No Greater Command
Jesus said, “The first of all the Commandments is: hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. Mark 12:29–30.
God doesn’t want much – just everything we have. He doesn’t expect much – just every ounce of passion, heart, and love we can muster. He doesn’t demand much – just that we put him first every minute of every day. And He has every reason to expect this of us because He created us to function best when we are fully devoted to Him.
Ancient Greek philosophers stressed the virtue of balance: “Moderation in all things.” In most areas of our lives, that advice rings true. We need balance in our diets, exercise, sleep, work, habits, spending, investments, and most other aspects of life. But in our relationship with God, balance is never extolled. Radical, abject, complete devotion is the only acceptable response to the God of the universe, who stooped to rescue us from sin and death. He deserves nothing less than our whole hearts.
The Old Testament contains hundreds of commands dealing with every aspect of existence, but to the religious leaders of the first century, that list wasn’t good enough. They added hundreds more to define exactly what God (or they) expected of people. With the proliferation of commands in the background, someone asked Jesus, “Which one is most important.” Without hesitation He replied, “The one that says, ‘Love God with everything you got.” When we do that, each part of our lives comes into alignment- or drops away because it’s no longer important. When we fail to put God first, everything seems equally important, and we spend all our energies trying to please people, proving ourselves, or hiding from risks. God’s first commandment demands complete devotion, and it makes perfect sense. It’s the way He created us to live. Naturally, we can be happier and more enthusiastic about everything we do, provided we are doing it for Jesus.
The true follower of Christ will not ask, “If I embrace this truth, what will it cost me?” Rather he will say, “This it the truth. God help me to walk in it, let come what may.”
It’s interesting to me how this commandment addresses every part of our being and the sequence or order in which it is stated. The first part of us that is to love God is our heart- the seat of our feelings and passion. Like every other relationship, our love for God is rooted deep in our inner being. We know that the love we have for another human is often deeper than the logic. It goes beyond reason or understanding. It is an indescribable, intangible emotion that overwhelms our senses. No wonder the songs and poems describe is as “falling in love.” This kind of love causes us to react toward that other being in ways that no other force could. When we consider that we are to love God with all our hearts, it ought not to be strange to us that this would be considered the appropriate response to the love that we have received from God that emanates from His heart.
We are told next to love God with all our soul- the real us. Our soul, the seat of our will and decision-making is commanded to love God. This means that God is considered in every decision we make. We seek to find His will for our lives and to discover what pleases Him. Just as we are thoughtful of those we love and seek out how we might bring joy and pleasure to them, we do so with God.
The third segment is to love God with all our mind. Now there’s a radical idea. It means that our thoughts are centered and focused on God and everything else occupies a less place. This isn’t as easy as it sounds for most of us have to confess that almost everything else fills our minds. The usual is that we spend our days thinking about our families, jobs, hobbies, and our “to do” lists. Some of us wait till the end of our day or when we’ve got everything else done before we take time to think about God. But if we make God the focus of our thoughts, we might discover that our stress levels go down, our anxieties, fears, and frustrations diminish and “the peace that passes all understanding” will be our norm.
The last segment we are told to love God with is our strength- our abilities, our work, and our actions. Jesus taught us to “seek the kingdom of God first, and all the other things we need would be added unto us.” Quite often we reverse this and we apply our strength to everything else leaving God with whatever is left. But true love makes the object of our love first. Yes, most of us need to work to earn a living. Yes, we need some recreation. Yes, our bodies need rest. This is where moderation should have its effect. We learn to be content with what we have without being driven to have more and more. Ambition is a good thing until it gets into the driver’s seat. Desiring nicer things, better jobs and such aren’t sinful unless they occupy the largest place in our lives at the expense of our relationship with God. Sometimes we forget about the world to come that God is preparing for us and if we spend all our energy on the things of this world we will have nothing left to give to the world to come.
I’ve learned over my life that when one loves God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength that we receive far more than we give. As a matter of fact that’s a spiritual principle- “Give and it shall be given unto you, full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.” As you make God first, you will discover that He has already made you first. John writes that “we love Him because He first loved us. He loved us with all His heart- “For God so loved the world….” He loved us with all His soul- “Let us make man in Our image….” He loved us with all His mind- “the Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world.” He loved us with all His strength- “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”
1 John 3:1
So I invite you to do a spiritual inventory and discover exactly where God is in your lists of priorities of love. May we receive grace to return the fullness of the love of God with our whole being.
Dr. John Thompson