What does it mean to love God with your soul.
We love God with our inner person when we allow him to speak to and form our inner desires.
Introduction: Loving God is the most important thing in life, but what does that mean?
We have been looking at what it means to love God. A religious leader once asked Jesus what the most important command was. To answer, Jesus fused two Old Testament scriptures together and said they are really one command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. These two commands make up what is most important in life. It is what we build our lives around.
For that reason we have been looking at what the command means, piece by piece:
Heart – emotions and will
Mind – decisions and disciplines
Strength – love him with your spiritual gifts and natural abilities
Love your neighbor as yourself – the parable of the Good Samaritan
Transition: So what does it mean to love God with your soul? It is to bring your inner person, your issues, concerns and fears before God to let him speak to them. It is to allow God to speak into the deepest part of your life where your dreams, hopes and frustrations lay buried under all sorts of other activities and ideas.
What does it look like to love God with our soul? We will answer that by looking at 2 Corinthians 11-12 where Paul shares a conflict he has with false teachers.
Paul faced criticism and rejection because he wasn’t what people expected
Setting: The Apostle Paul started the church at Corinth several years before this letter was written. Corinth was an important city in the Romans Empire, a combination of New York and Las Vegas. Paul lived there for over a year meeting people, arguing in the synagogues, debating philosophers and bringing together a diverse band of people changed by their devotion to Jesus. Now, in his absence, other teachers had come along adding things to the simple gospel of Jesus as Savior and Lord. As chapter 11 unfolds we see that there are several things on Paul’s heart.
First, Paul felt a great need to protect the church as a father feels the need to protect his betrothed daughter. But now false teachers were leading them to heresy and it felt like they were being seduced by another. On top of that he sensed that the church had lost respect for him. The new teachers were more exciting and influential. He had started the church; they owed their existence to him. But now he was, at best, tolerated (as evidenced by the continued phrase “put up with me”).
Second Paul admitted that he was not a trained speaker. This was a big deal in Corinth because the orators were the movie stars of their day. Rhetoric was the high point of a classical education. A city like Corinth loved to hear eloquent men persuade an audience, showing off their learning and talent, moving them to tears or action. Such men were held in high esteem and commanded serious money when they came. But Paul was plane spoken.
Thirdly Paul’s opponents dismissed Paul because he did not take payment for his service. This proved that he was not a super apostle. He was inferior because he is not “deep,” not forceful, not eloquent and not famous. Thus he doesn’t take payment.
These were all powerful challenges to Paul’s ego. He had a right to be hurt and angry. Yet he told the church that he was not going to change. He didn’t want to be identified with the super-apostles, even though he felt equal to them. And he wasn’t going to try to be like them. He did not consider himself a persuader or rhetoritician. He was a herald, a “proclaimer.” He was not a traveling entertainer but an apostle.
Have you ever been treated this way? Have you ever been treated with dishonestly and injustice, despite all the good you had done for people. Have you ever had people turn on you when all you did was try to help? This was what Paul experienced.
Paul responded to this disrespect with boasting, but he boasted about his weakness and struggles to undermine the proud super-apostles
Paul asks them to tolerate him for a bit longer while he takes a turn at boasting. Then he proceeds to boast of all the struggles and dangers he had faced. He had been beaten, imprisoned, flogged, stoned and shipwrecked to name just a few. It was obvious he had been harassed and persecuted, not treated as a celebrity.
The super apostles boasted of visions that they had from the Lord. This gave them authority and secret knowledge. Paul responded to this by telling them of a vision that had happened to “a certain man” where he is translated to the third heaven. Whether it is in the body or out of the body, Paul does not know, but he saw and heard things that were “inexpressible,” to wonderful to share. Paul is obviously so reluctant to tell the account that he speaks of himself only in the third person. In great irony he shares a vision to let them know that God has spoken to him. But then he tells them that he is not allowed to tell them the content of the vision.
Paul was more concerned about proclaiming what everyone knew – the death and resurrection of Jesus – than about any secret knowledge.
Transition: Paul was being disregarded and insulted by people who should have done neither. He wanted to defend himself for the sake of the gospel, but he did not want to get down into the gutter with these duplicitous super-apostles. So he brags of his weaknesses and tells them that he is not going to change. It was a bold brilliant step, but where did he find the courage to do that?
Paul had a persistent thorn that taught him that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.
Paul had discovered something about weakness and his discovery came from bringing his own frustration to the Lord. Paul’s testimony includes times of great power, healing and visions. But with a vision as great as the one he had of paradise there is a great temptation to be proud. So from the time of his great vision he also had a great pain. Paul calls it a “thorn in his side” and a “messenger of Satan” though he knew it came from the Lord. There have been many theories about what Paul’s thorn actually was. It could have been a physical ailment like migraines or poor eyesight. Or it could have been people who opposed him. Whatever it was it had the affect of weakening Paul so much so that he brought the issue before the Lord in prayer.
Paul says that he prayed “three times.” This could be a play on words that meant he prayed continuously (i.e. past, present and future or “again, again and again). But at a certain point God responded with “no.” God was not going to remove this pain from Paul’s life because he had something deeper to teach the Apostle. When we are weak God can be strong. Jesus defeated sin and death through the weakness of his death not through great strength. Moses defeated Pharaoh by relying solely on the Lord. And the church would advance, not on talent and celebrity but on dependence and God’s power.
Paul was able to respond to criticism with wisdom because he had already brought his deep pain before God and God taught him something deeper. Now he did not worry about being famous, being liked or being admired. He did not worry about himself at all. He only worried about the Lord and the church.
God revealed something new to him – what would he reveal to you?
God translated Paul to heaven and revealed things Paul could not share. But what Paul learned from weakness he was free to proclaim. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
So what do you need to pray about and what could you learn if you brought your inner person fearlessly before God. This willingness to lay our secret self before God is loving him with all your soul. So,
What do you fear?
What makes you angry?
What makes you sad?
Paul brought these before the Lord and learned something new. He was brought closer to God than he ever would have been. Are you willing to love God with all your soul?