By David Jewel
When one of the religious scribes asked Jesus, which commandment is most important, He answered: “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’’. Christ essentially quoted Deuteronomy 6:4–5, thus showing that the requirement for God’s people has always been the same, and, indeed, always will be the same, even into eternity. What, then, does it mean to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength?
The scribe who approached Jesus was, unlike some of His questioners, genuine with his question. As normal, Jesus answered his question with a question of His own: ‘How do you read?’. Strict orthodox Jews wore round their wrists little leather boxes called phylacteries which contained Bible passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy, the one in Deuteronomy is from chapter six verse four: ‘You shall love the Lord your God’. Jesus was reminding the scribe to look at his wrist and that would give him the answer! In a similar vein today when so many of faith and those having no faith wear Crosses around their necks or wrists or in their ears or even tattooed. The answer to their questions about life, death and eternity is constantly with them!
This is a short four-week series based on the words of the Law, which Jesus encouraged His followers to obey. Next week Liz is preaching and, in the fourth week, Simon, so we will have different angles of looking at these words, different life histories. We talk about love, but what do we mean by it and even more importantly, when we look in our Bibles, what does the Bible mean about it? Is our idea of love rather different to first century Jews? What did love mean to Jesus? Love as defined by modern day dictionaries is ‘An intense feeling of deep affection’ which means that you can feel that for your spouse, your children, your home, your car, even your dog…
To define what love means Biblically entails going to the source of all love, God. God, the Bible tells us, is love.
So, a Biblical definition of love would go something like this: ‘Love is a rugged commitment to be with someone, for someone, as we journey in the transformation towards Christlikeness.’
Let us look at FOUR elements in this Biblical definition:
1. God expresses His love by forming a covenant with humans. God’s covenant is a rugged commitment, secure whatever life’s ups and downs. God loves us because we are His. We can honestly say that God loves every human on this planet, but that God loves His children in particular, because we have shown at least a little bit of a response back to His sacrificial, absolute commitment of love. It is not that we are His because He loves us, it is that He loves us because we are already His. I was struck recently when watching a remarkably interesting documentary on Nadia Hussein, the Great British Bake-off winner, that she had an arranged marriage that looks like it is working very well. Nadia suffers with anxiety and panic attacks and on the worst days the only way she can prevent meltdown is to bake. Sometimes, her husband and children come home to lots of cakes! Their love for her other is intentional, an act of will. Someone told me recently that her marriage had broken down because her husband said that he didn’t feel that buzz of excitement anymore! Love relationships are sustained by a continuous commitment to the other and this is what God does for us. Bonhoeffer: ‘’It is not your love that upholds marriage, but from the wedding on it is marriage which upholds your love.’’
2. ‘With someone’. God chooses to be with us. He chooses to be present-Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Solomon at the opening of the Temple, all experienced God’s present-ness! In the New Testament God chooses to be present with us in Jesus, ‘Immanuel’, God with us. At the end of times, when Christ comes again to bring in the realm of God fully, Revelation 21 tells us that God’s presence will be once again with His people.
3. ‘…for someone’. God is our advocate. He is ABSOLUTELY and unchangeably FOR US! Whatever comes along He is and will be on our side. You can totally rely on Him!
4. ‘…. towards Christlikeness’. This is the direction of God’s love. God loves us so that we can be transformed into His treasured, holy and living community. I was recently watching a documentary about a sect in Australia. The charismatic woman leader brought lots of children into the group because she loved children and she ruined their lives in the process. God’s love moves us FORWARD and to our benefit, not to destroy our personality or individuality but to complete us, to enable us to be fully who we should be. At the very core of God is LOVE and nothing that He does excludes the spirit of love. As we move or are moved towards becoming more like Jesus, we will do increasingly more out of love. Mother Teresa stated: ‘’It is not what we do, but how much love we put into doing it.’’
Why should we listen to these words of Jesus and change our life seeking to fulfill them?
He who answered the scribe’s question also happened to be the One who, unlike any other person since the fall, knows what it is to love God perfectly with all of His being. Jesus had one duty on earth: to love His Father. He did not merely avoid sinning while on earth, but by recognizing the Father’s presence with Him, affirmed that He “always” did what was pleasing to God. Just as Christ said to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”, the Father could have said the same to Christ. Jesus kept His Father’s commandments because He loved Him. His heart, soul, mind, and strength were in perfect unison as He loved His Father with a perfection that should humble us to the very core of our beings.
But for us, surely this command is impossible?
Certainly, no one disputes that Christ loves His Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. But not all Christians are persuaded that they can approach such love. However, as Augustine famously prayed, “God give what You command and command whatever You will.” By the Holy Spirit, Christians can, in a real sense, love God. That fantastically long Psalm 119 says, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” Keeping the law with the “whole heart” may be understood legally or evangelically. Legally, only Christ loved God with His whole heart because the law requires perfect conformity, of which we are incapable. Nonetheless, in an “evangelical” sense, God, out of His love and mercy in Christ, enables us to love Him truly but imperfectly. Evangelically, our love for God is always flawed and incomplete, and we must be ever repenting of our failure to love Him fully. If our love for God arises from a heart regenerated by His Spirit, we may be said to love God with our “whole heart,” though such love remains imperfect until our glorification.
This should be a great source of encouragement to us. Why? Firstly, because our hope is in Jesus, who fulfilled this command perfectly in our place so that we do not have to stand before God with only an imperfect love as our hope for entering heaven. Secondly, because of our union with Jesus, what is true of Him becomes true of us. God enables us to obey this command and love Him, albeit imperfectly, with all that we are so that God is delighted in the love He receives from His people. After all, an intense desire to love God with all of our being is the only proper response.
To love God with your heart means to love God with your emotions. Praising him with your happiness, smile, and gratitude is easy when things are going well. Like when you perceive an answer to prayer or one of life’s good gifts comes your way, but how about when things aren’t going so well? ALL your heart means at ALL times. Even when God seems quiet. Even when he says wait. And even when he says no. And, yes, even when bad things happen. Continuing to love God even when bad things happen or when good things don’t happen is key to a life of contentment. You don’t have to be happy “for” the bad thing. You just have to see through that bad circumstance to the God who wants to comfort you and will never leave you nor forsake you.
Loving God at all times is a day-to-day learning process. We learn more and more how to do it and keep on doing it a little each day. Until soon you can say with the Apostle Paul, I am content no matter what. I can live on almost nothing and I can live with everything. The secret of living in every situation is remembering that I can do everything, I can live through anything, and I can even overcome—through Christ who gives me strength, sustenance, and courage. The root word of courage is "cor" which is Latin for "heart." Living with courage and heart daily is a good way to remind yourself to love God.