Recent Sermons
“Touchstones of the Christian Life”
Matthew 22:34-40, Matthew 28:18-20

Bob DeGray

Preaching Date: July 25, 2004
Key Sentence: A few key commands can be the touchstone of your Christian life.

Outline:
I. Heart, Soul, and Mind (Matthew 22:34-38)
II. Your Neighbor as Yourself (Matthew 22:39-40)
III. Going, Make Disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)

Message:
        We’ve come a long way this summer in our quest for the most important ministry in the church. We’ve talked about worship, prayer, outreach, discipleship, and service. But we still have a few topics to consider. Beginning today we’re going to think about the topic of missions or mission, and I want us to look at Scriptures that focus not only our worldwide responsibility, but this week especially, on the attitudes we need to have to carry it out. After that Mike will spend two weeks talking about community, or fellowship. By that time we’ll have firmly concluded what we’ve already tentatively proposed: that all the ministries of the church are important and that as a church we need to support all of them; yet as individuals to focus on those that God has called us to and gifted us for.

        So this week we want to begin thinking about the church’s worldwide mission, but we want to start at a very individual level, thinking about your mission, and my mission in our own personal Christian lives. You see, it’s my perception that I myself, and other people as well, operate in daily life out of a set of guiding presuppositions. Sometimes those are unconscious, sometimes they are intentional. Unconscious presuppositions are often, though not always, selfish. Conscious ones, on the other hand, can be godly. What I want to help us find in Scripture this morning are two or three conscious presuppositions that will provide guidance for our Christian life and mission, mental maps and mental scripts that we can keep falling back on to inform our decision making and shape our attitudes and actions.

        I’m calling these simple guides touchstones. You may have heard and even used that word. A touchstone, according to the dictionary, is “a basis for comparison; a reference point against which other things can be evaluated” Synonyms include a criterion, a standard, and a norm, and these reflect the history of the word. In the early days of coinage it was common to alloy gold with tin or lead so that it wasn’t pure, or to try to pass off fools gold as true gold. So discerning merchants needed a quick test of purity, and this was provided by the touchstone. If you take a sample of gold and rub it on a very hard stone it will leave a streak. And if the gold is pure the streak will be very light, or even golden. On the other hand, fool’s gold or iron pyrite leaves a black streak, so that you can immediately identify it. Alloys of gold leave a streak someplace between dark and light depending on their purity.

        So we’re looking for basic Scriptures that can test our lives, our attitudes, our behaviors, and our mission or purpose. These need to be familiar, simple and foundational, and so I’ve chosen two passages, both from Matthew, both commands given by Jesus, which can be used as three key touchstones. In fact, my big idea for this morning is that a few key commands can be the touchstones of your Christian life.

I. Heart, Soul, and Mind (Matthew 22:34-38)

        The commands we’re going to think about this morning are known simply as the great commandment and the great commission. The great commandment really has two commands, and they are found in Matthew 22, verses 34 to 40: Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

        This is one of the most famous exchanges in the Gospels - one that probably happened more than once, given the different circumstances under which it is reported in Luke. Commentators say this argument over ‘the greatest command’ was common among the Pharisees, who had codified 613 laws out of the Old Testament, 248 positive commands and 365 negative ones. But which was the greatest? They couldn’t agree on that among themselves, so it made good fodder for questioning Jesus - whatever answer he gave would undoubtedly antagonize someone.

        But for once Jesus was not really controversial. He took them to a command all agreed was one of the greatest of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:5. It is prefaced by the famous words ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one’. This is known in Hebrew as ‘the Shema’, shema being the Hebrew word for ‘hear’ or ‘pay attention’ or ‘hear with the intention to obey’ The Shema became, without doubt, one of the touchstones of Judaism. It was repeated morning and evening in Jewish devotions, and still is today. Jewish literature and history both record the Shema as the dying utterance of Jews from the middle ages to the holocaust and beyond.

        It’s a touchstone. And Jesus says it should be a touchstone for us as well: a back-of-my-mind test of my attitudes and behaviors. One commentator puts it this way “It gives us a perspective, like a beacon that guides us in our passage through the dark and treacherous waters of life. Understanding our purpose and having goals in accord with the teaching of this wonderful passage gives us the ability to see where we are going. Without this we are like ships cast about on the sea of uncertainty with the ever changing winds of the ideas of men. We are left restless and unrestrained by our own desires and aspirations, caught in a ocean of despair.”

        So let’s consider this touchstone. “You shall love the Lord your God.” The final two words make it personal. Only through personal faith in Jesus Christ does God become one’s own God. Moreover, he becomes our Lord - not merely known, but known with a personal allegiance, and a desire for intimate fellowship. This personal faith and personal allegiance should lead to love for God. This is the verb agapao, a love of reason and purpose, of sacrifice and hard decisions. It is a“willful love, a determined love that generously chooses for the interests of another.”

        Agape is the love of choice, not of emotion. You can’t get it by fervor, only by obedient imitation of God. This is exactly the truth Rich found in Ed Lewis’ Bible this week and showed us on Thursday, Reflecting on a verse in Psalm 92, Ed wrote “What is agape love? It is the kind of love Christ had for us: seeing what is best for someone else. We can’t love him with the same highest, ultimate way he loves us, but the love we are called to would seem to this agape love, seeking his best. It doesn’t seem to be the same warm feelings that one has for his own children, say.”

        So our love for God is to imitate his love, and to flow from every part of us.“With” is the Greek preposition ek which denotes origin, the point from which action or motions proceed. Love for God proceeds from an inner life filled and controlled by a faith relationship with God. Notice the repitition: “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.” Every part of us is fully involved in loving God. The word “all” is the Greek holos from which we get the word holistic. It means “whole, entire, complete.” We can’t divide our love, our affections, or our trust. Jesus put it like this in Matthew 6:24: “No one is able to serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one is able to serve God and possessions.”

        Anything but a love for God that encompasses all of one’s being and every area of one’s life falls short of God’s will. Therefore these phrases need to become a mental touchstone, part of the background pattern of your mind, a thought so ingrained that it imposes itself on you when you need to test your behavior or attitudes: “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” An even quicker shorthand comes from the Luke or Mark passages “heart, soul, mind and strength.” These familiar words should be a litany in your core thinking.

        The main emphasis of this phrase is on the combined force of these words, by which they stress the whole person - all of me, loving God all the time. But the individual words are important too. “Heart” focuses on the inner person, the inward center of our life, and stresses our attitudes and desires, which according to Jesus ultimately determine our actions and behaviors. He said in Matthew 15:19 that all our behaviors originate in our heart attitudes, and ‘where your treasure is there will your heart be also’ So loving God with our hearts means setting our affections on Him. It means desiring God above all else as the deer pants for streams of water.

        “Soul” is often used in the Old Testament to refer to the physical life or to yourself. Where the New American Standard says ‘deliver my soul from the sword’ in Psalm 22:20, the New International Version has, rightly, ‘deliver my life.’ Elsewhere the New International even says ‘me’: ‘you will not abandon my soul to the grave’, ‘you will not abandon me to the grave.’ So to love God with our soul means to love him with our essence and our will, with our inmost part and with our decisions. It means to be willing to give one’s life to God and to devote it all to Him.

        Finally, to love God with all our mind means to submit our thought patterns, opinions, and decisions to God’s Word. It means to still the sinful inner voice of rebellion, to bring every thought into captivity to the Savior. It means to lean not on our own understanding but acknowledge God in every area of our life, so that we act not on what we think or on how we feel, but in accord with the facts of the Word of God.

        So we see a mind engaged in loving God, a life dedicated to loving God and a heart setting it’s desires on God. This is why the verse works as a touchstone. We can take every area of our life and activities and ask: does this activity reflect a love of God? Can I love God as I do this? Not if it’s sin. Am I loving God as I do this? Not if I do it with a sinful attitude. When I face a formidable task in life or work or relationships, or a task made formidable by fatigue or repetition, I can pull out this phrase as a reminder and a challenge: “heart and soul and mind and strength.” and then take a deep breath and go on with what needs to be done to express love for God.

II. Your Neighbor as Yourself (Matthew 22:39-40)

        In many of these cases, however, the vertical reality of love for God is expressed in horizontal relationships of love for others. That’s why Jesus goes on to say “And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” The commands are reciprocal. Love for others expresses our love for God and love for God empowers our love for others. He says specifically ‘the second is like it:’ love for neighbor is cut from the very same cloth as love for God and in reality it can’t be distinguished from it: we love God with heart, soul and mind by loving others.

        So Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18, a verse located rather obscurely in the middle of the Old Testament law, but a verse the rabbis considered important: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The sentence’s subject is ‘you’ - you’re responsible to love. The object is ‘your neighbor’. This personalizes it and identifies individuals. I think it was Linus who used to say in the Peanuts comic strip “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to love others in an impersonal way, as a group, while being indifferent to individuals. But in the Luke version of the our, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus extends the command to all men and personalizes it to the nitty gritty of helping one needy person. This is our calling.

        How do you know what to do to love your neighbor? Jesus says ‘love him as you love yourself.’ The typical explanation of this statement today focuses on self_awareness, self_love, self_esteem, and so on. Some even assert that Jesus is saying that before you can love others you must love yourself, you must have a good self_image. What is the biblical perspective? Frank Kittle always says that we do need a good self image, an accurate one that recognizes that we are sinners and rebels and utterly in need of rescue, but that God does value us, so much that he sacrificed his own son to achieve that rescue. With this self image we have a new confidence that allows us to love others not out of self reliance, but out of God reliance and out of our confidence of his love for us and in response to what he has done for us.

        But even those truths aren’t really what Jesus was saying. He simply knew that people naturally look out for and take care of themselves. Paul used the same analogy with different wording in Ephesians 5:28_29. “In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one has ever hated his own body but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, 30for we are members of his body.” We should care for others with the same consistency and in the same manner we naturally care for ourselves.

        So the subject is you, the object is others, the comparison is ‘as yourself’ and the verb, again, is agapao. ‘You shall love’. Love is the goal of Scripture and the preeminent virtue God wants to mark our lives. The letters of John make this clear. 1 John 4:8 lays the foundation by telling us that God is love. 2nd John goes on to tell us that we love when we “walk according to His commands.” To live obedient to Scripture is to live by the standard of love—love for God and love for others, because as we saw, God’s law expresses these loves. John also tells us we are not to love in word only, but in action and in truth. True love manifests itself in loving actions.

        On the other hand, 1 Cor. 13 teaches that love is more than deeds. One can have all kinds of deeds, even to the point of sacrificing one’s life, but still lack love. Love is also a matter of motivation and attitude. That’s how this verse gets to be a touchstone of the Christian life: it provides a test of my behavior and my motives. In the ways I act toward my wife or husband, my children or parents, am I showing love? How about in the ways I act toward my brothers and sisters in Christ? How about my actions toward those who do not yet know Christ? Did you notice at Ed Lewis’ memorial that about five of his peers from various stages in life said ‘He was my best friend’ Ed behaved like a friend should. But when I examine myself I also have to study motive: Is what I do the product of God’s grace at work, a self-forgetful concern for others? Or do I have self_centered objectives? Armed with the phrase ‘love your neighbor as yourself” I can pursue integrity in actions and attitudes.

III. Going, Make Disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)

        Touchstone 1 tests my wholehearted love for God. Touchstone 2 tests my love for others, which requires and reflects love for God. Touchstone 3 now calls me on a mission to the world, which grows out of the other two. We find this touchstone in Matthew 28:18-20, the familiar verses of the great commission: “Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

        More than half the human beings who have ever existed are alive in the world today. This statistic has a number of significant implications. With the eternal destiny of more than half of all humans hanging in the balance, the commandment to love others entails more than ever a responsibility to go and tell them about Jesus.

        The church has many ministries, but only great commission, and really one great mission: to share the good news about Jesus and teach others to be his disciples. This great commission touchstone reminds us of the authority Christ exercises, the agenda he sets and the assistance he gives. Look at verse 18: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." As a result of His obedience to the Father's will, Jesus is now King of kings and Lord of lords, in control of all things in heaven and on earth, including Satan, sin, and death. He wields authority over the entire order of creation, both heaven and earth. All creatures, nature, angels, and man, are at his disposal. In Ephesians Paul speaks of how in Christ God exerted the immeasurable greatness of his power in raising Jesus from death and has now “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." He has the authority to give us this command, this touchstone of mission, and he has the power to carry it out in and through us.

        A second thing that makes the great commission a wonderful touchstone for us is the agenda Christ has set, the program He has undertaken: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. I’m sure you’ve heard countless times that the command in this sentence is ‘make disciples’, so that the participles, ‘going, baptizing, teaching’ tell us how it is done. Making disciples is more than evangelism: it is baptizing and teaching and raising up mature disciple makers to reproduce the life and ministry of Jesus.

        The first participle ‘going’ implies motion. The commission cannot be carried out sitting at home in front of the television. The mission requires missionaries, whether that is to the house next door or to India or the Philippines or downtown Houston. The participle ‘baptizing’ implies their commitment and our orthodoxy. Those who trust Jesus, that he died on the cross for their sins and rose from death for their salvation, are those who are baptized, just as we saw last Sunday afternoon. The nine who were baptized affirmed their faith and declared their decision to follow Jesus. But the formula of baptism, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, requires our orthodoxy. If we stray from the truth of the three persons of the one God, then we invariably stray from a right understanding of their work, and become heretics. You can tell a cult by what it thinks about Jesus, especially relative to the Father and the Spirit.

        Finally, teaching obedience implies that disciples must mature and learn through the Holy Spirit how to live for Jesus. This means teaching people the Gospel, the good news Jesus proclaimed, and teaching them the Word of God in the Old and New Testament that gives wisdom to apply what Jesus said without becoming legalistic or neglecting morality. Every congregation of Christ's universal church is supposed to be an extension campus of Jesus' ministry, teaching the same gospel, the same grace, the same curriculum, and the same responsibility as he taught his disciples.

        This going, baptizing and teaching is intended to be a world-wide mission to all nations. The promises to Abraham, blessing to all the families of the earth, and to David, obedience from all the peoples of the earth, come to fulfillment through Christ and His church. The Gospel is not just the Gospel for the Jewish nation, it’s for all the nations, and discipleship is not just discipleship at home, it is discipleship for every tribe and tongue and people and nation around the world. In two weeks we’re going to be looking at what I call the arc of outreach: looking through Scripture to see how God’s promise is consistent and his goal is always the whole world. But for now all we have to realize is that this is what Jesus told us to do: going, make disciples in all nations. The apostles, from Peter to Paul, took the agenda that Christ had set in Matthew 28 as their own: they made it the deliberate goal of their prayer and preaching, and every time God opened a door they sent somebody to walk through it, whether Barnabas to Antioch or Paul to Greece, so that people would hear the good news about Jesus. They had this great commission as a touchstone.

        What is it that makes the Great Commission so great? It's the agenda Christ has set, along with the authority Christ exercises, and finally, it’s the assistance Christ gives. Look at the end of verse 20 "and I am with you always, even to the end of the age." In the Old Testament God had said “do not fear, I am with you.” In the prophecies he had called Jesus ‘Immanuel’, God with us. In the incarnation those prophecies were fulfilled. Now Christ is returning to the Father and the throne, but the promise of his presence never fails, and it is fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is no exaggeration to say that we live the great commandment and fulfill the great commission through the power of the great companion. The Spirit pours out the love of God into our hearts. He comes alongside us to work in us, and then works in the hearts of others to bring conviction and faith as we share the Good News.

        So the memory phrase here is simply “Go and make disciples” This is the touchstone of missions and of all kinds of outreach. It should be the mental grid of our lives, the underlying assumption of our days and our ministries. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to go someplace else and be a missionary, though we’ll see next week that some do. But most of the cross cultural work you need to do is crossing the street, crossing from the Christian subculture you live in to the secular subculture you want to reach. But you don’t get on an airplane to do it, and there is no place you can arrive to begin to be a missionary. You have to use this touchstone, this script playing in your head, or you’ll miss the opportunities God gives.

        So what I’m proposing today is so simple and so basic. You talk to yourself all the time anyway, don’t you? I’m asking you to talk to yourself using these touchstones. Hear a voice inside saying over and over “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Go and make disciples.” These are the touchstones that will give godly direction, over and over, to your attitudes and your actions. And is that what you really want?