[Matthew 22:34-40] When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Where You Hang Your Hat
It’s probably not a very common expression in everyday speech, but there is an expression “where you hang your hat”. Where a person hangs his hat is what? It’s where he lives.
So, I’m from Michigan, but I hang my hat in Scarsdale. A lot of men and women are from somewhere else but hang their hat in New York. When I was a kid, I remember hearing a country song – the singer said, “All my exes live in Texas, and that’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee.” I had no idea what that meant.
Where you hang your hat is where you live, dwell, reside. And, you can hang your hat on an idea, a way of thinking, a theory, a philosophy, a worldview, a faith, a religion, etc. To hang your hat on one of those means you depend on it. In that idea or faith is where your mind lives, where your heart dwells. You’ve made it your home.
Who cares, right? Unless you were to read today’s Gospel lesson in the old King James Version. Some of you wish I had. So, I will, just this one time:
A lawyer asked Jesus, What is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37-40 KJV]
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” ‘Law and the prophets’ means ‘the Old Testament’. The whole Old Testament scripture hangs its hat on those two commandments.
“All Scripture” – all the Old and New Testament – “is breathed out by God” – is God’s same Word [2 Timothy 3:16] – and it all hangs its hat in two commandments: dedicated love for God with all soul, mind, and strength; and sincere love for neighbor as oneself.
What does that mean? It means the commandments of God – you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; don’t bear false witness; you shall not covet – honor your father and mother —>
—> have no other gods beside Me; you shall not misuse God’s name; you shall keep His holy day – and all the other moral commandments of God reside, dwell in these two great commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as your own self.”
Which means what? It means these commandments are not my payment to earn heaven from God nor to earn favor from man. Instead, keeping the commandments flows from a heartfelt love for God because He has so loved me – so loved me that He gave His Son for me.
And, love for my neighbor flows – not from my neighbor’s treatment of me – but from the knowledge that God has created and loved my neighbor just as He has created and provided for me.
“We love Him because He first loved us” [1 John 4:19]. “If a man says, ‘I love God’, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” [1 John 4:20-21]
All of Scripture – therefore all the commandments – hang on the hat hook of love for God and love for neighbor. Therefore, we have an answer to the questions, “How do I love God?” “How do I love my neighbor?” Does a feeling of love fulfill these commands? How do I know I’m doing the right thing?
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not grievous.” [1 John 5:1-3]
In other words, love for God doesn’t mean feeling a loving feeling for God, but then not worshiping Him and not living by His express commands. Love for God loves all of what God has said and commanded.
Love for my neighbor is not a feeling that I then carry out according to my own reason or desire. Love for neighbor loves my neighbor as a creature of God. That love is carried out by me doing what God has commanded me to do toward my neighbor.
There are a hundred different ways that everyone uses the excuse – essentially – that “all love is love.” But not all feelings are godly love. “God is love” – true love that comes from God is expressed in His commandments. Feelings – of passion or of compassion – that would compromise God’s Word are not love. Covetous desire – for people or for things – is not love.
Also, mere good feelings don’t take the place of actual works. Love for God worships God. Love for neighbor behaves morally toward a brother or sister. Love for neighbor takes actions for the benefit and aid of my neighbors.
In short, just as all Scripture hangs on the two great commandments – love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself – so also true love for God and neighbor always hangs its hat within the commandments of God. Love lives in God’s commandments.
Who has done it, and how can this begin to be done in you? Jesus has done it. And Jesus dwells in you to begin this love in you.
“By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight…” for, in us, the commandments – including those commands to love – bring “the knowledge of sin”, our sin [Romans 3:20].
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” [Romans 3:23-24]. In Jesus “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” [Ephesians 1:7].
Jesus, who is the Son of David according to the flesh – born of the virgin Mary – and is the Son of God and David’s Lord and our Lord from all eternity – is the Righteous Man who has loved God with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength, even unto death upon the cross [Philippians 2:8] and has loved His neighbor – you – by becoming a man and giving Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice in your place [Hebrews 7:27].
Jesus has perfectly kept God’s commandments and has perfectly loved His neighbor by becoming your Redeemer. All of God’s commandments hang completed and fulfilled in Jesus. His perfect life has been offered on the cross as the God-pleasing sacrifice in place of your life.
Jesus, who has done this, is risen from the dead, to never die again, and now hangs His hat within you – through baptism. Jesus dwells in you. The love for God and neighbor that He has in Himself is now beginning to take form in you as He hangs His hat within your heart.
Jesus is from the highest heaven, yet hangs His hat within His baptized people. We are sinners in whom the Righteous One now dwells. His love residing in you looks like a change in your life, the day-to-day drowning of sin and raising up of a new man or woman – as He dwells in you more and more richly through your receiving of Him in His Word and Sacrament.
Hang your hat, every week, where He comes to dwell among you. “And I am sure of this,” the Scripture says, “that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[Philippians 1:6]. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.