“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31).
How many of us have a problem with obeying the Ten Commandments? We ought to be grateful that we are not obligated to keep the six hundred laws and regulations that Judaism has imposed upon its followers! When we start to consider the commandments, like the Jews of old, the question arises about which one is the most important of all. On one hand none of them is greater than the rest. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The Ten Commandments are like links in a chain, break one and the whole is broken. Yet on the other hand, according to Jesus in our text, the greatest commandments of all are loving God and our neighbour. Let’s face it, if we do not have this kind of love there is hardly any point in obeying the other commandments.
Heart, soul, mind and strength
“Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The Lord makes it very clear that it is not robotically obeying the laws of God that counts, but that true love requires the whole person, spirit, soul and body. The person who does not love God wholeheartedly will not live a life that honours and glorifies Him. We may have heard people talking about putting their heart and soul into something. This means that they have dedicated their time, energy and often their money into completing a certain task. Serving God the way He requires demands nothing short of absolute commitment and obedience. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:34).
To love God with our minds and strength means that we have to centre our thoughts on Him and be determined to live according to His word. Though some might object to this idea, it is obvious that obedience to God requires a certain amount of will power on our part. This cannot be a bad thing as long as we submit our will unto Him and say, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). As we submit to God He will transform our minds so that we only want to love and serve Him. “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). Nevertheless, we must not forget that without the indwelling presence of the Lord we do not have the strength to live for Him. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Commitment, loyalty, trust and surrender
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). True love for God is contained in these words, for surely to give our love to another is spiritual adultery. Therefore loving God must include being committed and staying loyal to Him. We cannot make it up as we go along, instead God has already revealed the level of love we must have for Him. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Simply put, we must put God first in our lives and trust Him without question.
All of this can be in place and we might give ourselves a hearty pat on the back, but according to Jesus our relationship with Him cannot be complete unless we love others. The apostle John says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20). This is probably the most difficult part of what surrendering to God means. Our unconditional love for Him must be matched with unconditional love for others. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing … And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:2, 13). Maybe we would give up our lives in service to God, but are we willing to do the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ? “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
The Christian is expected to know and love God by putting Him first, above all other things, including possessions, health and wealth. Unless we do so, we do not understand what loving God means. He alone ought to be our greatest treasure. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Maybe we have been happy just giving the Lord a part of our lives, but total and unconditional love demands the whole, nothing less will do.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.