Summary: This sermon examines some of the characteristics and basics of Christian living.

Introduction: Early in the season football teams sometimes gets so caught up in the preseason hype and trying to learn the offence and defense that they forget the basics of blocking and tackling. Unfortunately when that happens they usually end up losing a game or two, which for teams like Tennessee could keep them from being able to play for a National Championship.

The same thing happens to churches. Sometimes we get so caught up in all of the different ministries and programs that we have going that we forget about the basics of Christianity. When that happens it can be just as devastating. So this morning I want to share a few verses of Scripture that explain these basics better than perhaps any other passage of scripture in the Bible. Follow along as I read Mark 12:28-34.

“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."

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

In essence what Jesus was saying was that our relationship to God is more important than anything else, including the ministries and programs that we are involved in at church. In his Book, “Experiencing God,” Henry Blackaby says, “God is much more interested in having an intimate personal love relationship with you than He is in what you can do for him.”

I’m sure God would prefer it if I spent more time reading His Word and praying than I do preparing sermons, visiting people who are sick, and attending the various meetings that I attend. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, and I’m sure you are just as guilty of neglecting your relationship to the Lord as I am. So perhaps the first thing we all need to do this morning is evaluate our relationship to the Lord, and see if perhaps we need to cut back on our religious activities a little so that we can focus more on our relationship with God.

The Second most important Commandment according to Jesus is to “Love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

Even the Jewish lawyer that came to test Jesus understood that the relationships that we have with one another are much more important than the religious duties or activities that tend to occupy so much of our time. Yet too often we put more time and energy into our religious activities and ministries while neglecting the relationships we have with one another. When that happens, problems will almost certainly develop.

So this morning I want to share a couple of things with you that I believe will help all of us re-focus our attention on the importance of loving our neighbors.

I. First of all, Treat other people the way you want to be treated.

This is what we sometimes refer to as the (Golden rule.) Jesus shared this simple, yet profound truth during his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:12, He said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

This is one of the first things most of us as parents teach our children. It is one of the most basic philosophies of life. Yet it has a tremendous impact on our lives and the lives of those we come into contact with.

illustration: The parable of the Good Samaritan, found in the 10th chapter of Luke introduces us to three philosophies of life. The robber’s philosophy was "What you have is mine, and I will take it." The priest and Levite had the philosophy that "What is mine is mine, and I will keep it. " The Samaritaan’s philosophy was "What is mine is yours, and I will share it." Jesus endorsed the Samaritan’s philosophy and said, "go, and do likewise." Luke 10:37

A. If we want someone to be our friend, we must first be a friend to them.

illustration: In the 1800’s many people decided to leave their homes on the East Coast and travel out West to start a new life. One day a wagon pulled up to a log cabin, and the man who was driving the wagon told the man who owned the cabin that he was looking for a place to settle down. He then asked the man who owned the cabin what kind of neighbors he had. In turn, the settler asked the traveler what kind of neighbors he had back East. The traveler said they were cranky, unfriendly, and cantankerous. Hearing that the settler told the traveler he would find the same kind of neighbors in that particular area. So the traveler decided to keep on going.

The next day another wagon pulled up to the same cabin. This man was also looking for a place to settle down. He also asked about the neighbors. The settler asked him the same question he had asked the other man the day before. He said, "What kind of neighbors did you have back East?" The traveler said his former neighbors were the nicest, friendliest, and most cooperative neighbors in the world. The settler told him he would find the same kind of neighbors in that particular area. So the man and his family decided to stay, and did indeed find the people who lived in that area to be great neighbors.

The difference was not in the neighbors, but in the two men themselves. The Bible teaches us that "A man who has friends must himself be friendly."

B. Next, If we want someone to be kind to us, we must be kind to them.

illustration; A woman was in the process of suing her husband for divorce. She told the judge that she had done her best to get her husband to change his ways, but that he just wouldn’t do it. Referring to Paul’s words about being nice to your enemies, which is found in the 12th chapter of Romans the judge asked the woman if she had tried to "heap coals of fire on his head." The Woman answered, "No, but I don’t think it will work, I’ve already tried scalding water, and that certainly didn’t do any good."

In contrast the following story is a good example of the way kindness breeds kindness:

"An old man named Bill was hired to sweep streets in a small town in the South. Once a week the street sweeper came by with his brush. Bill was a friendly old fellow and Miss Gidding got into the habit of taking him a glass of lemonade and a slice of cake, during the summer. He always made a point to thank her, but said nothing more. But then one evening she heard a knock at her door. When she went to the door, Bill was standing there with a sack of peaches in one hand, and several ears of sweet corn in the other. He seemed embarrassed as he said, "I brought you these, Ma’am, because you have been so nice to me." Miss Gidding replied, "Oh you shouldn’t have bothered, it was nothing." Then the street sweeper replied, "Well, it’s more than anyone else did for me."

If we want people to be kind to us, we must be kind to them.

C. Next, If we want the respect of others, we must also give them the respect they deserve.

This is a lesson that Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa learned at a very young age.

When he was a child growing up in South Africa, Racism was still a big problem. If a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to get off of the path and allow the white person to pass by. As they were passing by the black person was supposed to nod their head as a gesture of respect.

"One day" Tutu and his mother were walking down the street when they noticed a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, walking toward them. Before he and his mother could step off the sidewalk, this man stepped off the sidewalk and allowed Tutu and his mother to pass by. As they passed by, the man tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to Tutu’s mother! Tutu was shocked and asked his mother, ‘Why the white man did that?’ His mother explained that the white man was an Anglican priest. That He was a man of God, and that’s why he did what he had done. Tutu would later say, “I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God."

John Wesley and George Whitefield were two of the greatest preachers of the 18th Century. They became close friends while attending college at Oxford, but their theological differences eventually caused them to drift apart. In fact, there was quite a bit of animosity between their followers. One of Whitefield’s followers once made the following comment to him about Wesley. He said…

"We won’t see John Wesley in the heaven, will we?" To which Whitefield humbly replied "Yes, you’re right, we won’t see him in heaven. He will be so close to the Throne of God and we will be so far away, that we won’t be able to see him!" You see despite the fact that He adamantly disagreed with Wesley, Whitefield still believed Wesley was a man of God. Indeed their respect for one another was so great that when Whitefield died, his family asked Wesley to preach the funeral.

We could all learn something from Wesley and Whitfield. Even though we may not agree with each other about everything, we should still treat one another with dignity and respect.

Jesus summed all of this up when He said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

A second piece of advice we should all put into practice is:

II. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

We’ve all heard the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

Well, that’s not exactly true. Words are very powerful and they can inflict a tremendous amount of pain on a person. “In fact,” Christian Author and Speaker John Maxwell says, “that after the bruises have disappeared and the physical pain is gone, the inward pain of hurtful words remain.”

The Bible tells us that our tongues can inflict a great deal of damage. In James 3:8 says, James refers to it as "a restless evil, that is full of deadly poison."

illustration: One day and employer was having an unusually bad day at the office. As a result he yelled at one of his employees, which made the employee mad. When the employee arrived home, he made an ugly comment to his wife. In turn, She yelled at their 10-year old son. The son ran outside and kicked the dog. Which made the dog mad, so he bit the boss who had come by to apologize for yelling at his employee.

Usually our negative comments or hurtful words have a way of coming back and biting us, so Remember "If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all."

Conclusion: Jesus expects us to Love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, and with all of our minds. But He also expects us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we as Christians could somehow keep these two commandments at the forefront of our minds, we’d all be a lot better off.