The Great Commandment: Loving God (Part 1 of 3)
What is the guiding principle of your life? What is it that makes you tick? What is your primary goal or purpose you live by? And most importantly: Is this what God says should be your chief motivator in life?
When I started Grace Baptist Church, I wanted to distill in as simple a formula as possible the main thing that God wanted from me and the people in my church. Wait a minute, I thought, Jesus already did that!
All three of the Synoptic Gospels tell us that an expert on the Mosaic law came to Jesus and asked Him which was the greatest commandment. This was not a new question, for the scribes had been debating it for centuries. They had documented 613 commands in God’s Law—248 positive; 365 negative. No person could ever hope to know and fully obey all of these commandments. So, to make it easier, the experts divided the commandments into “heavy” (that is, important) commandments and “light” (unimportant) commandments. A person could major on the “heavy” ones and not worry about the trivial ones.
The fallacy of this approach is obvious: You need only break one law, heavy or light, to be fully guilty before God, for James tells us, “…whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
Although the lawyer asked one question, Jesus gave two answers:
First, He quoted what is known as the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which was recited daily by every orthodox Jew as a declaration of the basic principle of Jewish belief, proclaiming the absolute unity of God and the necessity of loving Him with all our being. That scripture says: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And you shall love the LORD thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
Second, Jesus quoted the second part of Leviticus 19:18 and put it second only to the Shema: “You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, [and here’s the part Jesus quoted] but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
These two commands, Jesus said, are to be our supreme purpose, our great command, the guiding force in our lives. Jesus took all the 613 commandments of the Old Testament and distilled them into one two-part command, known as “the Great Commandment.”
Jesus said that this was the great commandment, meaning that that everything else in our lives is either subservient to this command or is subsumed as part of it. After stating the two-part command, Matthew records Jesus as saying “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
In other words, everything you need to do to obey God can be wrapped up in the Great Commandment. This is what it all boils down to—to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the whole duty of mankind wrapped up in two commandments spanning a mere three verses. That’s the Christian’s “job description” and the job description for every church.
It’s easy to break this command down into its constituent parts (“You”…God is talking to YOU; “shall”…this is a demand, not optional; etc.), but let’s cut to the chase. It’s obvious that the most important word in this passage is the word “love.” In English, “love” is an exceedingly broad word. We talk of loving God, our spouse, our kids, our pets, pizza, football, that Batman movie. We understand that we don’t love pizza or football in the same way as God or our spouse or kids. Or at least we hope so! What we really mean by “I love pizza” is “I really like pizza.” And the way I love my wife (in a romantic way) is obviously different from the way I love God or my kids.
The koine Greek the New Testament was written in had four words for love, each different in meaning and usage. One, eros, from which we get the word “erotic,” means physical love, and is not found in the New Testament. Storge means the love within a family while philia means companionable love, (i.e., the “like” we have with friends and close companions.
The highest form of love is agape love, which means a selfless, giving, self-sacrificing love; a love that gives even if there is no hope of love in return. Agape is the word Jesus says we should love God with. Agape love is a practical love that shows itself by tangible acts and expressions.
In the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, there’s a memorable scene when the main character, Tevye, tries to make sense of the uncomfortable modern ideas he is confronted with by his daughters, such as marrying for love and choosing one’s own spouse. Confused, he asks his wife, Golde, if she loves him. She gives a typical Russian Jewish peasant answer—something like: “What do you mean, ‘Do I love you?’ Ha!” Her marriage, you see, like everyone else’s her age, had been arranged. She had never even considered the thought, Do I love him? Throughout the scene Tevye repeatedly asks the same question and Golde repeatedly counters with replies like, “What does is matter? I clean your clothes, don’t I? I fix your meals, don’t I?” She keeps giving the same evasive answers until Tevye finally gives up.
The point of the scene was that though in all their years of marriage Golde had never once told Tevye she loved him, she showed him she did every day through her actions, through tangible acts, day in and day out.
In the same way, God is not impressed by vain words from us. He’s not impressed if we say, “Oh, Lord, I love you so much!” if they are not backed up with the demonstration of love in our actions. Real agape love is practical; it shows itself concretely.
If that is so, then how can we tangibly demonstrate our love to God? As I thought about this, I thought of four ways we show love to our spouses, and they are, not surprisingly, the same ways we can manifest our love to God.
• We show love to our spouse by being faithful to him/her and forsaking all others.
My wife is a real stickler about this one! She expects me to be a one-woman man, and that woman had better be her—and of course, I expect the same from her! If I really love her, I’ll never even consider a relationship with another person.
God is no different. The first the Ten Commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Two verses later God says, “You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:5)
But idols of wood and stone aren’t the only false gods we can have in our lives. In fact, anything that takes away our affection for the Lord is an idol. An idol can be a person, or a hobby, or your job, or a prized possession—someone or something you put before God. Anything that steals your affections from your Lord, is an idol.
How would you feel if you caught your spouse with someone else? You would feel hurt, angry, jealous, wounded, betrayed. The Bible teaches that God also feels this way when we love other people or things or activities or goals more than we love Him. God help us to love God above all people or things on this earth!
• We show love for our spouse by spending time together.
If you get too involved in work or with the kids or with a hobby, and don’t spend time together, your spouse feels neglected, shut out, secondary in importance. But when you take time out of your schedule to spend time with your spouse, you show them that he or she is important to you, and this conveys your love to your spouse. Likewise, God desires for us to spend time with Him! Not because He needs it (He doesn’t need anything), but because we need it.
Remember the story of Mary and Martha? Jesus spent the day at Martha’s house and Martha was all in a tizzy over getting everything ready, and as Matthew put it, she was “burdened with much serving.” But Matthew tells us that her sister, Mary, “…sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.” (Luke 10:39) When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping, rather than rebuking Mary, Jesus said “Martha, Martha, you are full of care and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) Mary was showing her love for Jesus by spending time with Him and getting to know Him. Mary was neglecting Jesus with busywork.
In the hustle and bustle of your busy life, are you like Martha, burdened and anxious and troubled about with much serving? Or do you, like wise Mary, take time to be alone with the Lord? We need that time with the Lord in daily Bible reading and reflection on our lives and prayer—even if it’s just a few moments a day. You should make it a part of your daily routine to spend quality time with the Lord.
• We show love to our spouse through honor and praise.
Every day you should praise and honor your spouse. We should brag on our spouse because we love them and want them and others to know it. I know some people who, every time I talk to them, they’re telling me bad things about their spouse. That’s a bad practice!
I think corporate worship at church is one of the main applications of this. When we come to church and sing to God, we’re confessing our praise to Him. When in our prayers we thank God for His works and attributes, we honor Him. When we listen carefully to His Word as it is read and preached to us, and apply its truths to our lives, we honor God. When we testify publicly of His grace and mercy and goodness and blessings in our lives, we are giving praise to God. All of these are acts of worship that are expressions of our love for Him. Let’s show tangible love for God by bragging on Him through praise and worship and singing. This is a great reason to be faithful to church!
• We show our spouses we love them by doing things that please them and by avoiding things that displease them.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus twice said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15; 15:10.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Lyn is a gossip, but she loves the Lord,” or “David is really judgmental, but he really loves God”? Well, that’s just not true! Jesus said that the test of our love for Him is our obedience to Him. It pleases Him when we obey Him, and it grieves Him when we don’t.
Are you disobeying God in some area of your life? Is there some area in which you have refused to surrender to the lordship of Christ? You can sing “Oh How I Love Jesus” all you want, but if you’re disobedient to Christ, your actions belie your words.
A missionary was trying to win a man in China to the Lord. He used a neighbor of his as an example of a Christian. The Chinese quickly reacted, saying, “Then I no want to be Christian.” Startled, the missionary asked “Why?” He said, “My neighbor—his walky no matchy his talkie.”
Make sure your walk matches your talk! Show God you love Him in the tangible way of obeying and following Him!
In my next next blogpost, I want to look at the all-inclusive nature of Jesus’ command to love God, and in the blogpost following that, I will examine the second part of the commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves.