By J.R. Miller
Mark 12:28-34, 38-44
This scribe admired the way Jesus had answered the questions that were put to Him by His enemies. Jesus always answered well. He never got confused in His replies, as often human teachers do. He never erred in His answers to men's questions, for He knew all truth. We know only fragments of the great body of truth, and therefore frequently find ourselves entangled when we attempt to explain difficult matters or to answer questions that are put to us. But Jesus knew truth in all its relations, and those who sought to catch Him in His words--could never lead Him into any inconsistency of statement.
The practical lessons from this are important. One is that Christianity has nothing to fear from enemies who try to make its teachings appear self-contradictory. Amid all the assaults of skepticism, Christianity stands ever unharmed and secure. Their hammers are shattered and worn out--but the anvil of truth is unbroken. The other lesson is that we may take to Christ all our own questions, our fears, our doubts, our ignorance, our perplexity, and He will always have for us a wise and satisfactory answer.
It is the fashion in these days, in some quarters, to decry creeds. "Little matter what we believe," says one, "if only we live right." But if we do not believe right--we will not be likely to live right. The duty of loving God--is based upon the truth that there is only one God to be loved. If there were more gods than one, there would be little use in teaching us to love God with all our heart. "Which God?" we might ask. So the doctrine of one God is a most practical one. There is only one God, and this one God is our Lord. What a comfort it is for us to know that the God in whom we trust--is the great God of the universe!
He is our God. The little word "our" links Him to us and us to Him in closest relations. If He is our God--we are under obligations to obey Him, to do His will. We belong to Him. Then, if He is our God, He belongs to us, and we have a claim on Him. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance" (Psalm 16:5). Every child of a good father knows with what pride he points to his parent and says, "That is my father!" Still greater comfort to a believer is that he is able to point to God and say, "He is my God!" All He is, is ours--His love, His grace, His goodness, His truth, His mercy.
If God is our God--we should love Him. He is the God to whom we owe everything, from whom we came, to whom we go with our needs, who cares for us, watches over us, provides for us, and keeps us. He is our Father--with all a father's love! We ought to love God for Himself, for what He is in His character--merciful, gracious, holy, loving, good. We ought to love Him, too, for what He has done for us. Surely the commandment is reasonable.
Notice that it is LOVE which God asks. Obedience is not enough. One might obey every divine command, and not have love for Him whom he obeys. Homage is not enough. We might pay homage to God, and yet have no affection for Him. God must have our love. Nor will a little love do. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart." Our love for God must be greater than our love for father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife, child, or friend. It must fill not our heart only--but our soul, our mind, and our strength. That is, it must draw all the powers of our life with it. It must lead us to obedience, to service, to complete consecration. If we love God supremely, He must be the Master of our life. We must be ever ready for whatever duty or service He asks of us.
Some people's religion seems compulsory; they do right because they must--not because they want to do so. All their work has the character of unwilling service. God says, "I want you to love Me!" And if we truly love Him, we will fly at His bidding to duty or to sacrifice with eager alacrity. "But how can I learn to love God?" asks someone. "I want to love Him--but I cannot compel myself to do it. I love my father, my mother, my sister; but I cannot see God, and He seems great and awesome when I think about Him. He does not appeal to my heart as my mother does. I feel awe toward Him--but not affection.
It is important to know how we can learn to love God. The incarnation was God coming down near to us, that we might love Him. The glory of Sinai did not make its appeal to men's hearts. But when Jesus went among the people, touching them with His compassion, being their friend, comforting their sorrows--it was not hard for them to love Him. We must get to know God--if we would learn to love Him. We should read about Him in the Bible--until we know His character, His feelings toward us, what He has done for us, especially in redeeming us. Another way to learn to love God is to begin to trust Him. "How shall I learn to love God?" asked one. "Trust Him," was the answer. "I thought I must love Him before I could trust Him." "No--begin to trust Him--and you will soon learn to love Him."
No other duty comes before this duty of love to God. "This is the first commandment." Until we begin to love God, no other obedience is pleasing to Him. We may do a great many things we ought to do--and yet if we do not love Him--all of our doings amounts to nothing. A child may obey all a father's bidding--but if there is no love in his heart, what does the father care for the obedience? A man may be very good so far as his acts are concerned--but if he does not love God, all his good acts count for nothing. When Jesus tested the young ruler's love by asking him to give up all he had for His sake, the young man went away sad. He had kept all the commandments from his youth--but he did not love God; at least he loved his possessions more, and gave God up--while he clung to his property.
Love to our fellow men is a very important duty--but it avails nothing unless love to God is behind it and in it. Two comes after one. The second commandment can come only after the first. A good many people boast of their love for men, their humanitarianism. They take the Good Samaritan as their model. They are humane, charitable, and philanthropic. But this is the whole of their religion. They do no love God, nor worship Him, nor recognize Him in any way. They put the second commandment high up--but they have no first. They do not know God, do not recognize Him, and do not love Him. The things they do are very beautiful, and if they first loved God and lived all their life inspired by love for Him, their charities and humanities would be pleasing to Him, and not the smallest of them would go unrewarded. But since they do not love God--there can be nothing pleasing to Him, in their love for their neighbors.
The second comes after the first. After we have begun to obey the first commandment, the second presents itself and must also be obeyed. He who loves God--will also love his neighbor. The two loves are linked together, and are inseparable. John says distinctly that he who claims to love God while he hates his brother--is a liar (1 John 4:20). The love of God that does not overflow in love for our brother--is not true Christian love.
Jesus was pleased with the scribe's insight. He said to him, "you are not far from the kingdom of God." If he would only do the truth he knew--he would enter into the kingdom; he was yet outside, although so near. There are a great many people who are almost--but not quite, Christians. There are those who know the way of salvation--but do not with their hearts accept Christ. There are those whose character is good and beautiful. They do many of Christ's sayings. They try to keep the second commandment, and seek to be gentle, kind, loving in temper, disposition, and act. They lack only one thing--but that one thing is vital. They are not far from the kingdom of God.
Then there are those who are under conviction of sin and have a deep sense of spiritual need. They become honest inquirers, like the scribe, asking what they must do. They hear the answer of Christ and still stand hesitating, indecisive, on the point of submitting--yet not yielding to Him. They are not far from the kingdom of God, and yet they are not in it. At the door, with the hand on the latch--is still outside, and outside is lost! There are thousands now in eternal perdition--who have been almost Christians, and yet have perished forever!
Jesus then turned to the people and said some plain things to them about the scribes. "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely!"
The scribes were the official interpreters of the Scriptures. It was their duty to make plain to the people, the Word and will of God. But Jesus said they were not trustworthy leaders. They professed to be guides to the people--but they were not safe guides. They were fond of wearing the garb and having the honor of saintly men. They like to have people greet them as holy men; they took the chief seats in the synagogue and at feasts; but in their private lives--they were bad men. Instead of being the defenders of widows, they used on themselves, the widow's money which was entrusted to them. Then, to balance their embezzlement; they would make longer prayers than ever in the streets. They were the most despicable hypocrites!
The beautiful story of one of these widows and her suffering, shows who were the really godly people in those days--not the scribes and Pharisees, who put on the saintly airs which covered lives of shameful baseness, hardness, and evil--but the poor, who were despised and robbed. This poor widow had higher honor before God than any of the rulers. Her gifts, though too small to be counted, weighed far more in God's sight--than all the great shining coins they cast into the treasury.