Summary: The ten commandments aren’t just about keeping a set of rules. Rather they’re about making sure our priorities are right, that we put God first and our neighbour as high as ourselves on our list of priorities in life.
It’s appropriate at an Annual General meeting to spend some time reflecting on where we’re going as a Church. What are our priorities? What do we think is the most important thing we can be doing? In fact it would be good if we asked those questions not just about us as a Church but of us as individuals. Where are you going with your life? What are you aiming for? What are your priorities? There are a few students in the congregation who have finished final exams and are thinking about what the next stage of their life will be. What are your priorities? How are you going to make those important decisions about your life? And what about those who are already well into their life. What is it that shapes your life decisions? How do you decide where to spend your time and money? If you have children, how will you help them make decisions? What will you get them to spend time doing? What things will you encourage them to pursue and what things will you discourage them from?
There was a man who came up to Jesus one day to ask a similar sort of question. He wanted to know what was the most important thing for him to do if he wanted to please God. So he asked Jesus “Which commandment is the most important?” Where should his priorities lie? Some people may have thought he was asking a trick question, but Jesus took him seriously.
Of course we all know his answer now don’t we? “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these."
Our problem is we’ve heard it so many times that it can become just part of the background noise that we ignore. We hear it read out week in, week out, but we rarely stop to think about its implications for us. But let’s stop today and think about what the 2 great commandments mean in terms of our priorities.
What would it mean to your life, to the decisions you made if you truly loved the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Would that change any of the things you do? Would it change the way you speak to others? Would it change the things you put your time and energy into?
Have you noticed how when someone falls in love they suddenly change the way they behave. They might stop eating, or start eating more than they should, or they might start dressing differently, thinking about their appearance more; their personal hygiene might improve. Love has an amazing influence on us doesn’t it?
But what about our love for God? Is God so remote from us that our love for him doesn’t affect us the way our love for another human being might? Do we take into account what he wants us to do when we're making decisions about our life. According to Jesus, our first priority should be to love God with all that we are. That should come before everything else.
Would it make a difference to you if you stopped before making that important decision and asked, not what would Jesus do, but what would God want me to do? Or, better, how can I please God in this next phase of my life. How can I please God this weekend, this week, these Christmas holidays? How can we please God as a Church this coming year?
To answer that question we need first of all to read and know God’s word. You may not find your specific question addressed there but you will find the principles you need if you’re to work it out for yourself; you will find enough to be able to discern the mind of God on most issues you’ll face. And if you can’t work it out for yourself, that’s what the Church is for. God has placed us in a Church so we can help each other work out what will please him, what path we should take.
The second part of Jesus’ answer is priority No 2. He says you’re to love your neighbor as yourself. God accepts, as a given, that you’ll love yourself. Everyone loves themselves to some degree at least; most to a large degree. But Jesus says we’re to put our neighbour on the same level of interest as we place ourselves. That’s a pretty tough standard isn’t it? I mean, we have no problem spoiling ourselves when we’ve been working hard or been under particular stress at work or at home. How many times have you heard someone say, “I just felt like I needed a treat”; or “I just thought I’d pamper myself for a change.” Well, that’s the sort of attitude Jesus says we should have for our neighbour. And of course he went on to illustrate in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbour is anyone else we happen to come across, including our enemies. We’re to love them enough to give them a treat when they’ve been under pressure or working too hard; to care for them when they need it; to carry their burdens when they’re struggling to do it by themselves.