Let’s go to Matthew 22:35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." We just read the passage in which Jesus declared the great commandment, the first commandment. The Holy Spirit is going to restore the first commandment to first place before Jesus returns. The first commandment was in first place in the early church for a short season; it will be a global reality before the Lord returns.
Just a short review from last week: in Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (paraphrased), Moses said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your strength.” This is traditionally called the Shema Israel. The reason they call it “Shema”: the first word, “hear,” in Hebrew is “shema.” So it starts with, “Shema, Israel”—“Hear, Israel”—and because of those first two words, they call it that. For almost 4,000 years, the Jewish people have recited the Shema Israel for twice a day in synagogues, or wherever they have gathered around the world, and they have quoted this verse.
It is the command to hear, because the Lord has something to say. He is saying, “Hear. I want you to know, Israel, that I want you to love Me with all of your heart, your soul, and your strength” (Dt. 6:4–5, paraphrased). Jesus comes 1,500 years after Moses and He fills in the blank as to what it was that God wanted them to hear. Obviously, He wanted them to hear the basic command to love God, but in Matthew 22:38, Jesus adds His own commentary. He says (paraphrased), “This command, the Shema Israel, is the first and the great commandment.” That was a new piece of information. Jesus was saying, “This is what you need to hear.”
The Church of Jesus needs to hear this, for to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our strength is the first priority to the Holy Spirit. It is not currently the first priority in the Church, but it is the first priority to God, and He says, “Hear, O Church of Jesus Christ.” Jesus added His exegesis, so to speak. He says, “This is the first commandment on God’s heart, and it is the great commandment to God” (Mt. 22:38). The greatest lifestyle that you could embrace is the lifestyle to love God with all of your heart.
Surprisingly, many believers rise up in resistance and complain about too much focus on loving God: “What about everything else?” And the list is vast. Let me tell you, there is a lot to do about a lot of things, because a lot of things in the Bible, we're to do. The greatest thing in God’s economy—the thing that moves God’s heart the greatest, the thing that He will reward the greatest, the thing that will move you the greatest, and the thing that will impact people you touch the greatest—is if you do the great commandment. This is what Jesus wanted them to hear.
We are going to be focusing on the four spheres and the four stages of
Wholehearted love for God. The four spheres of life from the lips of God Himself: we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength, as we find from the record of the gospels. The four stages from which love develops or grows in our life: in the first stage, we receive love from God; in the second, we give love back to God; the third is surprising—we love ourselves in the grace of God; and fourth, in the overflow of an energized heart we love one another. We love other people far more effectively if we do it according to the stages that the Word of God teaches. We don’t wait until we perfect stages one, two, and three until we get to four. We do all four of them simultaneously, but we understand that the fourth stage will be far more effective if the first three are in place and they are healthy.
Let’s look at them. Growing in love: the four stages of love in terms of human experience. Stage number one: we receive increased revelation of God’s love for us. Beloved, you cannot focus on this subject too much. Again, over the years I have heard people say, “Well, if you focus too much on that, what about the others?” Here is the answer from Scripture: the more red-hot people get in revelation that God loves them and their response to love God back, they will become far more fervent and far more consistent with a deeper quality of love for other people. It begins with the revelation that God loves us. John said it. Of course, John the Apostle was the theologian of love. He gave more of the biblical principals on understanding love in all four stages—precise theology in the gospel of John, the epistles of John, and the book of Revelation as well. As the great teacher—this ancient man in his nineties—John says here, “We love Jesus because He first loved us.” When God wants to awaken love in us, He reveals a Lover to us. Let me say that again. When God wants to awaken love in you back to Jesus, and when God wants to awaken love in you for other people, He reveals Himself as a God of love. The way that He awakens love in you is by revealing Himself as the great Lover of the human heart. We cannot skip this stage, because if we put all of our energy outward in loving, we end up burned out and bruised, and we have no supply from which to love other people. Our supply is not our good will and our self-determination; our supply is supernatural overflow that comes from encounter. The encounter is a minimal encounter, but it is a regular day-in and day-out.
It’s in small increments; you don’t always feel it. Sometimes you do—a little bit, occasionally—but it’s steady, ongoing. I don’t mean steady as in every minute of every day, but day by day, we feel the inspiration of God loving us and a little bit of inspiration of loving Him back—a little bit of gratitude as to who God made us in His own sight.That is the energy from which we can love other people. When men become humanistic, meaning when they get focused on love for man in a way that cuts them off from the essential supernatural supply of encountering the love of God, then they have confidence in their own love—and their love will come up short. They will end up burned out and it will turn into something other than love. It will just become a masquerading of our own image of being loving, but it will not be genuine love at the end. The reason I’m saying this is, there’s a real movement around the earth today, and it is becoming strong in the Church. It is a movement of darkness and it has the words “love” and “man” and “goodwill” in it. The reason it is dark, the reason it is broken, is because it is promoting a love that originates from man without reference to encountering the love of God, as though man’s love is sufficient. It is a statement of pride. God will prove it to be a false boast before it is over. It is sweeping the Church because the language is confusing. The language is the same as the biblical language: “Love people.” But we love people in an overflow of encounter of loving Him, because we don’t have confidence that we can love sufficiently without regular encounter. It is a statement of humility on our part. It is a statement of need. When I see people minimizing the need to connect with God, it seems as though they are loving, but at the end of the day, in the court of heaven, they are arrogant about their abilities and their virtue. I have no confidence we can pull this thing off without regular, even small increments—that is not the right phrase. Inspirations of the Holy Spirit in our daily life are critical if we are going to love well.
Well, it begins with encountering His love. The foundational truth that equips us to love God is the revelation of His passion and His feeling for us. You cannot say this truth enough. Jesus said it: “The way the Father loves Me, in the same way I love you” (John 15:9, paraphrased). Beloved, this is almost indescribable, except that Jesus described it. I look at that and I say, “What?” He said, “In the same intensity which My Father feels about Me, this is how I feel about you” (paraphrased). Beloved, this is the fountain from which compassion and love of mankind flows. There is no other fountain that love will stay steady in. That is the only fountain. Jesus has the same intensity for us that the Father has for Him. This statement, in John 15:9, is the ultimate revelation of our worth. This is the statement that gives us the right—every one of us, a billion believers across the earth—confidence to claim that we are God’s favorite. I am God’s favorite. There is not a question about it. So are you. Why? Because God loves me in the way that God loves God, and that cannot ever, in any way, be increased. I am His favorite. For me to be His favorite and you to be His favorite, we lose nothing, because nothing is diminished in God by loving more people. Beloved, He loves me and you the way that God loves God. It cannot increase. I am number one. I love it. Here is the difference between me and some of you. Some of us are in unity on this. I am running with this. This is not a joke. This is real to me. This is not just a cute little sermon point. In the privacy of my life, if I come before the Lord, I say, “Lord, behold Your beloved, Your favorite one, the one whom You love.” I love to say that. I love the feeling of saying that. I take it very personally. I think the Lord says, “Oh, I take it personally, too, because you are starting to line up with what I say.”
We have to love God on His terms and He has no problem defining love. 1 John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is He who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. God declares His term for loving Him is our obedience. There are several types of obedience in the Word of God, but affection-based obedience is obedience that flows out of experiencing Jesus’ affection and feeling a little bit of that affection back for Him. Beloved, that affection is powerful. Affection-based obedience comes out of the revelation that Jesus loves us the way that the Father loves Him. It is the strongest; it is the deepest; it is the most consistent type of obedience. You tap into that level of obedience and you will have the strongest, most consistent obedience. It will take you to the deepest places. Why? Because the lovesick person will endure anything for love. Even in the early stirrings of lovesickness in your heart, your heart is wounded with desire. You must have more. That is what you live for. Beloved, that will carry you far in the race to a life of full obedience, the race that Paul talks about (1 Cor. 9:24–27).
The next type of obedience I will call duty-based obedience. Duty-based obedience is biblical, by the way. All three of these are biblical. They have a varying impact and effectiveness. Duty-based obedience is where we are required to obey when we don’t feel any inspiration. We have a duty to obey the Word of God when we don’t feel anything. I have done that many times. A few times I didn’t feel it and I didn’t obey. How many of you know about that, too? I have done it both ways, but in duty-based obedience I don’t feel like it at all. “I say in my heart, ‘Bah, humbug,’ but I’m going to do it anyway. I’m just going to obey You. I don’t mean just staying out of something wrong. I mean even the positive commands: sitting before You, reading the Word, obeying You, serving; I’m going to do it with no inspiration. Because there’s a duty in the kingdom to do this.” It’s not the most powerful, but it’s still valid.
Then there’s the third type of obedience which is totally biblical, by the way. It might sound at first like it is not. It’s fear-based obedience, motivated by the fear of negative consequences. Beloved, there are really negative consequences for disobedience. They are real. This is not a figment of the imagination. It is real. We will really be disciplined by the Lord and we will be more severely attacked by the devil. I don’t know if the attack is more severe, but our armor is less protective. We are more vulnerable to the attack, is a better way to say it. The Bible appeals to fear and shame. It is not the highest motivation, but it does motivate us. It certainly has motivated me many times. The fear of consequences, the shame of getting caught—that is a biblical motivation. It’s not the highest one, because you will get caught and it will bring shame. It will be horrible. Now the most powerful is affection-based, but when we get into this issue of God loving us and feeding our spirit, our obedience will be the strongest. The reason we sin, all of us, is because our hearts are unsatisfied with God. The reason we look for other pleasures is because the inferior pleasure of sin seems more powerful than the superior pleasures in the grace of God when God touches our spirit. When I feel drawn to a sin, it’s a signal that my heart is not satisfied with God, and because I understand that I say, “Wait a second, something is wrong here,” and the Holy Spirit is saying, “Yes, that’s right. Come near; come near.” James 4:5 "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.