The Eleventh CommandmentErwin W. Lutzer | June 22, 1986
Selected highlights from this sermon
After studying the Ten Commandments, many are uncomfortable with its prohibitions. But they are tied together with love.
Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Anyone who truly loves will uphold the Ten Commandments.
Jesus restated the Old Testament commands but added one more when He spoke with His disciples—it was about love. “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
There’s something within us that does not like the law. Yet God says, “Thou shall not, thou shall not.” And of course, as we stop to think of it, every single commandment, though it is stated negatively really has a positive aspect. Thou shall not steal means positively that thou shall respect thy neighbor’s property. Thou shall not bear false witness means thou shall speak the truth.
But undergirding all of the commandments is the basic heart of the Bible, and that is love. Back in the 1960’s when situation ethics were popular, Joseph Fletcher wrote a book entitled Situation Ethics. He said that it was okay to commit adultery, lie, steal, kill. Whatever you had to do just do it lovingly. Do it because you have a loving goal in mind. Do it because you are going to help somebody, he taught. But actually that definition of love is totally contrary to the New Testament because in the Bible love is defined as keeping the law. For example, in Romans 13 Paul says love is the fulfillment of the law. For this, thou shall not commit adultery, thou shall not steal, and then he lists other commandments and says, “If there is any other commandment it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.”
And we read in Third John that he who says that he loves Him (that is, loves Christ) ought to keep His commandments. So in the Bible love and law are not in conflict. They are actually a unity. You show your love by your obedience. That’s what the New Testament teaches.
Now as we talk about love I want us to turn to Mark 12 because we would like to define today three objects of love that we as believers ought to have. And the first, found in Mark 12, is love toward God. Jesus is giving a sermon, of all things, on the resurrection when suddenly a scribe interrupts him because he is impressed with Christ. It says in verses 28-30, “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.’” Let’s stop there for a moment.
Jesus actually picks up the book of Deuteronomy. Remember that in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, I believe, you actually have this quote. “Hear of Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shall love the Lord thy God.” That is the first and the greatest commandment. The greatest commandment is not, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” or “Thou shall not steal.” The first and the greatest commandment is “Thou shall love the Lord thy God.” And as I read Christ’s response to this scribe I can’t help but realize that Christ is saying that we should love God with intensity.
Notice how he just multiplies here all of the faculties that we might have. Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. Biblically really the heart is the center of man from which his attitudes, and thoughts and everything flows. Love Him with all your heart; with all your soul, very probably a reference to the emotions; with all your mind, that is your thought processes; and love Him with all your might, with everything that you have. Boy, I read that text and I say we ought to love God with passion, with zeal. There ought to be something within us that responds when it comes to love for God. We ought to guard our love toward Him because He is special and He ought to consume all that we are with passion. As David said, “As the deer pants towards the water brook,” and you sometimes have been thirsty, just as that deer is longing for the water, so he says, “my soul pants after Thee, oh God.” Where can I go to get enough of God?
We should love with intensity but also we should love with exclusiveness. Notice what the text says. “You shall love the Lord your God,” and here are some words that you can underline, “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” All, all, all, all – four times!
God says that our love toward Him should be so exclusive that there is no competition, there is no rivalry, and there is no sense in which we have a divided spirit, no rival worship within us. Exclusively we love God.
Now there are some Christians who hate God because of circumstances, usually because of the tragedies He has allowed in life – maybe their upbringing or whatever. Fortunately there are only a few of those but there are some. But I speak to those today who do not hate God. I speak to those who verbally love God. I speak to myself. Do we love God with intensity and with passion or do we insult Him because of our neglect of Him? Neglect of God – the silent insult! I mean I read this text of Scripture and I am just overwhelmed. I mean if you love somebody with all of your mind and your heart and your soul and your strength, you are constantly thinking about them. You are planning with them. You have your focus of attention directed toward them. You are consumed by them, and Jesus said that is the first commandment. It is to be people who are God intoxicated, people who are consumed with the love of God.
The Bible says in 1 John 4:8, “He that doesn’t love God doesn’t know God, for God is love.” Don’t hurry over that text. What it is saying is that if we don’t love God, we really do not know God. Now human things must be known in order to be loved. For example, we say to a couple that maybe goes together for two weeks, “Do you know each other well enough to be married?” And we may question it if they’ve known each other for two weeks. Parenthetically, my parents knew each other for only two weeks and then they were married. That isn’t done today but it so happens that they are celebrating their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary this July. They’ve done fairly well. They didn’t have marriage counseling in those days. You just sought the mind of God, you got married, and sometimes very successfully as illustrated by my folks.
We say to couples, “Do you know each other well enough,” because human things must be known in order to be loved, but notice this. God must be loved in order to be known. The text says if you don’t love God you don’t know Him. Ah, to love God with intensity and passion – why is this the greatest commandment? It’s the greatest commandment because if you loved God the way Jesus mentions here you would take care of the first four commandments, wouldn’t you?
Thou shall have no other Gods before me, the text says. Well, certainly a person who loved God with such passion wouldn’t have a rival worship. The Bible says thou shall not make any graven image or bow down to it. That certainly is disrespect for God, that infinite and perfect spirit in whom all things have their source. And then it says thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. No one could treat God with such lightness if he loved Him with such intensity. And finally it says remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. That would be an easy command to keep if only we loved God instead of insulting Him by our neglect. That’s the first responsibility. The first object of love is love toward God.
But then secondly, I want you to notice that Jesus combines Deuteronomy with Leviticus. It says in Leviticus 19:18 that thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself, and so that’s the second object of love - verse 31. The second is this. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. “There is no other commandment greater than these,” said Jesus. Now, you see, what God is saying is that once we love Him with intensity it’ll be very easy for us to love our neighbors and our friends.
One day Jesus encountered a young lawyer. You know lawyers like to be sharp and many of them I’m sure are, but the text says that a lawyer came to Jesus. And this young man wanted to sort of sharpen his wits on the razor of intellect. He wanted to just rival Christ with a question and answer period. And so he said to Jesus, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” asking the question that all the philosophers and the theologians are concerned about. And Jesus, instead of saying to him, “Have you ever heard of the four spiritual laws?” does something different. He says, “Now you know the law. What do you read?” And the young man quotes this text of Scripture, the Shama of the book of Deuteronomy, and says, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind and with all thy strength.” And Jesus said, “That’s right. Do it and you’ll live.”
Jesus was saying, “If you fulfill that commandment you’ll be saved because obviously if you are perfect you don’t have to worry about coming into judgment.” And then the Bible says the young lawyer tried to justify himself and said (because he added the words and your neighbor and yourself), “And who is my neighbor?” He thought that maybe if he could define that neighbor to refer to his friends maybe he’d make it, but Jesus told an interesting story. He said, “One day there was a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell upon thieves, and they stripped him of his raiment and they robbed him, and they left him half dead.” Then Jesus said, “One day as the many was lying there that afternoon a Levite came.” A Levite was somebody who was working in the Temple, and so the Levite sees this wounded man and he passes by on the other side because he’s got to hurry to Jerusalem to preach a sermon on love to all the people. So the Levite bypasses the man.
And then a certain priest comes by and the priest looks upon this man and he doesn’t want to be bothered either because priests are busy counseling people, and they’ve got schedules to keep, and people are waiting for them. So the priest passes by on the other side and he leaves.
Then Jesus said, “A certain Samaritan came.” And he chose the Samaritan because he was a half-breed, despised by the Jews. And Jesus said, “The Samaritan came and he had mercy on the man, and he took the wounded stranger and put him onto his own donkey and took him to an inn, and then he said to the people, ‘You keep him here until he’s well, and if you spend anything more I’ll pay it,’ and he left some money and then he left on his journey.” And Jesus turned to the young lawyer and asked him, “And who do you think was a neighbor to the person who fell among thieves?”
This young man so despised Samaritans. He wouldn’t even allow the word Samaritan to come out of his lips. That’s how much anger and animosity he had, so he simply said, “Well, the one who showed mercy on him.” Well, that’s interesting. You see, Jesus answers there the question of who is my neighbor. The answer is my neighbor is anyone who needs my help. That’s who my neighbor is. It isn’t just someone who shares the street with me. It is somebody that I can help. That is my neighbor. And the first and the greatest commandment is “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind and with all thy soul, and thy neighbor as thyself with the same kind of care and respect and concern that I have for myself. I have to share that with those who are in need, and people that I can help, not just simply financially but in any other way. That’s what the commandment means. And so your neighbor is anyone that you can help, Jesus said.
And when should I love my neighbor? That was also answered by the parable that Jesus gave. The answer is I should love whenever I see a need. Countless opportunities come before us every single day, and sometimes we do not reach out our hands because we do not want to be concerned with people who are a nuisance and a bother to us when we have our own schedules to keep.
You know, it’s one thing to prepare a message intellectually. It is another thing to prepare your heart. And as I was thinking about this last night I was agonizing in the presence of God, thinking of all the times that I have bypassed opportunities to help people simply because I thought my schedule was more important than their need.
The text of Scripture says that the greatest commandment is that you shall love those who have needs, and love with imagination because sometimes people don’t throw out distress signals. It’s just that they are there and you know that they have a need and it’s your responsibility and my responsibility to love them as we do ourselves.
Now we have talked about love toward God – thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and love toward thy neighbor, to love your neighbor as yourself. But now there’s a third group of people that we should love and for that turn to John 13. I want you to notice that Jesus here is in the upper room and He is sharing some interesting words with the disciples before He dies. Judas has just left. And then Jesus says that He is going to give them a new commandment.
Some people who saw the topic of my sermon in the bulletin – an eleventh commandment – asked with perhaps just a touch of sarcasm whether or not the pastor of Moody Church was qualified to add one to the tenth. Well, actually I’m not doing that. It is our Lord that did it. Notice what He says. John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Now, when Jesus was in Mark 12 that was not a new commandment because the commandment that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul comes from the book of Deuteronomy, and the fact that you should love your neighbor as yourself comes from Leviticus 19:18, and so Jesus took two passages of Scripture from the Old Testament and He simply combined them together and said, “On these hang the law and the prophets. These are the great commandments.”
Those weren’t new commandments but here Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, an eleventh commandment.” What is that commandment? What Jesus is saying is that you love one another, and He’s speaking about Christians loving other Christians now, and notice the standard. This is new. As I have loved you! We look at the text and we say, “Well, how did Jesus love them?” Well, the 13th chapter begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, doing something that the disciples themselves were too proud to do. He laid aside His garments, the same Greek word that is found in Philippians 2 where He laid aside His glory. And Jesus lays aside His outer garments and He begins to wash the disciples’ feet in all humility and in all service. And Jesus said, “I have done this, and you are to love one another as I have loved you.”
We see Him there as a servant washing the disciples’ feet, but then that’s not the end of the story. Jesus goes on, of course, the very next day to die for the disciples. And let’s not romanticize the death of Jesus Christ. Let’s not look at those artistic paintings that sometimes depict a very sanitary crucifixion. Jesus is dying there, very probably naked, with nails in His hands, and He is in excruciating agony physically and emotionally and spiritually because of what has happened there at the cross. And then Jesus said, “You should love one another just as I have loved you. That’s the way you ought to love one another. You ought to care for each other. You ought to uphold each other. You ought to strengthen each other.” That’s the test of true discipleship.
Well, you look at the passage of Scripture and you say, “Where have we gone wrong?” Sometimes over very petty things we have arguments with one another, sometimes over matters that really aren’t very important. We criticize one another. We speak against each other. We work at cross-purposes and we do not love with the same kind of sacrifice that Jesus is talking about here.
You know that there are three different kinds of love. There is eros – erotic love that constantly is willing to take but it does not give. There is phileo love – human love, which gives but it also takes. It does both. And then there is divine love that is able to give and to give and to give, even if there is very little or no return, and that’s the kind of love Jesus is talking about.
This past week I read a story about a person struggling with homosexuality, and discovered by his wife. She continued loving him. She went on forgiving him. He was discovered by people in the church who continued loving, forgiving and working with him until, over a period of time, God just transformed this person totally. But it took months. And it took failure after failure, but every time he failed there was a wife who forgave, and there were church friends who forgave.
I read the story and I wondered how anybody could love like that. And then I thought of the text of Scripture here that you “love one another as I have loved you.” That means sacrifice. That might mean late night telephone calls from people who irritate us and bother our schedules. That might mean reaching out to those who maybe are not our kind of people, and inviting them over. It involves all of the dimensions of an incredible sacrificial love. And Jesus said, “This is the new commandment. It’s the eleventh commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” It’s a brand new standard, and we are all condemned because we have all fallen short.
In the city of Portland there was a church that decided to open its doors to people out on the street. Now you know that whenever that happens you’ve got problems in advance because you know that there are all kinds of people who are a nuisance and a bother humanly speaking. And they decided that they would take some of these people, many of whom perhaps had alcohol problems or other problems, and they began to do something with them, and inevitably there was criticism. People were saying that there was stuff lying around and the church was messy. They said, “These people come in and they are always in our way, and we’ve got to have extra staff to take care of them, and all those other problems. And furthermore,” they said, “these people are ripping us off. They are stealing stuff.”
One of the church leaders decided that he would prove that these people were taking everything they could get a hold of, including bars of soap from the washroom that they would take and then later pawn for perhaps a few pennies so they could get more to drink. One day he decided to hide in a washroom to prove his point. Someone came in and soon he was taking a bar of soap and slipping it into his pocket. The guy thought he got him red-handed. And that church leader was just about to reach out and put his hands on the shoulder of that man when the man who had stolen the bar of soap turned around, and suddenly that church leader was looking eyeball to eyeball into the face of a friend. That stopped both of them, and for a few moments they just stood and stared at each other. And suddenly that church leader was transformed. He was a different person because now instead of looking at this man as simply a person who ought to know better and ought to get out, he now looked at him as a person who had a name. The man not only had a name. The man had a family and the church leader knew that family. And the man had a history and he was once a little baby in his mother’s arms. And he was once a father who cared for his children. And suddenly the church leader, instead of putting his hands on his shoulder to evict the man, put his arms around the man to hug him.
You know, I think of that story because I can’t help but think of how different our relationships would be as people if only we began to realize that behind every face, behind every person who is a bother and a nuisance, behind everybody who messes up our schedules is actually a person with a name, and more importantly a person in whose eyes we should see Christ. And then we might hug them rather than get rid of them.
One day Jesus said, “The time is coming one day during the tribulation where people are going to be judged and the Lord is going to say, ‘I was in prison and you didn’t visit Me. I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me. I was hungry and you didn’t feed Me,’ and they’ll say, ‘Get this straight, Lord. When did we ever see You in prison? Jesus, if you were in prison we’d visit You any day. We’d even go to Cook County Jail. If You came to our door and knocked, it wouldn’t matter what hour of the day you came, Lord Jesus. We would have fed You. You know that. Show up unclothed, and we’d take the shirt off our back. You know that, Lord. When did we see You in prison, and when did we see You hungry, and when did we see You unclothed?’ Jesus is going to say, ‘Whatever you have done to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done to Me, and whatever you haven’t done to the least of these, my brethren, you haven’t done to Me. Your neglect of those in need is neglect of Me because when you stare into the eyes of someone that needs you, you are staring into the eyes of Christ.’” Jesus said, “As I have loved you, you are to love Me and to love one another.”
We come to the eleventh commandment and we realize our helplessness in the presence of God. Why were the commandments written? Was it because God says “What I want you to do now is to gear up and see whether or not you can keep them, or see whether or not you can get at least four out of five? That’s not bad. Baseball players do worse than that when they are up to bat. I want you to see whether or not you can’t at least bat 300, 400, 500. Anybody who bats 500 is outstanding.” Is that the reason why the Ten Commandments were given?
My dear friend, the reason that God gave the Ten Commandments was to devastate us. It was for us to realize our helplessness, our sinfulness, our total dependence upon Jesus Christ, and our need, because there were Pharisees in the time of Christ who kept all the commandments. They did as well as they possibly could, and Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees you will in no way enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Did Jesus mean, “Boy, you’d better do better than they do; you’d better roll up your sleeves and go to it like a bull at a gate because if not, you’ve had it?” No, Jesus said, “All the righteousness that could be done by human beings all piled together, all quantified, would somehow turn out to be less than what God needs before you enter into the kingdom of heaven.” So you are damned. You are lost. You’ve had it.
What Jesus is saying is that you need a righteousness that God accepts, namely the righteousness of Christ, and that’s why Jesus died on the cross, because God knew that we couldn’t keep these commandments. Jesus died on the cross and He becomes the fulfillment of the law, the text says. That means that He fulfills the law for all of us. He loves perfectly. He does everything perfectly, and He did everything perfectly, and He met God’s requirements for us so that when we see our helplessness and our sin, and we cast ourselves upon His grace and His mercy because of His death, we can then be saved and received and forgiven and welcomed into God’s family despite the tremendous failure that all of you and I recognize in the presence of the law of God.
That’s why Christ came. It’s because we couldn’t keep the law. It still remains God’s standard. It is still what He would desire to do in our lives by means of the Holy Spirit after we have received the free gift of salvation, but God’s standard cannot be kept by us. And certainly not by a person who has never trusted Christ.
And so the purpose of the law is to show us our helplessness. It’s a schoolmaster to bring us to the Savior. If you are not a Christian, that’s its first purpose. If you are a Christian the second purpose is to so give up the self life that the Holy Spirit might enable us to at least begin to conform us to what God requires.
The eleventh commandment is the most important commandment and encompasses the remaining six. “Thou shall love one another,” said Jesus, “even as I have loved you.”
Father, there’s no question but that we stand naked in Your presence when we read Your word and understand its implications. Who has loved someone else as Christ has loved us? Who has not coveted? Who has not had other gods before You? Father, we are all guilty, but we pray that those of us who know You as Savior might graciously ask that your Holy Spirit might work in us that we might begin to approximate the standard of the holiness of God. We desire to experience it. For those who have never trusted Christ as Savior but are trying in their own foolish way to get Your approval, may they today understand that Jesus paid for their sin. He met Your requirements. May they see Him as the onlyOne that can give them the righteousness that they need to enter the kingdom of heaven. Do that, Father, for us today, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.