Study Guide, January 8, 2023
Pastor Clay Olsen
Religious leaders in Jesus’ day had developed a religious system with 613 laws. They chose the number of 613 because that was how many separate letters were in the text containing the Ten Commandments. They divided the list into positive commandments and negative commandments. There were 248 affirmative commandments, one for every part of the human body, as they understood it. There were 365 negative commandments, one for each day of the year. They further divided the commandments into binding and non-binding commands. Then they spent their days debating whether the divisions were accurate and then also ranking the commands within each division.1 The rest of their time was spent imposing their cumbersome commandment structure on every around them.
Into this confusing, cluttered, and spiritually constricting atmosphere came Jesus. Arrogantly expecting to trap Jesus into having to sort through their complex web of commandments they asked Him to rank by first importance what they spent all year long debating. What was Jesus’ reply? “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40 NLT From 613 down to two! Don’t you love it? That’s what you call ‘simplifying the complex’. To all who heard Jesus’ answer, it was to them like a breath of ‘fresh air’, in the midst of their stuffy society.
Along with the powerful truth that Jesus revealed in His answer is also found a profound principle. Human nature is bent toward the accumulation of cluttered beliefs, confusing habits, unrealistic expectations, emotional baggage, and so on. And since that is the natural bent of our broken human nature, what are we to do about it? We must purposefully and repeatedly simplify our lives by identifying and practicing and guarding those things that are essential and that transcend all others. Jesus simplified a complex religious culture with two eternal priorities; Love God supremely; Love others sacrificially.
There are many urgent things we must tend to in our family, church, and career responsibilities. But these urgent things must never crowd out the important things, the ultimate things. As Jesus revealed to the Pharisees, our lives are not being measured by the number of checks in a list of 613 do’s and don’ts, our lives are being measured by the temperature of our heart toward God and others. Like the readings on a thermometer, we daily display the degrees of our love toward God and others. And that’s a list that God does keep a record of…our daily temperature of our love toward God and others. What is your temperature today?
Is life really as simple as that? Or maybe we should ask; is life really as profound as that? The answer to both questions is “Yes”. What God makes simple is also the most profound. The challenge and the difficulty of it is keeping it ahead of all the ‘other things’ in our lives. “…be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what He requires of you, and He will provide you with all these other things.” Matt 6:33 TEV Or we know that verse better by:“ But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” KJV
We all have a list of things calling for our attention, demanding our time, and making our lives so complex. We cannot eliminate the tyranny of these urgent things. But we can make them get in line. So, since we are still just starting off in our New Year, do yourself a favor…and others a favor…as well as make God an offering: Simplify your life. Simplify your line. Make this the first one in your line everyday: Love God supremely. And then move the next one into your line that Jesus moved into the line of the two things that He said form the foundation of all the law and the prophets: Love others sacrificially. Put these two in the front of every line in every setting from your home to your church to your job. It will not only glorify God, but it will simplify your life, and revive your spirit, like breathing fresh air.
How about this? Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? It especially happens during contact sports, whether organized or just on the playground. Some of you may have heard Tim Hawkin’s take on that, like he said when you get the wind knocked out of you and your friends come over and start asking you questions…and you can’t even breath, like: “What happened? Are you okay? Are you hurt?” (As if you can answer them…) Do you need help getting up? What do you need? And he said, all you are thinking is… “Air! I need air!”
How amazing that our greatest needs are always the basic needs of life, like ‘air’. There is website that tracks the air quality around the world: Air Quality Index, or aqair.com Air quality is measured from 0 to 50 as Good, as opposed to 200 to 300, which is Very Unhealthy, to 300 and above, which is Hazardous to your health. Emerald Isle averages around 13! And there’s another reason right there to thank the Lord for where you get to live! Breathe deeply and thank God for it! Jerusalem also averages in the 30’s, which is good. But then you go to places like Dhaka, Bangladesh, where it’s in the 225 plus range; Very Unhealthy. And, if you go to places like Xu Chang, China, there the AQ Index can register 437…very Hazardous air quality!
So, yes, the air that you are breathing day in, and day out, has a direct effect on your health. In the very same way, the spiritual air that you are breathing day in, and day out, also has a direct effect on your spiritual health! And yet, we live in a world that is regularly averages well above the ranges of Hazardous spiritual air quality! We live in a world, and now in a culture, that daily spews off toxic beliefs, and opinions, and attitudes, and ideologies, and so on. And unless we guard against taking in this spiritually polluted air, it will even leave unguarded members of the Body of Christ spiritually confused or calloused or even weakened and spiritually ill.
Oh, that we had a filter for our mind in order to guard us against the polluted spiritual air encircling our lives all the time. Oh, but we do! We know this passage really well by now, and that’s great. We often think about it as the very steps to practice for spiritual and mental and emotional health. And it is exactly that! But it is also the very filter we need in order to breath spiritual fresh air instead of daily breathing in all of the polluted air of the false beliefs and teachings and opinions of our culture around us. It is the counter-part passage to Paul’s description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. So as we read it through, this time think of it in terms of how to use this passage as your daily air filter that will then enable you to breath spiritual fresh air in the midst of a polluted world. Phil 4:8- “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” NLT
That’s fantastic! But before we say “Okay” and then walk away, notice again. For example: In order to ‘fix our thoughts on what is true’ we have to know ‘what is true’! And sadly enough, it is right here, right at the front of our air filter that the enemy of our souls most aggressively attacks the world and followers of Christ. For example: We just pointed out that the first two things we are to put first in our line of focus each day is to love God supremely and love others sacrificially. So what does the enemy, the counterfeiter of this world do with that? Satan seeks to replace Biblical love with worldly love and then pushes this false notion of love into every public and religious setting as possible in order to distort God’s will and to discourage God’s people and to destroy the lives of as many people as he can. The devil knows that if you can redefine one of the most powerful needs, drives, and motivations of mankind, you can then control the minds and behaviors of mankind. And Satan has sought to do just by distorting the meaning of this virtue of ‘Love’.
Satan has basically convinced the masses of mankind that ‘Love’ means letting others think and do whatever they love to think and do. In fact, in this era that is being referred to as the ‘Post Church Age’, since Church affiliation is falling by record numbers around the world, a new description is being assigned to an old sin that used to be called ‘Backsliding’. It’s now called ‘Deconstruction’. It’s the growing habit of those who professed to believe in and follow Christ to deconstruct their faith. It’s not just having normal questions about their faith, or having common doubts about the faith, but rather it’s a departure from the literal words of God in favor of the licentious will of the world, and an attachment to worldly wants and behaviors.
So, as with some Biblical teachings, such as Jesus’ warnings about not repenting and then perishing in a literal place that Jesus called ‘Hell’…well, in this world’s twisted idea of ‘love’, there is no place in a world of ‘love’ for a place like ‘Hell’. So ‘Hell’ has been ‘deleted’ by many of those who are ‘deconstructing’ their faith. But then so has John 3:16, along with all the rest of Jesus’ warnings to a sinful world that will not repent and receive Him as their only Savior and Lord so as not to perish by being eternally separated by their sin in a land called ‘Hell’.
Remember, one of the tactics of Satan is to try to present false teachings in this world in ways that appear more compassionate than those who simply love God and seek to obey His words in the Bible…why, even more so than those teachings of God Himself. As in, many say: “How could a loving God send anyone to Hell?” What a defamation of the character of God and a twisted distortion about what God said, and the purpose for which God sent His Son. Our loving God had to do this for this sinful and perishing world: John 3:16-21- “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” NLT
No, God sent His Son to save the world from Hell. It’s the world, it’s people themselves who send themselves to Hell when they neglect or reject receiving Jesus into their life as their only Savior from their sins against God.
Speaking of judgment…the world despises God’s judgment, because they worship their own desires, which is often what God called, ‘loving the darkness more than the light.’ That’s why one of the favorite phrases from the Scriptures that Satan pushes and promotes, once again, in a twisted sense is what? Right: Matt 7:1- “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” NLT That, brothers and sisters, is one of the most quoted passages from the Bible by both unbelievers and from many deceived believers. The devil has distorted it into becoming the ‘Summum bonum’ of life. ‘Summum bonum’ is a Latin expression introduced by the Roman philosopher, Cicero, which meant: the highest good, especially as the ultimate goal according to which values and priorities are established in an ethical system. ‘Don’t judge anyone’ has become the mantra of our society.
And does that describe to a ‘T’ the desires of much of our society to not be judged by anyone else about what they choose to think, say, or do? Remember, humans are religious by creation. So what fallen humans are driven to do is to fashion their religion in such a way that they can feel religious and yet live their lives according to how they feel at the same time. And in order to do this, they figure out a way to select or twist what is found in the Scriptures to make it so that it will support their feelings and their choices about how they want to live their lives. And Satan has been more than willing to assist them in this ‘Scripture twisting’ ploy in every way necessary to achieve their highest wants and goals. Do not forget that Satan is still seeding the question in the minds of men and women the world over of: “Oh, has God said?” He first plants the doubt about the authority and the truth of God’s Word, and then he supplies the lies that will give people what they want…basically to be like a god in their life choices and to make God be like however they want Him to be. What they do not want is a God who judges them in any way. But how ironic that the rest of what Jesus said about judging is completely ignored. For that passage goes on to say: Matt 7:2 – “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” NLT
The point Jesus was making was for people to stop judging others by their own human standards and opinions, which are biased and prejudiced because of our fallen sin nature. Rather, Jesus said more about this in John 7:24- “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” NASU So Jesus went on to say that His followers are to judge, but they are to judge with a higher standard…with God’s righteous standard, which is the only standard for all people, including ourselves. In fact, to judge with righteous judgment, or with the divinely inspired words of God in the Bible is one of the most loving things believers can do. One of the most loving things that God did for us was to call us to repentance from our sins, so that we would not have to face the judgment for our sins but could then be forgiven and given new spiritual life in union with our God.
Again, the Devil has deceived so many in our world to think that when followers of Christ share with them; the Gospel that calls for them to repent of their sins and turn to Christ to be saved, that this is being unloving and judging of them, when in reality it is the most loving and non-judgmental truth in the world. But again, that’s one of the reasons that sharing the truths of God’s Word with a world that loves man’s word above God’s is part of what ‘sacrificial love’ is all about. It will cost Christians to both follow Christ and to speak His truths to a world that loves darkness rather than light. You will sacrifice in being misunderstood. You will sacrifice in being falsely accused. You will sacrifice for seeking to show love to others who don’t love you, just like God had to do and continues to do. You will sacrifice by being labeled narrow minded and bigoted and several other things…Just like Jesus was labeled all these things because He said that if you really love God, you will obey the words of God. Yes, it takes sacrifice to love like God loves…at least in this world, because we belong to another world; to God’s world. And God is about to impose His new world over this world, and then all of our sacrifices will be turned into eternal blessing and rewards for each of His children who sought to sacrificially love others around them just like He did.
We’ll continue to explore what ‘loving God supremely and loving others sacrificially’ Biblically means later.
1. Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger, Simple Church, pp. 16,17