Deuteronomy 6:2-6, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 12:28-34.
The online dictionary defines a standard as a level of quality or acceptance that is considered acceptable by an organisation. It is the level an individual, organisation, association etc desire to achieve.
Sometimes when people do not reach a standard, they may not be part of the organisation or association they seek for.
They are considered as what the organisation in question expects from the individual. Therefore in everything that the Christian does, He should be guided by these standards.
In today’s readings, God lays out some standards that are considered acceptable for Christian living. Therefore, when we talk of the standards for living the Christian life, we mean, the quality of the life every Christian should aspire to.
When we talk of standards for living the Christian life, we mean the type of life that is supposed to motivate the way we live. This is the life that summarizes everything about the Christian life.
Therefore, this is the level we have to aspire to in our day to day Christian living. These standards for living the Christian life can be gleaned from the readings of today.
Love God With All.
In the gospel, One of the scribes came up to Jesus and asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.
Before this question, Jesus has already countered the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees who came in different ways to test him with a question.
Then noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, The scribe then takes his turn. He asked him, “Of all the commandments, which one is the most important?”
Many scholars assume that the scribe intends to test Jesus with that question. That is the reason Saint Mark in the gospel, states that after this encounter, no one else dared to ask Jesus any question.
To answer his question, Jesus quotes two old testament passages. One from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which is part of the first reading and Leviticus 19:18. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is central to the Shema. It is named after the first word of the verse, which means “Hear”.
It is worthy to note that In the Hebrew liturgy, the Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21; and Numbers 13:37-41 comprise the Shema.
The Shema is like a confession of faith that every pious Jew recites every morning and evening. The Shema affirms two things: (1) the unity of God (“the Lord is one”) and (2) the covenant relationship of God to the Jewish people (“the Lord our God”).
So, Saint Mark includes Deuteronomy 6:4 which is part of the first reading here to emphasise the standard for living the Christian life which God expects from us. In His reply to the scribe, Jesus says “This is the first: Listen, O Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.
Therefore, Jesus uses their daily confession of faith (the Shema), to remind them of their obligation to God. By saying the Lord Our God, Jesus reminds them in this statement that first and foremost of the first commandment “I am the Lord Your God, do not have any other god except me”.
In essence, only God is to be worshipped and adored. He is our God and Our Lord. God is Our creator and owner. He owns our lives.
In essence, the standard for living the Christian life is to always remember that God should truly be our God and we are to love Him wholeheartedly. The love and relationship we have with God should involve our whole selves, our time and our being.
Therefore, God is to be loved completely and totally. He has shown His love for His people by sacrificing His son. Therefore, He gives himself totally in love to his people; therefore he expects his people to give themselves totally (“soul,” “mind,” and “strength”) in love to Him.
So, if we are truly Christians but never have a single time with God, we need a proper spiritual check-up.
If we are Christians but when the things of God come, we become angry and sad, we need a proper recollection.
The things of God should involve our whole being. The standard for living the Christian life is to take God as the all in all.
Love Your Neighbour As Yourself.
In His discussion with the scribe, Jesus sets another standard in our relationship with our fellow human beings.
Therefore, the standard for living the Christian life is to love the other person, the way you love yourself.
This commandment is against hatred, envy, wickedness, murder, jealousy, etc.
Therefore, the standard for Christian living set by Jesus is to love and not to hate. He then says that the standard to do this is the way we love ourselves.
Truly no man hates himself. We take care of our body, buy expensive clothes, appear neat, we desire to eat the best food, have a nice time, enjoy our lives and long to be treated fairly by people.
Hence, Jesus sets this as the standard for living the Christian life. Therefore, the way we treat ourselves should also be the way we treat others. Therefore, Jesus expects us to love others the way we do for ourselves.
Hence, Jesus brings Leviticus 19:18 together with the first reading in Deuteronomy 6:5 to show that love of neighbour is a natural and logical outgrowth of love of God.
In essence, if we truly want to show that we love God, we have to love, forgive and welcome the other person.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).
Also in John 13:35, Jesus says that it is by this that everyone will know that we are truly His disciples. Therefore, the standard for living our Christian lives is also weighed in the way we treat Others.
Love is The Standard.
There are millions of Christians living all over the world. Yet the number of kidnapping, hatred, murder, family disputes, divorce cases, betrayal etc, are on the increase. The only law that binds every Christian is the law of love and nothing more.
As Christians, we need to love each other. Love here involves sacrificing for each other, helping each other, forgiving one another, showing others the way to succeed.
If every home, family, the community can imbibe this law, there will surely be progress, open doors, success etc. But our problem is that we are the first when it comes to prayer, but hatred, jealousy, envy etc always take first place in our dealings with one another. If we know we love God, we have also to love the other person.
Through today’s encounter, Jesus has shown that these two commandments belong together; they cannot be separated.
In Leviticus 19:18 the neighbour is identified as “one of your people,” i.e., fellow Israelites.
The Jews of Jesus’ day interpreted “fellow Israelites” even more narrowly than the OT passage (cf. Lev 19:34) it included resident aliens, whereas for Jesus’ contemporaries included only Jews and full proselytes. Jesus redefines the term to mean “anyone with whom we have dealings at all” (cf. Luke 10:25-27).
So, our neighbour embraces every person that we encounter in life. They also involve those people we hate. In essence, As Christians, we should abrogate hatred.
Our neighbours are within our home, at work, in our church, our employer, maid, our co-worker. It also involves that person we have been quarrelling with for a long time.
Therefore the standard for living the Christian life is to see the other person as part of us. It is to forgive and forget if there is any wrong doing. This is the life of understanding, tolerance and treating people fairly.
It is not only shouting on top of our voices during prayers. This is not when we laugh and smile with people, then stab them at the back.
It is not when you promise someone that you love him or her but deep within you, you have a selfish interest. It is not when we promise people marriage but we know, we are doing it just to deceive them.
Also, the love of God is not merely showing that we can speak and pray in tongues. This goes beyond this. Therefore, we have to treat others, the way we treat ourselves. Love is our law. Love is our standard.
The Way to the Kingdom.
In the first reading, Moses tells the people, “‘If you fear the Lord your God all the days of your life and if you keep all his laws and commandments which I lay on you, you will have a long life, you and your son and your grandson”.
He says again
“Listen then, Israel, keep and observe what will make you prosper and give you great increase, as the Lord the God of your fathers has promised you, giving you land where milk and honey flow.:”
Therefore, what Moses is telling the Israelites is that the only thing they owe God is to fulfill His commands and obey Him. Then, God will grant them long life and prosperity.
Although this made the Israelites believe that obedience and keeping the commandments or the laws is the secret of life and abundance.
This belief continues until the emergence of Christianity hence it is no longer obedience to the law but Jesus Christ. Hence, it is no longer worldly possession, it goes beyond this to mean eternal life. Therefore, Obedience to God’s word will lead us to God’s kingdom.
Therefore, to be partakers of this kingdom, we have to love God truly from our hearts and then treat others well. These two commandments summarise the entire commandments; love of God and neighbour.
1. The love for God is indeed the foundation of all because God is the beginning, the centre and the end of all that exists.
Hence, the love for God should also be accompanied by the love we have for our fellowmen, for no one can claim to love God who is invisible if he does not love his neighbour that he sees every day.
Therefore, the love we have for God must reflect in the way we deal with one another. Therefore, it is wrong to say we have a love for God when we are still in a long-aged enmity with someone.
It is very wrong to say we love God when many still make themselves agents of the family division, wickedness and agents of darkness. The love of God is not by mouth, it is by deeds.
It is very wrong to say we love God, yet we are full of envy and hatred for someone. Therefore, the standard for living the Christian life is rated by the way we treat others. The question today then is “are we yet to the standard?
2. Today, no one will claim that He does not love God. Almost every person loves God, no person hates God.
We have thousands of churches, millions of Christians, many prayer warriors, thousands of churchgoers, many who speak in tongues etc, yet we are caged in division, yet the level of crime is rising, yet there is hardship everywhere.
In 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, Paul says “ If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but does not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”.
Therefore, this should be our guide and nothing more. In fact in 1 John 4:8, the scripture says that whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
3. Therefore, the only rule that will change us is the rule of love. This rule is always neglected and abandoned.
But unless the presidents and governors and political and religious leaders lead by love, there will be no progress. Unless we see others the way we see ourselves, we will not understand their plights.
When love does not lead, what we reap is racism, tribalism, hatred, bribery and corruption, political manipulations, self-aggrandisement etc, hence when these take place, there will be a lack of progress, hardship and a high level in the cost of goods.
It is only also when the citizens live in love, that they consider the feelings of others before they mete out their evil intentions against one another. The secret of progress is love.
Without this, the leader will not understand the plight of the masses. Without this, we would not understand the pains the other person would undergo when we inflict pains on them. Hence, without love, no organisation, association, and family can stand.
The law of love is the law of progress. Christianity is cripple legged when love does not exist. Therefore, To encounter progress in life, we need to come together. Love should take the lead.
4. These are standards for living the Christian life. Therefore, in our relationship with God, we have to give God all. We need to give God our time, our talents, our resources, strength, etc. We have to put God first in everything that we do.
The love of God has to motivate whatever we do. When the love for God is behind what we do, we will see that we shall remain unstoppable.
It is this that makes us stand firm even in the face of challenges. It is this that will make us remain firm in our spiritual lives despite the temptations.
This is what we make one serve God wholeheartedly without seeking for what to gain first. It is this that will make one see his service as his responsibility towards God.
Therefore the love of God must involve all. This is the first standard for living the Christian life. We should not count it as a cost or suffering when we pour strength and render our humble services to God. Therefore, the love for God should involve all. This is the standard for living the Christian life.
5. Therefore, when we want to do something good and some negative voices try to bring us back, we do them anyway because, in everything, we do them for God.
When you want to help and your spirit says no, we do them anyway because we do them for God.
Also, when your heart refuses to forgive the other person, you do it anyway, because, in everything, we do them for God. Even when you are tired of praying and communicating with God, you do it anyway because, in prayer, you know that you are discussing with your beloved.
Until we take God as our Father, we would not understand the type of love He has for us. Therefore, all for God is the standard for living the Christian life. If we are yet to reach this level of understanding, we still have a long way to go.
6. This love goes beyond going to church alone. It goes beyond answering I Am a Christian by mouth.
This love goes beyond becoming only a member of the choir or any organization. It goes beyond saying that I don’t miss my obligations.
This is a love that comes from the heart. This is when the love of God is behind everything that we do. The standard for living the Christian life is not when we do something so that people will praise or shout our names.
It is not when we pray only to seek personal glory. This is not when we pray and shout on top of voices so that people will see us as powerful and prayerful men of God.
It is when we truly do what we do. This is when what we do comes from the heart and not for a personal appraisal. In this standard, the love of God is the motivating factor.
7. Therefore, let us live up to the standard. We cannot continue to kill ourselves and yet answer sons of God or umu chineke. God does not glory in the shedding of blood.
We cannot glory in seeing others fail, and be proud of answering children of God. God does not do that.
We cannot continue to allow the people we govern to suffer, yet we are working for God. Also, we cannot continue to create divisions and enmity, betray our loved ones, dupe people of their hard-earned money and yet continue to say we love God.
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul says Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore, if we are truly sons and daughters of the most high God, our lives will only speak volumes. Therefore, let us live in love.
In this love, God should be all in all and we are to treat any person, the way we treat ourselves. This is Christianity, this is a pure and undefiled religion as James 2:27 says, and this is the only road that leads to eternal life.
Moses also says to the people today, that this is the secret to the land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, we can make heaven on earth, only when love leads.
May God bless you dearest and give us the grace to live to the standard. May He give us the grace to understand the power of love. We pray that He be with you all the days of your life. Amen.