The Most Important Thing

If ever there was a passage in Scripture that ought to command our attention and a lifetime of meditation, it is this one.

Matthew 22 (ESV) 34But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked (Jesus) a question to test him. 36″Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And 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. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

And a second one is this.

Luke 6:45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

I know I want to love–because, well, it’s the GREATEST command. Secondly, I know that looking at the words that come out my mouth is a great indicator (perhaps the #1 indicator) of how well I love.

Furthermore, I am not left to define love by my culture or my upbringing. Instead, God gives us an objective standard for evaluating our hearts by defining love in very clear, practical terms in I Cor. 13.

1 Corinthians 13 NAS

1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

When we connect these Scriptures together, we see that loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the foundation for all other obedience. If we are in a sticky situation in which the righteous path may not seem clear, we can ask ourselves, “What response is most consistent with I Cor. 13?” Furthermore, we are given objective standards by which to determine if our heart is truly one of love for our brother, and our words are a primary indicator of this.

Here are the objective standards by which we can evaluate our heart.

1) Love is patient, kind, and not jealous.

2) Love does not act unbecomingly. The ESV says love is not “rude”.

3) Love does not brag, is not arrogant, does not seek its own

Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV) 3Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing [emptied Himself (NAS), made himself of no reputation (KJV)], taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

4) Love is not provoked.

James 1:19 (NAS) 19This you know, my beloved brethren But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;

5) Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.

2 Corinthians 5 19namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

6) Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.

Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.

Proverbs 17:9 He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

**Love doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet; rather, it keeps others out of the room until it can be cleaned up correctly.**

7) Love bears all things and believes all things. Love gives the benefit of the doubt.

“is ever ready to believe the best of every person” Amplified Bible

8) Love hopes, endures, and never fails.

I Cor. 13 is such an interesting passage especially because of its context. The Corinthian church seemed especially gifted by the Spirit and were subsequently filled with pride and the conflicts that naturally follow. So Paul clears it all up in chapter 13. Though you speak with the tongues of angels, if you do not demonstrate these objective characteristics of love, your words will sound hollow and out of tune to the hearer. Your bodily sacrifices will be empty and meaningless. Your prophetic utterances and acts of faith will be of no value. How sobering!

For me personally, the characteristic of love that has caused great examination and change in my own heart is that love is ever ready to believe the best of someone. This has been so important in my marriage and other relationships as well. In fact, I’m becoming more and more convinced that personal failure on this aspect of love particularly cripples homes and churches.

Finally, according to Gal. 5:22, love is a fruit of the Spirit. Growth in our love for God and love for others is a natural by-product of a healthy relationship with God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. A fruit tree doesn’t consciously focus on squeezing out a piece of fruit. Instead, fruit is naturally produced when a fruit tree is healthy, well-watered, and connected to the root system for nourishment. In the end, if we want to see the fruit of love in our lives, we must focus on our relationship with God. Is it healthy? Am I well-nourished through prayer and Bible study? Do I yield to the Spirit’s conviction? I hope self-examination of our heart through I Cor. 13 will be helpful to you here.

2 Responses to The Most Important Thing

  1. Aforrest September 19, 2008 at 1:54 am #

    Wendy,I like your quote about not sweeping sin under the rug but keeping the door closed until the mess is cleaned up. Is that original to you, or are you quoting someone else? I appreciate your teaching! I’m lurking and learning! 🙂

  2. Wendy September 19, 2008 at 5:07 am #

    I came up with that one on my own. 🙂 Thanks for reading (and commenting this time).