“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I enjoy fellowship with God, and often in the morning I awaken with the words in my mind, “I love You, Lord.”
For a time, however, it seemed as if I could hear the still, small voice of God in my mind saying, “Oh, really?” After a few of those occasions I began to reflect on what I was saying. What did I mean when I said, “I love You, Lord”? And why did I get the impression that perhaps God was not all that impressed with my sincere expressions of love to Him?
When I said, “I love You, Lord,” I was expressing a sense of delight in God and an eager anticipation of fellowship with Him during my early-morning quiet time. I could hardly wait to get dressed. I wanted to be with God; to enjoy His Word; to share my heart with Him in prayer; and in the words of David,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
What is wrong with that? Are not those noble, godly desires? Why was I frequently getting this nagging thought in my mind that perhaps God was not all that convinced of my love?
I began to reflect on the question, What does it mean to love God? This is an important question. After all, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). To love God with all my heart and soul and mind obviously means to love Him with all my being, with everything I have. And if I am to love God with this total wholeheartedness, then I need to know what it means to love God. So I began to study this passage in Matthew.
The first thing I saw from Jesus’ reply in Matthew 22 is that He actually quoted from the Old Testament. The question that had been put to Him was, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” So Jesus went right back to the Law, specifically to Deuteronomy 6:5, and quoted that Scripture as His answer. I decided, then, to study this greatest commandment as it was originally given in the Old Testament.
To help us understand what God is saying to us, we need to see Deuteronomy 6:5 in its context. For your convenience I am going to reproduce Deuteronomy 6:1–8 so that you can more easily follow me in the primary lesson I learned from this Scripture.
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
HOW TO LOVE GOD
As you read these verses from Deuteronomy, one thing that becomes clear is that the primary message is obedience to God. Notice how words such as commands, decrees, and laws are prominent (see verses 1, 2, 6). Then note how obedience to these commands, decrees, and laws is emphasized.
We are to observe them (verse 1), keep them (verse 2), and be careful to obey them (verse 3). They are to be upon our hearts (verse 6). We are to impress them on our children and talk about them continually; that is, when we sit at home, walk along the road, lie down, and get up (verse 7). We are to use all manner of reminder devices to keep His commands continually before us.
For the Israelites that meant tying them on their hands and foreheads (verse 8) and writing them on their doorframes and gates (verse 9). For us, it might mean a “Post-It” note with a pertinent verse of Scripture stuck on the bathroom mirror or the clock on our desk. For a friend of mine it means a three-by-five card with a Scripture for the day written on it that he carries in his shirt pocket and refers to throughout the day. For another friend of mine who had a problem with a “heavy foot” on the accelerator pedal, it meant taping a card onto his dashboard on which he had paraphrased 1 John 2:6: “Whoever claims to live in Him must drive as Jesus would drive.” Of course, the most obvious reminder device is the discipline of Scripture memorization. Daily review and meditation on key passages is far and away the most effective means of keeping God’s commands continually before us.
It is in the midst of this strong emphasis to the Jews on obedience to God’s Law, and on the practical necessity of keeping its precepts always before them so they would obey, that we find the greatest commandment, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (verse 5). Therefore I concluded that, whatever else might be involved in loving God with all my heart, obedience to His law was certainly a major part of it.
(Again I want to remind you that when I speak of the law of God as it applies to us today, I am referring to the permanent moral law of God that is binding upon every human being. I am not referring to the Law given to Israel through Moses, some of which was temporary, such as the ceremonial law and the civil law.)
This equating of obedience to God with love to God is a prominent feature of the book of Deuteronomy. Without trying to be exhaustive, I found six other passages in the book where love and obedience are tied together. To help us feel the impact of this strong repetitive emphasis they are quoted as follows:
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (10:12–13)
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (11:13)
If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him. (11:22)
Because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in his ways. (19:9)
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.… You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. (30:6, 8)
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (30:19–20)
It should not surprise us that obedience to God’s law is a major part of loving Him. After all, Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21; see also verses 15, 23). And the apostle John wrote, “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3). I have known John 14:21 for years. I have preached it and written about it. I have taught that the proof of our love to God is our obedience to Him. Or to put it another way, our love to God will always manifest itself in obedience to Him.