. Whatever is your first priority, to whatever you give primary loyalty, is your god, your idol.

To love the Lord means to have no other gods, no idols, no priorities ahead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. To love the Lord means to give to God first, not the leftovers.

Let the E in agape stand for ethics. To love the Lord means to live an ethical life, a moral life, to live according to God's laws, God's principles, God's time-tested principles for corporate living on this planet. Loving God is not only an emotional experience, where we feel good. The Christian life is much more than feeling happy. We love God by living an ethical life out of gratitude for how God loves us. We don't earn our salvation by living a good life, but we express our salvation, and live out our salvation, by living a good life.

An ethical life begins with the Ten Commandments. We love our neighbors, and we love the Lord by honoring our parents, by not murdering, by not committing adultery, by not stealing, by not lying about our neighbors, and by not coveting, by not being greedy.

When Johnny was six years old, his father was stopped for speeding. His father slipped the officer a twenty-dollar bill with his license. "It's okay, everybody does it," the father told Johnny.

When Johnny was ten years old and broke his glasses, he heard his mother call the insurance company and report that they were stolen, so the insurance company would pay for a new pair.

In high school, Johnny's coach showed him how to hold on to an opponent's shirt while throwing a block so the referee wouldn't see it.

When Johnny got to college, he found he could buy answers to tests, and hire certain students to write his term papers for him. When caught at cheating and expelled from school, Johnny's parents and teachers couldn't believe it. Hadn't they taught him the difference between right and wrong?

We love the Lord by living an ethical life.

We love the Lord by adoring and worshiping God, by giving, by putting the Lord first in our priorities, and by living a good, ethical life. Adoration, Giving, Priority and Ethics spell Agape.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris