“No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.” George Bernard Shaw
One of the big differences in California and TN or TX is most people own at least one Bible in TN & TX, but typically don’t read them. Here many people don’t even own one. Of course, like in TN & TX, folk here often think they’ve read it, and have strong opinions on what they think it says. So sometimes when in conversation with folks here on the Central Coast of California, I will ask them what they think the greatest sin is.
Now to be fair, the Bible doesn’t explicitly say what the greatest sin is. My personal opinion is it is breaking the greatest commandment. But most people – in fact everyone so far – has leaned more towards symptomatic sins or the variety of sins (like adultery) that result from committing the greatest sin (in my opinion). So I usually have to quote for them what the greatest commandment is to then hopefully be able to explain why breaking it is the greatest sin.
To explain that thought, let’s review the greatest commandment. Jesus spelled it out one day in response to a Scribe who asked Him what the greatest commandment was, “What commandment is the foremost of all? Jesus answered, “The foremost is, “HEAR O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD, AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH. The second is this, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (Capitalized because quote from Old Testament).
For folks who have some familiarity with the New Testament or who have attended a church for a while where the Bible is preached, they will usually respond something like this, “Oh yeah that’s right.” And they especially latch on to the “love your neighbor” part. For those who have no familiarity at all – they are usually kind of shocked at what the greatest commandment is, and obviously uncomfortable with the thought that the greatest sin is breaking the greatest commandment since while many people think of themselves out here as “spiritual” and good people (usually compared to Hitler or someone on par with him) very very few – in or out of the church would claim that they love God with their whole heart, soul, strength and mind.
Why – if this is the greatest commandment – and thus the most important thing on God’s mind and heart for us – is this so little discussed? Why do people usually assume the greatest sin has something to do with sex?
Well perhaps because of what the church emphasizes and how the church reacts when someone commits a sexual sin….. Now for a whole lot of reasons when someone in the Church who claims to be a disciple of Jesus is committing some ongoing sexual sin, we must do whatever we can to help them stop/get free; and if they are unwilling to cooperate – finally remove them from the fellowship (see Matt. 18:15-20).
But why are we not going to those who claim to be disciples of Jesus, (I’m still trying to quit using the watered down word “Christian” – – do you know it only occurs twice in the Bible?), who are clearly not trying to love God with their whole heart, soul, strength and mind, and pleading with them to turn away from this destructive lifestyle, and pursue the God who made them – the great Lover of their souls?
Have you ever read what the prophet Jeremiah said about those in essence who break the greatest commandment? Take a peak, “Your own wickedness will correct you, And your apostasies will reprove you, Know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God…” Jeremiah 2:19. In the way we do church these days in America is this ever addressed? How many of us truly see “forsaking God” as “evil and bitter”?? But if He is the Creator of the Universe, which He is. And if He sent His only Son, who never knew sin, to die in our place – to take the punishment we should have taken – to endure the very wrath of God in our place – – so that we could enjoy intimacy and ongoing relationship with the living God – – and we say “no thanks” – – don’t you agree that’s a little on the evil side?
Here’s the positive side to all this folks: When we begin to make our relationship with God our highest priority – – When we seek to obey the greatest commandment, the temptation to go after all these other symptomatic sins like sexual sins just fades in the background.
King David said in one of my favorite Psalms, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.” Psalm 63:3-5 Nothing satisfies our thirsty souls like an ever deepening relationship with God. And trying to obey all these commandments and prohibitions in scripture without that is a losing battle. I learned that the hard way in my first 20 years of life.
I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, “You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Life’
May 2014 be marked by each of us more aggressively helping one another live this way.