Last and Least
-David Hodge

Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.

I was recently on an extended business trip, a trip I admittedly dreaded simply because it was during the middle of the Summer, a time when my wife, a school teacher, and my children are at home and I would be missing valuable time with them. That being what it was, I was determined to use the time outside of class to tighten my focus on and to draw closer to the Lord. And during this time, the Lord WAS gracious and taught me some wonderful things, but the greatest of these things, wonderful as it was, both soothed and stung at the same time.

It seems that in my Christian life, my life "with" God, I had been doing and running and scurrying "for" the Lord so much. NowÖI KNOW what many of you are saying and doing right now. You are just now flopping back in your chair or seat with this message in your hand, spreading a great, wide, smirky smile and saying "Ahhhh! I SEE it! I KNOW the problem here!" Well, YES you may, otherwise I would NOT be writing this. But it goes deeper than the obvious answer.

Yes, God DID teach me that I had not been spending the time I need to spend with Him. He showed me that I had not taken "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) to heart lately. And I spent time (a whole week) on my trip getting THAT part under my belt, spending quiet, still, often even prayerless time just "being" with Him. And this was good but it was not the bottom line of Godís plan for this time. What I didnít know until later is that God was leading me to something much more foundational, and He summed it up in three little words that blew me into CONsciousnessÖ"Just love Me".

You see, these words BOTH soothed and stung me because, first of all, the simplicity of the statement showed how simple Godís requirements really are and they came to me and covered me as a warm, comfortable sweater on a cool evening. But the words stung, as well, because of their simplicity, revealing to me just how complicated I had made my life with Him. I had gotten wrapped up in the service and the "gracey" part of God, overlooking the relationship, which is all TOO important, at least from Godís point of view. It became GLARINGLY obvious to me how important the relationship was as He spoke the words directly to my heart.

It has become so easy today to look past the relationship and see the recompense. In a world that rewards by performance and merit, it is difficult to take Godís gift of love and grace on face value as being free. Because of this, it is too easy to reduce the "first and greatest commandment" to the last and least of our thoughts, even when dealing WITH God. We get so caught up in the mentality of the doing instead of the reality of the done. We MUST remember what Jesus reminded us of in loving God with ALL that we are and remember it as the FIRST requirement.

We, self included, too often forget the reasoning of the love for God. We are too willing to SAY we love God but too quick to forget the REASON for loving Him. Think about that the next time you are in prayer and say, if we even SAY it anymore in prayer, "And, Lord, I love You." Why? Why do we love God? Not only this, we MUST ponder HOW we love God as well if we are to understand, completely, the whyís.

Think about Johnís statement. In 1 John 4:19, John explains that if we TRULY love God, truly love Him with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind, that we love Him "because he first loved us." Say that again in your mind AND your heart: "BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US". Not because He does cool things for us. Not because He TOLD us to love Him. Not even because we may be scared of God, even in the WRONG sense. It is because He loved us FIRST, even before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 1:4).

Think about how BEAUTIFUL a statement that is! He loved us FIRST. He loved us before we knew Him. He loved us REGARDLESS of us and all we were. Even so, He poured out His love on us in human flesh and became a walking, talking, bleeding example of His love for us. It is AWESOME to think that while Jesus, God in the flesh, hung dying on the cross, He had my name on His mind. All because He loved us while were yet sinners and while we were too interested in works and while we were too interested in ourselves to turn to Him, embrace Him and just love Him. And what does He ask? Deuteronomy 10:12-13, God asks of us "to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to LOVE HIM, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes" (emphasis mine). Too much to ask?

Paul made a statement in his letter to the Corinthian church that draws focus on WHY God would love us so fiercely: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2-3). Not that God needs prophecy or understanding or anything else that Paul mentions, but what Paul wrote WAS inspired by the Holy Spirit and underscores the need for love in our lives. Love is THE reason Christ reduced all the laws and commandments to just two which were centered around love (Matthew 22:40). With this, think about WHY God gave us grace.

I will NEVER dispute Godís purpose for grace in this world and will forever cherish that grace by which God has redeemed us and not in our works in trying to EARN Godís love. Ephesians 2:8 teaches that His grace saves us by our faith in Him and that it is a GIFT of God, free and clear to all who ask for it. But I DO believe that love is the ONLY thing that is preeminent to grace. If God did not love us, even then, why would He have given grace in such extreme measures to save us from ourselves? Love encompasses all things of God, even grace. NOW one may understand better how we would love God primarily because He first loved us.

Yes, the words God gave me DID sting as I thought about the ways I had twisted and distorted my love for Him in the face of His pure and honest and open love for me. But it wasnít long until His healing accompanied the hurt. He never teaches us a painful truth to maim us but to make us mindful of what truth is: self-evident, non-negotiable and permanent. And just like God would, out of the quandary comes the cure and out of the cure comes the compassion. "Just love Me", He says. Not commandingly but compassionately. "Just love Me and dwell with Me in my presence and know Me as I am." THAT is the first and the greatest commandment.

Father God, As I stop to ponder all of these things, Your greatness comes to my mind. With love more faithful than the sunrise, You give of Yourself constantly and surely. You pour out Your blessings on us abundantly, and all because You love us and LOVED us before the beginning of time. Lord, it IS because of this great love by which You loved us, that I love You and praise You this day.

Lord, I love You not only for Your love for me but for Who You are. You are my Lord and my God. You are my Creator and my Redeemer. I love You, Father, for without reason in my mind other than pure love for me, You saved me. You gave me another chance. You gave me life everlasting. When You were MORE than justified to blow me out of existence, when Your reason for NOT loving me was so strong, You love me anyway. Such a great God and such a great force! Thank You, Lord. Thank You for all that has come to me, even in Your person, through love.

It is in love You came to us and it is out of love that You lead us and save us, Father. In this do I lift up to You all honor and praise, this day, in the name of Jesus ChristÖAmen.

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