What it means to love fiercely

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re going to just get serious for a second, and I’m just going to get serious right out of the gate with you. I’m going to tell you something that I really am a bit embarrassed to admit to you as a pastor. I probably shouldn’t be admitting this out loud, but I’m just going to get serious with you for a few moments. 

In my heart, I know that I should always love God with all of my being. But if I were to be honest with you, I’m not always giving him my full love. I’ve been to school, and I’ve studied the Scriptures and I’ve been following him for decades. I know more and more about God each day, but some days when I get up in the morning, I do my devotions, and if I’m honest, I’m just going through the motions.

Some days, if I’m really honest (and God knows my heart, so I’m not telling God anything that he doesn’t know). Some days I’m just following the routine. And he doesn’t always have my heart like he should. Today, what we’re going to talk about is the middle part of this sermon series that we call At Our Core. We call it, “loving fiercely”. 

We’re going to talk about what it looks like to love God fiercely. And really, what that means is to give him the love that he deserves. And I’m just going to be honest with you; some days I don’t give him the love that he deserves. I think if you were honest, you would say the same thing. He sometimes does, oftentimes does, but he doesn’t always get the love that he deserves. 

We’re going to look at a really small passage in the Bible from the book of Matthew, chapter 22. If you were reading through the book of Matthew, when you got to the 22nd chapter, you have Jesus, who has been telling about the kingdom of God, telling what it feels like to be in a relationship with God, to be loved unconditionally by the God of the universe, and to love him and to love others.

Then, early in Matthew chapter 22, some of the religious leaders come around, and they start to try to trap Jesus. You have these religious leaders who are legalists, and they start to try to trap Jesus with some conundrums, some trick questions about the Law and about the Bible. They ask Him a question about God and government, and they say, “Hey Jesus, which one is supposed to get your first allegiance? Do I give my taxes to the government? Do I give my time to the church?”

And Jesus quickly, easily answers that question. You give to both. You give to God and the government. Then they try to trap him with a question about family and God, basically saying, “Hey Jesus, I know I’m supposed to take care of my family, and I know I’m supposed to honor God. What happens when these two things feel like they’re in competition with each other?” In Matthew chapter 22, they paint this scenario where Jesus is supposed to be trapped in this legal problem. And he easily points their attention to both God and family. 

And then you have a guy who stands up, and he drops the big one on Jesus. He says, “Hey Jesus, there are a whole lot of rules and whole lot of regulations out there. And I want you to tell me … You’re supposed to be so smart in the Bible. You tell me, which rule is number one; which commandment is number one?” I’m certain that everybody in the crowd said, “Oh, he’s got him.” -because anything that Jesus answers next, there’s going to be somebody who can argue, “Wait a second. There’s another commandment that’s bigger than that one. There’s something else that’s more important than that one.” They’re basically thinking to themselves (these religious leaders), There’s no way Jesus can come out of this one smelling like a rose.

That’s the set up for what Jesus does next. And he doesn’t miss a beat. Check this out. When this question is asked about loving fiercely, Jesus doesn’t miss a beat. He tells the crowd that if you really want to know the number one commandment, here it is: It’s loving God, loving Jesus, because he is worthy of your love at a hundred percent. 

Jesus is worthy of love at 100%

Here’s what Jesus says to this religious leader trying to trick Him: 

Mt 22:37–40 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

I don’t really understand this phrase ‘at a hundred’. I think it sounds like at a hundred percent. And when people are sending that out in an emoji or in a text, they’re basically saying, “Hey, you’ve got it all. You’ve got a 100%.” And I really believe what Jesus is saying is that we’re supposed to love him fiercely. We’re supposed to love God at 100%. We’re supposed to love fiercely with all that we’ve got.

So, what I’m going to do is, I want to take these four verses from Matthew chapter 22, these first and the second greatest commandment, and I want to turn them into a sentence, one single sentence. And the sentence starts like this: The first part of the sentence says, “Jesus is calling His people to have a strong love for him, to have the love for him that he’s worthy of.” 

A strong love for Jesus…

I love a whole lot of things. I love running (some of you think that’s crazy). I love good coffee. I love my dog… But I love my dog differently from how I love my children. And I love my children differently from how I love my wife. And the Bible is telling us that I’m supposed to love Jesus differently from how I love running or my dog or my wife. 

This is the greatest one, and the greatest one deserves my greatest love. And Jesus is describing what it looks like when you love God with everything, when you love God with this strong love. 

Now, I want you to think in your mind about a stool with three legs, or I want you to think about a triangle. What theologians and pastors will do when they look back at this Bible verse is, they’ll try to focus in on the one side of the triangle. They’ll look at the words, ‘love God with all of your heart’ or ‘with all of your mind’ or ‘with all of your soul’. In fact, if you read this in the book of Luke, it adds one more word in there. It adds the word ‘strength’. I think sometimes pastors will start to dissect these three words. 

I don’t want to do that for us today. I want us to look at the full triangle. I want us to look at the full stool and say, “If you try to sit on a stool that just has one leg, it’s not going to hold you up.”

Jesus is saying, “Of course God deserves all of your mind. He deserves you to love him with your thoughts and focus your attention on him.” That’s one leg of the stool, one side of the triangle. But he also deserves your heart, which is a second side of the triangle or a second leg of the stool. If you’ve ever tried to sit on a stool with two legs, it really doesn’t work; it doesn’t hold you up. He deserves your mind, and he deserves your heart. But the triangle isn’t complete. 

The stool doesn’t really hold you up until we see all three legs of it, until we see mind, heart and soul, or the fourth leg of the stool in the book of Luke is your strength, as well. Jesus is quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, of the command that every parent was supposed to teach their children. If you forget everything else, teach your children this: Love God at 100%.

Love Him with all that you’ve got. Love Him with your heart, with your mind and with your soul. He deserves it all. And not just a bit of your heart, a whole lot of your mind, and some of your soul. No, He deserves all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul. That’s what it feels like to love God. And if we’re honest, sometimes other things start to get our attention, our mind. Sometimes, some things start to pull our heart a bit away from Jesus. Sometimes we start to have our affections and our desires on something else other than Jesus. 

I’m trying to say, loving fiercely is just loving the thing that deserves your love with the greatest love, giving it what it deserves. If I were to summarize the entire 10 Commandments from Exodus chapter 20, you could summarize them in these two Commandments that Jesus gave. You know that whole ‘don’t put any gods before me’, don’t use my name in vain, don’t forget to honor my Sabbath’? This command takes care of itself when you’re loving God fiercely, when you’re giving him everything that you’ve got. 

And what Jesus is asking for us to do first is to give our greatest heart to our greatest treasure, to give the king of the universe your fiercest love, to give it to Him at a hundred percent, always. That’s what a strong love for God looks like.

…and a bold love for others…

Then, Jesus adds in the second phrase, and he doesn’t even get asked this question. He says, “Hey, by the way, the second Commandment is like it [like it in order of importance, like it in seriousness].” The second commandment, according to verse 39, is to love your neighbor as yourself. This is what a bold love for others look like. A strong love for Jesus and a bold love for others is when you start to put these two Commandments together.

Now, you need to ask the question: When he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, that phrase, ‘as yourself’, what does he really mean by this? Does he mean that I’m supposed to treat my neighbor the same way that I do, meaning that to the same degree that I love myself I’m supposed to love my neighbor? Or is he saying, in the same way that I love myself, I’m supposed to love my neighbor? 

Do you want to take a guess at the answer to this question? Is it the same degree, or is it in the same way? The answer to the question is both. He’s saying, “I want you to love your neighbor to the same degree that you love yourself. I want you to love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself.”

Now, when Jesus made this statement, if we were reading this passage from the book of Luke in chapter 10, when Jesus made this statement, he knew that the guy who tried to trick Jesus just walked into a trap himself. So, this guy starts to try to weasel his way out of the trap. Here’s what the guy does. He says, “Um, if that’s the case, Jesus, who is my neighbor?” -meaning, who really deserves my love? And Jesus answers that question with the story of the good Samaritan. You’ve heard that phrase before.

I need you to understand that the good Samaritan that Jesus is referring to is the most hated group of people in Israel. And when Jesus is asked the question, “Okay, I’m supposed to love my neighbor like myself, now I’m going to try to find a loophole here, so who is my neighbor?” Jesus’s answer is, your neighbor is not just the person that you go to a life group with. It’s not just the person that goes to church with you. It’s not just the family member that’s going to show up at your house on Thanksgiving. Those people, of course, get your love. But when I’m talking about your neighbor in The Good Samaritan, I’m talking about the person that is far from God.

I’m talking about the person that is very different from you. I’m talking about the person that when you love them, they’ve got nothing to offer in return. That’s the person that Jesus is describing when he uses this ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ analogy. And the religious leaders ask them, “Okay, who is that neighbor?” -trying to find a way around this. 

Love requires sacrifice. And Jesus is asking his people to be willing to give up a bit to the person that can offer nothing back in return. Hey, 2 Cities Church, did you know that this month, we were in a position that we could help two people pay their rent for the entire month of November?

Because of the economic fallout of the COVID virus, they weren’t able to pay their bills. And you graciously, generously gave way back in the month of April. And we set money aside in the month of April to be able to serve and to take care of people that were in need. And because of that, we were able to write the rent check for somebody, not just one person, but two people during the month of November that were hurting and in need. And we made a huge sacrifice back in April so that we would be in a position in November to be able to help people like this.

…is an offering to our God.

The second half of the 10 Commandments goes like this: Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery. And if you love your neighbor as yourself like Jesus is saying in these verses, you don’t have to focus on those Commandments, because nobody would want that done to themselves. So, nobody’s going to do that to their neighbor. That’s why Jesus can wrap this statement up by saying that when you have a strong love for Jesus, and when you have a bold love for others, let me tell you what happens next: It eventually leads to an offering worthy of our God.

That fierce love is the love that our God is worthy of. Jesus uses the words, ‘the Law and the prophets are completely fulfilled when you do these two things’. Now, the word law refers to those books of the Old Testament where God sets out the rules back in the Old Testament. In Jesus’s day, this is the first part of his Bible. And the prophets refers to the second half of the Bible. So, by putting this together, Jesus is saying, you completely fulfill the entire Bible when you love God with a strong love. And when you have a bold love for other people, you’ll take care of all of the rest of the Commandments of the Bible. They’ll just naturally happen when you have this fierce love.

See, we’re a church that really believes the Bible is without error. We really believe that our God calls us to enter into a deeper relationship with him by studying his Bible. And as we get to know the Bible, we see something about ourselves that doesn’t add up. The Bible starts to show us that there’s some changes in our life that need to be made. That’s really what Jesus is pointing out here when he says, “Love God with a strong love, but love your neighbor with a bold love.” 

And if you’ll do these two things, man, everything else will just simply take care of itself. See, we believe this is what it looks like to love God at one hundred percent, to give the One that is worthy of your greatest love, the greatest amount of your heart, greatest amount of your mind, the greatest amount of your soul.

Recently, I was in San Antonio doing a men’s conference at a church. And I saw some men that were just broken because of the mistakes that they had made in their life. I saw men that literally fell on their face on the ground before God begging for his forgiveness. I saw a dozen men who on Friday night surrendered their soul to Jesus Christ for the first time and who became followers of Jesus Christ. 

I came across the video that this church was playing by a guy by the name of Wayne Lunsford. I asked the church last night if they would allow me to show this video at 2 Cities Church, because Wayne personally describes what life felt like before he experienced the fierce love of God. Then, Wayne also describes what happened to him when the fierce love of God got a hold of his soul, but not just what happened to him, how it affected the way that he related to other people. I want you to hear from Wayne’s mouth what this fierce love feels like.

From video clip:

If you’re seeing this, there’s a better way. I grew up going to church, or more so, being dragged to church, because I completely rebelled. I was searching my whole life to fill this void that I had in my heart. I never could fill it, though. I turned to drugs, drank myself to blackout status most of the time, chased women, chased money, did everything trying to fulfill this emptiness that I had. And again, I was rebelling against the whole Gospel and church. And people would invite me to church, and I wouldn’t want to go because I didn’t want to sit there and feel the conviction of, (now I know the Holy Spirit), but it just didn’t make sense to me. So, I rebelled from it. I chased everything of the world: girls, drugs, money. And it just left me empty.

I ended up getting married, and that ended up being a disaster at first, just because, again, I was out in the world doing worldly things and chasing this dream, this false identity. And it wasn’t until I came into an interesting situation where I was about to lose my family. And God started knocking on my heart. And it was like he legitimately reached down out of Heaven and put his hands on my heart and just spoke life into me and told me that I am worthy, that I needed to stop chasing the superficial things of life, of this world and answer his calling.

I know, if you’re watching this, you’ve probably felt that calling your entire life, but you’ve ran away from it, or you’ve ignored it, or you’ve tried to drink yourself out of it or do this or do this, or try to get the nice life, the white picket fence, all that. But it’s all meaningless aside from that relationship with Jesus Christ. And he’s constantly knocking. And he did that in my life. He came into my life, and I finally just surrendered over to him. He led me to some verses in Scripture that, “You’re either for me or against me”. Then it just hit me like a ton of bricks that I’ve been calling myself a Christian my entire life, but nothing in my life resembled that love that I said that I had for him.

So, I made a choice. I made a choice and said I’m going to either live for the world and know my destiny, my eternity. I’ll die and end up in hell, or I would surrender my life over to him. And I did that. The next day I walked into work and started preaching the Gospel. So, if you’re seeing this, there’s still hope; there’s still a chance. God is the fulfillment of that void in your heart. It’s in your heart for that reason because Jesus wants to be that fulfillment for you. He will take you out of the lifestyle of sin and debauchery and put you in a position of blessings and to live holy, to live righteous for his name’s sake.

It was interesting because there was times that I was convinced that this is what I needed to do. This is the life that I needed to live. And it was just the enemy putting lies into my head. And it wasn’t until Jesus gave me that clarity. He helped me to put the alcohol down, to stop drinking, to stop watching pornography, to stop mistreating my wife, to become a better father, to become a better man. He came into my heart, and I gave it all over to Him and led me down a different path and a different way. 

So, I encourage you, if you’re watching this today, get on your knees, reach out to Jesus, pray to him, call to him, ask him to come into your heart, to take away these things that are just misleading you in your life. There’s nothing that can separate you from the love that God has for you. Absolutely nothing. He’s our heavenly Father, and He’s just standing there with his arms open wide waiting for you to return home. And you can always count on that. So, no matter how far you think or how much bad you’ve done or wherever you’re at, you can change it in an instant. 

You just reach out to him and ask for forgiveness, repent of your sin. He wants you to come home. He wants you in his house. He wants to give you his love, his fullness. And those are attacks and lies from the enemy that keep you away from him. There’s nothing that you can do that can separate you from the love of God. Nothing.

Wayne’s heart was dead and lifeless. And he was trying alcohol, but it wasn’t working. And he was trying sex, and it wasn’t working. He was trying all of the things that everything around us is screaming for our attention and trying to tempt you, and he was saying all of that stuff wasn’t working. Then, in an instant, God reached down and started beating a dead, lifeless heart. He experienced this fierce love of the Father who would pursue him and chase after him and invite Wayne, of all people, into an intimate relationship with the God of the universe, which is what he did for me, what he’s done for many of you.

But I want you to notice what happened to his marriage, what happened to him at work, what happened with his children. After Wayne’s heart started to change toward God, his relationship with his family changed. His relationship at work changed. His relationship with himself changed. This fierce love got a hold of him. And when he experienced that fierce love for the first time, Wayne started to love other people fiercely. And if you haven’t experienced that fierce love, what Wayne said is absolutely true. Just simply run to the Father, in faith and repentance, and turn to him. Allow the holy One of God to cause a heart that is dead or lifeless to start beating for the first time. Or maybe your heart has started to grow cold and started to slip away from Him. Ask him to make it white hot again.

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