First and Greatest: How to Live Your Best Life Ever

Midsummer brought the start of our Sunday morning walk of faith through the Ten Commandments. At every step of the way, my unwavering encouragement has been simple:

You must view the Commandments through the lens of Jesus.

That means you read God’s Law with eyes of love, and you embody God’s Law with a heart of compassion.

As it turns out – through, with, and in Christ, God’s love is not conditional on good behavior but unconditional in spite of our bad behavior – particularly so for those repentant saints who receive in their souls and spirits extra measures of healing and forgiving grace. That alone is sufficient to preserve your life in this world and the next!  

Bottom line, we love God, because God loved us first, and no other god even comes close to granting that kind of undeserved favor. And thus rises the Good News of the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me. I have forgiven your iniquity, and I remember your sin no more. What I require of you will be written on your hearts.” (Exodus 20:2-3, Jeremiah 31:33-34)

By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, we abide in such tender love, extending it graciously and generously not only to the Lord but also to his people – friend, neighbor, and stranger, just as nonother than Jesus himself commands. I’m reading to you from the Gospel of Matthew:

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, [who put no stock in God’s oral delivery of the Ten Commandments], the Pharisees, [a rival sect to the Sadducees], met together to question Jesus again.

One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap Jesus by asking, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as you yourself want to be loved.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:34-40 NLT)

If the twofold Command to love is your wellspring of being, then obeying the Second Commandment – do not worship false idols – ought to come naturally.

The Lord sees no need for us to spend our precious time mooning after mere pictures of him or fawning over superstars of stage, screen, and ballfield. Because he is the One who are with us every moment of every day! Close as the nearest prayer! Nearer my God to thee than flesh is to fingernails and white is to rice! The blessing of such divine proximity empowers our loving and serving of God, God’s people, and God’s purposes.

If the twofold Command to love is your font of every blessing, then living the Third Commandment – do not take the Lord’s name in vain – should be instinctive.

Even as we rebuke those who use the Lord’s name in profane speech, we within the Church need to make very certain – whenever we ourselves invoke Yahweh’s holy name, whenever we display the symbols of our faith – that we do so in ways that mirror the Gospel’s core of grace, love, mercy, and compassion.

If the twofold Command to love is a lamp unto your feet, then following the Fourth Commandment – keep the Lord’s Day special – becomes a natural reaction.

If you really are a faithful worker who carries out your God-given calling and vocation as best you can during the week, then with relative ease you eagerly leave those pursuits and pastimes for a while, too.

Like on Sundays – the Sabbath Day. The Lord’s Day! The Day of Creation and Redemption! The Day of Resurrection!

If the twofold Command to love governs your relationships, then God’s Fifth Word – honor your parents, the only Commandment to come with a promise – predicts a long life of fruitful living.

No, our moms and dads aren’t always the parents for whom we hope or need them to be. But, by grace, even a broken mirror reflects light. Thus, our attention to others serves up heaping helpings of refreshing patience with their failings – and with our own individual brokenness.

If the twofold Command to love restrains your bloodlust, then the Sixth Commandment prohibiting murder won’t be a problem either.

In addition to frowning upon self-harm and reckless endangerment, God just as soon prefers you not belittle, hate, insult, or kill anyone – not by your thoughts, not by your words, not by your looks or gestures, and certainly not be actual murder. The Lord further intends we not be parties to those spiritual felonies, which include high crimes like the desire for revenge and the de facto state of anger that rages every which way.

If the twofold Command to love tames your heated passions, then God’s warning about adultery in the Seventh Word surely won’t be counted among your faults.

Sadly, we’re still a long way from integrating sexuality and spirituality in fully healthy ways and fruitful means. Our souls and spirits are yet works in progress, and each of us works out his or her own salvation with fear and trembling.

But, easy and tempting though it might be, before you start passing of scarlet letters of shame and judgement, remember that in the end it’s baptism – and its mark of new life in Christ Jesus – that should make the difference when it comes to how you view yourself, your body, and one another.

If the twofold Command to love governs the economics of your household, then your business dealings and financial affairs will align with the Seventh Commandment’s prohibition of theft.

Ill-gotten gain is wrong, but so is self-centered use of even well-earned reward. No. 8 rises from our human propensity to grab more than our fair share through devious, duplicitous, and in the end disastrous means – sometimes, without even realizing it. Thus, God’s Eighth Word spurs us to generosity, encourages us to share, give, donate, and offer freely and joyously, and balances the opposing poles of wrong-taking and right-possessing.

If the twofold Command to love maintains the honesty and integrity of your speech, then God’s Nine Commandment against lying steers you away from twisting words to suit your own selfish ends.

Some people are so desperate to control others that they tie the truth in knots to fit their own purposes. Thus, thou shall not take cheap shots, or sit in judgement until thou has done thy best to understand – therefore earning you your right to disagree. In our cheap-shot society, far too many speak first and think later, which never serves well the Gospel as loving witness.

And finally, if the twofold Command to love incents you to seek peace, then the Tenth Commandment definitely has been written on your heart.

The prohibition of coveting what others have is designed to foster reconciliation and maintain peace. No. 10 intends to prevent the shedding the blood of our relationships on hills that really aren’t worth dying for and the stymieing of God’s efforts to redeem the world. “Thou shall not covet” informs the Lord’s desire to provide for the needs of everyone through the generosity of our time, talent, and treasure.

Every now and then, someone fires up a full head of steam for erecting a monument of the Ten Commandments in the public square – on the courthouse lawn or the classroom wall.

Such efforts always feel – to me anyway – a whole lot more political than spiritual. I worry that reverence of such displays comes dangerously close to the idol worship that the Second Commandment shuns. But maybe that’s just me.

What better fits my mind, heart, soul, and spirit is a sign, by Bryan Stavnak, that reads something like this:

Some kids are smarter than you.

Some kids have cooler clothes than you.

Some kids are better at sports than you.

It doesn’t matter. You have your thing, too.

Be the kid who can get along. Be the kid who is generous. Be the kid who is happy for others.

Be the kid who does the right thing. Be the nice kid. To which I’d make this editorial addition:

Be the kid – and the teenager, and the adult – whose every moment of living, breathing, and doing embodies the Greatest Commandment to love and serve. That would be a better testament to faith, a far better way to heal the world and rid it of fear, a far, far better way of living together in the community that God in Christ comes to establish.

“‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message during worship on All Saints Sunday, October 29, 2023. It is the 13th in his current series on The Ten Commandments

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