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Does a command to love someone seem strange to you?

A young mother loves her infant. A young husband loves his wife. Neither the mother nor the husband needs a command to love, they just do. Somehow, they each naturally love that other person.

Do you love God? If you genuinely and deeply love, or have loved, another person, can you say that you love God with the same depth and intensity?

Pause before you answer that question.

You may find this strange, but with all the talk of loving God in the Old Testament, there is only one instance in which anyone is said to have loved (ahab) God. In 1 King 3:3, we read, “Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” Even in this text confirming Solomon’s love for God, we read of Solomon’s failure or lapse: “except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.”

Daniel I. Block, in his commentary of Deuteronomy (page 188), notes that “especially in light of current habits in worship, the verb ahab never occurs with a first person subject when it has Yahweh/God as the object.” Although I did find one reference to “I love the LORD” (Psalm 116:1), that means you never find the words “I love God,” and only once “I love the LORD” in the Old Testament. I was shocked by that realization.

So, I ask again, do you love God?

What is love?

In an earlier post, we asked: “What is love?

In that post, we examined in brief and general terms the various Greek words in the Bible for love: agapē, philia, storgē, and erōs. We discovered that the real question should be, “Who is love?” because “God is love [agapē]” (1 John 4:8, 16).

That post concluded with another question: How can we – how can I – love as Jesus loves? The answer to this question is my quest in this series.

This post will not answer that question, but it will intensify our need for an answer.

Jesus tested

Jesus is in the Temple courtyards, where He is assaulted with challenges and questions aimed at discrediting Him and His ministry. First, His authority is questioned (Matthew 21:23-27), then various religious groups seek to trap Him with a series of trick questions: politically, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (22:15-22); theologically, “At the resurrection whose wife will she be of the seven [husbands]?” – and that by a group who did not believe in resurrection (22:23-33); then another question, “Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28).

It is an expert in the Jewish law who asks Jesus this question. The intent was to “test” Jesus. “Test” translates the Greek word peirazō, which used five other times in Matthew. The first occurrences of this word give us the flavor of how Matthew uses it: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted [peirazō] by the devil.” (4:1 and again in 4:3)

Jesus provides a masterful response to this “test.”

The first and greatest commandment

Here is how does Jesus answers the question (Matthew 22:37-40).

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.”

For the first and greatest commandment, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5. For the second commandment, He quotes Leviticus 19:18. We will look at both these quotations, in turn, to understand them better.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

In answering the lawyer, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, a text referred to as the Shema, which is the Hebrew word meaning “hear, listen, obey.”

Hear [shema], 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 strength.

You will also notice that the four letters of “LORD” are capitalized to identify the name of God, which is often transliterated as “YHWH” or Yahweh. This practice by translators and editors distinguishes the name of God from the Hebrew word adon for “lord, master, owner.”

This text should be understood in the context of at least Deuteronomy 6:4-19 if not 5:1-11:32. Among other things, that context manifests that the law was not a way of earning God’s favor, it was the response of covenant loyalty to the Lord “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (5:6) More on that another time.

Daniel I. Block explains the three components of how we are to love the Lord from this text.

First, “with all your heart.” The Hebrew word translated as “heart” is lēb which “serves comprehensively for one’s inner being, including the ‘heart’ and the ‘mind.’”

Second, “and with all your soul,” where the word “soul” is nephesh, which “Here … refers to the entire person,” not just the soul, but the whole person, including one’s body.

Third, “and with all your strength” is intriguing. The word rendered “strength” is from meod, which usually means “greatly, exceeding” perhaps “muchness.” Block states, “Here its meaning is best captured by a word like ‘resources,’ which includes physical strength, but also economic or social strength, and it may extend to the physical things an Israelite owned: tools, livestock, a house, and the like.”

Block sums up with this comment: “Calling all Israelites to love God without reservation or qualification, Moses begins with the inner being, then moves to the whole person, and ends with all that one claims as one’s own.”

Here is a diagram illustrating Block’s explanation:

The Shema in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, then later in 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, is a command to all followers of Jesus to love the Lord their God with all that they are and all that they have.

A conclusion for now

Again, we may find it strange that there is a need to command us to love our God. Why do you think we need a command to love God?

This series is far from over. We still need to examine the second commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The follow-up question was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” We will come to that in the next post.

For now, I repeat my earlier question: How can we – how can I – love as Jesus loves? A solid practical answer to this question is our quest.

Let’s move together toward an answer to that question. I invite you to send your questions and comments to me at [email protected].

BACK TO What is Love?    FORWARD TO A pagan shows us how to love

Photo credit: FotoGuy 49057 on VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Diagram credit: Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy, NIVAC (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 183.

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