Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the religious leaders of the day were trying their best to trip Him up and discredit Him. But every time, Jesus answered them well and consistently from God’s Word and character.
One such teacher of the law asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)
Here’s how Jesus answered him: “The most important one, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love you neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, where Moses delivered God’s Word to the Children of Israel. The nations around them in that day worshiped idols, spirits, and the stars—gods of their own making, deities of their own imaginations.
As bright as mankind thinks we are today, people still tend to worship deities of their own design, be it various religions, the occult, money, pleasure or even self. But the Lord chose Moses and Israel to reveal His true nature. None of those other so-called deities are the One True God. There is only one God, the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, our Creator and Savior.
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6) And Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
But not only has mankind chosen the wrong gods to worship, but we’ve often chosen to worship the One True God in the wrong way. And that’s where Jesus’ response to this teacher of the law comes into play. The greatest commandment here in Mark 12:29-31 should dispel any flawed thinking about who we are to worship or how we are to worship Him.
Our God, our Lord and Creator desires our love, not because He is needy and lacking for love, but because He loves us. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) There is no greater relationship than that in which both parties love each other unconditionally. God loves you and me unconditionally, and He longs for our unconditional love to perfect our relationship with Him.
To this end, the Lord urges us to love Him “with all our heart.” That is, with the whole scope of our emotions, desires, passions, longings, and motivations. This is a humble, visceral, passionate response.
He wants us to love Him “with all our soul.” This speaks to very fiber of our being. We want to love Him from the very depths of who we are. Our soul refers to our life—both physical and eternal.
We must love Him “with all our mind.” We love the Lord with our intellect, our reason, our knowledge of Him, and our wisdom. We express love for Him in ways that are fully aware, awake, and alert. We seek to love Him and please Him in all we do.
We are to love Him “with all our strength.” This speaks to the degree or the intensity with which we love the Lord. We love Him with our whole self, holding nothing back. We love Him intensely. We’re all in. We love Him to the fullest extent possible.
And while that teacher of the law was only looking for the one most important commandment, Jesus continued, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
We see in this that a genuine, passionate love for the One True God lays the foundation for healthy self-love and love for others. Because He loves us so much, we want to be like Him and love others also. We recognize from this second commandment that if we don’t love others, we aren’t loving God either. Because if we have a problem with one of God’s kids, then we have a problem with God.
In Matthew’s account of this incident, after sharing these two greatest commandments, Jesus explained, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40) In other words, loving the Lord and loving others offers the simple, compact summary of what God expects of us. But we must do so with His definition of love, not ours.
If we’re looking for direction in the New Year, these two simple commandments offer just that: Love God, and love others as we love ourselves.