HOW Do we “Love the Lord Our God With Our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength”? Jesus. The answer is (always) Jesus.
After rescuing the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, leading them out into the wilderness with Him, Yahweh bound Himself with the nation of Israel. He married Himself to His people. In later generations, when Israel was unfaithful and broke covenant with Yahweh, the prophets warned of coming judgment using the language of “harlotry”, comparing Israel to an unfaithful spouse.
Centuries later, when Jesus was asked by experts in the the Mosaic Law, what is the greatest commandment, the most important, it would not have surprised anyone to hear Him say, “To love God. To marry yourself to Him, to be faithful to Him, body, mind, heart, and soul.”
“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, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Loving God – heart, soul, mind, and strength – was the mark of God’s people, it was what set them apart, the way in which they were to make their mark in the world. This, Jesus says, is the primary value in the Kingdom of God: To know that Yahweh is one, and there is no god besides Him, and to love God with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself.
Historically, Israel was NOT faithful to their covenant with Yahweh – which was, of course – not a surprise to Yahweh.
In Deuteronomy 30:6 there’s a promise, “Moreover, Yahweh your God will CIRCUMCISE your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.”
In order to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength, Israel would need “circumcised hearts.”
Centuries after Moses, Jeremiah the Prophet would explain this circumcision of heart, crying out
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
The New Covenant would bring a NEW heart.
Generations after Jeremiah, Jesus would stand before His disciples at the Passover supper and break bread and pour out wine, again using covenant language.
We don’t recognize it, but the disciples at the last supper would have recognized what Jesus was doing from the marriage, covenant ceremony.
In ancient Jewish betrothal celebrations, the groom would pour a cup of wine, offering it in covenant with their beloved, using nearly the same words Jesus uses here. The groom would say to his beloved, his betrothed: This is a new covenant in my blood.
And Jesus said: This is the NEW COVENANT IN MY BLOOD.
Yahweh married Himself to His people, but Israel was unfaithful. In order to Love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, they needed a new heart.
Jesus came, and fully loved Yahweh with His heart, soul, mind, and strength.
And Jesus came, instituting the NEW Covenant – a New way of Yahweh marrying Himself to His people, and giving them a NEW heart. His heart.
And in this, the Great Commandment, Jesus calls us to His Kingdom, to loving God – to joining ourselves, marrying ourselves to Him.
What is the call of Jesus? LOVE GOD. Give your all to Him and receive ALL of Him.
To be a Christian, to be a Christ follower, is to be a citizen of the Kingdom of love, to be joined to God in LOVE.
If you’re reading this and you don’t consider yourself a Christian, if you are still deciding about Jesus, this is optional. I believe a love relationship with your God is what you were created for, and I hope you’ll respond to His love by loving Him back. I hope you’ll consider this call to LOVE God.
But for those of us who are Christians, followers of Christ, this is the big non-negotiable. The great commandment: Love God. Join yourself to Him. This is the mark of Christians: we LOVE our God.
He gets first place in our hearts.
As I studied this passage, I was struck by the reality that my entire Christian life I’ve been taught to believe God. To trust Him, place my faith in Him. But how much emphasis was put on LOVING Him? Can we believe Jesus without loving Him?
Jesus says this, THIS is the great command, there is ONE God and we love Him with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. With all we have.
So my question for myself today, and my question for those of you who are Christ followers, is: Do I love God? Do you? Do I delight in Him? Is He my favorite?
Am I committed to Him? Have I given my ALL to Him? Am I arranging my life around His love?
So often other things steal my heart from Him. He is not first.
This feels very heavy to me, and I am convicted down to the very soles of my feet. But then I remember: We love because He first loved us.
If we want to love God more, the answer is not to try harder.
The answer is to focus on His love for us. Our love is only ever a response to His love.
And He does love. He IS love.
Romans 5:8 tells us that we never have to wonder if God loves us. God has DEMONSTRATED His love. I love that word “demonstrated.” So many of us have heard the words I love you, but have never seen them in action.
But God DEMONSTRATES His love, He shows us. While we were far from Him, Christ came. Paul identifies Jesus’ death as the greatest possible demonstration of God’s love.
We were far away from Him, and He wants us close.
This summer I’m sharing some of my own lessons and thoughts from a Bible study I wrote with my friend Stacey and did with a group of (amazing) women last Fall. This 8 week study, The Call of Jesus, is available for free here or by clicking the “Free Bible Studies and Resources” link in my blog header. If you’re looking for a Bible study to do yourself or with friends this Fall, check it out!