(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The first and greatest commandment
9th August 2014
It's depressing, isn't it, that the reaction of the Sadducees and Pharisees was to test Jesus Christ. The greatest man who ever lived - God in human form - healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave us the greatest theological and moral teaching we've ever had. How sad it is that they couldn't just receive it and give thanks to God. Of course, many of our political and intellectual leaders today are just the same.
Jesus was far too wise to waste his words expressing the sort of disappointment we feel when people who should know better try to find a reason not to believe in Him. Instead, he used this "test" as a teaching opportunity. He quoted Deuteronomy 6v5 as the "first and greatest commandment".
It's the first commandment because to love our creator, with gratitude and worship, is our first priority. Morally, it must be right that our first loyalty is to the one who made us. That's not just true for Christians - it's true for us all. Some claim to be atheists, but any open-minded person who takes the time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of creation must know - even if he refuses to admit it, even to himself - that there is a creator.
And it's the first commandment because our love for God should be the basis of the way we live, and should inform every decision we make, more than anything else does.
It's the greatest commandment because God is the greatest being.
And it's the greatest commandment because love is our greatest attribute.
And it's the greatest commandment because to love God will do us more good than anything else we will ever do.
It's the greatest commandment because the greatest good that a human can know is to be born again through faith in Jesus, and that will never happen if we refuse to love God. But if we are born again, then the Holy Spirit will come to us and help us to want to obey all the other commandments.
A simple way to read the first and greatest commandment is to say that it means "love the Lord your God with everything you are". That's fair enough, but we can go a little deeper. Theologians (let alone simple preachers like me) can disagree about the definitions of heart, soul and mind but, as I meditate on these words, here's what comes to my mind :-
This commandment is firstly to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart". To me, the "heart" refers to a person's inner being, the core of who we are:
We could express this by saying that we must love God from the inside out. It's not much good loving God externally - going to the meetings, singing the songs, praying the prayers - if it's not genuine, if it's not wholehearted, the word we used a lot in our last two studies.
Secondly, we're commanded to "Love the Lord your God with all your soul". For me, the word "soul" speaks mostly about the emotions. It might come as a shock to some English Christians when they discover that it's OK to love God emotionally.
At times, it can be good to weep before God in prayer:
It's always good to rejoice and exult before God
And, no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise, rejoicing and exulting are not just a matter of our thought life - they're emotional!
Thirdly, we're commanded to "Love the Lord your God with all your mind". Although I've been writing in recent weeks about how our discipleship, our religion, is not merely intellectual, it does have an important intellectual component. It's valuable to study the Bible, to think about what it says, to seek to understand as well as believe.
This commandment is the first and greatest but I still don't obey it. And I've never met anybody who claims that he does. Do any of us love God with all our heart, soul and mind? Jesus did, of course. But even the greatest Christian leaders haven't got there completely. I think I can say that I love God a great deal more than I used to. And I hope I'll love Him more in the future than I do now. But I know I'll need divine assistance.
The first and greatest commandment proves to me that I need God's Holy Spirit to change my heart and my soul and my mind, so that I get my priorities right.