This is from my sermon preached on Sunday 3rd November 2018.
The first commandment is this…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…and the second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself.
What do we most care about? What do we think is the most important thing in our lives?
The main thing
Some people will say, their family, or their loved ones. Some will say, it’s their job, or their car, or their hobby. And often, we will everything we can to keep or protect what’s precious to us. There are things, though, that become top of the pile that don’t belong there, whilst the most important things end up further down the list of important things.
There is a well-known phrase I like which is “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Basically it’s saying, ‘make sure you keep focussed on what is the most important.’
When Jesus was asked by a leading religious figure what the greatest commandment was, he was asking Jesus, ‘what’s the main thing’ that God wants me to do?’
And Jesus replies by going back to the book of Deuteronomy, and adds a bit of Leviticus too:
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:28-30)
That, Jesus was saying, is the main thing. Love God with everything. And when you do that, you will love others as God would have you love them. What does it mean, though, to love God like that?
It’s really easy to be distracted, to be less interested in the things that matter, and more interested in the things that don’t. How many times have we put off a really important job that might be a bit difficult to do something ‘easy’ but way less important?
Does all really mean all?
Now, there is probably a bit of us that is thinking ‘did Jesus really mean all’? After all, all is a lot. It’s everything. Surely God doesn’t mean all? But let’s just think of some alternatives for a moment:
I will love you with
most of my heart,
part of my mind,
nearly all my soul and
quite a lot of my strength.
The problem is that if we ever thought like that, we’d be asking whether God was in fact deserving of any of our heart, mind, soul or strength at all? If he only wanted most of or a bit of us, then that would mean something else could be more important or more deserving of my love and my attention.
God’s not satisfied in being a bit player in our lives. Jesus says that God commands us to love with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Can love really be commanded?
And there lies perhaps another problem for some: God commands us to love him. “You shall love the Lord your God…”
How can God command us to love him? You can’t make someone love someone or something. In the same way, we can’t be made to love God – or our neighbours. Some see God as some kind of overbearing, needy person saying to people ‘you will love me,’ and getting really cross when they don’t. That doesn’t sound like someone you want to spend much time with, let alone eternity. Is that’s what’s going on here? Of course not.
So what is Jesus saying?
Jesus is saying that God is the greatest and most wonderful of all persons in the universe. He is the greatest treasure, the most wonderful delight, the number one thing in the entire universe. He is the main thing. He is the one who created us, who fashioned us, shaped us. We were created for him. We were made to be in relationship with him, to know him. It’s an amazing privilege. And through trusting in Jesus, we are re-made to love him and know him.
When God first told Moses to teach this back in Deuteronomy, he was talking to a special group of people – the Israelites. They were his people, his children. He’d rescued them from being slaves in Egypt; he’d poured out his love on them, he had provided for them in astonishing ways. And he’d promised them a land of their own, where they would worship him and be his people, and live his way.
And how were they to respond to all God had done? They were to love him and place him above every other claim to be first in their lives. Because he is the first. The number one. The main thing.
And he is to be the number one in our lives. God doesn’t make us love him. But it is the natural response of someone who knows him. Because God has rescued us too.
Imperfect love meets perfect love
If we’re honest with ourselves, loving God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength, sounds great but is really hard to achieve. How can we possibly love like that? We can’t.
But, wonderfully, Jesus did. Jesus had come to do everything his Father sent him to do. Jesus’ whole life was one long, heart-felt yes to God. Jesus is the only person who has ever been able to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus is the only person who has in every way loved his neighbour as himself. Jesus has done what is impossible for us.
So when it comes to doing everything right – Jesus has done it. He’s done it all.
And it’s Jesus who invites us to love God with everything we have and everything we are. That’s what loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength means. The Bible promises us a new heart, a brand new life. (Jeremiah 31:33) A life that’s not centred on ourselves or the world, but on God.
And trusting in Jesus means that God enables us to love God with everything – with our whole heart. God starting this relationship with us means that we are able to love him. We’re able to say ‘wow, what an amazing God’; and we are a new person that God is shaping to become more and more like Jesus.
Jesus was the only one who has loved God perfectly, and loved us perfectly. And each of us is commanded to love God perfectly. He died in our place, so that his perfect love would be accepted by God in our place. So instead of standing before God with a love that doesn’t match what God commands, Jesus’ complete love and obedience to God takes my place.
And, if we’ve trusted in Jesus, we have Jesus’ Holy Spirit living inside us, and so we are now are able to obey God and love him, even though it’s not a perfect love. And one day we will love God with everything, when we’re with him in his glory.
Growing in love
But for now, we are to love God with all that we have, and all that we are – heart, soul, mind and strength. So, how can I grow this love?
First, you can pray for it. You can ask God to help you love him more, to know how he wants you to love him. You can ask him to get rid of things that spoil your love for him. Do you think God will refuse to answer a prayer like that, when it’s meant sincerely?
Secondly, you remind yourself daily of all that God has done for you in Jesus. Remind yourself by going to what God has said, and what’s he’s done, and seeing all that God promises you in Jesus. Ask God to help you and point you more to him.
You can keep hold of verses like this:
Rom. 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? or
Eph. 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, that he lavished on us.
Thirdly, you can practice love. You can ask yourself the question, ‘is this loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, strength?’ Is this really loving someone else as much as myself? God will, I believe, prompt us and see things more clearly when we ask him.
So, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. All means all, because God is the best, and loving God above everything else is the very best gift God could give us.
I’m going to continue doing some reflecting on what it means for us to love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength, so look out for more posts on this.