JOHN PEARRELL: Jesus' greatest commandment is simple: love God, each other

What is the goal of the church? Ask 10 people and you will get 10 different answers to that question.

What's the goal of the church? Some think it's to help the needy.

One day sitting in my office my phone rang and when I picked it up, the person on the other end asked, "Is this the pastor?" When I answered in the affirmative, he began to give me his grocery list. Then he said, "And after you go and buy that for me, you can deliver it to me here at such and such address," which was actually in another town in Georgia.

When I told him no, he became indignant stating, "You're the church, you're supposed to help people!" The man had never been to church, by the way, and let me know early on he had no intention of even coming, but he saw the church as another social agency designed to meet his needs.

What is the goal of the church? Ask a person who is a church member and you're likely to receive the answer, the goal of the church is to teach us the Bible, to lead us into the deeper things of God.

Actually, it may surprise you to know that the Bible tells us what the goal of the church should be. In 1 Timothy 1:5, the Apostle Paul gives it to us: "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (NASB95).

The goal is love.

That shouldn't surprise you. Jesus told his earliest followers, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35, NIV84). He doesn't say, "By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you have a deep understanding of Scripture." He doesn't say, "By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you behave a certain way." He doesn't say, "By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you go to church every time the doors are open."

No, He says, "By this all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another."

In another place, Jesus is being questioned by some religious leaders, Matthew records the encounter for us, "One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments'" (Matthew 22:35 40, NIV84).

Now, if we were asked that question, we would probably respond to it in different ways depending upon where we were in life. What's the greatest commandment? Behave yourself. What's the greatest commandment? Do all that God says. What's the greatest commandment? Go to church. What's the greatest commandment? Don't do this or that.

We tend to want to answer the question in terms of actionable behavior. Jesus answered the question in terms of relationships -- love God, love people. That's it. Do that and everything else will fall into its proper place.

Somewhere along the line, however, the church seems to have forgotten this. We think that greatest commandment is to get knowledge, to be right and oppose people who we see as wrong and to treat them wrongly.

That happened very early in the history of the church; you can read it for yourself in Revelation 2:1-6.

Here was a church that had become experts in discerning solid teaching from false teachings and good teachers from bad ones. They could point out in a heartbeat where and when someone made a false doctrinal step, but in the process two things had happened. They lost their love for the Lord and they lost their love for their fellow man.

The goal of what we often call biblical teaching is not to deepen our knowledge (I know some people whose knowledge of the Bible is phenomenal, but they are the meanest people you'd ever want to meet) but rather the goal of real biblical teaching is a true love that comes from the cleansed life.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.