If You Just Do This One Thing (Mark 12:28-34)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Mark 12:28–12:34
I. Just a Marketing Ploy?
Here's how the online claim went, “If you just do this one thing, you can lose 50 pounds in 50 days.” Or wait... maybe it was, “If you just do this one thing, you'll have that 'beach body' in weeks, not months.” I can't remember the exact details, and... I don't know what that “one thing” was or is (probably because I didn't click on the ad). But whatever the promise, what struck me was the marketing strategy involved: 'you can't lose weight (or fill in the blank) because you've made everything too complex and now you're discouraged. But it's actually... all very simple.'
There's something appealing about that claim, isn't there. If we could just simplify things, life would be easier. Well, what if I were to make a similar claim: “If you just do this one thing, you can experience life as it was meant to be lived.” Wow. That's even better than losing 50 pounds, right? But isn't that just another marketing ploy? 'Clickbait'? Well...
Let's look together at the Gospel of Mark this morning, chapter 12, and listen to Jesus as he talks about that “one thing” above every other “one thing”.
II. The Passage: “No Other Commandment Greater” (12:28-34)
I'm guessing most of you are familiar with this passage, and for those following Our Bible Reading Plan, you'll probably remember this passage from Tuesday of last week. Listen to the following encounter as preserved by Mark in 12:28-34...
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you 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.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.  And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
So having just set the Sadducees straight about the resurrection of the dead, we read that a scribe who overheard that conversation concluded that Jesus would be a good person to ask about a long-standing and much-discussed question among generations of Jewish teachers. We heard that question in verse 28: of the 613 commandments found in the Law of Moses, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Now some back then and many still today might answer by saying, “Every commandment is from God and therefore, every commandment is equally important.” That might sound good... but it isn't correct.
We know that because of the answer Jesus provides. Notice He doesn't correct the question. He answers the question. There is a “most important” commandment from God, and it's found in Deuteronomy 6, in a declaration that many observant Jews still recite twice a day.
This morning, I'd like us to think very carefully about this “most important” command, since, according to Jesus, it really is that “one thing” above every other “one thing”. Let's think carefully about this commandment by focusing on both the who of the command, as well as the how.
1. Focusing on the “Who”
In regard to the who of this commandment, notice how Jesus includes the full confession from Deuteronomy 6:4-5...
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you 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.’
Jesus wants to remind his listeners that as “Israel”, they can truly speak about “the Lord our God”; “the Lord your God”. Not only was he and is he the God of their ancestors, but he's also their God by covenant; the covenant enacted through Moses after their deliverance from Egypt. In addition to this, we're reminded here that “the Lord is one”. What does that mean? In light of the original context, I believe it means that God, that Yahweh, is the one and only god who is truly God. Verse 32 seems to confirm that. We'll talk more about that in just a few minutes.
But please don't miss that when it comes to this “most important” commandment of loving God, God's identity is absolutely critical. We live in a culture in which, still today, 80%-90% of the population claims to believe in God or some kind of 'higher power'. But at the same time, the number of genuine Christians seems to be between 6% to 28% of the U.S. population. That means there's a huge amount of people who talk about God, but don't actually know the God of Scripture. And how can you love someone you don't know?
You can certainly love the idea of someone; an idea you've shaped, for the most part, according to your own imagination. You can certainly love God as a theological concept or as a 'true north' for your moral compass. You can certainly love religion and the supposed security of religious duty, or the comforting smells and bells of religious traditions. You can even love the idea of God as a nationalistic symbol, as a values reference, or as a kind of 'community glue'; as simply a unifying principle that connects you to others. But none of those are what Jesus is describing.
To love God, you must know God. And to know God, you must seek God. And to seek God, you must look for him in the very place where he's made himself known: yes, through creation, yes, through wondrous works, and yes, best of all, through Jesus Christ; but we know about such things and can make sense of such things because of the Scriptures. Is that how you think about the Bible, as first and foremost, a guide to genuinely loving God?
2. Focusing on the “How”
But look back at the word of this “most important” commandment: And you 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.’ That formula is familiar. But what does it mean?
Well, remember what Deuteronomy 6:4 declared... “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” I suggested a moment ago the phrasing there affirms that the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, is the one and only god who is truly God. If that's true, then this formula make sense. “...All your heart... all your soul... all your mind... all your strength” is not first about loving God in every area of your life. It's a warning against half-heartedness. It's a caution about divided loyalties. It's wonderfully, a call to cultivate an 'all in' devotion to God. What Jesus is describing here is a fully-invested love.
While most of us are not contending with literal idols and false deities like ancient Israel, every single one of us, every single day, battles with a divided heart. Do you love God? You may answer “yes”, but your life might also be marked by a kind of devotion, an ultimate love, that's directed at something else... or many things. No, I'm talking about someone who simply says something like, “I love football”. You can live by this “most important” command to love God and still love football. But if, for example, football keeps you from gathering and growing with God's people on Sunday morning, your heart, soul, mind, and strength may be divided.
In light of what we just heard about the Bible as a guide to genuinely loving God, we should be praying along with psalmist in Psalm 86:11...
Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. (NIV) [Amen!]
Now before we move on, I'd like us to briefly consider two more things about this passage:
First, the priority of this “one thing” above every other “one thing” is confirmed by how Jesus responds to the man's closing assessment in verses 32-33. The scribe wholeheartedly affirms the answer Jesus gives, even emphasizing the importance of love for God and others over the ritual sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant.
So how does Jesus respond to the man's response to Jesus' original response? Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” I think Jesus is saying, “When you correctly put first things first, it's an indication that God is at work in you, preparing you for the message of the Kingdom.” Brothers/sisters, friends, that's another reminder about the importance of putting first things first.
Second, of his own accord, don't miss how Jesus provides a second, a 'runner up', commandment. Why? Because like the first, that's concerned with our vertical relationship, this second commandment is also putting first things first when it comes to our horizontal relationships. And God's word regularly ties these two ideas together so closely, that I believe we can still talk about just doing this “one thing”.
III. Giving Absolute Priority
Believer, here's what I hope you will take away from this pivotal passage: these verses are not just one more addition to our database of devotional duties. These verses are emphasizing the absolute priority of God-directed, fully-invested love. Why is this “most important” command so very important? Because it establishes a fixed reference point for living life as it was meant to be lived. That means it applies to every single area of your life, and every single thing you do. Let me adjust the claim I made at the outset: “If you just do this one thing, in all things, you can experience life as it was meant to be lived.” God-directed, fully-invested love.
When it comes to living out your faith, it is so easy to get distracted. We busy ourselves with ministry. We make lists of 'really bad' and 'kinda bad' sins, then check how we're doing. We talk about sound doctrine. We get distracted by culture wars. We read the latest books and listen to the latest praise songs. We give money. We socialize with the saved. We give literature to the lost. But sadly, in all our busyness, in all our spiritual pursuits, we may be neglecting the “most important” command.
But aren't we called to do many things as believers? Yes. But this God-directed, fully-invested love invariably directs us deeper into the fullness of the Christian life. The person seeking above all else to love God wholeheartedly will want to know God more fully, to talk with God more frequently, to please God more faithfully, and to worship God more freely. Love then becomes the driving force in our learning, in our fellowship, in our decisions, in our service, in our relationships, in our finances, etc. This “most important” commandment reminds us of what is most important when it comes to our motives; why we do what we do.
Thus when you give absolute priority to God-directed, fully-invested love, the Christian life becomes an expression of love, rather than a devotion to duty, or a religious pastime. It directs us to ask first, not what a Christian does, but who a Christian loves. As Paul expressed it:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)(CSB)
Now think about this in the context of Mark's Gospel. In our readings and in our lessons we've talked about how Mark reveals the incomparable identity of Jesus. We then talked about a right response to his identity: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ. So what has God provided us with this morning? He's given us the crown jewel of what it means to follow Christ. We follow Jesus best when we put loving God first. You see, Jesus not only spoke about a God-directed, fully-invested love. He lived it, all the way to his death on the cross... and even still, as our resurrected Lord, our faithful High Priest, fulfilling for eternity these two commandments.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then this morning God is calling you to make sure first things are first: “If you just do this one thing, in all things, you can experience life as it was meant to be lived.” He knows how easy it easy to get distracted, to make lists, to get discouraged, to be enticed by so many other “one things”. He knows about our struggles, and he cares. That's why he gave us Jesus.
Think with me about the things in your life that inspire love. Now ask yourself this: could anyone or anything be worthy of our love like God is worthy of our love? And the Good News about Jesus, the gospel, puts that on display like nothing else. I John 4:19... We love because he first loved us. Brothers and sisters, friends, only Jesus can turn 'God haters' like us into 'God lovers' like himself. Maybe that's what God wants to do in your life this morning. Would you turn and trust him today?
But when he does, and if he has, then let's keep asking him for, and let's encourage one another in, the grace to live each day in light of the “most important” commandment. What does that look like? As I said before, the person seeking above all else to love God wholeheartedly will want to know God more fully, to talk with God more frequently, to please God more faithfully, and to worship God more freely. We need this corrective, don't we? I know I do. Let's God even now to help us make what is “most important”, most important in our lives; that all of us would give absolute priority, by grace, through faith to a life of God-directed, fully-invested love.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
November 28, 2021Pray Also for Us (Acts 20:28-32)
November 21, 2021Troubling Those Who Turn (Acts 15:13-21)
November 14, 2021Like a Baby Shower for Your Church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-28)