I like getting to the bottom-line of things. If I know the bottom-line in a given situation I know where I stand and I know what I am required to do even when life is confusing and seems directionless.
Maybe it was all the years I spent as a cop responding to emergency situations where I developed an appreciation for “just the facts.” I had to make split-second decisions with lives hanging in the balance. Knowing the bottom-line was essential for a proper response.
In Mark 12:28 a man came to Jesus with a legitimate question – he asked, “What is the most important commandment?” – in other words, what is the bottom-line?
28 “One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The man asking the question actually got it right. Jesus realized that this man understood truth and told him that he wasn’t far from the Kingdom.
When the church in the West shares its reason for existence we use phrases like, “Loving God and Loving People” to define our calling. In fact I have used those words myself. But there is more. The Great Commandment really has three parts. Jesus stated another component that some have not included in the definition of the Great Commandment.
Before we can love God and love people we need to understand what Jesus said just before, and in conjunction with, the statements about loving God and people. Jesus said, “‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.” Some translators have rendered this to read, “The one and only absolute God.” Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 6 a phrase that devout Jews still quote today.
If you follow the logic of what Jesus quoted He was saying, “Listen, people, this one and only absolute God has a one and only Son and my name is Jesus and I am standing right in front of you.”
Some in the Church are loving God and loving people without publicly mentioning the name of the one and only Son of the one and only Lord. It is too easy to simply blend in with the good deeds of an NGO or some other serving group and lose the distinctive personality that drives our efforts.
For 2,000 years of Church history people have been martyred because of the name of Jesus. While the Church has been called to do good works – to feed the poor, to build houses and to serve in soup lines – no one was every killed because they handed out a sandwich to someone. People were martyred because of the name of the Son of the One and only true God, who confronted the darkness in a culture.
The good works are important – please do them. But the work and the message of the Church is all about the Name. The Name redeems, not the works of the redeemed. All that we do has to be connected to the Name.
About ten years ago when I came to Medford I noticed that we had a stack of cards on the lobby counter. On the cards were the printed words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I am sure that when those words were penned they were powerful and relevant. They still are in many ways. But I had a problem with them in the context of our current American church culture.
One night when I was alone in the lobby I threw those cards in the trash. I threw them away because for the previous four years I had been working in Eastern Europe, where I saw a church that had survived horrible persecution because of the Name. To even whisper the Name in the public square could mean prison and in some cases death.
Jesus said in Mark 9:41 “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” The giving of just a cup of water contained a reward when it was attached to the name of Jesus.
The Great Commandment is about selling ourselves out to God in totality and doing the good works in the name of Jesus. Without attaching the name of Jesus to the cup of water we blend in and become just another nice voice in the crowd.
It was the Name that got the Apostles martyred. It is the Name that still makes the demons shudder today. It is the Name that changes the atmosphere of a cocktail party where any form of degrading conversation is allowable. It is the Name that has the power to do the impossible.
The Church has been called into the market place to be a witness to the one and only true God representing His one and only true Son. Our calling is to live out fully committed lives and to do many good works in His Name. Our calling card to our culture must have His name printed on the front of the card or we are not fully living out the Greatest Commandment.