I Love You, Lord1
If somehow it were possible to lay bare your soul in the presence of everyone, what would it reveal about the priorities of your life? Continue reading . . .
If somehow it were possible to lay bare your soul in the presence of everyone, what would it reveal about the priorities of your life? If your thoughts could somehow be recorded and played back in stereo for all to hear, what would we learn about what matters most to you? If your efforts and actions in the course of a single day could somehow be written down in descriptive detail for all to read, what would we discover about what you cherish most? What is it in life that is of supreme value and importance to you?
I have to admit, those are some scary questions! But my reason for asking them isn’t to frighten you, well, maybe a little bit, but rather to highlight the fact that a very similar question was once asked of Jesus. A religious leader, a very scholarly and learned man, once approached Jesus and said: “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment? In your opinion, Jesus, of all that God has required of us, what is most important?” Let’s look at the entire encounter:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions (Mark 12:28-34).
I wonder if your answer, if my answer, would be the same as his.
Who was this man who approached Jesus with this question? Mark refers to him as a “scribe” (v. 28) while Matthew tells us that he was a “Pharisee” and a “lawyer” (22:34-35). According to Matthew’s gospel, when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had made fools of the Sadducees, they decided to have another go at him. This time, however, they sent one of their own number, an especially brilliant and well-educated man. When you put all three descriptions of him together you can see that he must have been an impressive dude: he was a scribe, a lawyer, and a Pharisee. In other words, he was an expert in the Law of Moses, a man highly skilled in adjudicating religious, social, and legal disputes. He was probably the most learned and astute expert on scripture and rabbinic law in their ranks.
To put it bluntly, the Pharisees send in their top gun, the smartest, most savvy, and most articulate spokesman among them all. If anyone could get Jesus to stick his foot in his mouth, this is the guy.
It’s interesting that in Matthew’s version of this story, the Pharisees decide to have one final go at Jesus after seeing how he “silenced” the Sadducees. The word translated “silenced” literally means to “muzzle”. In other words, the Sadducees were verbally incapacitated by Jesus. They were rendered speechless. Utterly tongue-tied! The Pharisees were thrilled with this. The only thing they would love more than seeing the Sadducees made to look foolish is seeing Jesus exposed.
Listen again to his question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” It’s important to remember that the Jews loved to make distinctions among the laws of Scripture: some were considered great and others small, some were described as heavy and others as light. All the laws were equally inspired and authoritative, but some took precedent in their thinking over others.
The Rabbis had determined that there are 613 separate letters in the Hebrew text of the Ten Commandments. Likewise, there are 613 separate laws in the Pentateuch: 248 are positive or affirmative, while 365 are negative. The Rabbis would spend hours debating which ones were more important, which ones were more or less binding. Perhaps they thought Jesus had his own hierarchy by which he ranked them. Perhaps by getting him to name the most important one he would commit some embarrassing theological error.
Our Lord’s answer is found in vv. 29-31. Here he cites the “Shema” from Deut. 6:1-9 (to be recited twice a day by every faithful Jew) – “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.”
It is precisely because our God alone is God that we are to love him in the way Jesus describes. Several things should be noted here.
First, our highest, greatest, most pressing and preeminent responsibility is to love God. Contrast this with the beliefs of Hollywood actress and author Shirley MacLaine;
“The most pleasurable journey you take is through yourself . . . the only sustaining love involvement is with yourself . . . When you look back on your life and try to figure out where you’ve been and where you’re going, when you look at your work, your love affairs, your marriages, your children, your pain, your happiness – when you examine all that closely what you really find out is that the only person you really go to bed with is yourself.”
Second, if our highest and greatest duty is to love God, our lowest and most grievous sin is the failure to do so. “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22)!
Third, our love for God will only be as good and as deep as intimate as is our knowledge of him. Note the relation between Jesus’ statement concerning God’s nature in v. 29 and our responsibility to love him in v. 30. Imagine for a moment that I asked you, “Do you love God?” You answer, “Yes, of course I do.” I then respond with another question, “Tell me about him. What’s he like? Why do you love him? What is it about God that elicits and sustains your affection?” How will you then respond?
Fourth, our love for God must be comprehensive. Notice that Jesus says it is a love that is found in your heart and your soul and in your mind, a love that requires your strength. These are not separate parts in human personality. His point is that every fiber and faculty of your being must love God. Your love for God must be expressed in your thinking and choosing and feeling and speaking and acting.
Fifth, our love for God must be complete. Jesus says we are to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength. Our love must be whole-souled and whole-hearted. Half-hearted love won’t cut it. Half-souled love won’t cut it.
May God grant us the strength to love him as we should, for in that love we find our greatest delight and he finds his greatest glory!