Jesus and the Loveless Lawyer, Part 2
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 10:25-28
Jesus and the Loveless Lawyer (Part 2)
November 17, 2019
We’re in Luke chapter 10, verses 25-28, to continue what we were looking at last week. As we introduced this section last week, we learned that verses 25-28 are not merely a prelude or an introductory portion to lead us to the Good Samaritan story. But verses 25-28 are in and of themselves part one to a larger point, which is a warning about loveless religion. Many religious Jews sought to adhere to the letter of the law, and most notably or exemplary in adhering to the letter of the law were the scribes of Israel, the Pharisees—men like the lawyer in our text. Many in Israel looked to them as examples of how religion ought to be done. After all, they were the ones who had studied and given attention to the law for decades of their lives, memorizing the entire Torah and much of the history and the writings and the prophets as well. They were experts. They understood the law with fine detail and precision. They showed honor in that way to God’s Word, and many understandably looked to them as a guide. They were religious guides—teachers, leaders in Israel.
The problem—as we discover in the Gospels, as we walk through the Gospels leading to the eventuality of Jesus’ crucifixion—is that the crucifixion happened because of the rejection of the Jewish leadership. The very ones who were meant to lead and to instruct and to guide and to teach were themselves corrupt, and they were corrupt from the heart. This law that they studied, this truth, this Bible that they were experts in—it revealed they were totally missing the point. And they were the driving force of true religion—what was demonstrated as true religion—in Israel. But they were missing the point. And what’s the point? It’s what we read in Deuteronomy 6. Love for God. Love for people.
If we were to make any parallel from the first century situation of the Jews in Jesus’ day—the kind of religion that they practiced—that was the truth on all the face of the earth. They did have the Scripture. And if we were to make any parallel to the kind of religion practiced today, we need to draw a direct line—don’t we?—to, well, ourselves—to Protestant, Reformed, Baptist, Evangelical faith.
And so as we come into this text, we need to be warned from the very beginning about how we need to be reading the text—that instead of siding with Jesus and standing with him and pointing the finger and saying, “I’d never be like that,” we need to be careful and say, “You know what? I think that we should put ourselves in the position of the lawyer and see how much of this applies to our hearts.” That is a wise way to read the text. We need to look carefully at ourselves here and let the crosshairs of this text find the center—the bull’s eye, really—on our own hearts, our own lives, our own behaviors, our own priorities, our own practices.
What Jesus said to this Bible-quoting lawyer back then he is saying to evangelical Christians today. This is a warning against loveless Christianity, and there is a lot of that going around. Since it is a matter of the heart, it really could be happening among us as well. Having the right theology, the right doctrine—that is not enough. Having the right interpretation of key biblical texts with all of them carefully studied, guided, bounded in by hermeneutical principles is good—it’s not enough. Having the right form in our regular public worship services, expositional preaching, practicing the ordinances of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, practicing alms giving, works outside the church, works inside the church—none of that is enough. What counts is this—and we all need to ask these questions of ourselves: “Do I personally truly love God, or do I not? Do I truly love my neighbor as myself, or do I not?”
No matter what you tell yourself, you need to understand that God sees all of that very clearly. And while we may mask things for others—wear nice clothes on Sundays, put on nice smiles, give good, hearty handshakes and pats on the back—God knows what our lives really look like. So we really do need to pay careful attention to what’s written here, so that we take in the proper conviction, admonition, but also that God, through that, guides our hearts to the proper comfort—the only comfort—which is to be found in Christ himself. So we have to “guard our hearts with all diligence”—Proverbs 4:23—don’t we?—“for from it spring forth the issues of life.” It’s from the heart that we love or fail to love. It’s from the heart that our love for God and others is either half-hearted and therefore loveless, or it is zealous, whole-hearted—all in. Whole-hearted love for God and for our neighbor—that is what God sees, and that is what God requires. That’s what he sees in us—or does not see in us—looking with his omniscient gaze.
So the text before us—Luke 10:25-37—helps us see something that as we said last time is utterly tragic in this very competent, very thoughtful lawyer. As we said last week—verses 25-28—we can see three tragedies here in the behavior and words of the lawyer. Because of the way that we uphold biblical truth in our own church, we need to be on guard because we can be prone to the same errors. We can be susceptible to the same blindnesses, to the same dangers. So we need to listen and learn and read well.
So as we said last time, it’s not how much you know; it’s what you do with what you know. You do need knowledge in order to learn and change and repent and grow. But having knowledge is not enough; it’s what you do with that knowledge. It’s why Jesus said—Matthew 7—“Many will come unto me on that day and say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and I will say, ‘I never knew you.’ You say you know me as Lord, but you don’t obey me.” In particular, most fundamentally, the issue of obedience really is the presence or absence of divine love that is operative in and through us. That is what determines our eternal destiny. It is the difference between heaven and hell for us. Is that divine love in us, or is it absent? Because if it is wholly absent, then we are wholly condemned. If it is present, then we must exercise it. And the exercise of that love is going to give us assurance that we truly belong to him.
So—moving through these verses—last time we identified three tragedies that are evident in this lawyer and how he’s interacting with Jesus, and doing so without a heart of love. No love for God, no love for his neighbor. The tragedy is having the right teacher, getting the right answer, knowing the right way—and yet having no love. That’s the issue.
So number one, just by way of review: the tragedy of having the right teacher. And just to remind you where we’ve been, in verse 25 we read, “And behold a lawyer stood up and put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” The rest of Jesus’ disciples, as they listened to Jesus teach and they watched this lawyer among them—this “nomikos”—stand up to ask a question—this had to seem to them from the surface like a positive development. I don’t know about you, but I love listening to good conversations, give-and-take, back-and-forth, especially when it comes to two competent scholars. I can imagine how many in the crowed felt that day when this highly educated lawyer stood up to pose a question to Jesus, much like I do when I eagerly sit down to listen to a really good podcast between two prominent scholars. And when he stood up, he asked the most essential question of all. He got right to the point. Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change of pace to hear a question like this from a lawyer in a courtroom? “Your Honor, I have just one question to ask this expert witness who is currently on the witness stand. ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Because of all people, lawyers, you know, need to know that. You didn’t think we would go through this series without one shot at the lawyers, right? [Laughter]
But as encouraging as it may have seemed to many in the crowd that day, Jesus could see right through this lawyer. He could see the posturing. He could see into the heart of the matter. And as Luke tells us, for the reader’s sake, “The lawyer stood up to put him to the test.” And Jesus knew that. It’s the verb “ekpeirazó,” which refers to testing Jesus, whether testing his theology, or testing his ability to handle Scripture, or his ability as a teacher, his ability to think on his feet. Or maybe in a more sinister sense—to entrap him or expose him as a fraud before his disciples. Whatever his motive in his question—whatever was driving him, whether it was just pride or whether it was entrapment—you see in the way in the way Jesus responds to the guy that he loves this man. And he sees in this lawyer standing up to try to put him to the test in posing the question an opportunity to interact with the lawyer and instruct him and the rest of the disciples who are listening in. Jesus is always wise in using opportunities. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” the man asks. It’s the right question. It gets down to the essential thing, to gain—to inherit—life—spiritual life, life from God. It’s about how this man can be a partaker in the Kingdom of God, having the life of God in him.
So what is the tragedy, then? He asks the right question. The tragedy is to sit at the feet of this divine teacher, and instead of recognizing him for who he really is—the Lord of all, one before whom all must bow—the lawyer saw him as just a mere man. He called him “Teacher”—just another human teacher. He’s showing respect and regard, but he does see him as just another human teacher. So he can treat him like any other human teacher—cross-examine him, put him to the test. We have to see this as the height of insolence and presumption to think it’s okay to test Jesus. We just read that from Deuteronomy 6:16, didn’t we: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” And it’s even a worse wickedness to try to mask and disguise your demonstration of testing God, to mask it in humble discipleship. It’s even worse to try to entrap him, to discredit him, to make a fool out of Jesus in front of his disciples—or any other time, for that matter. Clearly, he has not come in humility. He’s not come with a teachable spirit. He hasn’t come to learn from Jesus that he might obey him. He hasn’t come to find forgiveness of his sins. The lawyer has come with an agenda, and to have an agenda in the presence of the King into whose Kingdom you hope to enter—an agenda that is not the King’s agenda, not the Kingdom’s agenda—that is a tragic crime, isn’t it?
Oh, how many come into our churches Sunday after Sunday with agendas, ulterior motives, and critical, judgmental spirits. Yes, they listen, but not with humble, teachable hearts. They come in with their own agenda, and they care nothing about what the Spirit of God intends for them to hear and to know and to obey and do. May that not be the case with any of you. May the Lord give us all humble, teachable hearts—hearts that long to hear the Word of God and to obey it, to do God’s will in God’s way, to truly line up under his prescribed authority and submit our hearts and submit our lives and submit our schedules, our priorities—everything—to God.
There’s a second tragedy in this account—number two: the tragedy of getting the right answer. The question the lawyer asked—verse 25—“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”—we talked about this last time, how he has connected works to the formula. In the way that he’s asked the question, works are the key to inheriting eternal life. Literally, he asks Jesus, “By what, having done, will I inherit eternal life?” He’s got some sort of act in mind, some work to do, something he can perform, something he can accomplish. He wants to get it wrapped up, done and dusted, have this eternal life issue taken care of. In fact there’s even a hint in the text—we haven’t really come to it, yet—but there is a hint that he may think he’s already done whatever Jesus might recommend, whatever Jesus should recommend if he’s a good teacher.
So the lawyer has really come to see if Jesus will confirm what he already thinks to be true. And if Jesus does not confirm his own views, that is to say if Jesus does something or says something unorthodox, something against Moses, something against received Jewish tradition—“the way we’ve always seen this, the way all competent scholars have seen this”—the lawyer is just waiting for Jesus to say something that allows him to disregard him for good. “Just one slip, I’m counting him out.”
Can I make just one little point of pastoral application, here? Be careful how you come seeking counsel. Check your heart. We, too, can be like this lawyer, can’t we?—crafty in our hearts. We’re asking what other people think, asking for their counsel, but only because we want confirmation of what we already think. We’re just trying to get a consensus about our own opinion. So be careful that you don’t masquerade as a humble-hearted, counsel-seeking, eager-to-follow-the-revealed-Word-of-God kind of person when all you’re looking for is to gain confirmation from others for your opinion, gaining their approval for whatever you think in the first place. We can be like that, can’t we? Let’s just collectively admit it. Instead, we need to make every effort, don’t we?—to cultivate a humble, teachable heart—one that is eager to know what God’s Word really means and to find out what he has revealed so you know what his will actually is. And why do we do that? So that we can understand and walk in true wisdom. So we can be eager to follow that rather than do our own will, and we know—if it’s just coming out of our own hearts—we’re not the source of wisdom. God is. So we want to know this well so that we can know what wisdom is, so that we can do that, obey it, submit to it. Why does that matter? Because God sees through all of our external facades. His Word cuts deep and true, like a surgeon’s scalpel, to divide what no human blade can divide. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
This lawyer was adept at wielding the sword in service of legal matters as well as matters religious, social, political. He was adept, and Jesus knew that. He also knows that the blade of God’s Word has two edges. If the lawyer does not handle that sword with a humble, teachable heart attitude, he needs to know that he is playing with danger. The sword of God’s Word may indeed turn on him and run him through.
This is why in verse 26 Jesus puts this question to the lawyer: “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’” Literally, “In the law, what is written? What’s been written?” By looking back to the law of Moses, Jesus had to have—in the lawyer’s mind—put to rest any suspicion that Jesus is some kind of maverick Messiah who’s trying to teach everybody to depart from the Word of God. Unlike the lawyer, who’s become accustomed to making the law of God work for him, Jesus has an infinite, holy regard for the law of God, and he truly loves it. That’s why Jesus spoke the second sentence there: “How do you read it?” A. T. Robertson says as a lawyer it was his business to know the facts in the law and the proper interpretation of the law. The rabbis had a formula: “What readest thou?” Interesting, isn’t it?—Jesus puts the question to the lawyer—even in this confrontation—in a manner with which he is familiar as a lawyer. He is loving him even in this really brief reply, speaking in familiar terms, “How do you read it?”
On the surface, you might think that Jesus is asking for this lawyer’s interpretation of the law. He is, but not for his own sake. Jesus knows full well what the law says about inheriting eternal life. He’s not trying to gain information here, but more to the point, Jesus is interested not just in his interpretation of the law, but in his orientation to the law, his heart attitude about the God of the law. “Are you a humble reader of the law? How do you read it? Are you an eager learner? Are you a teachable student of the law? Are you interested in submissive obedience to God, as I am? Or is it otherwise? Are you a proud reader? Are you only interested in self-affirmation? Are you only interested in confirming your own views, pursuing the course of your own agenda? Do you use the law and the written Word of God for your own interests? To fulfill—to get—what you want?” Because the first kind of reader is the kind who will find eternal life. The second kind of reader will never find it.
So let’s see what kind of a reader—what kind of a swordsman—this lawyer is. And I think you’ll be impressed with this lawyer—you will—with his mental acumen, observational skills. But once again, as we always see, we’re going to be more impressed with Christ.
The lawyer answers Jesus’ question from the law of Moses. He goes back to Deuteronomy 6:5, as we said, and Leviticus 19:18, and he effectively summarizes the entirety of the Law and the Prophets in his answer. Look at verse 17. “He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” So that is without controversy, without any disputation, an accurate, comprehensive summary of the law of Moses. Jews recognized 613 commandments in the law, most of them providing further explanation and elaboration and illustration of what we know as the Ten Commandments, which God gave Moses at Mt. Sinai.
The Ten Commandments is the most basic document. It’s the foundational moral code, the moral and ethical code for Israel. Go ahead and turn back to the Ten Commandments, and let’s look at the version in Exodus chapter 20. You can also read them in Deuteronomy 5, but let’s go to Exodus 20. Just so you see for yourself. Exodus 20—the Ten Commandments are located there in Exodus 23:1-17. And as you’ll see, you can divide the Ten Commandments into two tables. The first table—Commandments One through Four—is about loving God. It’s about living out holiness before God. God starts by confronting and prohibiting the idolatrous tendency of the fallen heart. And so he commands “no other gods.” Then God commands how man ought to worship him, how to revere him—“make no idol or image” to represent him because any attempt to do that will misrepresent God as a creature. He says, “Don’t take God’s name in vain”; that is, don’t misuse his name in any way. We tend to think very superficially about that—that taking God’s name in vain is just saying “God” or “Jesus Christ” or whatever it is as part of a sentence, when people flippantly use it. That is one way of taking God’s name in vain, to be sure. Taking his name in vain is to confess and profess him in vain, to say he is your Lord and your God and then not obey him. Don’t take his name in vain. Don’t misuse his name in any way. Don’t use it in an oath, don’t use it to try to convince people that you are being true and right—“In God’s name I swear that I’m doing this and this and this”—when you’re not. Don’t take his name in vain in any way. And then the final one sanctified the Sabbath day. Boy, do we evangelicals need a good dose of understanding what this means—the Lord’s Day. “The Lord blessed the Sabbath Day and made it holy,” which in the Hebrew mind doesn’t mean to just put it into a category over their in a trophy case: “It’s holy. We don’t ever touch that.” No—holiness in the Hebrew mind is to clear everything else out of your life and put it in the center. “Holy.” Is that how you think about the Lord’s Day—the center of your week, the center of your life? “Holy.” So we observe it for spiritual refreshment. We observe it worshiping the Lord. And so in the first table of the Ten Commandments, the vertical relationship with God comes first.
In the second table of the Ten Commandments—this is about the horizontal relationships among men and women. In Commandments Five through Ten, God gives commands and prohibitions about how we relate to others, and it starts with the most basic of all relationships, the very foundation of society—the family. So God says—Exodus 20:12—“Honor your father and your mother.” If we get that one right, the rest of the commandments—really about man, about how we treat one another—flow naturally from that one. “You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. Make sure you do no harm to your neighbor.” That is certainly honoring to Mom and Dad. It preserves and upholds your family’s good reputation in the entire community, which is why God adds to the fundamental Sixth Commandment a promise: “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” When your neighbor trusts you, you know what happens? There are opportunities for growth, prosperity, business—all kinds of opportunity are wide open before you when you are trusted, when your family name is trusted, when you honor your father and your mother.
So what does all that have to do with the lawyer’s answer? Well, the lawyer recognized that by observing what Moses taught Israel—Deuteronomy 6:5—and what the Lord commanded in Leviticus 19:18—in observing those two commands, one keeps the Ten Commandments, and also the rest of the 613 commandments in the law. To “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”—if you keep those two most basic laws regarding God and man, that fulfills the whole law of Moses, both tables of the Ten Commandments, all 613—and that is moral righteousness before God.
Now remember, the lawyer has given this answer to Jesus for a reply. “In the law, what is written? How do you read it?” That means that the lawyer, here, is answering his own question. He is saying, “To love God, to love one’s neighbor—that fulfills the law of God, which is the essence of being morally righteous, perfect in God’s sight. Moral perfection, therefore, is what grants someone entrance into the Kingdom of God. Moral perfection is how one inherits eternal life.” That’s what the lawyer wants to test Jesus about. That’s the answer that he’s looking for from Jesus. So Jesus, instead of giving the lawyer the answer, draws it out of him instead. And everybody’s listening.
Now think about this carefully. Is the lawyer right? Or is he wrong? Is the possession of moral perfection—possessing a flawless righteousness—the “access code” by which you open up the gates of Heaven? As you think about that, turn in your Bibles to Matthew’s Gospel. Keep a finger still in Luke 10, but go to Matthew’s Gospel—Matthew 22:34. Jesus—there’s a parallel account in Mark 12 as well—he entered into Jerusalem at the end of his earthly ministry. And the opposition against him and his ministry was at a fever pitch. Religious, social, political leaders were dogging his steps, confronting him publicly, trying to test him, entrap him, discredit him. In Matthew 22:34 and following, you see there another lawyer. Mark 12 calls him a scribe, so there can be some interchange there—scribe, lawyer. Take a look at the exchange—Matthew 22:34-39:
*But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”*
Stop there for a second. We don’t have time to get into all the details of this really fascinating account. But notice how Jesus answered the lawyer here. It’s the same answer that the lawyer gave him earlier in his ministry in Luke 10:27—same answer. Jesus pointed to the great commandment, the greatest commandment in the law and then the second which is like it—Leviticus 19:18—and then in verse 40, he gives a reason why: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” He’s saying the same thing. All 613 commandments, both tables of the Ten Commandments, all the prophetic admonitions and exhortations to repent and return to the law of Moses—fulfilled in just two commandments: “Love God, love your neighbor.” You don’t see it here in this account, but in Mark’s account—Mark chapter 12—the lawyer responded their by affirming Jesus’ answer, even commending the truth of it publicly, which they do often. They didn’t give out faux praise, which is to say that the legal elites in Jerusalem had all come to the same conclusion: All 613 commands depend on fulfilling just these two: “Love God and love your neighbor.” And it’s confirmed there by Jesus’ answer—Matthew 22:37. They knew the Word of God accurately and truly. They had the right interpretation. Their commentaries were really good reading.
Now turn back to Luke 10:27. The lawyer answered Jesus’ question from two verses, as we said, from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. We’re going to get to Leviticus 19:18 and all that meaning next week. But when you look at Deuteronomy 6:5, the text says there, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your might.” So it answers the “who” and the “how.” Love who?—the Lord your God. Love him how?—with three things: heart, soul, and might. We just heard Jesus answer the scribe’s question in Matthew 22:37. He also referred there to Deuteronomy 6:5. But when he answered it, it sounded slightly different from Deuteronomy 6:5. Did you notice that? He said—Matthew 22:37—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your”—what?— “mind.” Here, it’s “might”—Deuteronomy 6:5—three things: heart and soul, but instead of might—Deuteronomy 6:5—it’s “mind.”
When we look again at Luke 10:27, the lawyer says both things, doesn’t he? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your strength, and with all your mind.” That’s four things: heart and soul, and instead of the “might” from Deuteronomy 6:5, the lawyer says “strength and mind.” So what’s going on here? The original Hebrew says, “You shall love Yahweh—your Elohim.” “Yahweh” is the name, the divine name, and “Elohim” is a word that means “God.” So: “You shall love Yahweh, your Elohim, your God, first, with all your ‘lebab.’” That’s equivalent to the shorter form “lave”; it means “heart”—but not in the way that we typically mean “heart.” Biblically, the heart refers to the control center of the inner man, the inner life. It’s our rationality. We think with our hearts. It’s our volition. We will and do from our hearts. It’s the intellect; it’s our thinking, and it’s also our will. It’s where we plan; it’s where we make decisions. It has zero to do with Valentine’s Day.
The Hebrew text also says, “You shall love Yahweh, your Elohim”—secondwith all of your ‘nephesh.’” “Nephesh”—“your soul.” This term—and especially along with its counterpart in Greek, which is the term “psuché”—is terribly misunderstood and badly misrepresented. “Psuché,” as you may know, is the root of the word “psychology”—“psuché” and “pysche”—“psychology.” So people tend to foist modern, secular, psychological assumptions and presuppositions back into the biblical concepts of “psuché” and “nephesh,” but they’re wrong to do that. The word “soul”—“nephesh,” “psuché”—almost never refers to the metaphysical part of man, the immaterial part of man in contrast to the physical part—the body. “Nephesh” or “psuché” refer to the entire person as a living being. It’s his humanity. It’s his essence as a person. As one commentator put it, “‘Nephesh’ is the usual term for man’s total nature, for what he is and not just what he does, not what he has.” Loving God with all the heart, with all the soul—those two terms, “heart” and “soul,” used repeatedly throughout Deuteronomy—chapters 4, 6, 10, 11, 13, 26, 28, 30. All through, “heart” and “soul”—it’s “love God, serve God, seek God, search for God, obey God, be careful to do God’s will, follow his commands.” How do we do that?—“with all your heart, with all your soul.”
In Deuteronomy, though, there’s an additional term. “You shall love Yahweh, your Elohim, first, with all of your ‘lebab’—your heart; second, with all of your ‘nephesh’— your soul.” And then third, “with all of your might.” The Hebrew term is the word “me’od,” which is usually translated as an adverb that means “in the highest degree,” “to the highest, greatest extent.” So literally, Moses is saying, “You shall love Yahweh, your Elohim, with all of your ‘muchness.’” “With all of your ‘force.’” “With all of your ‘abundance.’” The Greek Septuagint—that’s the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament—translates that Hebrew “me’od” using the word “dunamis,” which means “power,” “ability to project,” “ability to increase, to influence.” And we are to love God with all of that. It can refer—“dunamis”—to physical strength or also mental fortitude. And that is the term that Jesus used—thinking about mental fortitude in Matthew 22:37. He didn’t use the Septuagint’s word—“dunamis,” “power.” He went back to the original Hebrew term, “me’od,” and he translated it with the word “dianoia”—which is “mind.” And here it doesn’t mean the intellect—that’s already covered by the word “lebab”—“heart.” Here “mind” refers to the inner disposition. It refers to an inward attitude. So it’s your internal drive. “Love the Lord with your internal drive, with all your motivations. Love God with all your ‘me’od,’ all of your ‘muchness.’”
What’s fascinating about the lawyer’s answer is that he has really given a careful rendering of the original. He’s really given some attention to observation, here. Because instead of the original three terms, the lawyer, as I said, has used four terms. In verse 27 he breaks out the word “me’od”—“muchness”—into two projections of strength. “Love God with all your heart and soul”—yes, and then—“with your ‘ischui’”—physical strength—“and your ‘dianoia’”—your mind, your internal attitude. He has given a very comprehensive answer.
And not only that, but the grammar that he uses here—the lawyer is demonstrating an even greater depth of clarity. I’m not going to get into the grammatical detail—I don’t want to risk confusion. But let me provide an expanded translation with commentary. I’ll just give you a sense of what he said, here, how’s he’s answered, verse 27. “You shall love the Lord your God”—and it’s really this preposition, “out of,” or “from”—“out of all your heart”—that is, from the heart, out of the mission control center of your life, which is the source of everything else—Proverbs 4:23—“and then with all your soul”—as in “by the instrumentality of your ‘nephesh’—your soul”—and by the instrumentality of all of your strength—your ‘ischui’—and by the instrumentality of all of your mind—your ‘dianoia,’ your inner disposition—your attitude.”
So he sees, correctly, that Deuteronomy 6:5 starts at the source—the heart—and as Proverbs 4:23 says, “From the heart springs all the issues of life,” and therefore we’re to love God out of the heart—the source of all life—and we’re to love God from the heart by using our soul, strength, and mind. That’s the idea. So love God from the heart, first, by using your soul, by using the whole nature of your life, using your humanity. Everything that makes you human—use that to love God. Secondly, love God from the heart by using your strength. Use your ability to project increase, influence. Be fruitful, be productive—use that as well. Thirdly, love God from the heart by using your mind, your internal drive, your disposition, and primarily—listen to this—your attitude.
Christian, does that describe your love for the Lord your God? Does that describe your love for Jesus Christ? Does it describe the love that you have for the church for which he bled and died? Or do you find yourself stingy with your love? Do you find yourself miserly with your energy, with your time, with your resources, with your care? What is your attitude like? Oh, you can tell a lot about a person’s love by their attitude, can’t you? Our hearts can produce some pretty crummy attitudes—complaining, griping, grumbling—oh, just things that God put to death the children of Israel for in the Wilderness, right? We kind of minimize those little verbal jabs, those little grumbles, gripes. We kind of minimize that as just a peccadilloe—“It’s nothing. Everybody does that.” Yeah, everybody does. That’s why we’re all condemned.
It’s important to reconsider, especially in light of how Jesus answers the lawyer in verse 28. He does not correct him at all, does he? Instead, he says, “You have answered correctly.” The word “correctly” is the word “orthos,” which we use all the time in modern English: “orthotics,” devices that straighten the legs; “orthodontics,” straightening the teeth; “orthopedic,” which is literally “straightening the child”—sounds more like a good definition of parenting, right?—straightening the child—but we use “orthopedic” to refer to correcting misaligned bones and muscles. So Jesus says, “Your answer is a straight answer.” Straight. It’s correct. It’s accurate. It’s precise. It’s not a commendation, by the way. It’s not a pat on the back, like “Good job! Didn’t know you’d get that one!” It’s just a declaration of fact: “You’re correct.” In fact, he is so brief in saying that, there is such a lack of flattery, there, such a lack of encouragement. He’s so brief, we might even read that in the sense, “You needed a law degree to figure that out? Okay.”
Why is he so brief? Why is there no real encouragement in getting the answer right? Because loving God and loving neighbor—that is the most basic principle of true religion. It’s basic. And the tragedy here for this lawyer in getting the answer right—the lawyer has seemed so eager, hasn’t he?—to give Jesus an answer that is precise. He answers as precisely as possible. He demonstrates his observational skill with utter care of the text—only to wholly blow past, bypass, whether or not he’s actually loving God like that—even trying to, even trying and failing. It’s not even an acknowledgement. This lawyer’s not like a scribe like Ezra, who studied God’s Word in order to do it and then to teach it. He was just in love with attaining knowledge. Or like many evangelicals I run into today—they’re not even in love with attaining knowledge. They’re just in love with doing stuff, just running around doing stuff. It’s total zeal without knowledge—total lack of understanding.
At least he wants some knowledge. But that’s not good enough. It’s actually condemning. It’s ironic, isn’t it?—by his aptitude in wielding the sword of the Word, that that sword came back with its second edge to cut deeply into him and to reveal his attitude toward the Word. He had the right aptitude—he had a horrible attitude, didn’t he? It’s not good. He approached God’s Word proudly, thinking to master it when he should have approached the Word of God humbly, with a teachable heart, in order that he might be mastered by it.
Oh, friend—Christian—be careful that this does not apply to you! Jesus may very well affirm your answer as right, but there is no pat on the back for a correct answer. If your heart isn’t right, your correct answer is going to return to judge you. It’s going to be like a sharp rapier that will pierce through your heart—skewer you. Be careful, indeed!
So the tragedy of having the right teacher, getting the right answer—these are the first two points. Here’s the final point: the tragedy of knowing the right way. The tragedy of knowing the right way. The second part of Jesus’ response should have humbled him to the dust. Jesus said—verse 28—“You have answered correctly,” and then “Do this and you will live.” “Do this” refers back to loving God, loving neighbor as described in the law of Moses, and it’s an imperative that’s given in the present tense, so “Do this continually, do this constantly, habitually, without ever stopping, without one break in obedience to it.” And then what?—“Do this and you will live.” So there’s a present imperative—“keep on doing this continuously, constantly, without break, without pause, do it forever,” and then it’s followed by a future indicative. That just points to the natural, logical result of this obedience. So action-consequence. By practicing a continual lifestyle of unbroken love for God with all of your existence and with all of your being—by loving your neighbor as yourself—what’s the result? “You will live.”
Does that sound anything like the “Romans Road” to you? Is this a “God-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life” kind of a Gospel? I mean, “Jesus, wait a minute, hold on here. We’re in the New Covenant; we’re in the New Testament, okay?” I mean, shouldn’t Jesus be answering this way: “Hold on! Don’t get all caught up in doing works. I’m about to die for your sins, so just hang in there, wait until you see my death on the cross, my burial, my resurrection, and then just believe—no works required.” So what’s going on? What just happened here? Has Jesus given the lawyer the Gospel? Has he told him how to inherit eternal life? Or has he made him feel the true weight of God’s law? The answer: “Yes.”
I’ll tell you what I mean. On the one hand, Jesus has given the lawyer, really, the “kiss of death.” On the other hand, he’s given him the secret of eternal life by saying this one thing: “Do this, and you will live.” In both senses—the “kiss of death” and secret to life—he has truly and profoundly loved this lawyer well and wisely. Wisely because he’s extracted it from the lawyer. The lawyer has pronounced it himself. But if this loveless, works-oriented, self-righteous lawyer does this, it will not lead him to life but to death. And you need to understand this—that is the point. As Paul said—Galatians 3:12—trying to justify oneself by the works of the law is not of faith because, as he said in the previous verse, verse 11, “no one is justified before God by the works of the law”—by doing, doing, doing—“for”—why?—“the righteous shall live by faith.”
So what is the point of the law? That’s an awful lot of Bible real estate to occupy if it doesn’t work. What’s the point of the law? First, it’s to reveal our inability to keep the law. It’s to show how we don’t keep the law. It’s to frustrate and exasperate us if we try to be righteous through law-keeping, such that we give up on trying to attain our own righteousness through human-generated works. We give up completely on ourselves and we look to Christ. That’s Paul’s point in Romans 3:20: “By the works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight since through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Beloved, when we see our inability to keep the law, when we see our sin, instead, we bow before God in humility and contrition. And we are like the penitent tax collector who cried out, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”
That’s not this lawyer, is it? In verse 29 we can see how he has bypassed completely any question of his love for God. He seems to have no doubts whatsoever. He’s got that one nailed down. He’s got Deuteronomy 6:5—doing it pretty well, been keeping it. He’s moved on to the neighbor issue. He wants to—even in that question—extract a working definition from Jesus to set some reasonable expectations and boundaries about what this whole “love for neighbor” thing is, about what “loving neighbor” means and what it doesn’t mean. He doesn’t even question his love for God. What in the world!? There are many people like that, and I hope you’re not one of them. But since there are many people like that, you may just be like one of them. Just like this lawyer, with a distorted view of your standing before God, of your own personal righteousness in keeping the law. “Oh, I’m not perfect.” You’ll admit that because, well, you’re humble, after all. “We’re not going to quibble about a few peccadilloes, are we? I mean, come on! Let’s be real, here. To err is human. So I make a few slip-ups. God doesn’t count that.” Oh, yes, he does. And he goes after the heart—the deepest thing that even you can’t see clearly.
What must happen for all of us is the gracious work of a kind and merciful God to call us, to instruct us, to lead us to a knowledge of Christ through a true understanding of our sinful and therefore desperately fallen condition. And that only happens by the grace of God—the grace of God that regenerates us by the Holy Spirit, causes us to be born again, that with a new nature we can be granted repentance unto life, with a new nature, we can look upon Christ and find him beautiful and precious and perfect and righteous, and say, “I want that!” It enables us to believe in Christ and find life.
And we know that’s happening because the law, then, changes its orientation. No longer is it the harsh and cruel judge. Now it becomes the tutor, the teacher—Galatians 3:24. It reveals our sin. It leads us, then, to Christ, and we love the law. “Oh, how I love your law,” the psalmist says, “because the commandment is holy and the law is holy, righteous, and good.” It leads us to Christ. It teaches us all about his perfections and righteousness. We see that in stark contrast to us and our law-keeping. Jesus was perfect, flawless, sinless. He is the one—and he is the only one—who fulfilled all divine righteousness. He’s the one who died for the sins of all who believe in the salvation of God. Whatever side of the cross—if they believe in the salvation of God, they trust God to save them—he died for them, their sins. He’s the one who has been raised from the dead. He’s the one whose perfect life has conquered death that all who believe in him “should not perish but have”—present tense, current, ongoing life—“eternal life.”
So what’s the point of the law? First, to reveal our inability to keep it, to frustrate us in our attempts to be justified before God in law-keeping; and to drive us to repentance in faith in Jesus Christ.
But the point of the law, also, is to give life to the redeemed, to bring the joy of salvation obedience to God’s people, to every believer. For those whom God has been gracious, for those to whom he has granted regeneration, faith to repent, faith to embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as Paul wrote in Romans 7:6, “We are released from the penalty of the law, having died to that which once held us captive so that we might serve”—“serve” is do, obey—“in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” You know what that means? You know what he means by “serving in the new way of the Spirit”? The exact same thing that Jesus said to the lawyer. “Do this and you will live.” Because life and the Spirit are one. The promise of life is in Spirit-driven obedience to his commandments, and that is why eternal life is found in loving God, in loving our neighbors, because that is the essence of life from God—to love God and love one another.
The secret of life has been made plain and clear all the way through the Old Testament, from the very beginning. There are too many passages to cite, but I’m going to give you just a handful to ponder. In Deuteronomy 4:1, Moses says, “Listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you”—why?—“that you may live.” Leviticus 18:4-5: “You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord”—who is the one you love with all your heart and your soul and your strength. Ezekiel 20:11—several repetitions of this in Ezekiel 20—“I gave them my statutes, made known to them my rules by which, if a person does them, he shall live.” Frederick Godet summarizes this well when he writes this: “Thus to love God as Jesus says is the path to life, or it is life itself. God has no higher life than that of love. The answer of Jesus is therefore not a simple accommodation to the legal point of view. The work which saves—or salvation—is really loving. The Gospel does not differ from the law in its aim. It is distinguished from it only by its indication of means and the communication of strength.”
That is to say in the Gospel we find the means by which we can finally find life, which is obedience to the law of God. In the Gospel we find where all of our failure, all of our sin, all of our guilt is washed away. And in the Gospel we find the grace that gives us life, indeed, life eternal, life everlasting—not just in quantity, but in true quality. It’s life.
For those of you who do not yet know Christ—you’re not yet born again, you’re not yet Christians—Jesus’ command, “Do this and you will live,” has to cause you to think carefully about your sins, your failure to “do this,” and it starts with the foundational duty that God puts on you to love God and to love others. So Jesus’ command, here, needs to drive you to the end of yourself, to the end of trying to do better, that you might look to Christ and find eternal life. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden.” What are you weary and heavy laden for? Life’s been tough? Lost your job? Relational difficulties? Your wife, your husband left you? Your kids aren’t turning out right? That’s not what he’s talking about. “Weary and heavy laden” means weary and heavy laden at trying to pull yourself up all the time and do works righteousness, to gain God’s favor—that’s the weariness and heavy ladenness that he’s talking about. If you feel that—and you need to feel that from this text—Jesus says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am tender, gentle, humble at heart. You’ll find rest for your souls. For my yoke”—and there is a yoke—“is easy and my burden is light.”
For those of you who have been born again, you know that message. You’ve come because Jesus said, “Come.” You know that Christ has ransomed you from dead works. He’s forgiven you of all your sins, including your constant failure to love God as you ought to, including your failure to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, a substitute for you. He took your place under the full fury of God’s just, hot, holy wrath. But now he lives, having been raised from the dead, at the right hand of God to shepherd you, to intercede for you, to grant you mercy and grace that you might run in the path of God’s commands, that you might learn what it is to enjoy life eternal. Amen? Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank you so much for what you have revealed and taught us in this text. We thank you for the example of this lawyer because we are not unlike him. We so need to hear Jesus, to follow him in his wisdom, guiding this conversation according to your will. We need to hear it so that we might learn and obey. We love you, Father. We thank you that you have—by your kindness and grace—reconciled us to you through Jesus Christ by your Spirit. And now as we come before the Lord’s table, we pray that you’d give us a good time of pause and reflection, meditation, for many of us to spend time in confession, that then that you might turn our hearts to praise and worship because the Gospel is so, so sweet. Please bless our time of communion, now. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.