“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘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. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” - Matt 22:36-40
The question the religious leader asked is this: What is the greatest commandment in all of scripture?
We might not initially appreciate how difficult a question that is to answer. But if we give it some thought it becomes clear that this was a very difficult question to answer. Jesus could not have picked any commandment from Scripture without becoming open to the accusation that he had a preference to some commands over others. This would immediately be enough to label him a false teacher who did not teach the whole truth, but only taught half-truths based on his own preference. This is where the sheer brilliance and wisdom behind the answer that Jesus gave becomes apparent to us. This was his reply:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ c 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Instead of picking one command out of scripture which is probably what the religious leader expected, Jesus summarized the whole law by choosing two commands from the OT.
(Deut 6:5, Lev 19:18)
In this first part, we will consider what it means to Love God and how we can develop a loving relationship with our Father.
Our Love for God is a response for the Love God has for us.
We cannot even begin to consider our Love for God without first acknowledging that it is He who loved us first. The Bible says that God demonstrated his love for us in the following way: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). It is not possible for sinful humanity to initiate a relationship with a Holy God. God and God alone can take the first step to seek us out and save us and this is precisely what He did on the Cross of Calvary. The Cross is then the ultimate expression of Love, both of the love the Son has for the Father, in that he sought the Father’s glory through his obedience, and the love the Father has for fallen humanity. God’s love for us is not superficial and fickle but an unchanging kind of love that surpasses all knowledge. It is in the light of this great, unmerited, gracious and constant love that we may begin to consider how we can respond to God’s love.
From Infancy to maturity
Our love relationship with God begins the moment we first become believers. When we are born again, we are born as infants in Christ (1 Cor 3:1). Infants by nature, are only capable of experiencing love not loving in return. You will never see an infant caring for or sacrificing anything for the sake of someone else. In much the same way, when we first become Christians, we experience God’s love and care for us but our love for God is still in seed form. Our love for God is progressive and increases to the extent that we have known Him. If we are born again as infants, then it is our lifelong goal to grow and mature to Christlikeness. Christian maturity is unlike physical maturity in that while physically we mature with time, it is possible to remain an infant in Christ years and even decades after first putting our trust in Christ. As a result, it is possible for a believer who was born again a year ago to be more spiritually mature than someone who became a believer 30 years ago.
Loving God with all our being by abiding in Him
God has called us to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind. This is an all-encompassing, extreme kind of love. The way to do this is not through striving but through growing to maturity by abiding in Him. Jesus said that He is the Vine and we as believers are branches that are connected to the Vine. Therefore, as long as we remain in Him, we will grow as life flows through the vine into the branches. In other words, our maturity depends on where we choose to spend our life. Do we spend all of our life following after the things of the world, desiring more earthly riches and earthly pleasures, then we can expect to be stunted in our growth as Christians. But, on the other hand if we set our mind on things that are above, we then remain in Christ and grow to maturity. Our Christian maturity and the love for God also ties up with our obedience to Him. Jesus said, if you love me obey my commands. Our Obedience is a direct consequence of our love. If we find ourselves struggling to obey God in a particular area of life, it is because in that particular area we do not love God enough to obey. However, the more we obey God and take steps of Faith, the more the Father becomes real to us and the richer our relationship to Him becomes.
We cannot say we abide in Christ or that we have a relationship with Christ until we make it a practice to carve out time in our day to spend alone in His presence. Moreover, we must learn to be aware of His presence every waking moment, whether we are at work, school or with family and friends. How is this possible?
Have you ever worried about something a whole day but at the same time functioned as normal? In other words, although you were worried you weren’t locked up in a room just worrying but went about your day as normal but the thing you were worried about was always in the back of your mind. In the same way we should practice keeping the things of God in the back of our mind as we go about our daily lives.
However, there is simply no substitute for shutting out everything and spending time alone in God’s presence. You cannot have love or a relationship without time being spent. You may be able to get away with having a relationship without spending money, but spending time is inescapable in any relationship. Try not replying to your friends’ calls and messages for an extended period of time and you will soon notice that where there was once a relationship, there is now a vacuum. Sadly, this is what happens to majority of Christians. Worldly things begin to take priority, and God is cordoned off to a 1–2-hour window on Sundays while the rest of the time we are inundated by things of the world. As a result, love for God grows cold and we end up with a lifeless, powerless Christianity.
If time spent with God is important, what we do in His presence is even more important. If all we do when we seek God’s face is complain and pray for our needs and wants, we are missing out on all that God has for us. Certainly, there is a place for crying out before God, there is no disputing that. But we must always keep in mind that since God is our Heavenly Father He already knows our needs and wants (Matt 6:8). Therefore, more than our petitions and prayers, we must seek to worship and praise God through songs and with our own words. We must learn to fight our battles with praise. An interesting thing about Praise is that we naturally praise what we love. So, then praise is simply our expression of the Love that we have for God.
Does the quality of our love and relationship to God have eternal implications? Absolutely Yes! Listen to what Jesus says in Matt 7:21-23.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The Will of the Father is that we be in a loving relationship with Him and that we will obey His commands because of the love that we have for Him. It is frightening to think that it is possible for us to do many mighty works for God but then miss out on the Kingdom because we didn’t take time to cultivate a relationship with God. We must not be among those who hear the words, ‘I never knew you.” but rather among those who are addressed as good and faithful servants (Matt 25:23) and those blessed by the Father (Matt 25:34). We must know Him, and He must know us.
I would like to end this post with the words of Paul and may it be true of us as well:
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8)
Beloved, loving God with all our heart, soul and mind is what we were made for. Let us not waste our life with lesser pursuits.