The Greatest Command

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.‘  This is the first and greatest commandment.  Matthew 22:37-38

  • You can listen to this sermon here.

I believe that the call to follow Christ is a radical one. He calls us to separate ourselves from all else and follow him.  We’re to reprioritise our lives, with Him at the top of the list.  To those with no allegiance to Jesus this is an extreme lifestyle.  Surely a command to “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind”, really means something like, “Love God a lot”.  Yet there is no indication throughout Scripture that this command requires anything less than a literal application.

Although Jesus challenges us with a radical call from the world’s perspective, his demands differ little from the expectations of God’s covenant with Israel.  Loving God means keeping His commands, but we shouldn’t confuse obedience and love.  There can be all sorts of motivations for obedience.  God’s has never been interested in having a relationship with His people based on obedience while devoid of love.  Even when that obedience relates to us worshiping him, he rejects our songs, prayers, sacrifices if they’re not motivated by love toward Him. In the remainder of this post I want to show how this has always been the case, and what we can learn from God’s relationship with Israel.

To start this conversation we need to recognise that in describing the Greatest Command Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This sentiment is repeated a few chapters later in Deuteronomy 10:12-13,

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

In this second passage God links obedience and service to love and respect.  God expected Israel to express love for him through their obedience.  However, this doesn’t mean obedience = love.  Rather, the obedience God seeks must be motivated by love.  Similarly, God desires that our worship (even our obedient worship) reflect the love that we have toward Him.

We see this demonstrated by the prophet Samuel’s words to Saul, the first king of Israel, in 1 Samuel 15:22. Saul had just blatantly disobeyed God and then tried to transform his disobedience into a holy action by offering sacrifices to God.

Samuel replied ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’”

Again God, through the prophet Isaiah warned the nation of Israel, in Isaiah 1:15-17,

When you spread out your hands in prayer,  I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers,  I am not listening.  Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight;  stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

God seeks sincere righteous living, not displays of worship.  Meaningful worship requires both the form God seeks, and the heart God desires.  Other prophets continued this message:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
   and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.   Hosea 6:6

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
   your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
   I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
   I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
   I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
   righteousness like a never-failing stream!    Amos 5:21-24

With what shall I come before the LORD
   and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
   with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
   with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:6-8

So when Jesus says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” he’s simply repeating a message very familiar to his Jewish audience.  Love God completely.  Love God, not just in worship, but through obeying and serving Him in all areas of your life.  Worship and sacrifices alone cannot make up for a heart and life rebelling against God.

It’s a radical command, but not a new one.

  • Does this seem like an impossible command to you? Is it realistic to think that we can love God with our entire heart, soul and mind?
  • Do you know someone who you believe embodies this command?  What is it about their life that makes you think so?
  • Given all these verses about our worship reflecting our heart and life, why do you think churches place so much emphasis on our worship services compared to spiritual growth and discipleship?
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