But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “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.
The Greatest Commandment
It is a simple question really, what is the most important thing that one has to do in relation to God? There is some debate as to whether the questioner was sincere or simply trying to trap Jesus into saying something controversial. The truth is that either way, Jesus answered well. The greatest commandment is love God completely.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
But what does it mean to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, and mind? First, it is important to understand that Jesus is not intending us to parse out these three aspects of life. It is not as if one can love God with heart only. Or soul only. Or mind only. It is not as if one can love God with heart and mind but not soul. Rather, Jesus utilizes these three terms in order to represent the totality of the human experience. We are to love God completely, with every aspect of our life. The call to love God is a call to love God with our whole self, in every aspect and with every fiber of our being.
When Jesus demands that we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, he means that every faculty and every capacity of our being should express the fullness of our affection for God–the fullness of all the ways that we treasure him.
But that still leaves us with the all important question: how? How do we love God with everything that we are and everything that we do. To fully answer this question would consume the totality of every cloud, bringing the internet crashing down upon itself. Therefore, our answer must be limited and incomplete. I believe a good starting point is to begin to answer this question is to go back to the law, for this was how Jesus answered the question. Jesus concludes this segment by saying that the entirety of the law depends upon this commandment and its second (which will be discussed next week). Since this commandment is the summary of the law, the law is then an expansion of this commandment. And so by looking at the law, we gain a greater understanding of Jesus’ greatest commandment.
By the law, I am referring to the 10 Commandments. These commandments divide into two groups: laws related directly to God and laws related directly to others (however, we must never think that the command not to kill is not also related to our relationship with God or the command to love God is not also related to our relationship with others). The first four of these commands relate directly to our relationship with God and provide a starting point for understanding how to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.
First Commandment: Worship the Right God.
You shall have no other gods before me.
The 10 Commandments begin simply with the call to acknowledge, serve, and worship only one God: the God of the Bible, Yahweh. We must be careful here, it is easy to think that we follow this command because we do not set up altars or claim to worship false gods. However, a false god is anything we place in front of God. Therefore, anything we choose ahead of God has become a god in our lives. If we sacrifice our time in prayer because we are too busy watching TV, then TV has become a god before God. If we claim we do not have enough time to read God’s Word, and yet spend fifteen minutes or several hours scrolling through Instagram, then we have set up an altar in our hearts to social media. To love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind we must first love and worship God only.
Can you say, “I have never put anything before God in my life. He has always been pre-eminent in my thoughts, affections, and actions.”
Second Commandment: Worship God Rightly
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The first command addresses worshiping the right God and the second commandment addresses worshiping God in the right way. God is holy and cannot be worshiped in the same way as the false gods. The false gods needed a physical representation such as an idol made of stone or wood. The false gods were made to be appeased with simple cause and effect actions (if I do this for this god, then this god must do this for me). False gods depend on man; but the reality is that man depends on the true God. Therefore, man cannot worship the true God as he worships the false gods.
Once again, many of us may think that we follow this commandment because we do not create graven images of God and worship them. But, how many of us have created graven images of God in our hearts. Man was prohibited from making God in the form of created things (idols) and then worshiping that image of God because the image of God created cannot reflect the true person and nature of God. However, we can just as easily create an image of God in our own lives that does not reflect the true person and nature of the true God. Let me give you one example I see and hear often: “My God would never…” As soon as we say this or something like it, we have hinted that we are not concerned with what the Bible says about God, but with our own representation of who we want God to be. So therefore, whether it is what we believe about God or how we serve God, we must be conscious to consider what God reveals rather than what we prefer. When we let our preference for God overpower the truth of God find in His Word, we have created a false, graven image of God in our hearts.
This commandment is about reshaping God according to your liking, believing wrong things about him because you’d prefer that he be a different way?
Third Commandment: Respect God’s Name
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Many take the third commandment as a simple prohibition against using God’s name as a curse word. Certainly, that prohibition is included in the third commandment, but the the commandment is so much more. The word translated “vain” comes from the Hebrew word, shav’, meaning “useless.” The root of the word also means to “misuse.” The idea behind the commandment is not to use (or misuse) God’s name in a way that make His name useless, or we could also say meaningless. How do we do that? Well we can over use His name. This was what the Jews were trying to prevent with their complete abstention of saying God’s name. We can use God’s name in an improper way such as using it as a curse word. But we can also break this command by invoking God’s name falsely, such as when we say, “God told me…” I have heard this phrase uttered countless times. Yet, more often than not, it turns out that God has not told the person any such thing. “God told me I was going to be a missionary.” Yet, many years later they have abandoned all desire of being a missionary. Either what God told them was false or they are being disobedient. “God told me I was going to marry this person.” Yet God apparently never told the other person. Too often we invoke God’s name because it sounds spiritual or we want to keep others from questioning what we are saying; however, in the process we may also be breaking the third commandment.
Can you say, “I have always held God’s name in highest respect.”
Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
This may be the most debated and controversial of the 10 Commandments. And a full debate as to the precise application of this commandment for Christians today is beyond the scope of this article. The fourth commandment is more than just abstaining from certain labors, but rather is a call to rest in the Lord. Man was to rest on the Sabbath (one day in seven) and rest in the provision of God for that day. The Sabbath was also to be sanctified to the Lord (holy). This one day in seven was to be separate and distinct from the others as labor ceased and focus was completely on God. Whether or not we are to take this literally, Christians are still called to rest in the Lord and to take time to focus on God. Do we cease from our labor and our everyday life? Do we rest in the provision of God? Do we set aside time to focus our energy and attention on God?
And if you think you’re good here, remember that the purpose of the Sabbath was to rest in God’s provision for you in all circumstances. When life has gotten tough, have you always stopped to rest and trust God in the midst of it?
We love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind by acknowledging and worshiping God alone. We love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind by knowing God as He has revealed Himself rather than creating Him in our own image. We love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind by respecting and honoring His name. We love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind by regularly resting in Him, trusting in His provision and focusing our attention on Him. May God grant us His grace to love Him completely and His mercy when we fail to do so.