When Jesus was asked, which commandment is the greatest, and he responded by saying, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Was he reducing the Ten Commandments down to two? Do believers today actually have it a lot easier than people in the Old Testament? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg walks us through the role of God's law in the life of a believer. He's teaching today from Matthew chapter 22, but he begins with an Old Testament reference. Exodus 20 and verse 1. And God spoke all these words, saying, I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but on the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male servant or your female servant or your livestock or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.
Therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that is your neighbor's. Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, You speak to us, and we will listen. But do not let God speak to us, lest we die. Moses said to the people, Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin. The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Amen. I invite you to turn to the Gospel of Matthew and to chapter 22. Matthew chapter 22 and verse 34. But when the Pharisees heard that he—that is, Jesus—had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And 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. This is the great and first commandment, and a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. I think it was a man by the name of Jim Collins who wrote a book called Good to Great. I think the idea was that there are certain companies that are good, but only a number of them make the leap from being good to being great.
I've been thinking about that this week because of a kind of reverse play on the basis of that phraseology. Because as you will notice here, we are dealing with the great commandment—the great commandment. Jesus here, as you will perhaps know, is quoting from the Old Testament. He's quoting, first of all, from Deuteronomy, the Shema.
Shema is Hebrew for here. It begins, Here, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one. And that is the first part of the text that we have here in Matthew.
And then in the second, where he talks about loving of the neighbor, he's actually quoting from Leviticus and chapter 19. And so our purpose today is to be confronted by and to give consideration to this great commandment. And in order to do so, it is important for us to have an understanding of the commandments as they are given to us in the Bible, indeed, an understanding of the law of God as it is presented to us in the Bible, and particularly an understanding of the place of the law in the life of a believer. It is absolutely crucial that we understand this, and I want to take some time leading up, as it were, to the text.
If I never get there, then we'll get there later on. But it would be less than helpful if I leave large swathes of the congregation behind by presuming on a certain understanding of the place of the law in the life of the Christian. It's not only important that we understand it but that we embrace the all-demanding nature of God's law, which, as we read, was given to his people in the context of redeeming grace, so that grace and law together are unfolding. The Ten Commandments, which we just read from Exodus, were laws for God's redeemed people.
That is of vital importance. The laws that God gave were for his redeemed people. He did not take them out of the land of Egypt because they kept the Ten Commandments. He took them out, giving to them the Ten Commandments so that they might live by them, so that the moral law was to be for them a chart and a compass. When we think, for example, of Proverbs 3, is it 5 and 6, trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths. The commandments were given to them because he took them out, and the law was informing them of what God requires, and the Spirit of God was empowering them to do what God requires. So, let's just say it, first of all, as axiomatic, that according to our understanding of the Bible, the moral law of God not only is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, to show us to hold up the law of God, the Ten Commandments, as a mirror so that we might look at our face in them and see how we are on the wrong side of that. Immediately, number one, you shall have no other gods before me, which is the negative side of Deuteronomy 6. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. In other words, you shall have no other gods before me. But I recognize that a congregation such as ours is filled with all kinds of notions in relationship to this.
I know that because I come across you, and I have an occasion to talk with you. And some people immediately, when we begin to move in this direction, start to ask the question, Well, what about the place of…? Romans chapter 6 and verse 14, where Paul is writing, and he says, For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Some of you already in your minds are going, Well, wait a minute. The law is an abiding place in the life of the Christian.
What about Romans chapter 6 verse 14? Well, I'm glad you asked. Actually, you didn't ask.
I knew you would ask, and so I asked. What is the answer to that? Well, the answer is that we are not under law, first of all, as a way of justification. We're not under law as a means whereby we can be set right with God. Secondly, we're not under law as it relates to the Mosaic legislation.
All of those civil aspects, and along with its ceremonial aspects too, are no longer under law in relationship to that. And thirdly, we are no longer under law as the dynamic of our sanctification—in other words, that being made more and more like Jesus—is not taking place under the dominion of the law but is taking place as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, who conforms us to the image of Christ and uses the law of God to keep us on track. Oh, yeah, but, says somebody else, what about in John and in chapter 13 of John, where Jesus says, A new commandment I give to you, John 13 34? A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
You are also to love one another. And people say, Well, what about that? And what they're usually saying when they say about that is, Well, you see, there used to be the Ten Commandments.
That was in the old days. But Jesus showed up, and he said, No, no, no, I gave you a new commandment. And the new commandment is that you just love one another.
That would be rather strange, wouldn't it? That Jesus would be setting aside the moral law so that his followers could then live free from the demands of the moral law. No, when you read what Jesus is saying there, it's pretty clear that the newness was to be found in loving one another as he had loved his disciples.
That comes again, actually, in 15. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Now, you knew that the commandments said this, in the same way that he internalizes the commandments.
You shall not kill, but I tell you, if you're cursing somebody from your lips, you're guilty. You shall not commit adultery, but in your heart, and so on. So when he says, A new commandment that I have given you, he is saying what he's saying, but he is not setting aside the moral law.
No. Far from setting it aside, he made it perfectly clear to those who were listening to him in the Sermon on the Mount, do not think, he says—this is Matthew 5.17—do not think, I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. So we can safely reject the notion that the ten commandments have been now reduced to just two commandments—that the ten have been set aside, Jesus answers the question, and he says, Well, the greatest commandment is this. That was what they were asking. They were asking where it fit in the great summary of things.
And you will notice—and the text helps us clearly with this, doesn't it? You will notice that he says, All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. In other words, he is providing them, us, with a summary of the summary. The summary of the law of God is in the ten commandments. The summary of the ten commandments given by Jesus is right here. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. That covers the first four of the ten commandments, and love your neighbor as yourself covers the remaining six of the ten commandments.
So it's very, very important that we grasp this. Because there is a prevalent notion around that somehow or another, in Jesus, the followers of Jesus are just left to figure out what love looks like for themselves. This is what love means to me. This is how I view an expression of love, and so on.
And you get it not only within the framework of Christianity, but you get the notion postsading through secular society. You can love your neighbor as yourself any way you choose, any time you want, any way you plan. Absolutely not.
Absolutely not. Jesus is pointing out that his followers are not left to try and figure it out. He's going to show them what love looks like. Love is guided by the law itself. Now, the challenge in this—and I belabored it purposefully—the challenge in this is that contemporary church life in America is awash in sermons that pay scant attention to this, is being overwhelmed by talks that appeal to the listener's sense of well-being. Congregations that are willing to be coaxed may be cajoled slightly but are totally unprepared to be issued from the Scriptures by the Lord with calls to duty. One author has suggested that these are features of contemporary evangelicalism, an evangelical that knows very little and cares very little about the law of God.
Here, this is his perspective. What you will find there, an absence of a true and realistic understanding of the seriousness of sin. Superficial preaching that appeals to man's felt needs and affection. A general listlessness and lawlessness in the lives of professing Christians. An absence of the fear of God in public worship and private living. Churches relying on strategies borrowed from business and psychology. And a growing confidence in ourselves and an accompanying loss of confidence in God and in his Word. Now, we say, Well, this must be something that is unique to our age.
No. This is Martin Luther in his writings on Galatians. He says, I fear that after our time, after his time—that's quite a time—the right-handling of the law will become a lost art. Even now, although we continually explain the separate functions of the law and the gospel, we have those among us who do not understand how the law should be used.
What will it be like when we are dead and gone? Now, the very fact that we're even doing the catechism speaks to this. If you take the earlier catechisms, the vast majority—at least a third—of the catechism were directly questions and answers relating to the law of God, asking, What does God require? What is it that God expects to be for our rule of life?
And if you'll pardon me, just another quote from John Murray in relationship to this. He says that when we affirm the fact that the rule of our life is in the law of God, the statement of such a position is exceedingly distasteful to many phases of modern thought, both within and without the evangelical family. It is agreed that the conception of an externally revealed and imposed code of duty, norm of right feeling, thought and conduct, is entirely out of accord with the liberty and spontaneity of the Christian life. We are told that conformity to the will of God must come from within, and therefore any stipulation or prescription from without, in the form of well-defined precepts, is wholly alien to the spirit of the gospel. It is inconsistent, they say, with the spirit or principle of love. Don't speak of law, nor of moral precepts, nor of a code of morals, speak of the law of love. Now, some of you have come across this. You will find it.
You need to be alert to it. You read a book on Christian manhood, and in the book on Christian manhood, the author says, you know, the problem with our men today is that they've grown up with all these dos and don'ts. That has absolutely spoiled their existence.
They don't need dos and don'ts. They need an adventure. They need to have an adventure. Well, he's obviously not involved in pastoral ministry. Because our men are having adventures, and not all the adventures are ones that God would necessarily condone. In fact, adventures by our teens and adventures by all of us, if we use our tummy as the deciding factor on what adventures are good for us, and what adventures are allowable, and what adventures are not allowable, how in the world is love to be constrained, how, then, is our own response to God's compassionate grace towards us—how does it find its framework?
How does it work? Well, you see, this is what happens. We look for a God that we can use rather than a God we obey, a God who will fulfill our needs, meet our longings, than a God before whom we need to surrender all the rights to ourselves. Why is the evangelical church so flabby? Flabby.
You say, well, that's not a nice thing to say. But we are. We're flabby.
I'll tell you why. Because we have neglected God's law. We neglected his law. John Newton, writing in his day to a correspondent, suggested that a misunderstanding of the law of God lies at the root of most mistakes in the Christian life. That a misunderstanding of the place of the law of God lies at the root of most of the mistakes in the Christian life. Because that external constraint which is there given to us to frame our lives when set aside—and people say, well, it's set aside because it was from a different time. It was set aside because it's from a different age. Depending on your background, whether you read every study Bible or wherever it might be, you've already decided, no, no, that's got nothing to do with this time. That was for that time.
It's not for this. Listen, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end that the law sends us to the gospel that we might be justified. Because it is the law of God when it is preached. Because people say, well, I'm a nice guy, I do my taxes and everything else, and I've tried to look after my wife and my children and so on, and I just came here to get a little spirituality and to have a nice time, and it was going very well until you started that law stuff.
Where do you come up with that law thing? That makes me feel not good. And I know that Christianity is supposed to make me feel good.
And as soon as I no longer feel good, then I gotta go find another place where I feel good. I don't need anybody, including God, telling me that I can't have idols. You shall have no other gods before me, says God. And let me tell you what it will look like when you get number one wrong. It's a cavalcade that goes right through the remaining nine. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life.
We'll hear more about the great commandment tomorrow. I hope you're enjoying listening to the Encore 2023 series, where we're featuring favorite messages from the past 12 months. If so, you can purchase a collection of popular teaching from Alistair that spans 10 years. It comes on a single USB drive for just $5. The collection is called 10 Years of Favorites. You'll find the 10 Years of Favorites USB online at truthforlife.org slash store.
And while you're online, take a minute and shop around the online store. You'll find a number of high quality, biblically sound, affordable resources for yourself or that you can give as gifts. For example, you can get a beautiful genuine leather Bible for just $35. If you have a son or daughter heading off to college, send them with a copy of God's word that will last for years to come.
This ESV version makes a great gift, something your child will greatly value. Once again, you'll find the ESV Bible and the 10 Years of Favorites USB and a whole lot more when you visit truthforlife.org slash store. And there's another book I want to tell you about. It's called Seasons of Sorrow, the Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God. This is a book we highly recommend, especially if you've lost a loved one or you are comforting others who are working through a season of sorrow. As you read Seasons of Sorrow, you'll learn how to grieve without doubting God's love or his kindness. Ask for your copy today when you donate to Truth for Life at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow we'll find out how religion can actually become an idol. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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