The Great Commandment: Loving God (Part 2 of 3)
When my sons were little I would regularly take them into my arms, hug them and say, “I love you more than anything.” They would say, “Well, I love you more than the whole world.” And I would reply, “Well, I love you even more than that. I love you more than the whole universe!” That ended it. I won. There’s nothing larger than the universe.
We affectionately speak like that to show the depth of our love for someone. The Bee Gees popularized a song in the late 1970s titled, How Deep Is Your Love, that goes,
How deep is your love?
I really mean to learn
’Cause we’re living in a world of fools
Breaking us down when they all should let us be
We belong to you and me
When we love someone, we long for love in return that is deep and strong and resilient. We long for our love to love us “more than the whole universe.”
Jesus was calling us to a deep, strong, faithful, never-ending, passionate, fervent love for God when He stated His famous Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
In my last blogpost I explained that this two-part command spanning two verses is the best summary of what God asks of those who follow Him. It is our “job description.”
LOVING GOD IS DEEPLY PERSONAL
I love how personalized this command is. Jesus does not say simply to love God; He says, “You shall love the lord your God.” Martin Luther said, “The life of Christianity consists of possessive pronouns.” It’s one thing to say, “God is the Savior”; it’s quite another thing to say, “He is my Savior.” The devil can say the first; only the true Christian can say the second.
Jesus commands you to love God as your God. The word your implies a personal relationship, not a faint knowledge of some distant being. God is not an impersonal, far-off God who cannot be known or experienced. He is personal, ever so close—and Jesus is teaching that we should be involved with God on a personal basis.
Years ago, a distinguished actor and an aged minister met at a gathering. The actor was asked to give a recitation, and, at the minister’s request, he repeated the 23rd Psalm, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” Such was the beauty of his voice and the charm of his manner that a subdued murmur of praise went around the room.
The actor then invited the old minister to repeat the same psalm. When the minister ended, there were tears in every eye, for he had spoken to their hearts and souls. Afterwards the actor was asked why the minister’s recitation had so much more profoundly affected the audience, and he replied: “You see, I know the psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”
Do you know the Shepherd? Jesus commands you to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, but how can you love someone you do not know? If you have never come to know the Shepherd as your Savior, run to Jesus, experience His grace, and then love Him and live for him!
LOVING GOD IS EXTREMELY CHALLENGING!
I was puzzled by an anomaly in the three places the Great Commandment is found in the Bible. The references in the Gospels are based on Deuteronomy 6:5 which says, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might [or literally ‘strength’].” But in Matthew 22:37, Matthew records Jesus as saying we should love God with all our heart and soul, and then adds “mind” and leaves out “strength.”
To confuse matters even more, Mark and Luke record all four words: heart, soul, mind and strength. The word mind is not in the source text, the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5, but it is in all three New Testament instances, while strength is left out in Matthew’s version of the story.
To see what’s going on, let’s examine these words in the Hebrew from Deuteronomy, and also the added Greek word for “mind” in the three instances in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
First, God commanded us to love Him with all our HEARTS
In Old Testament Hebrew, the heart was understood to be the hidden core of the physical, mental, and spiritual life of humans. This is true with the Greek word for heart too, but with more emphasis on the heart as the center of our affections—that is, the things we love and are passionate about.
Here Jesus wants us to realize that a spiritual relationship with Him begins from within, and it demands that God be the center of our affections. We must, in other words, love Him above all other people or things. He must be first place in our lives.
Next, God commands us to love Him with all our SOULS.
In the Old Testament, the “soul” refers to a person as a whole individual. It denotes the totality of your life—your various desires, appetites, emotions, and thoughts. So, we are to love God with our desires, appetites, emotions, and thoughts. In other words, we are to love God, not just in the core of our inner being, but with our whole being. Our very identity is to be so entangled with God that He is at the center of everything our lives.
Next, God commands us to love God with all our might, or all our STRENGTH.
The Hebrew word used here implies the idea of loving God with all our power, or all our might, or with everything that is at our disposal. Follow the progression in these verses: Our love for God should start in our inner being (our heart), and then moves to the every aspect of our being, and then we are to use everything at our disposal outside our being, everything in our power, to love God—including our talents, our abilities, our family, our belongings, our money, our resources, our time—everything.
In all three of the Gospel instances, the word MIND is added to the Old Testament Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5.
Our mind is the seat of our capacity to think, learn things and reason. God wants all of our mental and intellectual capacities to be under His rule.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” You love God with all your mind when your thoughts are brought into captivity to obedience to Christ: every lustful thought, very proud thought, every hateful, every fearful thought, every jealous thought, and when your creativity brings glory to God.
When you put all four of these things together, Jesus is teaching that our love for God is to be an all-encompassing, comprehensive love of God with every part of our being and all the power of our being. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think—all our actions, words, thoughts and activities are to center around God first and foremost in our lives.
LOVING GOD IS IMPOSSIBLE IN OUR OWN STRENGTH
It’s almost too much isn’t it? You might be saying, “Chuck, there’s no way I can love that way.” You’re right! The truth is that none of us can love that way all the time, nor can we love Him perfectly, but that should be your goal as a believer. You should be striving always for that kind of love. You should be constantly realigning your life to love God the way Jesus commands.
But it cannot be done in our own strength. In Galatians, Paul points to the necessity of the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey God. We will still fail, but we can love God as we should in a sustained fashion if we will “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). This phrase in the Greek literally means to “walk in step with the Spirit.” As we go through the day, the Spirit of God can speak to our hearts, call us closer to Him, keep us in love with God, guide us, keep us from sin. When we are thus “led by the Spirt” (Gal. 5:18), Paul says we are “not under the Law.” In other words, we don’t need external law to govern our behavior and our love for God. The Holy Spirit within leads us and guides us. We can walk in God’s ways and stay passionately and fervently in love with our God.
Russell Hitt, Editor of Eternity magazine tells about a meal he had with Henrietta Mears, a Christian author who had a tremendous influence on many Christians in the early Twentieth Century in the U.S. He wrote:
I remember one precious experience with Henrietta Mears when we were having a sandwich in a hotel restaurant in St. Louis during a Christian bookseller’s convention. She began to reminisce about the wonderful things God had done in her life. She talked of the Lord Jesus as simply and genuinely as a new convert possessed by first love. The tears flowed down her cheeks. It was thrilling to be with a Christian worker who had not become a pro. She really loved Jesus Christ, and she lived to make Him known.
God help us to love God with equal passion in our lives. God help us to love God “more than the whole universe” by a dependence on the Holy Spirit in our lives.