Emphasis on the First Commandment


There are two commandments that stand out within the entire Bible and are particularly emphasized by Jesus in the New Testament.  The first commandment is to love God and the second is to love other people.  The first is first and the second is second–they aren’t equal.  If we forget to love God, it really doesn’t matter how much we love people (1 Cor 13).  The first commandment is a requirement for the second, and it is greater (Mat 22:37-38).

I’ve mentioned these commandments before, but it’s very important to recognize the difference between them.  They wouldn’t be highlighted separately if they were the same; thus, we do not love God BY loving other people, we love God THEN we love other people.  This is not a subtle difference.

So how do we love God?  Scripture says we love God by keeping His commandments–we completely submit ourselves to God in obedience of whatever He has for us (John 15:1-11).

This is why loving God has to happen before the loving of people: God has a specific design for how we should individually love those in our spheres of influence.  We aren’t called to random acts of kindness; we’re called to specific works which He prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph 2:10)!

If we neglect to focus on a relationship with the Lord foremost (on truly and wholeheartedly loving Him), then instead of being led by His voice to pour out His love, we become recklessly attempting to earn or prove our salvation to God, ourselves and the world.  We may help people to feel good in the now, but aren’t able to offer them insight toward a stable relationship with the Lord because we don’t have it for ourselves; what is Christianity unless Christians can offer both?  This ‘being good’ wears us out, makes us feel constantly inadequate or in competition with others, and most importantly, it doesn’t work–God knows our heart.

The ‘goodness’ has to come from the inside out.  As we spend time with Him, we know Him and love Him.  He gives us a heart to love Him–more and more as we seek Him–because He knows how small we are.  And as we completely submit to Him in love, we can’t help but be stirred in our spirits to help His other loves.  It really does happen naturally.  And it brings with it a confidence of being a true heir and son or daughter to the Most High God.


The Turning Point: Jeremiah, the potter, and the clay


The word of the Lord spoke to Jeremiah and led him to a potter’s house where the potter was working clay into a vessel.  The Lord uses this physical demonstration to show Jeremiah how, like the potter, He wants to mold us into beautiful vessels, but sometimes we (the clay) aren’t malleable in His hands.  (Jer 18)

With each piece of clay there’s a turning point where the clay just can’t be reworked any longer.  The clay is so stubborn that it becomes hard and the potter can’t physically mold it.  This clay becomes a ‘vessel of wrath’ and is thrown into the valley where it shatters into pieces.  (Jer 19)

It is always God’s intention to make beautiful vessels. When we don’t listen to His purposes or incline our hearts to know His ways, we become spoiled in His hands–He can remold us again and again, but there is always a point where we, like the clay, can’t be reworked.  It isn’t God’s fault when we don’t cooperate, it’s ours; just as the potter wanted to make lovely vessels but couldn’t if the clay wouldn’t cooperate.

God’s exhortation to Jeremiah through the physical demonstration of the clay is to warn the people to turn away from evil, and to reform their ways and their deeds (Jer 18:11).  He wants them to turn back to Him so adamantly that He is willing to use severe measures to get their attention that perhaps they will be shaken by the extremity of what their stubbornness is doing to them.

There is a physical choice, in other words, to soften our hearts to the Lord (the circumcision of the heart) and be malleable in His hands.  This requires complete surrender (submissiveness) on our part, but allows that we would be created into a beautiful vessel of the Lord–and once we understand that He is good as He says He is, we can trust that whatever He wants to make us into really is the most fulfilling thing.


Evidence of Repentance


In 2 Corinthians 7:11, Paul tells the church of Corinth what repentance looks like.  True repentance is evidenced by:

  • earnestness (diligence)
  • vindication (some versions say, ‘clearing of ourselves’)
  • indignation (we begin to hate the sin; it becomes disgusting to us)
  • fear of the Lord (reverence to the point of trembling before Him)
  • longing (intense desire)
  • zeal (we pursue, embrace, and defend Him with enthusiasm)
  • avenging of wrong (we move from tolerating our own sin to punishing it; we force sin to depart from us by submitting to God)

When we begin demonstrating these attitudes, we show ourselves to be innocent in the matter–true repentance (repentance means ‘a change of mind’) has taken place.

Remember when God the Father instructs Moses about how the Jewish people should sacrifice to the Lord?  Exodus 29:10-30, amongst other places, shows that there was to be a “sin offering”, “burnt offering”, “wave offering”, and “heave offering” (other passages even include “guilt offering”).

Let’s not cut repentance short by stopping after ‘sin offering’; let’s continue to offer a fragrant aroma of prayer to the Lord and to continue fighting against our flesh until everything in competition with the Lord is purged from us.

It’s not enough for us to JUST confess our sins and receive forgiveness–this is a good start, but Christianity is more about seeing and knowing Jesus than simply being forgiven.  That is, a Christian can be forgiven and ‘saved’, and yet not be walking in the freedom Christ intended.  The freedom occurs when we let godly sorrow move us to full submission and a renewed mind.  As we experience this full repentence, we also begin to experience the Lord Himself because the cloudiness of sin clears itself from us enough that we can begin to see our Lord.


The problem with not feeling


Years ago I went through a long season of not wanting to feel any more.  I had been reading a lot on psychology and Buddhism and hypnosis, and started experimenting with ‘transcending’ my feelings so as not to have emotional pain and unrest.

Actually, I was successful in ‘not feeling’ for a time.

It was a very powerful time in my life–charmingly dark and powerful.  I was also working to develop my psychic abilities, self hypnosis, and vision of the unseen; and I was very successful in my occult interests.

There was a problem though, and I’ll tell you why I wasn’t satisfied with the “New Age” way of living: I became so good at not feeling that I didn’t feel anything.  My family and friends had shown me glimpses of love and joy, but I had stopped feeling altogether–no love, no joy, no peace, and so on–and yet, I remembered that I had often felt those good feelings in the past.  So slowly I began to soften my heart so I could feel the good parts again, despite the additional torment.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned Jesus really can, and wants to, take away all our pain–that regardless of circumstance we can rest in the fruit of His Spirit.  The irony is that to receive the Lord’s peace, we must circumcise our hearts–making ourselves vulnerable by cutting away the skin of our hearts, that the softer part would be out in the open.  This is contrary to our thinking because initially it is so painful to sacrifice even our wounds to a God we can’t see; it takes a great deal of trust and faith.

The alternative, however, is the hardening/thickening of the heart–an empowering of the self in order to block out emotional intrusions by building up a defense barrier.  This is one of the ways which seems right to man, but leads in the end to death (Prov 14:12).  The higher and longer and stronger we build the wall around our hearts, the more we cover up uncleaned wounds, perceive happiness and peace when there is none, and the harder it becomes for the wall to be destroyed.

It’s painful to be vulnerable (thus, the Biblical analogy of circumcision, which I’ve heard is painful as well–and increasingly so with age); but, it’s also necessary to rip emotional problems and wounds out by the roots, which requires entering into the most sensitive places.  And it’s not just about reaching the sensitive places, but about allowing Jesus to adequately and thoroughly heal and cleanse us from the inside out.  The Lord Himself is the only one trustworthy to handle our hearts, so we can put it all in His hands!


Stop indulging the flesh


One of the best ways to grow spiritually is to stop indulging the flesh.

Paul writes:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men…for you were not yet able to receive it.  Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?  For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

It sounds like the church in Corinth struggled primarily with envy, offense, and division (putting more emphasis on earthly leaders than Jesus Himself).  But whatever our personal battles, when we get rid of the things of the flesh, we have more room in us for things of the Spirit.  We also clear ourselves of the ‘static’ of the world, so that we can better focus on God and His voice.

So how do we get rid of the stubborn parts of our flesh?

  • We continually make an active choice in our hearts to submit to God and war against our flesh (through prayer, deliberate choice, and maybe even the intervention of other Christians)—the point isn’t whether we are initially successful, but that we earnestly and diligently desire righteousness
  • We  stop feeding our lusts by choosing not to do, watch, read or listen to the “permissible” things that are preventing us from fully focusing on the Lord
  • We welcome the conviction of the Holy Spirit and desire to work out our salvation with fear and trembling through repentance
  • In fact, we ask the Lord to search our hearts, that we may be purified–as we repent–of hidden fleshly desires
  • We abide in His Word and immerse ourselves in His truth so that we continue to grow in righteous qualities (2 Peter 1:5-8)

In my own life, I’ve found that the more I pursue the Lord and consider Him in my everyday choices, the freer I become and the easier it is to walk more in His Spirit and less in my flesh.  Jesus’ grace gives us the power to choose righteousness, so let’s discipline our bodies and lay aside every encumbrance that we may effectively run the race set before us (1 Cor 9:24-27, Heb 12:1-2).