By Sheila Alewine, Crosswalk.com
In Mark 12, we read of an interesting dialogue Jesus has with the Jewish religious leaders. The conversation came as a result of a parable He had taught about a vineyard owner (Mark 12:1-12). Jesus clearly connects this parable to Himself, quoting from Psalm 118:22 (see Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:7). The religious leaders understood that he was comparing them to the unrighteous and rebellious vine-growers. They went away to regroup and decided on a new tactic. They decided to send some of their group to try and trap Jesus in His own words.
Their first question was about loyalty to Caesar versus loyalty to God (Mark 12:14-17). Their second question focused on life after death. Jesus answered both questions in ways that exposed their deceptive hearts. Finally, one scribe recognized Jesus wasn’t going to be tricked, so he asked a sincere question. He wanted to know what commandment was the first and most important of all.
To answer, Jesus quotes from two Old Testament passages, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Mark 12:29-31 – “Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
Matthew quotes Jesus as adding this statement: “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). The word “depend” literally means “to hang,” as a door hangs on its hinges. The entire Old Testament, the foundation of the Jewish faith, is summed up in and rests upon two simple commands: Love God, love one another.
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What Does it Mean to Love God with All Our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength?
We first need to know how God defines “love.” The Hebrew word is ahab and means to have affection for, desire, delight in, or be fond of. It implies an ardent inclination of the mind and a tenderness of affection, and denotes a strong emotional attachment for and a desire to be in the presence of the object of love.
The Greek word is agapaō, to have a preference for, or to wish well; to regard the welfare of. It is to take pleasure in; to prize it above other things; to be unwilling to abandon it or do without it; to welcome with desire; to long for.
We diminish the meaning of love when we view it as simply an emotion or feeling, and therefore subject to change. I may love someone because they are kind to me. If they stop being kind, I no longer love them, because my love was simply a positive feeling based on my current circumstances. Love is more than that; it is a decision of the will to act in light of a deep, abiding concern and affection for the object of our love.
When the Bible places “loving God” in the context of a command, it becomes the galvanizing force (strength) for not only how we feel about God (heart), but inspires our thoughts about Him (mind) and stimulates our desires for Him (soul). Loving God motivates our every decision and empowers our very lives.
Our heart is the center of our physical and spiritual life. It encompasses our passions, desires, affections. According to the Vines Expository Dictionary, the word “heart” came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and emotional elements. It includes emotions, reason, and will. Heart and soul are different words, but both represent the inner, immaterial part of man as separate from his physical body. The soul is literally the breath of life, which God breathed into man to make him a living being. Our mind is the faculty of understanding, what enables us to imagine and think and reason. Our strength is the ability, force or power we exert in loving God.
Each of these words (heart, soul, mind, strength) can be explored as to “how” we love God, but I think the collective meaning is the greater lesson. We are not to love God with only part of ourselves, but are to measure every thought, emotion, feeling, word, and action in light of our desire to please and honor Him. We are to pursue our love for Him in every aspect of daily life, with all that we are.
What does a wholehearted love for God look like? Here are four descriptions of the kind of love God wants from us, according to Scripture.
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1. We Are to Love God with an Exclusive Love
Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
While some cultures advocate for polygamy, we all know it doesn’t really work. God calls the church His bride. He referred to Israel as His wife, and her willingness to worship other gods made her an adulterer. The first commandment He gave to Moses was not to have any other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:24), and He is jealous for His people with a righteous jealousy.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 are in the context of money, or wealth, perhaps because He knew the hearts of his listeners. The religious leaders scoffed at Jesus and rejected Him because their desire for power, money and position overcame their love for God (Luke 16:14, John 11:47-48).
If we want to love God, we must love Him exclusively. No other gods can have our attention. Our hearts must be set only on what delights His heart. Our minds must be anchored only to His word as the final authority. Our souls must be satisfied only with what pleases Him. Our strength must be spent on what serves Him alone.
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2. We Are to Love God with a Surpassing Love
Matthew 10:37-39 – “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
Luke 14:26 – “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
It sounds offensive to us to think we must hate our own families. Surely this is not what Jesus meant? The word means to detest, but in context, Jesus is telling us that our love for God must be so deep and abiding and surpassing that our affection for our families looks like hate. To hate is to “love less.” Our love for anyone, even our own mother and father, cannot supersede our love for God.
This has practical implications. Jesus is describing the cost of being a true disciple. If we love God most, then we will follow Him in spite of any persuasion or influence that would hinder us. The love for God that Jesus describes causes us to give up anything and everything that deters our passion for Him.
Our love for God must surpass not only our love for other people, but also for the things of this world. John tells us if we love the world, we do not love the Father (1 John 2:15). Demas, one of Paul’s disciples, deserted the ministry to which he was called, because he loved the world more (2 Timothy 4:10). A surpassing love for God can keep us from trading away an eternity with Him for a few short years of pleasure here on earth.
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3. We Are to Love God with an Obedient Love
John 14:21, 23-24 – “’He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.’”
Obedience to God’s commands are evidence that we trust He is telling us the truth. It reveals that we believe He loves us and desires the best for us, which is what covenant love is. We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and because He showed that love by sending His Son as the atonement for our sins (1 John 4:10).
To obey God is to honor Him, something we do for the ones we love. Obedience delights God and shows that we have confidence in Him. It is a tangible expression, and truly, is the only thing we have to offer God in return for the great love and grace He has given to us. Obedience is not difficult for the one who loves God and in fact, gives clear evidence that we belong to Him (1 John 2:4-6, 5:1-3).
If we love God exclusively, with a surpassing love, then obedience naturally follows. What a delightful promise Jesus gives us as a reward for obedience. God Himself will abide with us, in the indwelling Spirit who makes us His abode in our inner self. This is the secret of loving God: God’s love poured out in our hearts, offered back to Him in loving obedience (Romans 5:5, 2 Thessalonians 3:5).
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4. We Are to Love God with a Persevering Love
James 1:12 – “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
1 Peter 1:6-9 - In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
One of the greatest examples of love is commitment. What better illustration of persevering love is there than a couple that keeps their marriage vows for fifty, sixty or even seventy years, despite the trials of life? God wants us to love Him with a love that perseveres.
Our love for God must endure. It is easy to love a fellow human whom we can see and touch and hear and hug. It is far more challenging to love a God we can’t see, who allows us to go through challenging trials, and who has made us promises that we’ve yet to see fulfilled. Perhaps this is why Jesus reminds us to love God with all our strength – strength that only the indwelling Spirit of God can provide. We must actively engage our minds and hearts to persevere in loving God when the rest of the world tells us we are foolish.
We love God with all our heart when we love Him exclusively, Him and Him alone.
We love God with all our soul when we find our satisfaction in Him more than any other person or thing.
We love God with all our mind when we make decisions to obey His every command.
We love God with all our strength when we persevere in the face of every trial.
How are you loving God today?
All Greek and Hebrew word definitions are taken from blueletterbible.org.
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Author Sheila Alewine is a pastor’s wife, mother and grandmother. She and her husband lead Around The Corner Ministries, which serves to equip Christ-followers to share the gospel where they live, work and play. She has written several devotionals including Living In Light of the Manger (Advent), Just Pray: God’s Not Done With You Yet, Grace & Glory: 50 Days in the Purpose & Plan of God, as well as Going Around The Corner, a Bible study for small groups who desire to reach their communities for Christ. Sheila has a passion for God’s Word and shares what God is teaching her on her blog, The Way of The Word. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.