Posted by: minnow | February 2, 2010

Obeying the Greatest Commandment

I love getting into it with people with whom I do not necessarily agree as long as those discussions remain civil and avoid certain debate pitfalls. I truly enjoy hearing other points of view. And, I grow in my thinking when I try to understand what path various people have taken to come to the places they are in, on their life’s journey.

In the name of full disclosure–I have even been known to pick a fight on purpose. My goal, at that point, is not make a person angry. Instead, I hope I cause those people to think about what they actually say but seem unable to defend. incidentally, most are unappreciative of the conclusions I come to when I follow their argument to its most reasonable end (and confront them with it).

In a recent tête-à-tête with a blogger who often provides me with topics to debate (ahem) I started wondering what is meant by “the gospel” and how do we best show we love God and what is scripture’s take on the issue. I decided one of the best ways to start was to do a search of the word gospel. It appears 96 times in the NIV version of the New Testament. Researching the word in the original Greek was easy. “The gospel,” euangelizo (v) or euangelion (n) means the good news and is always used in reference “to the death, burial, resurrection, and witness about Jesus Christ, including its implication for humankind’s relationship to God”  (Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 1554).

In the discussion with my fellow blogger, the point was asserted that while preaching the gospel was important, it was not the greatest commandment. Here is how he put it:

“For whatever reasons, conservative Christians think that sharing the Gospel is the most important commandment ever laid upon us. What is so surprising for this sola scriptura crowd is that this elevation of the commandment is no where to be found in Scripture. Even more surprising is Jesus even laid out the most important commandment; love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. The second deals with person to person love, to love others as we love ourselves. Sharing the Gospel, though a commandment from God, falls into the second category and therefore is not the most important commandment we’ve been given.

Certainly sharing the Gospel is important, but not at the expense of relying on the Holy Spirit, of personal holiness, or of building a strong community and culture of faith. All of these are also commandments and on par with sharing the Gospel.”

I do not completely understand why this blogger felt it was important to assert this argument except that in the rest of his post he discussed his opinion that segregating (the targeting of specific groups by a fellowship) based on cultural, and/or ethnic similarities was wrong. And that, new fellowships should “start-up in a community with the intention of reaching the community, whatever that community might be”. By putting personal holiness and building a strong “culture of faith” on a par with preaching the gospel perhaps he felt he strengthened his point.  I am not sure.

At any rate after our discussion, I was left wondering: how do we demonstrate our heart-mind-soul-love for God?  Again I returned to scripture.  John 14:15 quotes Jesus saying, “If you love me, you will obey my command.” Verse 23 uses the word “teaching” in place of command.  Command  is found 183 times in the NIV Bible 19 of which are in the New Testament.  Teaching  is found 89 times total and 74 in the New Testament.  Now Jesus is not making a circular argument–if you love Me, you will love Me, so the command is NOT referring exclusively to what He said in Matthew 22:38 was the greatest  commandment.  In other words, Jesus is telling us we can fulfill the greatest commandment by following His other  commands (teachings).  You know, the ones that talk about forgiveness, ministering to or serving the least of these, living at peace with one another.  In OTHER other words, God first loved us so we could love Him by loving others!  (My mantra).

And yes I understand, personal holiness is something Jesus taught but it is not the only thing He taught.  Besides, taking the plank out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck in some one else’s is a pretty good chunk of the “personal holiness” message.  We might just be wise to wait a little while (as we build relationship and community with people) before we get too excited about how well those holiness messages preach.  Perhaps sticking to “preaching the gospel” in word and deed is not such a bad idea.

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